SPECTRE opens with a stunning extended take. The camera floats down into the streets of Mexico City, before following Bond, James Bond (Daniel Craig), through the Day of the Dead carnival, up to his hotel room, and out across the rooftops. It’s a beautifully choreographed bit of cinema that sets the tone for one of the most ambitious Bond films yet.

The film sees Bond going against orders (he seems to do this more than he actually follows them these days) to track the mysterious titular organization, which seems to have had their fingers in many of Bond’s other recent adventures. This off-the-grid adventure coincides with the government wanting to shut down MI6 and the Double-0 agent program in a bid for greater transparency and a greater focus on surveillance and monitoring. This causes conflicts for our hero within MI6, particularly with the new M (Ralph Fiennes) and their new boss C, a slimy politician played with relish by Andrew Scott, as well as with SPECTRE itself.

SPECTRE remains the classic villainous organization of the early Bond years, and I was surprised not to see any shark tanks with unnecessarily slow dipping mechanisms. Maybe they’re saving that for the next film? Dave Bautista takes the role of the silent heavy for Bond to have a punch-up with, reminding me of the old-school Jaws, but with metal-bedecked fingers instead. I’ve no idea what the character’s real name is, but I’m going to call him Nails. The head honcho of SPECTRE, Oberhauser, is another Bond villain in the classic mold. It’s a role that Christoph Waltz almost seemed destined to play at some point, and he does not disappoint.

Aiding Bond in his fight against SPECTRE is Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann. Far from the damsel in distress, she seems to spend as much time rescuing Bond as he does rescuing her. She works as both a good counterpoint and complement to Bond, and it would be good to see her character develop a little more in future. Not that we should expect Bond to keep the same lady for more than a single movie, of course, but it would make for a welcome change.

So where does SPECTRE stand in the ranks of the Bond movies? It lacks the tight scripting and emotional impact of Skyfall, which remains, in my opinion, the best Bond film so far. But SPECTRE is highly enjoyable, and certainly more memorable that Craig’s earlier Bond films (I honestly have no memory at all of what happened in Quantum of Solace, despite having seen it twice). It ties up a lot of loose ends from Craig’s other Bond films though, and sets us up for more in the (hopefully not too distant) future.

With all its fast cars, exotic locations, and double-crossing espionage, this is Bond-by-numbers (just the numbers are bigger and louder than what we’ve seen so far). Those who are not fans of the 007 formula won’t find much to change their mind here, but for those of us who are, this is a great way to spend a few hours.

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