Background: seeing as how I accomplished my original goal in watching all of Eon's Bond films from Dr. No to Skyfall, and that the publicity machine is ramping up for their 24th adventure due to hit screens in November of this year I should share my thoughts with how I feel about what I've heard so far and give a little background to clarify it all.
The organisation of SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) was James Bond's opponent in 6 of the first 7 Bond films, although it wasn't as big a part of Ian Fleming's books (Bond was generally pitted agains SMERSH in the books), the organisation's leader Blofeld was Bond's opponent in 3 consecutive films, beginning with You Only Live Twice and concluding with Diamonds Are Forever, a wheelchair bound villain with a bald head (Blofeld was generally bald, except for in Diamonds Are Forever when he was portrayed by Charles Gray) and a penchant for fluffy white cat, appeared in the pre credit sequence of For Your Eyes Only and attempted to kill Bond, before having the tables turned and being dropped down a chimney. The character was never named and the face never revealed, but it is widely believed to be Blofeld and Cubby Broccoli's way of sending a message to Kevin McClory, who claimed ownership of the character at the time. It was also driven by McClory blocking the use of SPECTRE and Blofeld with The Spy Who Loved Me, and another clear sign that For Your Eyes Only was meant to be filmed after The Spy Who Loved Me, before being shunted out of the way by the hastily put together Moonraker so that Eon could cash in on the late 70's science fiction film phenomenon.
SPECTRE first appeared in the novel Thunderball along with the organisation's villainous leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The cat fetish is something the movies invented, it's not a quirk of the character in the novels.
Thunderball was the novel that Ian Fleming initially developed as a script with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, then after leaving that project released it as a novel. This prompted legal action from McClory, in which McClory was awarded the film rights to Thunderball, but Fleming retained the literary rights. McClory also claimed the film rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld. Official Bond author Raymond Benson was still able to write and release Bond novels featuring SPECTRE and Blofeld and one of them; For Special Services, features Nena Bismaquer, Blofeld's daughter.
Eon did manage to use SPECTRE and Blofeld in 3 films during the 60's and early 70's, but copyright issues prevented them from being the central villains in The Spy Who Loved Me (there's very little doubt that Stromberg is Blofeld with another name).
MGM/UA took legal action in 1998 against Sony and McClory to prevent them from making something called Warhead 2000 AD (I believe it was another remake of Thunderball, in which McClory intended to have Timothy Dalton reprise his Bond role and feature Sean Connery as Largo). McClory had the rights to film Thunderball at least 10 years after the first film and he was allowed to make Never Say Never Again, but enough was enough. MGM/UA settled with Sony and abandoned the claim, however McClory's rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld were unaffected.
The Bond films continued to use standalone villains until Casino Royale when they invented Quantum, which is really SPECTRE with another name. Then in 2013, following the release of Skyfall, MGM and the McClory estate (Kevin McClory passed away in 2006) formally settled the issue with Danjaq (Bond's parent company), LLC and MGM acquiring the full rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld.
Not all that long after it was announced that Bond 24 would be titled SPECTRE. There has been a lot of speculation that Quantum was really SPECTRE under another name, and while it is mentioned in early releases about SPECTRE the film, I think Quantum will morph into SPECTRE.
Story: clearly as it has not yet been released, and filming only started late 2014 I don't know anything about the story other than what has been made public. Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan are in charge of the script again. That makes SPECTRE the 6th consecutive Bond film for Purvis and Wade and Logan's 2nd after coming on board for Skyfall.
The story seems to continue on from where Skyfall left off, with the new M Gareth Mallory still fighting off attacks from those within the government questioning the need for MI6 in general. A cryptic message from an unlikely source sets Bond off on the trail of a shadowy organisation using the name of SPECTRE, the closer Bond draws to a hidden truth, the more likely it is that everything he's fought to protect is in jeopardy.
At some point in the film I believe it will be revealed that Quantum was really a front for SPECTRE and I'd be surprised if Blofeld didn't make an appearance in some way, shape or form. As Raymond Benson already floated the idea that Blofeld has offspring, they could also be involved or take the place of their evil father. This continued exploration of Bond's past, started in Skyfall, really puts paid to the theories that the name and number are really just a rotating alias.
Director: in another winning move the franchise retained Sam Mendes as director. He initially said that he wouldn't direct the 24th film in the franchise, but after seeing some of the script changed his mind as he found both that and the plans for the long-term future of the franchise appealing. That decision makes Mendes the first director since Martin Campbell to do two Bond films and the first since John Glen in the 80's to direct films consecutively. After Skyfall he's only behind Campbell for mine as a Bond director and I'm very confident that he'll do a great job with SPECTRE, he's also going to be backed by a top notch cast.
James Bond: even though Craig has a contract for this film and possibly even another one beyond it, there's always speculation about who will play Bond in the next film. The names of Hugh Jackman and Idris Elba were thrown out again (I don't know why people keep putting them up there, they're not going to get the role and I don't even know if the actors actually want them). The actor I personally feel could replace Daniel Craig is a guy called Philip Winchester. He's 33, so even if Craig does another film after SPECTRE (highly likely) then Winchester would still be young enough to take the role on. He's quite tall and although he's blonde, Craig has shown that this is no longer a deal breaker. He currently plays the rather Bondian Michael Stonebridge in the TV series Strike Back, and it's not a stretch to see him go from that role to Bond, he can act as well. It's currently a moot point, though because I can't see Daniel Craig even considering stepping down from the role until after he's finished the 25th Bond film.
Franz Oberhauser: I don't know anything about Oberhauser as a character, but the casting of Christophe Waltz has done nothing to end speculation that the name is really just a Blofeld alias. If Waltz has been cast as the new Blofeld it's a master stroke, he doesn't have any of the physical facial quirks associated with the character, but he is a brilliant actor as his two Academy Awards (Inglourious Bastards and Django Unchained) attest. Interestingly he made his name in Quentin Tarantino films (I wonder if he threw another tantrum when he heard about the casting) and his villain from Inglourious Bastards was particularly chilling. It is going to be an absolute treat to see he and Craig acting together.
Madeline Swann: I kind of hope Swann isn't another Severine, just cast for looks and having little to no influence as a character on the plot. French actress Lea Seydoux is a very attractive young woman, but she is importantly more of an actress than a model and has a rising profile both in and out of her native France. She has appeared in Tarantino's Inglourious Bastards and also had the role of Isabella of Angouleme in Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. It's a promising start.
Lucia Sciarra: now this is the casting that has everyone buzzing. The beautiful Monica Bellucci landed this. At 50, Bellucci, while still stunning, is the oldest Bond girl, unless you consider Judi Dench to have been the Bond girl in Skyfall. Lea Seydoux's character has been acknowledged as the Bond girl, but people may feel differently depending on how large Bellucci's role is and how much influence it has. This is the second time she's been associated with a Bond film (she was a strong contender for the role of Paris Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies). There's been speculation that she may be Blofeld's daughter or even Blofeld, and could be the person who heads SPECTRE, although that's more likely to be Waltz's Oberhauser. Again the prospect of seeing her on screen with Craig and Waltz is mouth watering.
Denbigh: the character of Denbigh (only the one name) is listed as working for Whitehall and that means he's probably a minor character, possibly a politician or bureaucrat, but the casting of Andrew Scott, best known as Moriarty in the Sherlock TV series has me wondering if there's something else to the character.
Mr Hinx: this is listed as a bodyguard/henchman role, it's being filled by Dave Bautista. Dave Bautista is best known as simply Batista; a highly successful WWE wrestler (won the Heavyweight title and the Tag Team title on more than one occasion), he moved into acting a few years ago with guest roles in TV shows and films concentrating on his impressive physique. He's been most recently seen as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy. His sheer size and physicality makes me think he's going to be a Jaws style henchperson and a handful for Bond.
M: Ralph Fiennes will reprise the role he took on at the end of Skyfall as M, replacing Judi Dench, and what is known about the storyline indicates that he's facing the same battle she was in justifying his position and the existence of MI6. The return of SPECTRE won't make that any easier. The youth of Ralph Fiennes when compared to his predecessors: Bernard Lee, Robert Brown and Judi Dench, may see him take a more hands on role than before.
Miss Moneypenny: Naomie Harris has stepped back into the role of M's frighteningly efficient assistant. Her previous field experience as well as how good she was at that may also see her be her bosses' bodyguard as well. I hope she isn't just stuck behind the desk flirting hopefully with Bond.
Q: Ben Whishaw acquitted himself wonderfully as the old man in a young person's body playing the humourless (I never joke about my work) Q alongside Craig in Skyfall. He'll do the same in SPECTRE and may unveil a few more gadgets.
Mr White: Jesper Christensen confirmed that he was back, presumably with a limp, as one of the main people in Quantum, although I'm willing to bet he and Quantum both dance to the tune called by Blofeld and SPECTRE.
Bill Tanner: Rory Kinnear is back as Tanner, now that his assistant role and probably bodyguard one to M has been usurped by Moneypenny and his technical knowhow superseded by Q, it's hard to see exactly what he'll bring to the table or where he fits in, he may transition into the Chief of Staff role that the character originally held before being hip and shouldered out by Colin Salmon's Charles Robinson.
Not possible to do the Curse of the Bond Girl, Pre credit sequence or Gadgets section here.
Music: it's mostly still a mystery. Thomas Newman will be the composer ageing. Ben Whishaw said that he knows who will perform the theme, but understandably was not allowed to reveal the identity. Adele actually wouldn't be a bad choice to do a Shirley Bassey and become the second artist to do more than one Bond theme, and the only person to ever perform consecutive themes. Other than that I'm coming up blank.