Bond Flicks

I’ve finally seen all the Bond flicks again this year. On the old blog, I ranked the Bonds in anticipation of Casino Royale‘s reboot of the franchise. Seeing them all again this year made me rethink that old list. So here now is another obnoxious list that makes great Internet filler: Ranking the Bonds from worst to first. Excluded will be 1967’s Casino Royale, a parody, and 1979’s Never Say Never Again, an unofficial Bond film.

22. – A View to a Kill – A Bond too far. Roger Moore is too old in this movie, and after making noise a few years earlier that he wanted to leave the franchise. But A View to a Kill‘s biggest weakness should have been its greatest strength: Christopher Walken. Or rather his character. Walken himself does a good job with what little he has to work with, but his Zorin is the single most pointless Bond villain ever. Badly written and executed, this one probably could have used Timothy Dalton nagging producers to make it a grittier Bond. I also can’t stand Robert Brown as M. He’s not M. He’s a dull British civil servant, the kind the Dursleys in Harry Potter might look up to.

21. – You Only Live Twice – Yes, Sean Connery managed to make a stinker of a Bond flick. Producers somehow managed to parody Austin Powers 30 years before Mike Meyers thought it up. I used to rank this one higher, but most of the premise just reeks. Thunderball had a similarly over-the-top premise, only using Ian Fleming’s plot and having collaborator Kevin McClory on board (He co-wrote the abandoned screenplay upon which the novel was based in 1958) sold us on the supervillain holding the world hostage. So instead of Thunderball, Part 2, we get Get Smart, and not the Steve Carrell version, either.

20. – Moonraker – You could really switch this one and YOLT without too much trouble. Substitute Hugo Drax for Blofeld, and you have a rehash of the standard Bond fare. Actually, Moonraker is better executed than YOLT until they go into space. Then it really gets stupid, and not even the presence of Jaws, probably the best Bond henchman ever, can save the movie at that point.

19. – Octopussy – Probably could have been an excellent farewell for Roger Moore or even a terrific debut for Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan, but the movie is just lame. Bond and another 00 are both seen in clown gear running from killers in East Berlin. Bond is even in clown makeup when he stops an atomic bomb from exploding, setting off World War III if he fails. But what really sucks all the life out of this film is Louis Jourdan’s Kamal Khan. Instead of being gleefully menacing like Blofeld, Goldfinger, or Karl Stromberg, in every sitting, Khan leaves me wondering why Bond didn’t just put a bullet through the sonofabitch’s forehead. What should have been a serviceable Cold War thriller along the lines of The Fourth Protocol (starring future Bond Pierce Brosnan) is instead of a shadow of For Your Eyes Only.

18. – The Man With the Golden Gun – I used to think this was the worst of the Bonds, but age and a few more viewings have mellowed my attitude. The scenes with M are wooden at best, and Mary Goodnight is probably the most boring Bond girl ever. What saves this movie from the bottom of the heap is Scaramanga. Christopher Lee, in what has to be a joke based on his Dracula fame, spends a considerable amount of time in the sun in this one. Lee happily chews scenery, and his interplay with Roger Moore’s Bond is some of the best in the series. So it has its moments. It also has Herve Villechaiz as Nick Nack, the most murderous midget in film since The Wild Wild West‘s Dr. Loveless.

17. – Die Another Day – Really the mutant offspring of the novels Moonraker and Kingsley Amis’s only Bond novel, Colonel Sun, Die Another Day is alternately brilliant and stupid. Bond is captured and tortured by the North Koreans, then abandoned by MI6. He then goes it alone to take on Richard Branson clone Gustav Graves to find out what’s really going on in North Korea with the help of Halle Berry. That all works nicely. What screws up this movie? The invisible car. I was buying the film until John Cleese’s Q demonstrates an invisible car. That and another damned satellite of doom. That only worked in Goldeneye.

16. – Diamonds Are Forever – It has a strong beginning, with Connery as Bond bullying his way across the globe demanding to know “Where’s Blofeld?” I would have liked to see what an angry (and hopefully newly more experienced) George Lazenby would have done with this one. It also has my favorite Blofeld, Charles Gray. But this movie is little more than a parody of the series. While it’s great to see Connery back, it’s clear the producers have no idea how to keep their franchise going. And they introduce my least favorite Bond cliche: The satellite of doom, which will only work once during Pierce Brosnan’s time as Bond.

15. – Tomorrow Never Dies – This film should have been one of the best of the Bonds. It had the most believable supervillain, media mogul Elliot Carver, and a premise that actually wears better today than it did in the 1990’s: Spark World War III to boost ratings. It happened once before. The Spanish-American War was a purely media-driven war that made celebrities of Teddy Roosevelt and his rival, William Jennings Bryan. Bond girl Michelle Yeoh is definitely one of the better Bond girls, smart, tough, and Bond’s equal. But like Die Another Day, it rides roughshod over its own plot. Unlike Die Another Day, it doesn’t have an invisible car.

14. – Live and Let Die– I used to rank this in my top five, but the blaxploitation angle sort of makes me cringe these days. Too bad, because it was time for Bond to take on a real-world villain, and Yaphet Kotto’s Mr. Big fits the bill. I also find Sheriff JW Pepper extremely annoying. Still, it’s a strong start for Roger Moore, playing a mellower, more unflappable Bond. David Hedison is great as Bond’s American cohort, Felix Leiter. But the ending always bothered me, with Yaphet Kotto exploding after Bond shoves a compressed air cartridge into his mouth.

13. – The World Is Not Enough  – I like this one more than most people. I think it was an excellent story with a terrific performance by Robbie Coltrane (aka Hagrid of Harry Potter fame). But never, to this date, have I ever been able to buy Denise Richards as a nuclear weapons expert when she clearly was hired to be seen slowly stripping out of that radiation suit. I often said this one would be better as a novel than as a movie, though I’ve yet to read the Raymond Benson adaptation.

12. –The Living Daylights – Dalton’s debut as Bond is good, though I thought Maryam D’Abo was kind of flat as a Bond girl. TLD does something that hasn’t been done since For Your Eyes Only, which is to take its source material, the short story of the same title, and expand it into a solid thriller.  And Dalton marks a return to playing Bond as Fleming imagined him. This would have been the perfect film to reboot the franchise, but as it stands, Dalton was an excellent choice to show James Bond starting to wear out from all the years of killing and risking his neck for king and country.  And the eggs laid in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service start to hatch. Bond is asked about his marriage. Bond doesn’t want to talk about it.

11. – Doctor No – The first. Not the best. The best was waiting in the wings. But the first. And a fantastic debut. Connery invents Bond for the big screen. Joseph Wiseman establishes the pattern for the unctuous antagonist. And how can you not love Ursula Andress emerging from the sea like a bikini-clad Aphrodite? As a capper, Jack Lord is super cool as the first ever Felix Leiter.

10. The Spy Who Loved Me – The supervillain done right for once. Karl Stromberg was supposed to be the return of Blofeld, which would have been fun to see Roger Moore’s Bond battle, especially if Charles Gray or Donald Pleasance returned. But it’s a Cold War fantasy thriller that still somehow manages to keep its feet in the real world. So different from the source novel, only the title and Jaws survive from Fleming’s work.

9. Thunderball – SPECTRE emerges as the primary villain in this Cold War thriller involving stolen nuclear weapons. The prize? $100 million in diamonds demanded by the still-unseen Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond bounces around the Caribbean taking on Emilio Largo, the millionaire behind the plot to hold the world hostage with two nuclear bombs.

8. Goldeneye – Brosnan’s debut as James Bond, almost a reboot of the series with Judi Dench as an M for the 1990’s (and definitely not the same M she plays in the new continuity.) Bond chases down a more believable satellite of doom in two orbiting units capable of frying every electronic device they target. Bond has to find his way in a post-Cold War world while tangling with a crazed Russian hacker, allying with a beautiful satellite technician, and hunting his former best friend, the former 006.

7. License to Kill – Dalton’s best and a good candidate for a remake with Daniel Craig. Felix Leiter’s fate in the novel Live and Let Die comes to the big screen here. And Bond is out for revenge. Robert Davi is just pure evil as the Latin American drug lord Sanchez. Until the Daniel Craig era, this is the most real-world Bond of the series, and the darkest. The only sour notes are Carolyn Bliss’s wooden Moneypenny and Robert Brown, who was a horrible choice to replace the late Bernard Lee as M. (I’d have preferred Charles Gray or John Cleese or even an early debut for Judi Dench.) David Hedison returns as the doomed Felix Leiter for the character’s final bow in the original continuity. Carrie Lowell is tough and intense as Bond’s foil and love interest. And the movie gets extra points for digging all the way back to OHMSS for giving Bond depth.

6. Quantum of Solace – Craig does it again, picking up moments after the end of Casino Royale with a car chase. Craig’s Bond is seething with anger. He makes Dalton’s Bond look slightly annoyed. The plot of this one gets murky, but that’s because it’s incredibly complex for a Bond movie. Quantum, which replaces SPECTRE as the criminal organization menacing the world, is revealed to be even more insidious and evil than expected. Judi Dench is terrific as a frustrated M trying to walk a tightrope between trusting Bond and keeping him reined in. Dominic Greene is the sleaziest Bond villain ever, with the creepy Elvis as his henchman. And while Olga Kuylenko plays a tough Bond girl equal to Bond in skill and blood lust, it’s Gemma Atherton as “just Fields” who steals the movie. Note to the Broccoli family: Seriously consider Atherton for Moneypenny. She has the right mix of flirtation and sassiness to be an office foil to James Bond.

5. For Your Eyes Only – A pure Cold War thriller cobbled together from the short story collection it draws its name from.  This is the best of the Moore Bonds and one of the best of the series. Topol stops fiddling on the roof long enough to lead Bond to a fellow smuggler who’s selling out the British to the Soviets. The ending is terrific with Bond destroying the MacGuffin, a device that controls British submarine-based nuclear missiles. Cornered by General Gogol (the latest in Walter Gotell’s wonderful appearances as M’s counterpart), Bond simply tosses it over a cliff and says, “Detente, General. I don’t have it. You don’t have it.” Gogol loves Bond’s solution, laughs, and leaves, summing up the feelings of the pawns in the Cold War.

4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Bond actually looks like Bond in this one. And the movie very nearly parallels the novel scene for scene. George Lazenby really should have fired his agent for telling him to walk away from the series. This story foreshadows the Dalton and Craig movies in its character development and its nuance. The good guys are gangsters. The bad guys are holed up in a remote lodge in the Swiss Alps. And for the first time, Bond gets frustrated with MI6 and tells them to go to Hell.  Twice.  Lazenby is impressive for having never acted before. Lacking Connery’s swagger and confidence, he still holds his own as James Bond and probably would have done well in the more comedic movies that followed.

3. Goldfinger – The dawn of the true supervillain. Goldfinger is a terrifically demented millionaire obsessed with gold. Connery is hitting his groove, and those famous Bond gadgets appear. You can’t miss with a Bond girl named Pussy Galore (or with Connery purring “Pussy” every time she walks onto screen.) Odd Job is a terrific henchman, and the Kentucky setting is a welcome change from the Balkans and the Caribbean.

2. Casino Royale – Dark! Dark! Dark! Fleming’s Bond was a cold, efficient killer, and Daniel Craig’s reboot of the character shows that. But it also hearkens back to OHMSS with Bond letting his guard down only to have his heart shattered by tragedy. Craig plays a modern Bond, a blunt instrument to be wielded against terrorists.  Plus, this is Bond at the beginning. He’s never killed, but he’s a bit too good at it for his own good or M’s liking. He’s more cocky than confident and often too stubborn for his own good. He tastes blood for the first time in this movie, and time, wounds, and experience have yet to check his growing arrogance. Jeffrey Wright is excellent as Felix Leiter, who is now a cynical soldier in America’s War on Terror.

1. From Russia With Love – Fleming’s favorite novel. Connery’s favorite Bond film. In fact, all the Bond actors have praised this one, particularly Craig and Dalton, who seem to have taken their cues from this one. EON swaps SPECTRE for Russia’s Smersh, though Smersh is still the nominal bad guy in this one. Connery falls into a groove here, but the cliches are still new and untried – Flirting with Moneypenny, Q’s briefing, Bernard Lee’s curmudgeonly M. Before the Bond formula was cemented by Goldfinger, this movie just told a slightly altered version of Fleming’s cloak-and-dagger Cold War tale. And the Orient Express gives the movie an almost Hitchcockian flavor. Rumor has it the Master himself was invited to direct. Now how about that for what’s already the greatest Bond flick ever?

And what of the two non-EON Bond films, Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again? The former was an extremely disjointed parody done purely for gags, though David Niven as a chaste, almost priestly James Bond saddened by the sex fiends running around doing his old job is pretty funny. As for Connery’s brief return in Never Say Never Again, they already made Thunderball once with Connery. With Klaus Maria Brandaur’s rather sympathetic Largo, Connery chaffing at being put out to pasture, and Edward Fox’s foppish imbecile M succeeding (but somehow not quite replacing) Bernard Lee’s character, this movie could have topped most of the official Bonds, including most of the Connery movies. Instead, we get Sean Connery in a vehicle better suited for Roger Moore and a pre-Blackadder Rowan Atkinson as Nigel Small-Fawcett, a joke that Monty Python probably discarded and producer Kevin McClory must have found in the dumpster. Like the 1967 parody, doesn’t really count and merely a curiosity.

Also, has anyone noticed that only two Englishmen have played Bond – Moore and Craig? Connery is Scottish, Lazenby Australian, Dalton Welsh, and Brosnan Irish. And for Diamonds Are Forever and A View to a Kill, Americans Adam West and James Brolin were considered. West didn’t think an American could pull it off, and really, you would need someone who is good at accents and can play James Bond to do it. I can think of quite a few American actors who can playing convincing Englishmen. I can name quite a few who would make a great James Bond. (Not Tom Cruise. I would have to stalk the Broccoli family for that.) I can’t name a single one who can do an English accent and play James Bond.

So, assuming Craig does four or five, should Danial Radcliffe start warming up in the bullpen? Put the boy wizard behind him as he closes in on 30 and keep Britain safe for democracy in whatever brave new world we’re heading into? Take your time and stick around a while, Mr. Craig. You’re doing just fine.