With the latest Bond film, SPECTRE, haunting cinemas worldwide, what better time to look at our ol’ pal James’ prolific cinematic escapades, culminating in a review of that there new film? We discuss all of the Bonds, if not necessarily all of the Bond films as we cover the varied eras of Martini-sipping, gadget-laden “spycraft”.
While discussions on this topic were necessarily wide-ranging, we’ve tried generally to split it up into chronological Bond actor order. Or as I like to call it, “chronobonder”
No, wait, that’s not right.
Ah, yes. That’s more like it. The original Bond, barring some pub-trivia asides, and, many will argue, the best. Bond’s cinematic run starts with 1962’s Dr. No, a stellar introduction although one which these days seems like it’s from a different franchise. The entire first half of the film is rather low-key and unusually, compared with the rest of the canon, actually features Bond investigating something. Even when the mysterious Doctor’s plans are uncovered, it’s a surprise to find that it’s something that’s plausibly realistic. It’s showing off Bond as a stone-cold killer, at the same time as giving him enough moments of vulnerability to have us at least entertain the possibility that he might not make it, in stark contrast to later escapades.
From Russia With Love ploughs a similar path, and is similarly successful, but Goldfinger is perhaps where things start to coalesce around a formula that modern audiences are familiar with, as Auric Goldfinger sets about a plan to irradiate Fort Knox’s gold supply. The first larger than life Bond villain and the first zany scheme, this puts the focus more on action and adventure and much less on the investigation, and even less on the “secret” part of secret agent. In providing the template for much of the next twenty-odd films, Goldfinger is certainly a classic and holds up better than might be expected for modern viewers.
Thunderball concerns itself with a plan to steal a nuclear equipped plane by Bond’s recurring antagonist SPECTRE, and it’s notable for introducing them as well as the technically impressive, if rather less dramatically successful, underwater scenes. However, there’s a degree of pushing things too far in You Only Live Twice, as Bond heads off to Japan with his flat-pack helicopter. Plot-wise I’ve no real bones to pick with the film, and it ends in one of the most memorable set-pieces as Bond attacks SPECTRE’s base hidden inside a volcano, but there’s a certain oddness regarding Bond being highly unconvincingly made up as Japanese. Shades of Team America‘s valmorification, there.
All good things must come to an end, which brings us to…
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with Connery retired from the role and model and noted non-actor George Lazenby stepping into the tuxedo and Walther PPK holder.
It’s total pish.
Lazenby displays none of the charm, or the edge, or the physicality that Connery brought to the table, Telly Savalas is woefully miscast as Blofeld, and Blofeld’s plan is borderline nonsensical. I can on some level appreciate the attempt at character development, even if that’s forgotten about for nearly forty years. There’s a corps of seemingly normal people who hold this up as the best Bond film. I think they have access to a different version of the film than we do, because the one I’ve seen is unrelentingly terrible. With a disaster of this magnitude, there’s only one man to call to fix it…
Sean Bean Again
Hang on, no, that’s still not right.
Sean Connery Again
Ah, yes. That’s more like it. After the Broccolis presumably backed a dump truck full of money into Connery’s garage he returns as Bond for one final Bond outing, at least as far as the then official licence goes, with Diamonds are Forever, going up against a SPECTRE plan involving diamond encrusted satellites, and is about as far out as that sounds. With a much lighter tone, it foreshadows the horrors to come while remaining a watchable enough film, but it’s clearly the least of the Connery films.
Which brings us to the dark days of the Moore era, with lots of raised eyebrows, laboured puns and charisma-free acting. Moore never quite had the physical chops to be a convincing action star, even when first cast, and he doesn’t get better with the advancing years, that’s for sure. Live and Let Die has an awesome theme, but it’s rapidly downhill from there with a feeble plot, a bizarre villain and poorly judged Blaxploitation trappings. The Man With the Golden Gun should give Christopher Lee an excuse to vamp it up, but he and the rest of the film remain curiously flat. The Spy Who Loved Me is a rare high point, with an equally rare Bond girl that’s not just arm candy. Moonraker lifts the plot wholesale from the last film and puts it in space, as Star Wars makes its influence felt. It has aged abysmally, and was pretty shonky in the first place, giving us the spectacle of a pigeon giving a double take to a hover-gondola. Insanity. For You Eyes Only is only ever remembered for being forgettable, while most people wish they could forget Octopussy, a notable low point even for the Moore era. The film that put Bond in a clown suit. Gash. A View To A Kill is another disappointment, as of all people you’d think Christopher Walken should nail a Bond villain. Nope, and Moore’s clearly no longer suitable for this gig. Enter…
The Bond most under-served by the material given to him. Half of The Living Daylights is really good, before it descends into silliness and introduces a deeply underwhelming villain. That said, Dalton immediately looks ten times the Bond Moore was, with a convincing presence and a edgier take on the character that was probably a bit too far ahead of its time. That edge was probably the idea behind Licence to Kill, where he’s looking for vengeance from a drug lord who injured his best mate, Felix Leiter. It’s the sort of set-up that would fit in quite well in the modern era, but the execution of this is completely ham-fisted and looks curiously low-budget. An unfortunate run for a Bond that deserved much better.
A six year hiatus brings us to Goldeneye, mainly notable for the N64 game it spawned. Strangely, between nostalgia for that game and a number of quirks in the casting and execution of the film, this is one of my favourite Bond films. As for Brosnan, he’s a very safe pair of hands for the franchise. He rarely sets a foot wrong, unfortunately he’s stuck in a franchise that steadfastly refuses to mix up its formula in a cinematic landscape that was changing around it. As such, he’s left doing much the same shtick for Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and finally Die Another Day, each time trying to ramp up the action and effects work in a attempt to remain relevant. None of the films are outright dreadful, but comparing 2002’s releases of Die Another Day and The Bourne Identity is an object lesson in a formula outstaying its welcome.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Craig is for my money the best actor to play Bond, and as such for the reboot Casino Royale he brings the dramatic chops to deal with the sudden gaining of a character for Bond, and the development of that character, which hadn’t been seen since the aborted attempt from Dalton. Great stuff. Quantum of Solace suffers greatly from being caught up in the Writer’s Strike, and feels a lot like Casino Royale 1.5. That said, there’s worst things imaginable than more of one of the best Bond films, so it’s still an enjoyable film, and it seems to attract a lot more vitriol than it deserves. Skyfall is a right ol’ return to form and no mistake, guv. Javier Bardem is a creepy and effective foil, and the action scenes may be the best the franchise has ever seen. Great stuff, so hopes were high for the newest entry…
We round things off with the return of SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, this time around played by Christoph Waltz. A safe pair of hands, you might think. Hmmmm. At any rate, we join with Bond being considered a rogue agent as he fulfils one last job given to him by Judy Dench’s M, taking out what turns out to be a SPECTRE agent and pulling that string to lead him to Blofeld’s private evil organisation. Meanwhile Ralph Fiennes’ M is concerned with defending MI5 from being obsoleted and replaced by a pan-global joint security service that’s high on the universal surveillance snooping deal that Edward Snowden was so upset with. I’m sure there’s not too much of a spoiler threat if I tell you that these schemes turn out to be interlinked.
Curiously, my opinion of the film has diminished rapidly with age – that age being all of five days. When watching this in the cinema, I thought that this was as good as any of the Craig-era Bonds and tremendously enjoyable, with only one flat spot that attempts to combine exposition with a car-chase, capturing the excitement of the former and the depth of the latter, which I’m sure was the inverse of what they were going for. Still, a small blemish on an otherwise good film. At least, until you consider it in any detail, at which point it starts flying apart.
SPECTRE is making an attempt to tie together all of Bond’s various escapades since the Casino Royale reboot, and does so with a fist composed entirely of ham. I’d have let it go if there was a light touch about it, but the repeated references attempt to hammer home a premise that bears no scrutiny at all, and smacks of desperately trying to retcon a co-ordinated plan where there clearly was none. It’s all a bit Battlestar Galactica-y.
The reason for this, as much as it is building SPECTRE up as a threat that can be returned to for the foreseeable future, is to build up the animosity with Blofeld. For about half of the film, it does a pretty decent job of that, with Waltz flitting between charm, menace and sociopathy. However for the other half he’s Dr Evil from Austin Powers.
There was always the risk of this sort of thing happening with the more recent films moving away from the Bourne-esque “realism”, for want of a better term, and reintroducing the well worn tropes of Bond. We’ve seen glints of it here and there, but it’s allowed well and truly out of its box here and the film is substantially worst for it. It looks very much like a film out of time, which perhaps it could have pulled it off if it wasn’t trying to maintain the same tone as the grittier entries, giving a very confusing and ineffectual tone.
A grave disappointment, all things considered.
What have we learned from this? Well, not a great deal, to be brutally honest, but we round off our discussion with a run-down of our favourite and least favourite Bonds, films, and theme music. And with that, off we go, dancing into the fire. That fatal kiss is all we need.
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