50 Years of James Bond – The Best & Worst
by Kyle Anderson on September 26, 2012
This year marks the 50th anniversary of a very beloved British screen icon. No, not Doctor Who, silly; that’s next year. James Bond, of course! On October 6th, 1962, the very first 007 film, Dr. No, was released, and the longest-running and most profitable franchise in film history was born. This November will see Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie, released to theaters. 23 movies in 50 years is a pretty amazing feat when you think of how large, elaborate, and expensive they all are. Some are brilliant, others are downright ridiculous, but they’re all, in some way or another, entertaining. For fun, and because the 50th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray set is being released on Tuesday, I’ve decided to discuss my five favorite and least favorite films from the storied history of James Bond. Because I always like getting the bad news first, we’re starting with the five bottom-scrapers (in my humble opinion).
5 LEAST FAVORITE
The thing about the Bond movies in the 80s is that, having already been around for 20 years, they’d become a bit clichéd and to combat this, they endeavored to spice things up with newer and weirder set pieces. The five films produced in the decade were all directed by John Glen, a former editor on the series (and not the American astronaut). His direction leaves a whole lot to be desired,; Everything is soft-focused and pretty boring. Octopussy was Roger Moore’s sixth outing and the actor was already 56, and it really began to show. There are some decent stunt sequences (namely the rickshaw chase through the Indian streets), but mostly it’s just a bunch of old people making wry comments to each other. The plot involves a Faberge egg, for Pete’s sake. Snore.
This movie is just silly. After the unprecedented success of Star Wars, the Bond crew was desperate to capitalize on the world’s newfound love of Space Opera. The ’70s, for Bond (with one exception), were a string of movies trying to ape other popular genres. Live and Let Die, for instance, was trying to profit off of the Blaxploitation craze, and The Man with the Golden Gun was essentially a martial arts flick. Moonraker is ¾ uber-insane, very broad, very ridiculous slapstick comedy (Jaws falls a thousand feel through a circus tent and walks away unscathed) and ¼ weird space battles. I will say this; the special effects sequences for said battles are really phenomenal and very deserving of the Oscar nomination they received. Honestly, though, while Bond movies are always a bit silly, I can’t handle this much cheese and hokum. “I think he’s attempting re-entry.” Stuff yourself.
I really believe that in the earliest drafts of this script, it was a very good, old-school 007 movie. There’s a decent set-up, there’s some personal stuff with Bond and M, and a properly creepy (though nonsensical) villain. Somewhere along the way, though, they added Dr. Christmas Jones. If there was an award for the least useful character in screen history, it may well be a toss-up between her and Jar Jar Binks. She barely has any use in the story and really only ever speaks to Bond himself, making it seem like she’s somehow a figment of his imagination. She exists for two reasons: so Bond can explain to the audience what’s happening and… okay, three reasons. As unlikely as some of the “smart” Bond girls have been, there is no amount of dialogue that can make me believe Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist. And why is her name that? So Bond can say “I thought Christmas only came once a year.” Get bent.
Moore was 58 years old. Let’s just reflect on that for a moment. James Bond, the international lothario and action man, was two years shy of 60 in this movie. And he’s still gallivanting around and hopping into much younger women’s beds and attempting to foil evil schemes. It is wholly unbelievable. Particularly unsettling is the scene where Moore has to seduce Grace Jones. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Christopher Walken plays the villain, but is, despite his Walken-ness, one of the least threatening. Tanya Roberts, as the good Bond woman, is insipid and irritating, and there’s a whole sequence where Bond steals a San Francisco fire truck and the cops give chase over a bridge that might take the cake for stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Not even a Duran Duran song can save it. Incidentally, this was Roger Moore’s own personal least favorite. So there you go.
This movie can eat its own face. In honor of the franchise’s 40th birthday, this movie was meant to “celebrate” the history of the character but instead it “pooped” all over everything. There is entirely too much emphasis on CGI effects in this movie, and none of them look very good (I’m looking at you, Bond para-surfing a tidal wave of ice water) and the whole setting of an ice hotel is way too reminiscent of some of the sets from Batman & Robin. It also introduces us to the character of Jinx, a CIA agent played by Halle Berry. She’s meant to be Bond’s equal, a sexier version of Felix Leiter, but she is not that and spends most of her time spouting poorly-written jive-talk and acting like the stereotypical tough chick. I hate this movie so much I can’t feel my feet.
And now, for the happy times. For what it’s worth, my sixth favorite would be GoldenEye. Love that one a lot.
5 MOST FAVORITE
See? I’m not just a Moore-hater. While I do tend to dislike his films due to their increasingly silly and joke-heavy nature, TSWLM is an almost perfect film, so it has to be on my list. This was, at the time, the highest-budgeted Bond film by quite a large margin (until Moonraker), but every single dollar of it is onscreen. The locations are gorgeous and used very well, the story is cracking, the stunts are really wonderful, the sets are enormous, and the score is by the late, great Marvin Hamlisch. There are some fantastic fights between Bond and now-famous villain Jaws, and even Moore himself kicks quite a bit of ass. Plus, any movie that ends in an all-out naval battle is okay in my book.
What?! Kyle likes the Lazenby one? Yeah, I do; what of it? Let’s remove the fact that Lazenby is far and away NOT the best actor to play James Bond; he happens to be in one of the best written, shot, edited, and otherwise acted of the entire series. There’s more personal stakes for Bond in this one than in just about any other, certainly of the early set, and the scenes between he and Diana Rigg’s Tracy are actually very well done. Director Peter Hunt was the editor on the previous five films, and he puts together possibly the best actions sequences they’d done to that point. The ski and bobsled chases are just fantastic and Telly Savalas as Blofeld is quite formidable. The more I watch this one, the more I love it. The only way I could love it more is if Sean Connery were in it and hadn’t done Diamonds Are Forever.
After the cinematic bowel movement that was Die Another Day, the franchise needed to air out the room, as it were, and their idea was to do a reboot. Generally, I hate reboots on principle alone, but in this case it made a lot of sense. Despite being Fleming’s first novel, the “official” series done by MGM and EON productions hadn’t yet adapted it to screens. They brought in Martin Campbell, who’d previously done Brosnan’s debut, GoldenEye, and they cast Daniel Craig, who rocks. The action is grand but believable, and the story, like OHMSS, is personal and all about Bond. And, as a fan of Fleming’s novels, I’m particularly pleased by how close the story sticks to the actions of the source material, albeit with huge embellishments in the film’s first act. And since Judi Dench returns to play M, it has given rise to my belief that “James Bond 007” is a rank and title secret agents get, not unlike “The Dread Pirate Roberts.” The only thing I don’t like is how much time they spend explaining the rules of Texas Hold ‘Em. We get it already.
In many ways, the archetypal Bond movie; You’d have to be dumb not to see this as a work of genius. It has all the hallmarks of the series that have lasted to this day, from the unrelated pre-credits sequence, to the car chase in an Aston Martin, to Goldfinger’s deliciously evil line of “No, Mr. Bond; I expect you to die.” It’s all there, and it’s all fantastic. Goldfinger’s plan actually makes no sense at all, especially where he describes it in detail to a group of people he then has rounded up and murdered, and Bond, actually, has very little impact on the plot for most of the second act, being sort of an observer. But look, it’s got Oddjob and Pussy Galore and there’s just no getting beyond that. Questionable sexual politics aside, this movie still holds up and is an absolute classic.
While Goldfinger is certainly more iconic and generally hailed as the best Bond movie of all time, my money is firmly and confidently on its predecessor. I absolutely adore this film. What I love the most about the ’60s Bonds is that they’re actually about SPYING! Novel idea, I know. The plot doesn’t involve blowing up the world or stealing all the gold in Fort Knox; it’s about SPECTRE getting revenge on Bond for killing Dr. No in the previous film. That’s it. To do it, they send 007 on a trip to Istanbul to collect a supposedly-defecting Russian agent who happens to have the hots for him. There is action aplenty and maybe the best close-quarters fight scene ever committed to film between Bond and baddie Robert Shaw in a sleeper car on the Orient Express. It also features the first appearance of Blofeld (albeit hidden from view) and of Desmond Llewelyn as Major Boothroyd, aka “Q,” which is pretty great. This isn’t just an action movie, it’s a true adventure movie and I could watch it another dozen times and never get sick of it.
Now, who’s excited for Skyfall?
-Kanderson is excited for Skyfall. He’s also excited for TWITTER followers.