RANKINGS OF 24 BONDS and COUNTING PART THREE: 10 to 06

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10. Die Another Day

The last of the Brosnans. It still hurts. There was a time children when Pierce Brosnan was considered second only to Sean Connery for greatest Bond of all time but times have changed. Timothy Dalton has been re-evaluated for his grit and plenty of defenders rally to Roger Moore’s side as the best for having a sense of humour. Daniel Craig once picked on for being blond and a variety of ridiculous charges has taken the series from strength to strength and even Brosnan lovers such as myself have to admit his films are a pretty weak bunch. This one gets kicked around a lot because of an invisible car. No really the submarine car was fine. Going into outer space with lasers-not a problem. But the invisible car was too much! To be fair they also don’t like the CGI wind surfing which I am in complete agreement with. There’s a lot of CGI and Bond taking up extreme sports like a Dad trying to be cool with the young kids which does a disservice to the franchise and to Brosnan. Bungee jumping in 1995 seemed natural. CGI wind surfing after XXX with Vin Diesel felt like all concerned were trying too hard. There’s more serious problems though with the tone. Pierce finally gets his way to be a hard ass with Bond captured and tortured at the beginning. We’d never seen Bond imprisoned, grow a beard and look like shit. It’s exciting. I love the way he swaggers into a hotel in Hong Kong and just mentions his name confident it will get the attention of Chinese intelligence of which he is prepared to deal with. Proof that if you take away the gadgets and the suits Bond is still Bond. Disavowed and on the lam Bond drives old convertibles and carries six shooters in Cuba. It’s kinda thrilling and then Halle Berry arrives as CIA Agent Jinx. Nothing wrong with that but the timing of her entrance sees the film change. Interesting to note this is the first Bond (M15+ rated of course) sex scene ever that follows and Brosnan shows a man who hasn’t had a steak while in North Korea but after that the film goes Bond epic not Bond rogue. An over the top sword fight, ice castles, lasers in the sky and yes invisible cars follow which is not all bad but the tantalising possibilities of the first half evaporate. Maybe that wasn’t a bad thing barely a year after The Towers had fallen. The car duel between two super cars I loved and thought we were well overdue for in the Brosnan era. Pierce brings his A game whether frantically grabbing Jinx to save her, smiling as he uses an ejector seat to flip his upside down Ashton Martin Vanquish back over or advising Rosamund Pike to put her back into it. The villains by comparison (Toby Stephens and Rick Yune doing great work) to him do appear very youthful but I always felt robbed he didn’t get to do another one. Casino Royale basically was the kind of Bond film he always wanted to make and 50 wasn’t too old. Honestly if he wanted to do three more to tie with Moore I would’ve gone for it. It would have been nice if they’d done at least one more and announced it as his swansong before filming began but it was not to be.  It’s important to remember that Brosnan saved Bond for the post-cold war and politically correct era. He renewed popularity in the franchise especially in America and without him we don’t have Craig’s era. He was so good in his debut it’s like everybody got comfortable with him and the follow ups were not as good, although the last two are at least trying new things. While it’s too over the top in the second half I never had a problem with Die Another Day when it came out. For me it was a return to form after the boring The World is Not Enough and time has not hurt it for me. I like it still and that’s all there is to it.

                                                                                          

9. Dr. No

I wonder if you had wandered on set in 1962 and told people the future they would have believed you. Connery was signed for multiple films, sequels were planned and the novels were successful but when Bond started there was nothing like it. Cinema had barely been going longer than 50 years let alone a franchise that had lived that long. So in a way this should be No.1 because without it, we’ve got nothing.

The titular villain Dr No. played by Joseph Wiseman barely seen until the end is more than serviceable. The exchanges between him and Connery are clever. There’s the scene with the tarantula. It’s amazing how much of the formula is right here in the very first picture. The briefing with M and Moneypenny. Bond is introduced in a casino smoking a cigarette and memorably giving his name. There is a car chase albeit with a fair use of rear projection.

james bond sean connery 1962 dr noThe villain has both a nefarious world changing scheme and an enormous lair and yes it does get blown up at the end. The film closes with Bond dismissing a rescue party to get intimate with his female lead. Even Felix Leiter pops up looking the shit because he’s played by Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-O fame. Ursula Andress with phallic knife and pure white bikini comes out of those waves and you bet your arse Sean starts singing about mangoes. The film is dated in some of the ways Connery’s Bond talks to women and the native helping him John Kitzmiller’s Quarrel but notice later he mentions him by name after Dr. No killed him. These first three from Connery are pretty flawless and got the series off to a great start. Considering how risky the venture and the budget this film holds up remarkably well. My favourite scene though is Bond waiting in his hotel room for a man to come kill him. He puts pillows in his bed to resemble a body, turns out the lights and then sits behind the door playing cards all night waiting. Anthony Dawson playing Professor Dent enters the room hours later and fires repeatedly at the pillows before being disarmed by Bond. Dent’s gun lies on the floor as they talk, Bond trying to get information but appearing relaxed – arrogant in his victory. We see Dent eyeing his gun, dragging the rug it’s on closer to himself as Bond appears to not be paying attention. Finally Dent grabs his gun and pulls the trigger but it’s out of bullets. Bond remains unperturbed, “That’s a Smith and Wesson and you’ve had your six.” and with that government employee James Bond shoots him dead having known all along what he was trying to do and playing with him letting him live in that false hope. For me this scene is at the heart of the character, it may be the most important scene of the entire film series and after fifty three years it is still as ruthlessly bad ass as anything out there in popular culture.

                 

                                           

8. You Only Live Twice

Another one that could slide down tomorrow. Thinking about Professor Dent I can’t believe it’s not below Dr. No even as I write. And yet if Casino Royale was playing on TV with this on another channel, I know which one I’d switch to. With Thunderball‘s box office and sensing Connery’s imminent departure Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted to make Bond an experience beyond the star that played him. This is the first of what is known as the Bond Epics. Hardware galore, stunts pushing the envelope and production design and character portrayals so iconic it had to be lampooned in the years to come. This is the Blofeld we remember reinvented later as Dr Evil; this has the underground volcanic lair, the piranhas, Little Nellie and a car chase concluded by a giant magnet packing helicopter. This is why they skydived 88 times to get the opening of Moonraker, threw Rick Sylvester off two mountains and had Wayne Michaels do that bungee jump off a dam in 1995. In 1967 there had never been an action film like it and parody has not diminished it. A few years ago I marvelled at that crane shot with the rooftop fight, the John Barry score didn’t hurt either. But it also reflects what is wrong with the film. We’re not with 007 on the roof watching his face as he fights the goons. We’re taken out of the film with an impressive cinematic trick. As a kid this had to be one of my favourite Bonds and still as an adult with Connery in yellow face and lack of character development for the series I can’t help but still rate it highly. Plus this is the one where Connery wears the Royal Navy uniform which is a little different to the one he actually wore when he served.  Connery looks older here but this is still the 60s and so many elements have been parodied so often because they were so fresh and iconic at the time. This is the end of the classic run with Connery despite his latter two films and while set pieces seem to trump character it’s akin to going out with a bang. Seems to I think is key, after all Tiger Tanaka and Aki are cool characters and you’ve got to love Donald Pleasance and there is still a lot of wit to be found in the dialogue. Reboots and Marvel franchises were far off in the future at this point. You’ve go to hand it to Eon for having the gumption in 1967 to say to hell with it we’ll recast and keep making them. The ramping up of the hardware, shooting further abroad, building mythology, diminishing the importance of the star these are all the things that were not present in From Russia with Love and they are all the things that ensured the survival of Bond. Ten years before the age of the blockbuster began James Bond got a head start. Lucky for us it’s just a damn fine movie too.

 

7. The Living Daylights

Finally we come to Timothy Dalton, a man who started as a footnote like Lazenby and became like Lazenby a celebrated chapter. The first Bond I saw at the cinemas was GoldenEye and Brosnan is my Bond but I do remember a video case being brought home with the above picture for us to watch one night in the 80s. This was the first time I watched a new Bond-a current Bond and as a child of the 80s I was happy to see the Ashton Martin V8 Vantage fire rockets and laser beams. Then you have that stunt with Bond and Necros hanging out of a plane holding onto dear life to a cargo net. You don’t get stunts like that anymore. I like many have grown up to appreciate Dalton’s take on the character. For fans of the book Connery might still fit the period and feel more suave but Dalton famously was pictured reading the novels on set. Dalton plays him as a burnt out public servant, someone who may be happy to be fired and will always stick to his own personal moral code. If Moore is known as the funny Bond then Dalton is routinely referred to as the angry Bond. It gives them both a disservice for their nuanced takes but it does reflect how edgy Bond became played by Dalton. Some posters came with the tagline ‘Dalton Is Dangerous’ and look to that scene with John Rhys-Davies as General Pushkin for evidence. We’re kind of on Pushkin’s side in it and we’re not sure whether Bond is going to do something he regrets. When he mentions his car has a few optional extras before firing the rockets he’s not smiling and THAT sells it. The guy is about to run a Red Army blockade, supercar or not he’s rightfully tense. He’s known for not delivering puns well but check out his “We have an old saying too Georgi. And you’re full of it” and tell me you didn’t laugh. Gruff as he can be, particularly with women, he also smiles tenderly in his love scenes and takes some pleasure in his victories. If Bond is a formula then this is the 80s version of it and as a child of the 80s I’m very happy with it.

 

6. License to Kill

Tonight on Miami Vice Felix loses his legs and James swears revenge. But is this personal vendetta going to cost him everything. The Bond franchise took elements from what was popular at any given time karate films, space travel, Jason Bourne, here it is the buddy cop films of the 1980s. They even have Michael Kamen of Lethal Weapon fame score the movie. M revokes his license to kill and I half expect him to say “Your badge and your gun.” Instead of the delightful “We’re not a country club 007.” And yet we still have a tuxedo casino scene, there’s still aerial stunts and scuba diving gear, while not technically a lair the baddie has a large structure that goes kablooey at the end and Q even shows up in the field and yes there’s a girl or two. Yes Bond gets involved in the drug war, yes the stakes are personal and yes the violence is ramped up like never before in the series but this film as much a James Bond film as a late 1980s action cop flick. This is a take it or leave it one for a lot of fans it certainly almost killed the franchise in terms of box office but time has been kind. What I like here is that Dalton gets to be as tough as he wanted to be and by wounding Felix and creating a personal vendetta for Bond it really does make it a more a real and satisfying story then end of the world spectacles. For all the talk of Martin Riggs influences the film makers looked to Yojimbo for inspiration and it lifts the whole film as a result. Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier is an equal love interest and Talisa Soto as Lupe Lamora plays a complicated hurt woman. Robert Davi as main villain Franz Sanchez is very layered valuing loyalty above all else and ironically being undone by Bond’s loyalty to Leiter. An extremely young Benicio Del Toro as Dario the main henchman is not so layered but very memorable as someone you believe is bat shit crazy. Desmond Llewelyn remarked that Timothy Dalton was his favourite Bond and it might have something to do with Q being out on location helping Bond like a buddy. Desmond as always is great in the film and it’s a joy to see Q get to shine even more. Defintely one of the best moments for the character up there with Goldfinger, GoldenEye and Skyfall. Going on a personal vendetta in such an entertaining way makes you wonder what if Dalton had done OHMSS after all and then avenged Tracey’s death in Diamonds are Forever. Oh man Dalton in Vegas. I would have loved that. It would have been interesting if he had done GoldenEye too or even that Hong Kong set picture in 1991 that got canned because of legal wrangling. Barring Brosnan, third films are celebrated turns for the actors, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me and Skyfall. I really wish Dalton had gotten his chance but it was not to be. As it is, these will have to do and they’re more than enough. A special note, Dalton was no stunt man and he’s obviously not falling from planes or driving trucks but he does get physical in the role and it is very much appreciated. Aah Timothy, do you even know how much young people have re-discovered your Bond and love it. You were ahead of time good Sir. Ahead of your time.

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RANKINGS OF 24 BONDS and COUNTING PART ONE: 24 to 18

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Inspired by the upcoming release of Spectre and far better lists done by others I’ve decided to rank the Bond movies according to me in terms of quality. Please note there is a lot of short hand and spoilers below, the list assumes that everyone has watched the films in the series.

24. A View to a Kill

I’ve got no issues with Roger Moore playing Bond at 58 even if it makes the age gap between co-stars is a little ridiculous but you’re setting a pattern already when you remark about the youth and inexperience of a 36 year old Daniel Craig and cast him with a 26 year old Eva Green. Moore is as fit and healthy here as he ever was and even a decade earlier he left most stunts to the stuntmen so why should it matter now? This was one of the last Bond films from before my time that I got around to seeing. 80s car stunts, Paris, a climax on the Golden Gate Bridge, Grace Jones and Christopher Walken…it’s fair to say I was looking forward to it but the film never really delivers. All the components are here, Patrick MacNee shows up and causes some emotional heartbreak with his death but that’s mostly due sentimentality for his portrayal of John Steed. Thirty years later Grace Jones remains an original force of nature, she’s physically formidable, 1 of only 3 possible black lovers the series has had and the ONLY! henchwoman ever who ,also rare, turns good and she also boasts impressive fashion sense. Christopher Walken one of the most distinctive charismatic personas of cinema has a great little death scene too. And yet…neither is terribly memorable here, Jones essentially playing the persona she had established for herself and Walken having not quite developed the freedom to go all out like he would in just a few short years. The idea of them being both being genetically engineered is not made much use of unfortunately either. Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton is way too weak as the main love interest to make for compelling storytelling even if she brings out a nicely protective side in Bond.  Notable for being Lois Maxwell’s last film, she played Moneypenny from 1962 to 1985. The stunts remain good but I can’t recall any killer lines or kick ass Bondian moments. It’s sad to see Moore and Maxwell go out this way but at least we’ve got a killer tune in the title track and this awesome little Youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXixbmHSpE8

23. The Man with the Golden Gun

This was the last Bond co-produced by Harry Saltzman and was Moore’s second outing in the role. It’s dated badly to our politically correct times. Moore roughs up Maud Adams (a villain but still) and cuckqueans Britt Ekland’s fellow agent Mary Goodnight. The kind of stuff that makes us awkward at liking Sean Connery’s films is still present in Moore’s era. For some actually this is Moore’s best. It’s got a terrific car stunt (undiminished by that slide whistle), gorgeous Thailand, Britt Ekland walking around in a bikini throughout the third act and the great Sir Christopher Lee as the villain of the piece. For many it’s Lee who makes it and the idea of the ultimate assassin against the ultimate spy is a neat idea. The best scene has to be Scaramanga telling Bond in no uncertain times he could have killed him at any point but wants a contest. Sadly that is the highlight of such a tantalising premise. For me the film fails to fire for most of its run time.

22. Octopussy

Surely Sir Christopher Lee has this 1983 entry beat and maybe he should but as a child of the 80s Octopussy has the stunts – cars taking to railway tracks, planes flying through hangars, roof top fights on steam trains and airborne airplanes!. There is also Bond avenging a fellow agent, 009’s flight to the British embassy is both surreal and haunting with his clown make-up but obvious distress played well by stunt man Andy Bradford. Maud Adams returns to the franchise as the strongly layered female villain and love interest Octopussy although an awkward love scene exists here too – this girl can’t catch a break. Everybody loves Q and he gets a neat moment in the field here. Plus I like that Faberge egg, can I have one? Moore appears to not be doing the running like he did two years earlier in For Your Eyes Only and they actually screen tested James Brolin. Connery was doing Never Say Never Again though and so producer Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Brocolli doubled down on his reigning Bond star. No idea what led to Moore returning for A View to a Kill. This has the wit lacking in Moore’s final film. A personal favourite is when henchman Gobinda played by Kabir Bedi is told to climb out on to the roof of a flying plane to get Bond off the roof. “Out there?” he checks incredulously.

21. Thunderball

How could I? It’s Sean Connery for fuck’s sake. Bahamas, a Tom Jones title track, a fascinating love triangle and a great looking Vulcan bomber. This is the big money earner that gave the filmmakers so much money and good will that they’ve turned it into a 50 years and counting franchise. No doubt if I watch it tomorrow it might shoot up the list, it is actually incredible to realise how consistent the quality of these films are and how tough it is to rank them definitively but in my memory the damn thing is…it’s just too boring. Note this could be an early example of a box office hit running off the prestige off its immediate predecessor. In this case Goldfinger.

20. The World Is Not Enough

This is a film I wanted to love so much. I couldn’t wait to see Begbie face off against Bond and the premise was strong with a villain who can’t feel any pain. Bond gets played here by a woman, Elektra King, and that’s a great idea for a Bond film especially since she manipulates his protective instincts and Brosnan was already the warmer passionate Bond. He never smacks bitches around like the other actors or yells at them for no real reason. All the more devastating then, that final scene where he shoots her without hesitation and then displays a great deal of remorse. Sophie Marceau is great too in her performance as Elektra; I love how her eyes flash when she says “My father was nothing. His kingdom he stole from my mother, the kingdom I will rightly take back.” For me this is a terribly frustrating film for what it could have been and what it gets right. The death of Elektra is fantastic, one of the best in the series. The kidnapping of M is brilliant too which makes it a little disappointing that she doesn’t get to do more in her escape. The fight at the end should pay off the novelty of a villain who can’t feel physical pain and be emotionally cathartic for both men who have lost much with Elektra’s death and would blame the other. See the fight in GoldenEye for a hint of what could have been. Still Brosnan delivers with the concluding line “She’s waiting for you.” Robbie Coltrane returning as Valentin Zukovsky from GoldenEye makes a nice return and permanent exit. People like to pick on Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones, but she has to sell that line “But the world’s greatest terrorist running around with 6 kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I have to get it back. Or somebody’s gonna have my ass.” Otherwise Pierce’s wonderful punch line doesn’t work. She’s eye candy I grant you and I don’t know how many nuclear physicists wear that outfield but she’s not a weak link here. This is Desmond Llewellyn’s last go as Q and as always he delivers. The filmmakers took time to write a nice exit scene for him. I’ve only realised with age that the line “Never let them see you bleed.” is as good as admitting your heart is breaking. Wonderfully English and restrained yet heartfelt. Desmond Llewelyn served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in France during World War II where he was captured and spent five years as a POW – a genuine hero. The opening ski boat chase on the Thames is one of the best of a series that has always prided itself on great openings and the first time that London took centre stage in a Bond film. I was pumped after watching it but sadly the action scenes that follow are rather average and the plot itself moves rather sluggishly. This really could have been great but it’s not. Still some stellar ideas. Whenever I’ve seen Bond in a theatre there is always a chortle of disbelief and approval from a middle aged man in the audience. His moment here was when Bond dives the ski boat underneath the water and straightens his tie. These are the moments that make Bond.

19. Live and Let Die

Roger Moore in his first Bond at 43 looks practically like a baby, good genes Sir Moore, so it’s no surprise they got a long run out of him. Interestingly the very English Moore’s debut is a film influenced by Blaxploitation but obviously not a Blaxploitation film. How cool would that be? Maybe a black Bond who would take out some oppressive white motherfuckers in Whitehall after uncovering a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Instead Moore’s Bond kills a black gangster and his voodoo thugs while bedding a white girl slave that one of them was keeping and hoping to deflower in good time. It’s the reverse of certain dated cliché white man fears. The majority of African-Americans in the film are villains but they’re competent complex individuals played by strong actors led by the great Yaphet Kotto. What’s fascinating about Live and Let Die in our modern times is not so much how things have changed but how things have remained. How many black villains have we had in the franchise since Live and Let Die? 1 or 2 black henchmen? 1 or 2 black love interests? The movie is 42 years old. 42 fucking years old! I’m supportive of different voices being heard and celebrated in media even if sometimes I find it discomforting to think about it in terms of quotas. For example I like Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. I am happy they were cast because of how good they are as actors but I also believe if a by-product of that is more black faces are on screen in the Bond franchise then that is a good thing. Just putting it out there. I think Idris Elba would be great as Bond but I would like Daniel Craig to stay on too for at least one more. Decisions. I got off on a tangent here. The novelty of running motor boats over ground is still neat today the double decker bus makes a nice change from a supercar. Jane Seymour is one of the most insanely beautiful women in the world but lines such as “Now I feel like a complete woman.” After losing her virginity to Bond just make me snigger. It’s not a great Bond film but it’s not a bad one either. The crocodile stunt is suitably bad ass and best song of the series has to be either Live and Let Die or Goldfinger although I really enjoy Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name.

18. For Your Eyes Only

You’ve got to hand it to Eon Productions. You’ve just made more money at the box office than any previous Bond film with Moonraker. Critics might have sniggered you just re-made The Spy Who Loved Me and put it in space to cash in on Star Wars but you know what? It worked. So what do you do? You go back to basics. That takes wisdom and that takes courage. It’s such a shame then that the film is at times boring. As a kid it was really boring. I couldn’t stand the film, as an adult I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. The opening is a great source of contention as Moore’s Bond references Tracey Bond by visiting her gravesite and then encountering Blofeld who is summarily dispatched. The scene has in its favour great helicopter stunts and Bond putting to rest Tracey’s killer without the ambivalence of his fate in Diamonds Are Forever. Against it, Moore being funny again and showing no grim satisfaction when dispatching his long time nemesis and due to legal reasons Blofeld is neither named nor really shown. An iconic villain is dispatched quite quickly and easily with no real payoff reflecting the producers’ intention to make a point of saying they didn’t need him anymore but disrespecting the history of the character with the audience. I’m not as pissed as some but I can certainly see the missed opportunity here. The rest of the film plays better. We go to snowy Alps, Mediterranean ports and cliff top monasteries. Cassandra Harris as Countess Lisl is playful and beautiful in her scenes as a love interest. Later she is run down by henchman Loque played by Michael Gothard. Bond shoots at his car but misses failing to save her from death. In a later scene when he faces Loque down on foot while the bad guy drives a vehicle at him he doesn’t miss and there is a great satisfaction in that. I love that they made Bond miss in the earlier scene! The scene concludes with Bond kicking Loque’s precariously perched car off a cliff. Moore ever the gentleman did not want to do that scene noting that it was a Bond thing to do but not his Bond. When you think about the Countess though it makes you glad Moore eventually agreed. In our harder harsher times this is the moment that modern audiences embrace Moore for. He’s been vindictively cruel, impressively unbowed before Mr. Big and Scaramanga, tensely focused in Moonraker’s closer but here in this scene he’s just plain old bad ass. Moore really could act you know? With more than those impressively talented eyebrows. Carolina Bouquet as the main love interest was 24 while Roger Moore was 54 creating the largest age difference between Moore and any of his Bond girls. Thankfully Moore looks good and tanned and plays it more paternal than lecherous. It doesn’t hurt that Bouquet is a strong character played by an actress who already had a great deal of presence and maturity. Right before the keelhauling scene Bond says “We’re not dead yet.” to comfort Melina, a throw away moment that I love. Moore is at the height of his powers here playing Bond older and calm-confident and relaxed in the role he now owned. Julian Glover with that great dinner scene as an ally, turns villain and becomes far less enthralling but he’s good just not great. You know who’s great? Fuckin Fiddler on the Roof himself Topol as Milos Columbo with his pistachio nuts and gregarious nature. There’s a lot to love here including the great mountain fall stunt by Rick Sylvester but once you’ve seen it there’s not enough to propel you through the slow bits again for a while.