"The dead are alive," reads Spectre's opening text card. What that means is immediately answered as audiences are whisked away to Mexico to take in the sights and sounds of The Day of the Dead festival. But it also hints at what is to come as Spectre draws upon events and characters of recent films.
The opening scenes are a delight, bigger and more ambitious in scale than most Bond films with 007 himself casually strolling through the thronging streets and dancing across rooftops. It all culminates in an exciting, if not irresponsible, encounter that results in Bond getting in a spot of hot water with the powers that be.
We are soon introduced to the two storylines running through Spectre. One questions if the double-o programme has a place in a world that is moving towards the use of computers, digital surveillance and drones. The other sees delves into Bond's past, with some of the ghosts of said past coming back to haunt him.
The former acts as the backdrop for the film. MI6 has merged with MI5, which sees Ralph Fiennes’s M finds himself matched up against Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott). The latter views the double-o programme as obsolete and his brainchild, the international surveillance scheme called Nine Eyes, aims to put a nail in the double-o programme's coffin once and for all.
While this idea with its Snowden and Orwellian overtones sounds fascinating, the execution falls a little flat. Fiennes and Scott engage in some verbal jousting, but only one exchange is in anyway memorable. As a whole, the storyline just never lives up to its initial promise.
Thankfully, Bond's past is intriguing and his actions as a rogue agent of sorts make Spectre a more enjoyable affair. A secret message sends him to track down a figure known as Sciarra, but there are larger forces at work here. Sciarra is just one part of a bigger puzzle that draws in events from Craig's recent outings as Bond.
In true Bond fashion, the trail leads him around the world, before ultimately coming face-to-face with the film’s main villain, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). It turns out that Oberhauser's goals are a modest, if quite personal, affair. He plays the part well, though his initial appearance, shrouded in mystery, is perhaps the most engaging. And while Fiennes and Scott may have floundered at times when exchanging quips, Waltz and Craig are on-point.
You certainly get a hint of classic Bond when seeing Oberhauser and Bond on-screen together. In fact, that is a pattern that runs throughout Spectre. It ticks the boxes as a Bond film, and if you're a fan of the classic films, you'll enjoy many of the nods and references.
But at 148 minutes, Spectre feels a bit drawn out and some scenes overstay their welcome. The opening scenes are the most compelling and unfortunately other set pieces, of which there are potentially too few, don't quite hit the same standard. Of course, with two storylines running side-by-side, there was always the risk that it was going to come across a little bloated, particularly if one appeals to you more than the other.
On the plus side, the running time gives us more time to get to know Ben Whishaw's Q and Naomi Harris's Moneypenny a little better, both of whom seem to be growing into their roles and making them their own. There's also an eye-opening appearance from Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista who proves to be an intimidating foe.
Finally, Léa Seydoux's Dr. Madeleine Swan is Bond's female companion this time around, but she proves to be more than a typical Bond girl, capable of looking out for herself, and even Bond, from time to time. She also points the mirror at Bond himself and questions if he can ever see himself not being a double-o agent. With Daniel Craig so cagey on his future as of late, it's a fitting time to ask that question.
Indeed, if cyber-crime and espionage is the way of the future, surely Q will be heading up movies in the future and telling Bond that he just needs "one more thing."
Skyfall said that Bond will return and while Spectre doesn't explicitly say it, you can have little doubt that he will. But after a film that was content with looking backwards and embracing the traditional spy approach, where does Bond go from here.
Spectre is ambitious and entertaining at times, but there is that nagging feeling that more could have been done. Still, it wraps up some loose ends nicely and contains enough acknowledgements to previous adventures that should appeal to returning Bond fans.