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

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Are you, by any chance, in a trance now, Mr Morrison?

The Doors (1991) (SPOILERS) Oliver Stone’s mammoth, mythologising paean to Jim Morrison is as much about seeing himself in the self-styled, self-destructive rebel figurehead, and I suspect it’s this lack of distance that rather quickly leads to The Doors becoming a turgid bore. It’s strange – people are , you know, films equally so – but I’d hitherto considered the epic opus patchy but worthwhile, a take that disintegrated on this viewing. The picture’s populated with all the stars it could possibly wish for, tremendous visuals (courtesy of DP Robert Richardson) and its director operating at the height of his powers, but his vision, or the incoherence thereof, is the movie’s undoing. The Doors is an indulgent, sprawling mess, with no internal glue to hold it together dramatically. “Jim gets fat and dies” isn’t really a riveting narrative through line.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I can do in two weeks what you can only wish to do in twenty years.

Wrath of Man (2021) (SPOILERS) Guy Ritchie’s stripped-down remake of Le Convoyeur (or Cash Truck , also the working title for this movie) feels like an intentional acceleration in the opposite direction to 2019’s return-to-form The Gentleman , his best movie in years. Ritchie seems to want to prove he can make a straight thriller, devoid of his characteristic winks, nods, playfulness and outright broad (read: often extremely crude) sense of humour. Even King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its fair share of laughs. Wrath of Man is determinedly grim, though, almost Jacobean in its doom-laden trajectory, and Ritchie casts his movie accordingly, opting for more restrained performers, less likely to summon more flamboyant reflexes.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.