As it is roughly a month and about 2 weeks-ish until the release of Spectre, the 24th film in the prestigious (and highly lucrative) James Bond film series, I thought I would take the time, now, to talk a bit about my disproportionate love for the series, considering I only found it about a year ago. Whateves. Let’s jump right into it, shall we?
The Bond films, for those who are somehow unaware, are a long-running series of 23 (soon to be 24) action/spy films based on the popular, incredibly sexist book series written by Ian Fleming, all of which star 1 of 6 different actors as the series’ main character….you know, I’ll think I’ll let him introduce himself, he always says it best:
Such, such suaveness, it’s actually quite beautiful…
Anyways, that’s not what we’re hear to talk about. We’re here to talk about the gadgets, the actors, the movies, the cars, the whole deal. through various posts leading up to the U.S. release of Spectre, one every other week. So, let’s begin, we’ve got a lot to dig through, starting with:
The James Bond film series is one of, if not the, longest-running film franchises in cinematic history, and almost certainly the only one to run for 50 years with only 2-3 genuinely terrible, unenjoyable duds in the mix. Strap yourselves in, because I’m going to give my brief thoughts on every single one of the 23 films. This’ll take a bit. *ahem*
Okay, I realize that was a bit of a non sequitur, but I had to use it at some point! Let’s go! Also, I will be ignoring the 3 non-official Bond films, as I haven’t seen them. Y’know what? I’ll talk about the background behind them briefly. I’ve got nothin’ better to do.
Non-Official Bond films:
Starring: Barry Nelson
Strange episode of a 1950’s television anthology series called “Climax!” Apparently terrible, this was adapted from the Ian Fleming novel, but butchered the Bond mythos, turning him into an American, and shuffling the rest of the story about. Also, we lose out on the “Bond gets his testicles beaten with a length of rope” scene for a “Bond gets his toes broken with a nutcracker while in a bathtub” scene instead. Oh well. I guess it was the 50’s.
Speculative grade: D-
Starring: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, Woody Allen, and quite a few others. Basically, if you were a well-known and beloved actor in the 60’s, you were in this.
Somehow, even after the Bond series had started, some randos managed to acquire the rights to adapt Casino Royale a second time before Eon. How they did it is anyone’s guess. So, this is a bizarre pseudo-parody of the Bond films that stars David Niven, Ian Fleming’s personal choice for the official role of Bond as a retired secret agent who gets called back into duty when…I give up on trying to summarize this movie. Basically, it’s poorly plotted, plagued with production issues, falls apart about two-thirds through, lacks a singular vision, and is a waste of an incredibly talented cast.
Starring: Sean Connery, for some reason…
Look, this is a remake of Thunderball, which is a film I don’t particularly care for. How and why does a non-official Bond that’s also a remake of a previous film exist? Look, it’s a long and complex series of rights disputes and dull legal battles. If you care, read about it here.
On this film, I have no opinion other than: Why?!
Anyways, on to the films that people actually care about. Just what are the Bond films, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked, Daniel-san. I shall now list them off without looking them up. You don’t believe me? Well, I guess I have no way of proving that I don’t look them up. But trust me, I don’t need to.
The 23 official Bond films, in order of release date, are:
Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill, Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall
Yep, that’s a lot of ’em. Well, let’s get to it.
Dr. No is the one that started it all, and perhaps, because of that, I’ll be a little less harsh on it than I honestly should be. Dr. No has not aged well. At all. Not in any way. The action is mostly hand to hand combat, and, as we all know, hand to hand combat in American movies did not get good until Chinese martial arts movies started to find an American audience. And that was not in the 60’s, which means we’re stuck with lousy sped-up stage punches that have no real impact and just look fake. There’s little real tension, and the story isn’t that great. But, it has enough iconic moments, like this:
And especially this:
Not a single film has ever managed to make walking out of the ocean work like this movie does. However, this does not change the fact that Honey Rider (yes that’s her name, yes we’re supposed to take it seriously) is not all that interesting of a character. She just kind of shows up, makes a whole “Dr. No killed my father” speech, and that’s it. No closure, just an end-of the movie bang with Bond. Yeah, these early Bond films really aren’t very *ahem* good at portraying strong female characters.
But, anyways, as I’m feeling generous, and nothing in Dr. No is particularly bad, per se, I’ll give it a C.
Although an improvement on the previous installment, From Russia With Love decides to slow the pacing down to a crawl and amp the music in inappropriate places, like blaring the Bond theme as Bond…walks down a hall. Yeah, odd, isn’t it?
Though it features a strong cast and a good quartet of villains in the mysterious Blofeld, the dangerous Klebb, the creepy genius Kronstein, and the ruthless mercenary Red Grant, the film fails to really do anything with half of them. Blofeld gives a speech, disappears, then kills Kronstein, who’s in the film even less than Blofeld! However, Klebb and Grant both get enough screentime, though I do wish that Grant could’ve gotten more use out of his garrote watch.
The film is extraordinarily slow and doesn’t really “get good” until Bond and a Russian double (triple? (quadruple?)) agent board the Orient Express. From there, it’s a smooth ride to the finish, but getting there is a chore, largely because of the other major problem with From Russia With Love: its plot is incredibly convoluted, about on par with a Mission: Impossible movie plot, but explained worse. For this reason, I have to give From Russia With Love a C+.
Connery’s best and the most enjoyable of the 60’s Bond films, Goldfinger finally finds the happy medium of schlocky and self-serious that the Bond film formula operates in. It gets an iconic villain in Auric Goldfinger, an awesome henchman who caused a lot of online gamers agony in the mid-90’s in Oddjob, it’s got Connery’s greatest Bond performance, and it’s got great action and iconic lines, like:
So, yeah, a great film. A+.
Now here’s where we get to some of the one’s where I’ll be a bit more succinct. Thunderball: Not great, pretty boring, dull villain, poorly written, okay performances, bad Bond girl. Decent-ish action, and only a few iconic one-liners. Not very good, it gets a C-.
Fun, but overlong, YOLT takes too long to get to the good stuff, that is, the ninja volcano lair straight out of Austin Powers and the Blofeld reveal. Also, Donald Pleasence=Best Blofeld. I’m right, by the way. Few stand-out action scenes, including the aforementioned ninja volcano lair gunfight and a particularly well-done gyrocopter sequence. However, it does get points docked for outright racism.
Because of this, YOLT drops from a B to a B-.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is best remembered for three things:
A. It’s the film where Bond gets married
2. It’s the film where Bond’s wife is killed
D. The Bond actor, George Lazenby, was so terrible that they didn’t even ask him back for a second film.
(By the way, that A, 2, D numbering system is a reference to Home Alone)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is just kind of standard Bond adventures with an unusually tragic love story just kind of tossed in the mix, and it doesn’t quite jive. For one, Lazenby can’t sell an emotion (except for the end line) to save his life, and, for two, they replaced Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld. One does not simply replace Donald Pleasence.
The plot of OHMSS is unusually convoluted, and I don’t quite remember it. Something about poisoning the food supply with allergies, or something? I don’t quite recall. One of my favorite YouTube comedians, Mr Sunday Movies once said of OHMSS:
The story of that, basically goes: Bond does a series of things, then he gets married, only to have his wife immediately murdered in a Spectre drive-by with Blofeld at the wheel.
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up, I guess.
It’s got some odd issues with tone, and uneven pacing, but it’s alright, I guess. A solid B, at least.
Diamonds Are Forever is legitimately terrible. It’s an odd parody of itself, before the film series had a hold of itself enough to figure that out, so it just does self-parody incorrectly. It features a side character named Plenty O’Toole. Get it? Because, like so many Bond girls had names that were double-entendres themed around female genitalia, let’s have one with a double-entendre themed around male genitalia, then Connery can say, “Named after your father, perhaps?” Ha. Not really. Most, but not all, of the jokes fall short, and the whole thing is bizarre from start to finish. However, DAF is not without its moments of enjoyability, including a vehicle chase through the desert featuring a moon buggy.
DAF may be, well, daft, but at least it’s daft in a fun way. I’ll give it a C-.
Live and Let Die is the perfect introduction to Roger Moore’s James Bond, a more suave and refined individual than his rough, gruff, tough guy predecessor in Connery, and yet himself tougher and much, much cooler than Lazenby. The film itself may be lazily plotted, a generic blaxsploitation movie with Bond’s name slapped on it, and full of inane moments like Sheriff J.W. Pepper:
But, hey, I guess that’s the price of a more comedy-laden Bond film, some jokes are going to fall flat. At least Pepper is relegated to only a scene or two.
The villains are decent, the gadgets are fine, but there is a wristwatch deus ex machina that just comes out of nowhere to save Bond, which is odd, and kind of lazy of the filmmakers. LALD is decent, and earns a C+.
The Man With The Golden Gun is a heavily flawed, not all that good film that’s elevated to a level far, far above it due to the late Christopher Lee’s (R.I.P.) incredible performance as the deadly assassin Scaramanga. If there’s one Bond film I feel is both disproportionately hated on and also should’ve been done better, it’s this one. “Bond vs. the world’s deadliest assassin” is an incredibly simple, yet genius concept that the filmmakers managed to screw up by adding in solar power and lasers, which have no place in this plot. I give Lee’s performance an A+, but the film he’s in will have to settle for a C-.
The Spy Who Loved Me is great. It manages to finally find the right balance for Moore, and to redefine Bond for the 70’s. It’s got great action, incredible gadgets, a great cast, it’s well-plotted, and features a weak villain. But I’ll forgive them on that count. It’s not their fault they couldn’t use Blofeld.
Moonraker is perhaps the most blatant example of corporate greed in the entire Bond saga. Because of the immense success of The Spy Who Loved Me, Albert R. Broccoli and co. decided to make the same movie again, but IN SPACE! Yeah, no, seriously, Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me have the exact same plot, but Moonraker is in space. Not even kidding, bro. Wow.
At the very least, Moonraker features stunning visual effects and a stronger villain than The Spy Who Loved Me in Hugo Drax. Moonraker is, at the very least, enjoyable in its absurdity, and has a lot of fun whilst being so lazy. Also, this happens:
Not good, but still really fun, Moonraker earns a C.
For Your Eyes Only is a fairly straightforward Bond adventure that manages to bring the series crashing back down to Earth after the absurdity that was Moonraker. It tells the story it wants to tell, and does a pretty good job at it, creating a fairly memorable film with pretty good action and a good villain. Is it particularly great? No, but it’s what the series needed after Moonraker.
Also, it gives a giant middle finger to Kevin McClory by killing off (an unnamed) Blofeld in a pre-credits scene that is ridiculous, dumb, and as out of place as the ending with a parrot talking to Margarate Thatcher. Nevertheless, FYEO is pretty good, and earns a B-.
Although it carries a ludicrous title, Octopussy fails to do much with the series, and just sort of exists as a vanilla Bond adventure that doesn’t really go anywhere after FYEO opened up possibilities. The whole film reeks of laziness and disinterest, and nothing about it is all that memorable.
A View to a Kill is the James Bond film that just totally dips into the weird, strange and bizarre. What, Bond looks like 60 years old? What, he’s in a bed with Grace Jones? Stop that, it’s uncomfortable! What, Christopher Walken is playing a crazy Nazi experiment who runs a tech firm and is going to flood Silicon Valley to make more money, and I’m just supposed to buy that?
And for goodness’ sake, Roger, will you get out of that hot tub and put on some damn clothes?!
STOP THAT! Stop it right now! This is uncomfortable, and it needs to stop! Please? Please?!
But that odd, uncomfortable weirdness is what lends AVTAK a lot of its strange “so bad it’s good” charm, and sort of elevates it to some sort of bizarre comedy. Still, it’s not very good, and receives a D+.
The Living Daylights introduced the world to quite possibly my favorite Bond, the cold and elusive, yet dangerous Timothy Dalton. One of the best actors of the lot, Dalton brings a preciseness to Bond previously unseen, he seems more like an assassin, a dangerous man, a man who can kill you, and will, if his job requires it. Yet he’s also more caring than previous Bonds, less callous towards women than his predecessors, a man who seems to treat women as people, and not as disposables, as Connery does, or as, well, I’m not quite sure what to think of the way Moore treats women, it’s quite inconsistent.
Anyways, the film itself is a fun Bond adventure that acquits itself with style and dashing good looks. The gadgets are fun, the tone is much more serious, and everything seems to click together in a way unseen since The Spy Who Loved Me. The Living Daylights is really good, though lacking in a great villain. Also, Bond helps the Taliban. So, yeah, as an American, I have to dock it down 1 notch, bringing it to an A.
Licence to Kill is quite possibly my favorite Bond film, one that takes Bond seriously, puts him in a real world with real consequences, and shows how the ruthless killer would react to such a dire situation, to one of his closest friends being so horrifically scarred, both physically and emotionally. It shows Bond at his worst, and at his best, at his most ruthless, and at his most vulnerable, it shows Bond at his most human.
Unfortunately, audiences didn’t love Licence to Kill at the time as much as I do now, and it performed poorly at the box office. Plus, it had to contend with Batman ’89 and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Tough. Also, the Cold War ended shortly after the release of Licence, leading many to wonder if Bond was even needed in this bold new world. The answer, of course, was yes, but people were stupid in the early 90’s. They seem to forget that Bond never straight-up fought the Soviets, he fought secret organizations, the films were completely politically neutral. Whatever, the series disappeared for 6 years, until it came smashing back with the release of Goldeneye, an incredibly fun and rewarding viewing experience rife with thrills, chills, and some other word that rhymes.
Goldeneye is a resurgence in the best way, a film that revives and updates Bond, a film that gives him a reason to keep on fighting, and a film that, most importantly, is a lot of fun. An easy A+ in my book.
Tomorrow Never Dies is a pretty huge disappointment coming off the back of Goldeneye. It’s a generic 90’s action movie with little to distinguish it as a Bond film, and little reason to care. Its confusing title comes from a typo on a fax machine, for goodness’ sake! Not much to love here, but not much to hate, Tomorrow Never Dies gets a C.
The World Is Not Enough is another disappointment that’s worse than TND, and lacks very many good things. It’s fun enough and the action is serviceable, however, the writing is poor, the villains are dull and nonsensical, and Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist? Really? She couldn’t even sell “student” in the beginning of Starship Troopers!
Anyways, this isn’t very good, but it’s not very bad, and there’s enjoyable stuff in it. It’s mostly a mixed bag, but I like it nonetheless. The World Is Not Enough receives a C-.
More than anything else, this film showed us how terrible Bond could be, from its ear-grating Madonna song to its terrible acting, to its horrid direction, to its incomprehensible plot featuring things like an unexplained “dream machine,” and its poor villains.
Brosnan seems lost throughout much of the second half, and Halle Berry seems completely misplaced. It was obvious that her character existed only to get her own spin-off film. Thank goodness that never took off.
It’s incredibly difficult to buy Toby Stephens as a menacing villain in a film that also expects me to take a guy with diamonds in his face seriously. Also, gene therapy can apparently alter your entire appearance, just by replacing your bone marrow. Huh. Who knew?!
The film is grating as a celebration of 40 years of Bond, as it just throws its pedigree in your face at every turn, making every reference it possibly can. All 19 previous films are referenced. That is unacceptable.
Die Another Day is horrid and deserves no more than an F.
If Licence to Kill isn’t my favorite Bond, then Casino Royale certainly takes that place. Debating which is better is futile, so I won’t bother. At all.
Casino Royale is a perfectly-paced 2 1/2 hour long movie, so much so that, when it was over, I wished it to keep on going! Everything about the film works perfectly, the plotting is great, the acting is phenomenal, the cast is spectacular, the villain is diabolical, the action is the best in the series, and the tone is appropriately gritty, after the absolute “whatever-the heck that was” of Die Another Day.
The cast is incredible, with the quartet of Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, and Judi Dench stealing the show from everyone else. The characters are intriguing, their interactions fascinating, including one scene in particular, the infamous torture scene involving nothing more than a length of rope hitting a particularly sensitive area. Not fun.
Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is easily the best “Bond girl” in years, and quite possibly the best ever. No one comes close to touching her excepting, perhaps, Tracy Bond.
I can offer no higher praise than this: I highly recommend that you go out and see Casino Royale if you haven’t immediately. Because Casino Royale is obviously an A+.
Quantum of Solace is straight-up bad, from the awful song by Jack White and Alicia Keys to the shaky, rapidly edited action. Nothing in the film works, aside from Daniel Craig, an early action chase involving a fight off a bell tower, and the very last scene, the film is confusingly plotted and poorly written, with dramatic twists being poorly revealed, the Bond girl is weak, especially for one who’s supposed to be a hero in her own right, and the villain is just horrendous. Who in here remembers Dominic Green? Exactly.
Nothing about QoS sticks in your head, except that extraordinarily dumb and nonsensical title. I hate it, and it’s bad. A D- for sure.
Skyfall is a smash hit, a film that (once again) reinvents Bond for modern audiences, a film that moves back towards the Bond formula that the films haven’t followed since 1985, and haven’t done exceptionally well since 1977. But that’s okay, because it reinvents the formula, and does it in a sensible and meaningful way, unlike Quantum of Solace.
Skyfall features amazing performances and great dialogue, though a little more attention could be paid to the plotting, as the bad guy’s scheme sort-of, kind-of falls apart once you think about it for more than a few seconds. But that’s okay, because one doesn’t notice when watching, and that’s what matters, isn’t it? What a movie is like when you’re viewing it?
Skyfall is great, and earns an A.
By the way, I would appreciate if you (the reader) didn’t go through and compare the grades I gave to different films, as they are all graded on their individual merits, and I may like a film more than the grade suggests.
So, what did you think of this post? Are you excited to see more Bond-related posts leading up to SPECTRE? Are you angry that I’m being relevant? Do you agree with me on what I said about each film, or do you disagree? Whatever you thought, sound off below, to let me know. I’ll see you guys next week (on Wednesday) with a post about something. I don’t know quite yet. Until then, farewell!
P.S. If you want to see something hilarious that’s also Bond-related, and don’t mind a bit of mature language, here’s the lyrics to the Bond theme, finally revealed: