Friday, January 30, 2015

The Bond Films - 1962 - 2012

Having shotgunned all 23 of Eon's Bond movies over the past month I thought I should do a round up  of how I viewed them and rated them. I can't do a 1 - 23 ranking and I think in some ways that's a little unfair to the individual films and those involved with them, besides anything like that is fraught with disaster, because it's highly subjective and personal. I have a friend who rates some higher than I do and rates others much lower. My wife likes some I can't stand. I'll break them up into four categories: The 00's (the best of the best), Shaken Not Stirred (good, but not great), The Felix Leiters (mostly bad, some good) and The Blofelds (all bad).

Because they're grouped I don't do specific order, but I'll list them in order of release date.

The 00's:

Goldfinger: this is where the Bond that most people identify with really started. It was the franchise's 3rd film and had a number of things associated with it that recurred and that are still associated with the character. It featured the first big hit song sung by Shirley Bassey, it had the first genuine pre credit sequence that was like a mini movie on it's own, it was the second appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, but the first time we saw him cultivate the grumpy old inventor character that became the hallmark of MI6's gadget master, Goldfinger was a larger than life villain, with an equally interesting henchman in the mute Korean manservant with the razor edged top hat, it was the first appearance of the DB5, which although it isn't used often since is still one of the agent's most memorable vehicles. Pussy Galore remains one of the best known Bond girls, largely because of her silly and risqué name. It has some great lines: 'I never joke about my work, 007.' 'No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!' Connery played the role to perfection. Guy Hamilton's over the top directing really set a standard that others strove to match.

The Spy Who Loved Me: in Roger Moore's 3rd outing he and the character clicked. The plot was insane, but it worked. Lewis Gilbert was a welcome change from Guy Hamilton's directing which had spiralled out of control to the extent that he didn't seem to care about the acting, just the stunts. Russia's Agent XXXAnya Amasova is the closest that they had come at that point to getting a female equivalent to Bond. Some don't like Barbara Bach's performance, but I thought she did quite a good job. Two elements: the submersible Lotus and the Union Jack parachute have forever been associated with Bond since and are always remembered from the film. Jaws was the most memorable henchman since Oddjob and became one of the most loved. After a departure from what people felt of as genuine Bond films in Roger Moore's first two outings as the character it got back to that feel and storyline, and Stromberg was Blofeld in everything, but name.

Goldeneye: two words that immediately make this a superior film: Martin Campbell. With Campbell as director and Pierce Brosnan in the role he was born to play, Goldeneye rejuvenated the franchise and brought it back triumphantly after a 6 year hiatus. Brosnan was surrounded by a fantastic cast: Judi Dench as the best M ever (a role she would repeat in 6 other films), Robbie Coltrane playing Valentin ZukovskySean Bean as the two faced Alec Trevelyan also known as Janus and the over the top Xenia Onatopp played by Dutch model Famke Jannsen. It would become the measuring stick for the Bond films, and unfortunately none of Brosnan's other Bond films lived up to it. It does lose some points for the naff Tina TurnerU2 written song, though.

Casino Royale: when you need to rejuvenate something call on Martin Campbell. That's what they did here to reboot Bond. There's almost nothing about this film that does not work. It's dark, brutal and brilliant. This feels like a spy movie. This is Bond for the 21st century. New Bond Daniel Craig is ably supported by Judi Dench, the surprising Eva Green in the role of Vesper Lynd and Mads Mikkelson as Le Chiffre. I've said it before that this is about as close to perfect as a Bond film can get.

Shaken Not Stirred:

From Russia With Love: the second Bond film and the producers and director had found their feet a little now they'd worked out exactly what type of film they wanted to make. The story is solid and has a good Cold War feel about it. Tatiana Romonova as played by Daniella Bianchi still makes one of the most stunningly beautiful women that has ever appeared in the films, even 50 years later. The other co-stars in Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya play their roles to perfection and lift the film as a whole. Connery was still growing into the role. The casual sexism which is amped up from Dr. No drops it down a notch or two, this was something that seemed more prevalent in the Terence Young directed Bonds than in those he didn't helm. There's some very dodgy green screen work that also lets the film down.

You Only Live Twice: I'd always remembered this as a fairly uninspiring entry, but my mind changed on this most recent rewatch. Again the story has a bit more to it than some of the others, that may be due to Roald Dahl's scriptwriting. The beefing up of the Aki role, which while accidental, works very well. Lewis Gilbert's artistic direction was a welcome change and fitted the times. Donald Pleasance in the Blofeld role remains the best version of the character. It's let down by a few things: one is Nancy Sinatra's clearly nervous rendition of the song, the addition of the ninjas was really too over the top, Mie Hama's atrocious acting and the very unconvincing disguise of Sean Connery as a Japanese fisherman.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service: I'd let the poor performance of George Lazenby as Bond colour my view of this. I went into it expecting it to be a Blofeld or maybe a Felix Leiter, but the more I watched it and thought about it wound up in Shaken Not Stirred. It's not perfect by a long shot, but it has one of the best stories in the entire franchise, it's certainly one of the best Fleming ones. Diana Rigg as Tracy Vincenzo, the woman Bond marries, proved that Bond girls weren't just pretty scenery, they could act as well. The setting and the stunts are wonderful to look at. However it's hard to get past the minuses in this one. Lazenby's total and complete lack of acting ability are chief among them and related to that is absolutely no chemistry between he and Diana Rigg. The decision to replace Donald Pleasance with Telly Savalas, who aside from being bald bears no resemblance to the other man, as Blofeld is mystifying and then there's Peter Hunt's horrible directing.

For Your Eyes Only: this really should have been filmed after The Spy Who Loved Me as intended. There are still elements of the script that indicate this, the pre credit scene with Bond visiting Tracy's grave and then his encounter with 'Blofeld' are evidence of it. It's a good solid revenge story, with some lovely settings and a better than expected performance from former model Carole Bouquet as the vengeful, crossbow wielding Melina Havelock. It was John Glen's first outing as director and he did a good job, it's probably the best of his films. Julian Glover and Topol have a great time chewing up the scenery as the villain Aris Kristatos and the roguish smuggler Columbo respectively. Sheena Easton's theme song remains my favourite of the entire series. James Villier's performance as a highly critical Bill Tanner was badly judged though and I still think Bond should have punched him in the face. Moore is already starting to look a little old.

Licence To Kill: surely this is in the wrong place people are thinking. It's not. I've never quite understood the level of hate for this one. Dalton does a better job in Licence To Kill than he did in The Living Daylights and he was starting to get a feel for the character and how he should play it. He's got a great co-star in Carey Lowell as the feisty Pam Bouvier and seeing Q in the field was a heap of fun. Part of why fans don't like it can be attributed to the storyline, which isn't a spy story, it's a straight action revenge story with drugs at the heart of it. As a spy story it's a failure, as an action film it holds up pretty well. The side story with the Chinese DEA agents could have been done away with, it's unnecessary and really doesn't add anything to the plot. There is an air of ticking off the boxes for what makes a successful action film which can be a bit tedious at times and makes the film more pedestrian than it should be.

The World Is Not Enough: another film that I think gets a bad rap, mostly for Denise Richards as Christmas Jones, who I also don't think is as bad as she's been painted out to be. It's a rollicking story, although it makes no sense on a number of levels. Pierce Brosnan gives his usual polished performance as does Judi Dench, although I think this is her worst outing as MSophie Marceau is always welcome and Robbie Coltrane's Zukovksky lightens things up a little. The pre credit sequence is one of the best they've ever done and I think it still holds the record as the longest (Skyfall may challenge it). What really drags it down is Michael Apted's by the book directing job and it displays why he was the wrong director for a Bond.

Skyfall: now how did this not end up in The 00's? It's a great film, it really is and the highlights are Javier Bardem as SilvaJudi Dench as M and Naomie Harris as Eve MoneypennySam Mendes' direction with it's highly artistic flair is also something wonderful. It may elevate itself on a few more watchings, but at present it just doesn't quite get there for me. I have a hard time explaining why, it's just a feel, it could be the unnecessary inclusion of Severine and the feeling that the entire Macau incident doesn't quite fit with the rest of the film as well as the questions I keep asking about how Silva got from where he was to where he is and how he planned the entire thing and the lengths he went to.

The Felix Leiters

Dr. No: there are some good things about this. It was the first James Bond film and that can't possibly be bad, but due to the time it was made and the minuscule budget it has a very amateurish look to it. It's also dated very badly. None of the acting really hits a high note. The scenery is nice. There's the iconic appearance of Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder, but the character is unnecessary and the actress can't act. There's also things like the clear appearance of the glass as the tarantula crawls along it in the scene in the hotel room. Admittedly it could have been a lot worse and it did do enough to bring audiences back for the next instalment and they improved on it.

Thunderball: whereas On Her Majesty's Secret Service gets hammered I think this one gets off too easily. I actually thought it was a Shaken Not Stirred before I rewatched it, but in the intervening years between watches the suck fairy visited it. The pre credit sequence is fantastic with the jetpack, but after what Guy Hamilton did in GoldfingerTerence Young's direction in Thunderball does not sit comfortably, the sexism and misogyny plumbed new depths (I refer of course to the scene at the spa in which the very classy James Bond blackmails a nurse into having sex with him. Who thought it was a good idea to include that in the film, I do not know). There's the whole way throughout it Bond behaves like a bumbling detective, possibly an indication that Connery was already beginning to tire of the role, of course back then they made a film a year, which is quite a punishing schedule for anyone.

Diamonds Are Forever: this came very close to being a Blofeld. There's a lot more wrong than there is right, which is a shame because Guy Hamilton directed.  Connery returned to the Bond role. The setting of Las Vegas works and I liked the small comic cameo from Q, as well as the line with Plenty O'Toole (some of Connery's best work with a quip) but that's about it. The song gets better the more you hear it, but it is not Shirley Bassey's best work. A lot of people hate Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, but I kind of like them, they're an unusual thing in films back then and the actors give the impression that they know the sole thing is a giant piss take and they approach it that way. Tiffany Case is a stupid name and as an actress Jill St John makes a good bikini model. Willard Whyte is one of the worst characters they ever dreamt up and Cubby Broccoli's dreams about his friend Howard Hughes had no business making it into the script, but they did. Then there's the chase with the moon buggy, the inexplicable casting of Charles Gray as Blofeld (maybe this film really does belong in the Blofelds?). It really did show that it was time for a change.

Live And Let Die: I didn't like putting this film here, because it was my first one and for that reason alone I liked it. It brought Bond into the 70's, it did away with the hat and until Geoffrey WrightDavid Hedison made the best FelixJane Seymour was one of the most beautiful Bond girls ever as SolitairePaul McCartney's opening theme was, and still is up there with the very best of the songs. Moore makes a good start as the new Bond and sets the tone for the jokier, campier Bond he would be. The drugs storyline and clear attempts to exploit the blaxploitation theme aren't really Bond things. Some of it is downright stupid and so over the top that it makes the audience groan.

A View To A Kill: this is another film that nearly became a Blofeld. The only things that saved it were Christopher Walken's performance as Max ZorinGrace Jones as MayDay and Patrick McNee's Tibbet, and Duran Duran's excellent piece of pop fun as the song. The rest of it is really silly and trivial, the stunt sequences seem much like the format and the star; tired and over used. Tanya Roberts spends most of her time screaming for James to save her and is very needy. Sequences like the one with Pola Ivonova just seem to be inserted because. The climax on the Golden Gate Bridge looks badly faked and I think by that stage audiences were just hoping the damn thing would be over.

Tomorrow Never Dies: after Goldeneye great things were expected of the new Bond and unfortunately this film didn't deliver them. The idea about a mad megalomaniac media magnate should have worked, but it didn't. I always felt Carver just wasn't threatening enough to be a good Bond villain. The casting of Michelle Yeoh as the ass kicking Bond equal Wai Lin worked (this is what they wanted Jinx to be, but she just wasn't) and is the best thing about the film. It was pretty poor after Goldeneye and that may have been the problem.

The Blofelds

The Man With The Golden Gun: there was no way this wasn't going to end up here. There is only one saving grace about this film and that's Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga. The rest of it is Awful with a capital A. It really should have been given a rating of A for Avoid. It hardly gets anything right. Audiences were offended enough by the presence of Sheriff J.W Pepper in Live And Let Die, but at least then he was at home, placing him in Thailand as a tourist when he can offend all and sundry with his racial taunts was a major mistake and if it was as rumours suggest director Guy Hamilton's idea, then its just as well this was his last Bond film. It took them 35 years to come up with a song to top Lulu's The Man With The Golden Gun for awfulness. Midget Herve Villechaize was meant to be amusing as Nick Nack, but he just came across as annoying. Britt Ekland is next to Mie Hama the worst actress to ever play a Bond girl, at least Mie Hama's dialog was dubbed. Christopher Lee aside this is a train wreck of a film.

Moonraker: weirdly enough this made an absolute killing at the box office. I can only presume that was due to it coming after The Spy Who Loved Me. It was written in a hurry to cash in on the science fiction craze started by Star Wars and it shows. It's a shame that Lewis Gilbert, who was a damn good director, had this piece of crap as his swan song. Even star Roger Moore made fun of it later on. I understood the return of Jaws, but what they did with him, playing him for laughs because kids who wrote to Lewis Gilbert wanted him to be the good guy was just wrong. Bernard Lee also sadly bid the world of Bond farewell with this substandard film (he passed away before For Your Eyes Only could be filmed). They tried to make lightning strike twice in the one place by creating the character of Holly Goodhead and making her a CIA agent, but Lois Chiles' lifeless performance killed that idea stone dead. They didn't even have an actor of Christopher Lee's stature to try and salvage some respect out of it.

Octopussy: the idea of setting a Bond film in India isn't a bad idea, but that's about where it ends. Moore was even then too old, into his mid 50's and should have been pensioned off after For Your Eyes OnlyMaud Adams actually did a decent job as Andrea Landers in The Man With The Golden Gun, but she was totally out of her depth here and even she didn't like the fact that her character didn't have a real name and was only ever referred to as Octopussy. The casting of the French former matinee idol Louis Jordan as Afghani prince Kamal Khan was interesting to say the least. The actor made a lovely meal out of the scenery, but I doubt if he hadn't been a good friend of the Broccolis that he ever would have been given the job. Vijay Armitraj as an Indian based MI6 agent was laughable and not in a good way. Things like the fake crocodile, Bond dressed as a clown, the whole thing was silly beyond belief and how they even got it made in the first place is a real head scratcher.

The Living Daylights: it's rather unfortunate that a real stinker introduced Timothy Dalton as Bond because it cast a pall over his tenure in the role. There's very little good about the film. Dalton is unsure of how to play the role and it shows, he tries to channel Connery and looks uncomfortable. Maryam D'Abo was woeful as Kara Milovy and they didn't help by giving her an even worse, stupider character than Stacey Sutton to play. There's some nonsense about drugs in Afghanistan combined with a plot to pin everything on a Russian general and it all became rather tedious. They also managed to shoehorn Felix in there for reasons that are never properly explained.

Die Another Day: there were high hopes for this being the 20th Eon film and the 40th anniversary film, and that may have been the problem. It's not like the films don't have nods to what went before over the years, so why try and cram as many as possible into the one film because of the number it is and the year it was released. The entire idea of Moon/Graves is ridiculous and stretches belief to breaking point and beyond. Halle Berry as Jinx is a massive failure when you consider the way the character was built up, even the actress herself seemed to be more in love with the character because of her fashion choices and the way she dressed than anything she did in her capacity as a NSA agent, and they were going to make a spinoff based around her? Then there was the invisible car, it was just too stupid for words. Brosnan said he wanted to go on, but he sleep walked his way through Die Another DayMadonna's song is up there with Lulu's. Very disappointing and it almost killed the franchise.

Quantum Of Solace: it did have a hard act following Casino Royale, but it failed spectacularly. One was the directing, something over which star Daniel Craig had far too much influence. Then there was the script, most of which was rushed due to the writers strike and then got producer Michael Wilson (who isn't a half bad script doctor) and director Marc Forster and star Daniel Craig involved and that all spelled disaster. Olga Kurylenko was still finding her feet as an actress and had no chemistry with Daniel Craig. The villain was not believable or particularly threatening. The story moved away from where it had been going for most of the time and only returned in an after thought at the end. The theme was hands down the worst of the entire franchise's history and that took some doing. The word abomination springs to mind and only the success of Casino Royale and a belief that they couldn't possibly do a worse job is what kept audiences there for Skyfall.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed (generally!) watching the Bond films in order. I think that we will have to agree to disagree with certian of your ratings - coming from a place that didn't include "received wisdom" of what was good / bad / awful, I could make my own judgements on each film.

    The one I found most interesting was "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". All "received wisdom" says that this is a terrible film. On watching, there are certainly some things that are awful, but on a whole, the storyline is one of the best, and it would have to be one of my favourites.

    And the film we have polar-opposite opinions on ("The Man with the Golden Gun"), you say yhat the nominated Bond Girl is awful (which she is!), but she reminded me very much of Jo Grant from Dr Who, and as such, I had a bit of a soft spot for her. I just projected Katy Manning onto her, and there was no issues.

    (If I could have worked out how to look at your old entries, I would have left comments on each of the films)