Take Spectre away from the Bond context (which is harder to do with the long-running 007 series than with any other franchise) and it's just not that great a movie. The plot zips along from one grand set piece in an exotic location to another without ever really clarifying why we're going there or, more importantly as the film veers into what's meant to be a game-changing final third, why the characters are developing the way they are. For all the attempts at deep thinking, it soon becomes apparent the narrative is just filling in the cracks between those more high-octane and visually resplendent beats. That action is good and mostly well-framed, but lacks consistent tension and a sense of narrative momentum (or goes too far the other way and just has exposition doled out in the middle). The sequences are odd experiences, with the audio setting for the fights either naturalistic or booming music, neither of which work as well as intended (although the thuds and cracks that accompany Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx are spine-tingling and add to the wrestler's already imposing screen presence). Not necessarily bad, but rather confused. There is a lot to like though. The cast is impeccable, especially Lea Seydoux as Bond girl Madeline Swann and Christoph Waltz as Franz Oberhauser (although the latter does insert lashings of Hans Landa giddiness into his role for some reason); their characters are pretty one-dimensional thanks to the jumpy storytelling, but the actors provide enough emotion and grounding when it matters. Also, a big shout out to Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes as Q and M respectively, who once again bring balanced takes on the eternal figures. Oh, and there's Daniel Craig as Bond. He may appear exhausted with the character (or perhaps just Spectre's gruelling production), but on screen he's suave, cutting and capable (and still able to sell some of Bond's creepier moments). If there's one place where all that repeated introversion works, it's in his performance - this is a personal story for James and Craig has the chance to remind everyone there's a man behind those digits. It's the individual moments of genius that really stand out though - a jaw-dropping opening shot, a tense meeting of the eponymous organisation in Rome, a scene where a Bond girl does the most un-Bond girl thing imaginable - and give a genuine, Bondian thrill. This is Sam Mendes flying high and giving fans (either of Bond, his movies or action cinema in general) what they want. But, like multiple flying vehicles in the film, everything must come down, often in explosively spectacular fashion. Frankly, the 21st Century Bond formula is wearing thin. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have written every entry in the series since The World Is Not Enough and their tropes are becoming increasingly transparent and invariant: we have an opening sequence that's fun, but also slavishly setting up the plot; Bond is somehow exiled or otherwise detached from the MI6 fold and must go it alone; the villain pops up much later than expected and has a scheme that, while complex at first, is really dependent only contrivances and plot holes if you over think it; and through all this a subplot questions the relevance of 007 before making the obvious conclusion. That's been the blueprint for every one of Craig's outings and, while how it's executed varies from film to film, it's restrictive even by the usual Bond checklist. Spectre is in the mid-range thanks to the strong actors and, in particular, Sam Mendes, but even those talents can't overcome the rushed, regurgitative script. But oh well - this is Bond. Every time we get a lacklustre entry we just brush ourselves with an air of cool and look to the future. And, if the "one good, one bad" model keeps up (as it has now since Dalton), then Bond 25 should be awesome. Spectre is in UK cinemas from October 26th and US cinemas from November 6th.