'Spectre' is an above-average entry in the James Bond series
‘Spectre’ is an above-average entry in the James Bond series

One of the challenges of critiquing a movie is trying to determine what to judge it against. You can’t compare “Blazing Saddles” to “Citizen Kane,” yet both achieve greatness in their own way.

It can be tricky. But this is partly why I love James Bond movies. After 24 “official” entries into the series, the superspy is a genre unto himself. A James Bond movie is really only a success or failure when compared to other James Bond movies. Huzzah!

The recent reboot of the series with Daniel Craig has trended toward the upper end of the franchise and the latest entry, “Spectre,” is no exception.

Of course, we have to check the boxes of exotic locales, beautiful women, and ridiculous villains, but Craig’s Bond movies have added a hint of prestige and a larger degree of continuity between films than ever before. This is a good and bad thing.

The good is Bond actually gets a character arc, which is impressive for a guy who for decades was, at best, a two-dimensional character.

The bad is after four films, carrying that much plot baggage can lead to a movie that is a bit bloated (see the four-man writing team and 148-minute run time).

Also back is director Sam Mendes, who helmed the latest Bond entry, “Skyfall,” which some considered one of, if not, the best Bond movies ever.

It’s a tough act to follow, but after the first 10 minutes of the movie, you think he might just be able to pull it off.

“Spectre” begins with a breathless opening sequence set in Mexico City during a Day of the Dead festival that starts with an impressive, lengthy tracking shot and ends with a spectacular fistfight inside of an out-of-control helicopter. The whole thing is a franchise highlight.

Unfortunately, we really don’t have anywhere to go but down after that. The plot centers on a shadowy organization called SPECTRE led by a sinister villain played by Christoph Waltz (an actor who was most likely created in a lab to play a Bond villain), who shares a link with James Bond that turns out to be kinda goofy, even by this series’ standards.

But look, this movie is still a whole lot of fun. It is loaded with Easter eggs for Bond fans with subtle (and some not-so-subtle) references to Bond movies gone by. Ralph Fiennes officially takes over as M, while Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris gamely return as Bond’s officemates Q and Moneypenny. These regulars all have nice chemistry with Craig.

The role of Bond’s primary arm candy goes to French actress Lea Seydoux, who fills out the role nicely.

“Spectre” is still an above-average entry into the series, although, of Craig’s Bond movies, I would still rank it behind “Skyfall” and “Casino Royale,” but ahead of the clunky “Quantum of Solace,” which got rushed into production thanks to the writers’ strike.

Craig has hinted this might be his last go-round as Bond, which might not be the worst thing in the world. It’s always best to leave while you’re still on top; but, of course, if you throw enough money at the guy, never say never again.

“Spectre” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality, and language.

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