The Boys in the Bond 

Though Spectre may not be the finest of the franchise (it's close), Daniel Craig is still the best of the Bonds

A few have been just fine (Messrs. Connery and Brosnan), but nobody does it better than Daniel Craig (left).

A few have been just fine (Messrs. Connery and Brosnan), but nobody does it better than Daniel Craig (left).

Deep into Spectre—the 24th feature-length James Bond film, the second helmed by Sam Mendes (Skyfall) and the fourth starring Daniel Craig—Bond has barely survived a severe beating by the film's supervillain, whose signature move is to gouge out his victim's eyes with vise-like thumbs. An equally-bruised and breathless Dr. Madeleine Swann (Palme d'Or winner Lea Seydoux) turns to 007 and asks, "What do we do now?" Cue the orchestra.

As deep swells of violins play Thomas Newman's lush score, Bond and Dr. Swann, who is a genius psychologist, hit the sheets. The sex in Spectre (and there's plenty of it, as Bond also sleeps with the widow of an international terrorist) is hot as hell, but it's also awkward and out-of-place. To its credit, the new era of Bond, winningly defined by Craig, is more ethically nuanced and layered so, conversely, the sexual escapades are more obtuse and more of a wink to Bond's history rather than an element that serves the current story.

Boinking and Bond used go together like gin and vermouth but the more recent Bond has been less of a lover and more of a despair-driven nomad caught in a post-9/11 spy game and unable to keep the bad guys in his crosshairs. The 21st century Bond swims in murky waters and has little in common with incarnations of 007 who vanquished villains bent on controlling the seas (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977), the skies (Moonraker, 1979), drugs (Live and Let Die, 1973), currency (Goldfinger, 1964) or the media (Tomorrow Never Dies,1997).

Spectre reaches deep into 007's origins when his nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played to the hilt by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, burrows into James' subconscious with some surprising news about Bond's childhood. Kudos to screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade for navigating this delicate minefield, resulting in a more fully developed Bond.

Baby boomers grew up with Bond, watching the films at a time when it was edgy to walk into a theater playing Dr. No or Thunderball. Some of my childhood toys were 007 gadgets and my collection of action figures included a half-dozen variations of Bond and his villains (Blofeld, Largo, Goldfinger, etc.). But Ian Fleming didn't create the spy as an escape for kids. He created Bond to help us understand the noblest calling for a person is to protect the innocent. On occasion, some ham-fisted filmmakers have strayed from Fleming's Bond, having us believe 007 was more interested in witty one-liners or coital calisthenics, but today's Bond films require him to be more reflective of the world he's asked to protect: confused, angry, a bit battered but still resolute for justice.

Craig and Mendes have put out a top-rate product. Additionally, they've surrounded themselves with Oscar-caliber technicians. It would be criminal for next year's ceremony not to recognize Spectre for its cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema), production design (Dennis Gassner) and score. "Writing's On the Wall," the Spectre title song, penned by Newman and performed by Sam Smith, is a sure-bet Oscar winner.

Craig will probably not pick up any prizes for his performance—Bond actors never do—but bravo to him for another fine turn, which may be his last: Craig has publicly expressed what may be a desire to step away from future 007 projects.

"All I care about is that if I stop doing these things, we've left it in a good place and people pick it up and make it better," Craig told Time Out Magazine in October. "Make it better, that's all."

In the final scene of Spectre, Craig speeds away in an Aston Martin—a fitting, classy exit, indeed.

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