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Rating James Bond: From first to worst

Here's something that always stirs discussion: What are the best and worst 007 movies? With the imminent release of Quantum of Solace (perhaps the most molasses-laden title in Bond history), it's time for a new assessment. Note: I'm leaving out the original Casino Royale, as that was a spoof, and Never Say Never Again, as that isn't part of the series and was a poor remake of Thunderball (although Barbara Carrera sizzled as Fatima Blush!). Let's load our Walther PPKs and reset our ejector seats:

The Midas Touch:

     1. Goldfinger. Everything came together in Bond's third film, with great villains, the iconic and ill-fated "golden girl" (Shirley Eaton), a fantastic female (The Avengers' Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore), a terrific climax at Fort Knox, and the best exchange in any Bond film: "Do you expect me to talk?" "NO, Mr. Bond! I expect you to die!"
     2. From Russia With Love. A zippy, tense Cold War caper and certainly the closest adaptation of any of the Ian Fleming novels. It also had one of the series' most memorable villains in Rosa Klebb, plus Robert Shaw in a star-making performance as "Red" Grant.
     3. Casino Royale (2006). The decision to cast Daniel Craig in this post-Bourne Bond revamp met with a lot of fan derision at the time, but who's laughing now? Craig created a Bond very different from all of his predecessors, a cold, physical 007 who still had a heart. Yeah, it's 15 minutes too long, but unfortunately that's been true of nearly every action movie since Face/Off (yes, I'm wagging a finger at you, John Woo).
     4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service. This was George Lazenby's one and only appearance as 007, and if Sean Connery had still been in the role, it would have been #1. Diana Rigg is the woman who finally captures Bond's heart, the ski chase is among the best chase scenes ever filmed, Louis Armstrong (!) sings "We Have All the Time in the World," and the fast, tragic ending still packs a punch. (P.S. Check out the Propellerheads' kick-ass version of John Barry's pulse-quickening instrumental title track.)

Approved by Q Branch:

     5. The Spy Who Loved Me. Sure, it's an aquatic remake of You Only Live Twice, but the fight scenes are exciting, Jaws was a cool villian, and Roger Moore's Bond had not yet descended into self-parody -- in fact, Moore is great here. Bonus points for the appearance of fave Caroline Munro as evil henchwoman/helicopter pilot.
     6. GoldenEye. Pierce Brosnan's debut had a lot of things going for it, and it's a shame that his later films never fulfilled the promise of this one. Sean Bean was excellent as the villainous Double-0 traitor, and the sight of an immaculately suited Brosnan driving a tank while chasing a car through the streets of Moscow is a classic Bond moment. And oh that Famke Janssen...!
     7. Thunderball. The big scuba fight at the end -- spectacular in the 1960s -- is disappointingly dated. That aside, it's just Sean Connery at his best, fully feeling his Bond mojo in the fourth film. Best line: "Mind if my date sits this one out? She's just dead!" And the wild jetpack escape sets the tone for all future Bond pre-credit sequences. Side note: One thing I always loved about Connery's Bond films was that the fights sounded vicious! Every punch was like a club to the head. Watch the opening fight in Thunderball and you'll see (and hear) what I mean.
     8. You Only Live Twice. Starring the hugest set ever built at the time (the underground SPECTRE launchpad), the movie's climactic battle has been copied in movies, TV shows, and comic books for decades. The aerial combat with "Little Nellie" is probably my all-time favorite Bond scene.
     9. For Your Eyes Only. After the widely panned excesses of Moonraker, the franchise pulled back quite a bit with this low-tech Cold War tale starring are-they-or-aren't-they-villains Julian Glover (the last of the Jagaroth to Doctor Who fans!) and a scenery-chewing Topol.
     10. Dr. No. I feel bad putting the first 007 film this far down, but hey, that's the way it goes. Ursula Andress made film history with her character's emergence from the water, and Connery's 007 paved the way for Craig's Bond much later on, as he has no problem killing bad guys in cold blood.

"You have a nasty habit of surviving" (Kamal Khan, Octopussy):

     11. Octopussy. Roger Moore was officially too old by this point, but there are some pretty tense moments with the nearly nuked circus (and NATO). Still, 007 dressing up as a clown? Yeesh.
     12. License to Kill. I'll say this right out: Timothy Dalton got the shaft as Bond. It's unfortunate that he was cast just as the series itself had completely run out of steam. His second and final Bond film starts off well, and Dalton nicely handles the "out for revenge" look. Hey, check out Benicio del Toro as the homicidal henchman! But what in the world is Wayne Newton doing in here?
     13. Tomorrow Never Dies. Even the awesome Michelle Yeoh as a Chinese superspy can't help this film's plot, with Jonathan Price as a villainous Rupert Murdoch. (Is that redundant?) The best scene was Bond escaping in his remote-control car. Brosnan's look of joy as he fiddled with the controls embodied the reason we keep going to these movies.
     14. Live and Let Die. Moore's first Bond film, and unquestionably the most dated of the franchise. It just screams "1970's" and it dances uncomfortably close to racism. A teenaged (!) Jane Seymour makes her screen debut as Solitaire. The speedboat chase is excellent. (Update 11/14: And in a nod to Rick's comment below, how can I not highlight the great title track by Wings! Along with Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger," it's the best and best-known of all the Bond songs.)
     15. The Living Daylights. Dalton's 1st Bond film begins with a strong, darker half-hour that makes you think, "Wow, are we really getting back to Fleming's Bond here?" Ehhh, not quite. A flimsy plot involving arms smuggling and a cello. Nice car, though.
     16. The World is Not Enough. I really wanted to like this film a lot more, because the premise was so interesting. But an expanded role for Judi Dench's M, a crazy hot villainess (Sophie Marceau), a lengthy, exciting pre-credit sequence, a title track from Garbage, and the pneumatic derriere of Denise Richards can't make up for a disappointing villain in Robert Carlyle, a dull, scattershot plot, and a ho-hum performance by Pierce Brosnan, who in his 3rd Bond film seemed to realize he wasn't blazing any new trails.
     17. Diamonds Are Forever. Connery's last Bond (at least until Never Say Never Again) is mildly entertaining, but never really engaging. Connery, who by his own admission was too old for the part, was lured back ... but only after demanding the then-incredible sum of $1.2 million (which he donated to a Scottish education fund). He does get some marvelous lines to work with, such as when the bodacious Lana Wood approaches Bond at the casino: "Hi, I'm Plenty!" "But of course you are..." "Plenty O'Toole!" "Named after your father, perhaps?"
     18. Moonraker. The culmination of the franchise's worst excesses in the '70s, force-fed by the success of Star Wars. Boasting the second-most idiotic plot in Bond history (Die Another Day is the victor there!), many 007 fans understandably place Moonraker last. But at least it has a jaw-dropping, sky-diving sequence to kick things off, plus Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax, who relishes wonderful lines such as, "Look after Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him."

License Revoked:*

     19. The Man With the Golden Gun. As a huge Christopher Lee fan, it pains me to put this film so low, but boy, is it bad. Lee as Scaramanga is the film's only redeeming feature. Even its best stunt -- the car flip over the river -- is ruined by an idiotic toy-whistle sound effect. And tell me that after watching the pre-credit sequence, you don't know exactly how this movie is going to end! Britt Ekland appears as the dumbest person ever in a James Bond film (Talisa Soto in License to Kill makes it a close call, though), and this movie also introduced us to Tattoo. Gee, thanks. I wonder what would have happened if the filmmakers had stuck to the plot of Fleming's novel, in which an brainwashed Bond tries to murder M, is captured, deprogrammed, and sent to assassinate Scaramanga in a "Kill or be killed" situation to prove that he has any value to MI6. Doesn't that sound more interesting?
     20. Die Another Day. What a colorful mess. The plot is all over the place (North Korea, diamonds, ice hotels, a villian who poses as a Bond/Austin Powers caricature), Bond windsurfs to escape an outer-space death beam, and the movie doesn't know when to end. Halle Berry and her hips do what they can, but nothing can save Brosnan's final Bond film from disaster. The studio got Madonna to do the title track, which would have been fine ... except that Madonna was in her electronica phase at that point, which was not so fine.
     21. A View to a Kill. The worst Bond film of all. Christopher Walken stars as villain Max Zoran, whose master plan is essentially the same as Goldfinger's (just replace "gold" with "microchips"), but he engages in brutal acts that just don't fit in a Bond movie. The fire engine chase is embarrassing to watch ... but not as much as watching Roger Moore smack lips with Tanya Roberts and others. Even Moore has said of his last 007 appearance, "I was only about 400 years too old for the part." The climactic fight is inexcusably boring; Zoran attacks 007 with a ... fire axe? Really? But that pales next to the horrible treatment given to the early films' evil mastermind, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who wails in the pre-credit sequence, "Mr. Bond!! I'll buy you a delicatessen!" Why spit on the past like that? The movie's title was painfully appropriate, as the franchise effectively died for a few years at that point; Dalton's two movies were simply the series on life support.

Thoughts? Agree or disagree? And who was the best "Bond Girl"? Speak! By the way, you can find lots of Bondian facts at the cool Commander Bond site.

*Geek trivia: This was the working title of License to Kill during filming.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 13th, 2008 07:21 pm (UTC)
I've never been into Bond, really, but I enjoyed a few of them. Notably, the Pierce Brosnan ones. But then Sean Bean helped that one out.

But I do have to wonder, and I'm too lazy to look this up: do the movies try to observe continuity? Do they address Bond's timelesness? Are all of these events supposed to have happened? Are they in order? Do they observe different periods of history?

What do I know? :)

Bit of trivia: my WotC editor accused me of trying to make my TDM protagonist as Bond-like, which couldn't have been further from my mind at the time. Bond is suave and charismatic, as likely to attend a blue-blood charity dinner as infiltrate an enemy compound. My guy just liked doing stuff like the latter, and wasn't out to woo women every which way.

Just sayin'.
Nov. 13th, 2008 07:38 pm (UTC)
That's funny about your editor's comment. (Feh! What do those editors know!)

Bond continuity is kind of like Spider-Man or Batman continuity. The main characters have been around for decades, yet the passage of time isn't really reflected. Take Spidey, for instance. The character debuted in 1963, but for Peter Parker and his many friends and enemies, less than 10 years have passed. And if a brand-new issue had a flashback to an event that happened in an issue from, say, 1970, we'd probably see characters using cell phones and PCs because -- in current continuity -- that event would've happened in 2002, not 1970.

As for Bond, well, there is some adherence to continuity ... at least through most of the Connery and Moore movies, since the supporting cast of characters (his boss M, gadget man Q, and the ever-hopeful Miss Moneypenny) stayed the same, as did their actors. All the things that happened to Connery's and Moore's 007s are supposed to have happened to Dalton's and Brosnan's 007s (for instance, The Spy Who Loved Me, A View to a Kill, and License to Kill make references to Bond's tragically short marriage), but technology and current events have been "retconned" to fit the modern day.

The big change with 2006's Casino Royale is that the franchise has been rebooted, a la Batman Returns. The stuff that happened to the earlier Bonds has NOT happened to Daniel Craig. Casino Royale represented his first major mission as a Double-Oh agent, and Quantum of Solace picks up almost immediately from the previous film's ending.
Nov. 14th, 2008 12:50 am (UTC)
Awesome, awesome list. I'm a huge Bond movie fan. I might shuffle things a bit -- I like Live and Let Die (great Wings title song there too) and would put Golden Gun above some others (Moonraker & License to Kill, I'm looking at you), but I agree with 99% of your comments. No time to comment more now, but this is a great topic.

Nov. 14th, 2008 11:58 pm (UTC)
By and large, I don't contest your ranking in the slightest.
I like Craig and Lazenby, and I agree that Dalton was shafted, but I'd rate Living Daylights higher than License to Kill...that one kinda hurt.
I'd also put Moonraker as the worst.
USA has been showing Bond flicks, and I made CJ watch the end of You Only Live Twice JUST for the climactic battle. All told, though, I would have ranked that lower just for the "turning (Bond) Japanese" pain.
It's like trying to cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican DA...it don't work, even if Orson Welles directs.
Garbage's "World is Not Enough" is my #2 Bond song (after Goldfinger).
"Best Bond Girl" would probably be...uh...hmmm...
I have strong love for Solitaire, but the teenaged thing kinda DQs her.
Without her, I'd go with Diana Rigg...the one who actually won his heart.
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:43 am (UTC)
Yes, definitely agree about Diana Rigg's Tracy as #1 Bond Girl. Beautiful, classy, and -- in a rarity in Bond movies -- well written.

Regarding songs, Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice" gets my pick for #2 after "Goldfinger." (Soft Cell had a great cover of that song as a B-side back in the early '80s.) As for Bond's "Japanese impersonation" ... yeah, that's a stretch! But damn, I love that movie: Bond's fight with the samurai-wielding thug in the office, the "Little Nellie" sky fight, and the climactic battle of S.H.I.E.L.D vs. Hydra ...uh, I mean, ninja vs. SPECTRE. Great scenes.

(P.S. I chuckled over the Charlton Heston comment, but I easily excuse Heston's fake swarthiness for Touch of Evil's mind-boggling 3:30 tracking shot to open the movie.)
Nov. 15th, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)
In defense of George Lazenby!

A solid list ... I'll have to post mine when I get the chance, but from the looks of it, we're kinda similar.

One thing I noticed in your summation of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" -- you said that "if Sean Connery had still been in the role, it would have been #1." I know many Bond fans feel the same way. But I've always believed that Connery -- for as good an actor as he was -- would've had trouble selling Bond as the vulnerable romantic. Connery, through the first five films of the series, had firmly established Bond as a heartless, macho womanizer who goes through dames like a pollen-surrounded Felix Unger goes through Kleenexes.

I have a hard time picturing "his" Bond wearing a kilt (even though, yes, Connery's a Scotsman) or dressing up incognito or playing the romantic scenes any better than Lazenby with his male-model good looks. I can't picture Connery shameless trying to court the Diana Rigg character, or crying as he holds her dead body in the car in the film's final scene.

Plus, Lazenby brought a different sense of humor to the role -- most notably, talking to the audience after his fight on the beach at film's opening ("I bet you this never happened to the other guy," he says, in reference to the contract-perturbed Connery). It was unlike the one-line, deadpanned quips that Connery mastered (and Roger Moore later beat us over the head with).

Is Lazenby as good an actor as Connery? No. But, in some regard, he might've been better suited for this one particular film in the series -- mainly because Connery had so firmly established how his Bond behaved that how Bond was written in "OHMSS" would've been too jarring (and maybe unbelievable) for the audience.

-- Your bro, Stephen
Nov. 17th, 2008 12:31 am (UTC)
Re: In defense of George Lazenby!
Actually, I didn't intend to toss any digs on Lazenby except that, well, Connery is a better actor and simply had a TON more charisma than Lazenby. Could Connery have pulled off the romantic scenes in OHMSS as well as Lazenby did? Don't know for sure, but certainly Connery had great romantic roles later in his career (see Robin and Marian) and even if he didn't have that level of acting experience back then, I think his personality and his cache of audience good will that he had built up as Bond would've carried the movie easily through any rough spots.

Certainly, though, they were able to tailor some scenes in OHMSS with the knowledge that Connery was not playing Bond. For instance, they wouldn't have done the incognito thing at the chateau because Connery/Bond had just fought Ernst Starvo Blofeld face-to-face in the previous movie! Even with a different actor playing Blofeld, that still would have been a stretch to not him to recognize Connery/Bond. But since it's a different Bond to the audience, then it's also apparently a different Bond to Blofeld! (You could get away with continuity issues like that back then. A much more innocent time before DVDs and the Internet....)

I simply think it would have been a differently scripted movie if Connery had still been in the role. But by that same reasoning, I've now made thisan "apples to oranges" comparison, which means my earlier criticism of Lazenby is meaningless! Good job!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )