Skip to main content

Oh, I travel... a sort of licensed troubleshooter.


The Best of Bond – The First Ten


The first 10 Bond films arrived over a span of 15 years, yet it has taken 35 years for the next 13 to appear. To mark my revisiting of the series here’s how I rank them.

1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Lazenby’s solo outing is also the best Bond by some distance. Don’t listen to those claiming it would have been even better with Connery; could you imagine that heartbreaking final scene, the romance with Tracy (Diana Rigg), Bond vulnerable and alone, with the Scottish titan? Lazenby fits the material perfectly. And Peter Hunt directs with a flair and energy that still impresses. Topping it off is John Barry’s most glorious Bond score and the most beautiful song (We Have All the Time in the World). (10/10)


2. Diamonds are Forever

Connery’s return for big bucks is ironically the smallest scale outing since From Russia with Love. The consequence is an emphasis on character and humour. If Connery is greying and less-than-svelte, he seems to be enjoying himself in a way that was absent on his last two Bonds. The supporting cast is memorably larger than life, including Charles Gray as the best Blofeld and gay hit men Mr. Wint and Mr Kidd. In theory, you’d expect the Yankophile tendencies to maroon the series but the Las Vegas seediness lends Bond a tawdry invigoration. And Jill St. John’s brash Tiffany Case could easily have been all wrong, but she makes her most appealing. (10/10)


3. Goldfinger

The one that fans and public alike extol as a benchmark for quality in the series. Certainly, the gift that is Gert Froebe (albeit dubbed) makes for a scene-stealing villain (escorted by the soon-to-be-obligatory distinctive henchman) and Connery is still putting in some effort; Honor Blackman makes for a believably equal and opposite sparring partner. So how to countenance the raves with lack of action and Bond being locked up for half the running time? That it works, basically, but to try and make it a template would be asking for trouble (notably, the planned return of Froebe as Goldfinger’s brother never happened). (9/10)


4. The Spy Who Loved Me

Very much in the mold of the modern Bond film; set piece leads to set piece leads to set piece. In that respect, picking up from where the overblown mid-‘60s Connerys left off. But with a new weapon in the arsenal; overt humour. Jaws is an imposing but pronouncedly comedic villain, Moore gets whole scenes based on his schoolboy wit and there is a lightness of touch that felt fresh even in a series that had often gone quite broad up until that point. Marvin Hamlisch gives a Bond-goes-disco score, while Lewis Gilbert is completely on board with the goofy tone. But comes as unstuck with the climax as he did in You Only Live Twice. (8/10)


5. From Russia with Love

The second Bond, and the last time (for a while at least) that a tight budget would dictate content. The result is as economical and crisp as a Bond film gets. Robert Shaw is the ultimate brawny match for Connery’s brawny 007, and having him shadow the British spy, one step ahead, until the train dust-up is a smart move that puts our agent on a back foot. The fight itself is enthrallingly visceral. (8/10)


6. Live and Let Die

Roger Moore’s debut, embracing Blaxploitation movies and dressing 007 in some very ‘70s fashions. It’s the incongruity, in part, that makes the whole so appealing. Very formulaic in some respects, quite unusual in others (the supernatural element). Jane Seymour is very pretty, but easily the least autonomous Bond girl up to this point. Moore’s penchant for adlibs (“Butter hook”) works better than some of the scripted laughs (the character of Sheriff Pepper is one, overlong gag). McCartney’s theme song is marvelously overblown. (8/10)


7. The Man with the Golden Gun

Ever-so-slightly run-of-the-mill (wheel on Pepper again, why don’t you?), but boosted by a charming and sophisticated performance from Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland’s inept eye candy turn as Agent Goodnight. Bond is in fantasyland by this point, with cartoonish henchmen (Nick Nack), flying cars (both literally, and in terms of impressive stunt work) and an exotic, hi-tech, island paradise. Lulu’s theme song is akin to being beaten about the head with a breezeblock. (7/10)


8. Dr. No

Connery’s debut is more satisfying in the opening stages, when it more resembles a traditional spy picture, than when we are introduced to the titular character and his typically extravagant lair. The crippled super villain is a requirement from the off, and his affliction (and name) are more memorable than the character Joseph Wiseman is asked to play. (6/10)


9. Thunderball

The first time the series really falls prey to the more-is-more approach. A series of set pieces (some tiresomely elongated; see the underwater climax) in search of an involving plot, Thunderball is frequently very nice to look at but little else. The result is as loud and empty as Tom Jones’ title song. But it was a massive hit, and so dictated the approach of many future installments, alas. And gave Kevin McClory a protractedly disputed stake in Bond (Never Say Never Again). (5/10)


10. You Only Live Twice

A sluggish, set-driven mess. Connery would clearly rather be anywhere else, and is ridiculously turned Japanese. Lewis Gilbert is all-at-sea, there’s scant humour to be mined and only Donald Pleasance makes much impression out of the guest cast (and even then, he’s more memorable in light of Dr. Evil than for any particular wit). It looks like a very tired series with little life left in it at this point. A good thing change was in the air… (4/10)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

This is very cruel, Oskar. You're giving them hope. You shouldn't do that.

Schindler’s List (1993)
(SPOILERS) Such is the status of Schindler’s List, it all but defies criticism; it’s the worthiest of all the many worthy Best Picture Oscar winners, a film noble of purpose and sensitive in the treatment and depiction of the Holocaust as the backdrop to one man’s redemption. There is much to admire in Steven Spielberg’s film. But it is still a Steven Spielberg film. From a director whose driving impulse is the manufacture of popcorn entertainments, not intellectual introspection. Which means it’s a film that, for all its commendable features, is made to manipulate its audience in the manner of any of his “lesser” genre offerings. One’s mileage doubtless varies on this, but for me there are times during this, his crowning achievement, where the berg gets in the way of telling the most respectful version of this story by simple dint of being the berg. But then, to a great or lesser extent, this is true of almost all, if not all, his prestige pictures.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.

Doctor Sleep (2019)
(SPOILERS) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times be difficult due to the overt referencing, it’s an affecting and often effective tale of personal redemption and facing the – in this case literal – ghosts of one’s past.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

There’s nothing stock about a stock car.

Days of Thunder (1990)
(SPOILERS) The summer of 1990 was beset with box office underperformers. Sure-thing sequels – Another 48Hrs, Robocop 2, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Exorcist III, even Back to the Future Part III – either belly flopped or failed to hit the hoped for highs, while franchise hopefuls – Dick Tracy, Arachnophobia – most certainly did not ascend to the stratospheric levels of the previous year’s Batman. Even the big hitters, Total Recall and Die Hard 2: Die Harder, were somewhat offset by costing a fortune in the first place. Price-tag-wise, Days of Thunder, a thematic sequel to the phenomenon that was Top Gun, was in their category. Business-wise, it was definitely in the former. Tom Cruise didn’t quite suffer his first misfire since Legend – he’d made charmed choices ever since playing Maverick – but it was a close-run thing.