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In its over half a century in existence, the James Bond franchise faces the same question: is 007 still relevant? With Spectre, the answer is most certainly yes. While it might not quite rise to the level of Skyfall or Casino Royale, the film is more than just back to business to the character, as it continues in the exploration of the character of Bond’s history. While it may feel familiar at points, Spectre plays into the Bond’s psychology, and feels more like an exploration than a retread.

Following a secret mission to Mexico City, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is caught in MI6 politics when a radical new leader C (Andrew Scott) suggests a new program that would replace field agents with a computer intelligence program. While M (Ralph Finnes) threatens to decommission Bond, he goes out on his own secret mission with the help of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to investigate an organization that’s threatens him before, and now may be plotting an even more deadly scheme.

The task of making Bond relevant is challenging, and Director Sam Mendes does more than meet that challenge. Not only is there intelligence in the way that the film plays on recent events, but his decision to play upon the lore of Bond makes for a much more enjoyable experience. The film doesn’t lack any of the sharp humor, practically shot action, or character types of the previous films, but it has a self awareness to it that makes the film richer. It’s a traditional Bond story, but the execution is what puts it above.

Continuing in this pattern is another great performance from Daniel Craig. Craig’s films have followed a more direct storyline than previously seen, and his performance feels synonymous with the character, as Spectre gives him the chance to puts the character in more radical circumstances. The decision to include more of the classic Bond characters, namely Ralph Finnes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomi Harris gives the film an old school feel, yet modernized by the direction. This is also seen in the villains; Dave Bautista is well cast as the deadly yet intelligent Mr. Hinx, and Christoph Waltz’s performance as Frans Oberhauser is charming yet chilling in the classic Bond sense.

It’s easy to look at Spectre as yet another film in the franchise, but it’s so well done that it can be forgiven for its minimal shortcomings. Ranking as one of the best in the franchise’s history, Spectre is a blast. Grade: A