SPECTRE LIVES UP TO ITS TITLE IF NOT ITS PREDECESSOR

Casino Royale and Live and Let Die. The two Ian Fleming novels I read a few years back, they were light weight and I scarcely remember much about them but I do remember a great sense of physicality to the character. Bond could get out of and back into shape, got hurt in them and bad ways to die were ever present. My father who read them very young before Sean Connery became a movie star told me that the more you read of the books the more filled out the character of James Bond becomes. Daniel Craig has brought both of these attributes to the series. If you look back, George Lazenby in his one movie has more character growth than the other actors over their whole run. Except Craig. Daniel Craig’s James Bond remembers and ages and in a train cart in North Africa he arrives at a crossroads. Imprisoned, on a personal vendetta, married, returning home; these series of films have been electrifying when they’ve done something new with James and the ending of Spectre sees Bond in a very different place. It’s difficult to speak about the film without revealing spoilers but unlike some professional critics I will at least try. I’m looking at you Matt Zoller Seitz and I’m a fan! Let me just say that Spectre’s whole finale felt contrived and yet that last shot I both really enjoyed and dreaded. It could be a curtain call for Craig and that’s fine. If not well then, as M once said, my advice to Eon productions is “Don’t muck it up.”

We open in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebrations with an uninterrupted tracking shot that takes us from crowded streets to deserted rooftops. This could be the best bit of the film. Bond in disguise, anonymous in a crowd, a female companion both part of the disguise and granting him access, their bodies heady with the promise of sex that is not to come before the spy…actually well spies on someone. The dramatic action that follows (augmented by CGI) is not nearly as interesting but there are tongue in cheek moments and great use of the crowd, location and two crazy stuntmen hanging off a helicopter. The opening credits and song showcase beautiful but unsettling imagery of two lovers threatened by the spectre of death. Notable for two things, first Craig who has always featured heavily in his credits is here bare chested and objectified like the women and second an early shot looks like a threesome involving an Octopus.  No I’m not joking and no that’s not my idea of a fun Friday night.

Returning to London the secret agent finds an intelligence community under threat from government bureaucracy and an M under pressure. Bond doesn’t trust him like his predecessor despite the courtroom shootout from Skyfall. So Bond has to go rogue again, you might think that’s a trope but he’s only really done it two or three times previously. Fortunately for Bond he does trust the people he needs support from in Q and Moneypenny and with their help he sets off to Rome next. Snowy Alps and Tangiers will follow and he will eventually track down the mysterious Mr White who is the physical embodiment of links to Spectre from the Quantum of earlier films. There is a lot of call back to previous personalities lost which I was happy to see although perhaps due to the critical reaction of Quantum I don’t recall any mention of dear old Mathis. Silva from Skyfall really had an agenda of his own so retconning him into Spectre’s organisation feels a little shoehorned but it’ll pass. The film is grand in scale but going for a moody dreamy feel, most locations are at night and deserted. It’s epic including a spectacular explosion late in the piece but drained of colour to a palette of yellows, grey, browns and whites it’s ghoulish rather than pretty. The dead are alive the opening proclaims and in more ways than one. This is all about Bond putting his ghosts to rest, White, Vesper Lynd, M and new villain Franz Oberhauser played by Christoph Waltz. A perfect film then to finally have a boogeyman come for him and Mr. Hinx played by Dave Bautista fits the role well. A graphic killing for his introduction and that train fight with his hulking frame moving at speed after the now leaner Craig is fantastic.

That fight scene is without doubt the highpoint of the action in this Bond film which is disappointing although I enjoyed the effort put into a pursuit where an airborne Bond goes after bad guys in cars for a change. The car chase in Rome feels like a mixed bag of intentions that never quite comes together. I kind of liked Moneypenny getting yoghurt out of the fridge in London while talking to Bond via phone in Rome. The chase is even an afterthought almost for Bond as Hinx shows up beside him almost as if to remind him that he’s being chased. There is no real sense of speed or jeopardy in it though and I’m sorry but you know what the new Ashton Martin-not that pretty. Fuck it we’ll be in driverless cars in two years licking iPads so who cares. Still Vanishing Point children, that’s a car chase.

A lot of excitement was created by Monica Bellucci at 50 becoming a Bond girl and as someone who can appreciate a woman whom appreciates garters I was very excited to see where this led. Sadly garters are the high point. She’s cast off fairly early in proceedings for you guessed it – a younger woman.

Fortunate then that Lea Seydoux saddled with a great deal builds an awful lot in a very short time frame. As Dr Madeline Swann she is the daughter of Mr White whose work came to his house one day when he wasn’t there but she was. Usually when a character hates a lead and resists the narrative I can get impatient but she has very genuine reasons to resent Bond who is basically bringing a world she has successfully hidden from back into her life. There’s an age gag to be sure but love is love and their relationship feels pretty well matched to me. There’s a bit more to her than meets the eye, Bond recognises a kindred spirit as Duncan Casey pointed out and her relative youth offers a sense of renewal for Bond if he is prepared to risk it alllllllll because the writing is on the wall.

The opening credits for Casino Royale sported a lot of bodies falling to the ground and the film that followed made the deaths count even if they racked up considerably fast. Craig’s Bond has always inhabited this world of killers with a sense that one day the bullet could come for him. Skyfall in fact showed the character possibly getting shot for the first time ever-twice! Spectre really asks is Bond more than just a trigger? Swann is at the heart of that question and she may just be one of the best Bond girls ever. And I haven’t even mentioned that dress.

Spectre is not a perfect Bond outing. The personal stakes were higher with M and Vesper, Casino Royale more real and Skyfall more fun. Those who complained about the plot holes in Silva’s plan will be driven crazy here by the decisions both Bond and Oberhauser make in tracking and trying to kill their opponents. That might feel a bit rich given the history of the series but after the reality of Casino Royale I did find it off putting. Christoph Waltz sits in the back of a helicopter in the finale kind of looking bored. A great actor diminished in a role that should be crackling, he’s playing a Bond villain for crying out loud.

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I don’t want to say he is what is wrong with the film, the projection of power in a shadowy board room scene early on is sublime but the handling of his character and the pointless backstory given to him is muted at best. On a bad day Spectre falls in line with the lesser Bonds, serious with good intentions but lacking polish, wit and excitement. Today though is a good day and Spectre is a good Bond entry with a strong love interest, epic if downbeat cinematography, a scary henchman, an ambitious theme of love’s triumph over death and Daniel Craig once more in the role he has made his own. Enjoy him here, James Bond will return but Daniel Craig may not.

-Lloyd Marken

For those who have ready my previous rankings of the Bond film series you may be wondering where Spectre falls into it. As I mused throughout the rankings can change on any given day. Already I’m questioning Die Another Day, Thunderball, From Russia With Love and The Man with the Golden Gun but I’ll leave it as is for the moment. Spectre on a bad day could easily fall behind For Your Eyes Only which I believe was a little bit more fun than this latest film. Yet I keep thinking about the ambition of this film, telling a real emotional story for Bond and really considering the guts of the character and his future. The film plays like a nightmare and accordingly can be a bit of a slog but the performances are excellent, there’s an epic quality to the world and I really enjoy that Bond’s relationships matter here.

So without further ado here is how I rank the now 25 James Bond films.

25. A View to a Kill

24. The Man with the Golden Gun                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

23. Octopussy 

22. Thunderball

21. The World Is Not Enough

20. Live and Let Die

19. For Your Eyes Only

18. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

17. Quantum of Solace                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

16. Moonraker

15. From Russia With Love                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

14. Never Say Never Again                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

13. Spectre 

12. Tomorrow Never Dies

11. Diamonds Are Forever

10. Die Another Day                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

9. Dr. No                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

8. You Only Live Twice                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

7. The Living Daylights   

6. License To Kill                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

5. The Spy Who Loved Me                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

4. GoldenEye

3. Skyfall 

2. Casino Royale                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

1. Goldfinger

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.

RANKINGS OF 24 BONDS and COUNTING PART TWO: 17 to 11

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17. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

I know how could I? So let’s talk about what works. George Lazenby, the weakest actor to inhabit the role, nails every scene he needs to. He brings a boyish vulnerability to the role and an absolute tenderness to his love scenes with Diana Riggs. Beyond that he is arguably the most physically talented individual to have ever played the role. Skidding down ice on his belly while firing a machine gun. Craig, Connery and Dalton threw themselves into stunts but Lazenby was comfortable doing them. When escaping from the goons halfway through and being rescued by Tracey he seems genuinely scared. I don’t know if Connery would’ve played it that vulnerable and that’s something to admire in Lazenby’s performance. Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny and Bernard Lee as M have a great scene where she changes Bond’s impulsive resignation letter to a request for leave. The ski scenes were ahead of their time and Telly Savalas makes a great villain as a very physical Blofeld. The famous final scene is absolutely devastating. In some ways we haven’t had a lot of screen time to see the relationship develop but Riggs and Lazenby have sold it. And then a car drives past and a machine gun is fired and Bond is a widow. We don’t see the fatal shot hit, it’s all from Bond’s point of view and we share in his shock. How many films feature a death like that of the love interest in a blockbuster franchise? It’s why the death still packs a punch. It is a great moment but here’s the thing. The rest of the movie is good but for my money not nearly as exciting as some of the films on this list. Give me another week and it could shoot straight up the list but for now it’s just not one of my favourites. Sorry.

16. Quantum of Solace

This is a real tough one. Capable of sliding or rising given any time of day. I like the song too and it is universally hated. Quantum disappoints for a lot of reasons. Like the second effort from Brosnan and Dalton it ramps up the action and like Brosnan’s without fully nurturing the plot. Vesper haunts this movie but is seldom mentioned by name and the true catharsis frustratingly takes place off screen at the end. Yet I love what they got right here. It’s dangerously as political as the Broccolis ever get with a plot about corporations making deals with dictators and undermining third world populaces. I got no problems with that, it makes Bond feel relevant. Olga Kurylenko is great as Camille, seen more as a protégé then a love interest. Bond is hurting here and so is the female lead making them partners on a parallel journey of revenge. M has some great scenes as does Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter which makes me scream out for him to come back and be given something substantial to do. The call back to Goldfinger works better for me than the one to The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond’s assault on the villain’s hideout in the finale is ludicrous but Craig’s physicality sells it. He basically jumps down into the garage and starts shooting. My favourite scenes are the ones with Giancarlo Giannini’s Rene Mathis reprising his role from Casino Royale. Spying is a tough and dangerous business. You can see why Bond treasures good allies and mourns far too many deaths. For me a lot of the action works but that car chase is over-edited. The best scene may not even involve Bond. Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene explaining how Quantum works to a military dictator is the villain’s highpoint.

15. Moonraker

When I was a kid Moonraker was one of the best Bonds ever. It came from the time of Superman and Star Wars and looked the same in terms of film stock and being broadcast on Channel 10. People fighting giants on cable cars, laser fights in space, a city with streets made entirely of water (this could have been my first introduction to the city of Venice) with a speed boat and gondola chase, a fight in a glass store where everything gets trashed and a skydiving sequence where our hero jumps without a parachute and then has to fight someone for one before they hit the ground. Too bad they got to waste time with all this kissing crap. Then I grew up and the plot became ludicrous and the film a re-make of the better The Spy Who Loved Me. And yet what’s not to love. Lois Chiles can’t measure up to Barbara Bach but she’s capable and beautiful. Look at how they play the scenes in space. Bond stays in command and knowledgeable but its clear Holly Goodhead is the expert here and piloting the craft. Jaws was a great villain diminished by continuing to fail so the producers correctly just made the audience favourite a good guy. I always liked that he got a happy ending and helped Bond. Although at 10 I never noticed just how great a rack his geeky girlfriend had. I mean is she geeky? She wears glasses. That doesn’t make you geeky so what the hell am I talking about?! Thoughts for another time. I’m a sucker for the theme tune. The least liked of Shirley Bassey’s contributions it’s still meant she’s done 3 songs for the series and nobody else has done even 2. Go Shirley! Special mention to Michael Lonsdale as villain Hugo Drax. Every line he delivers in that condescending snobbish voice is a joy but “Mr Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.” has to be a Meta highlight.

14. From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love is beloved by critics. It’s Bond before Bond became too much of a formula. That fight scene with Robert Shaw as Red Grant is over 50 years old and holds up remarkably well when you think of what was contemporary at the time and how much fight scenes have developed since. There’s a great love interest, a staggeringly good ally for Bond and a plot that allows itself to slowly develop things without worrying the audience has ADHD. Look at something like The World is Not Enough which actually had a crack at developing strong and complex characters for comparison. It’s admirable but TWINE shoves an action scene in regularly just to make sure the kids aren’t bored. From Russia With Love builds them organically through their story. Hypocritically it’s down on my list because my memory is that it was still a bit too slow and boring for my tastes. This is definitely another one that could shoot up the list on a different week.

13. Never Say Never Again

Eon didn’t make this movie. It’s a remake of Thunderball but Sean Connery is playing James Bond and that makes it a James Bond movie okay! You’ll be hard pressed to find those that don’t rate Thunderball better than this 1983 effort so I submit it could just be that whole child of the 80s thing again. I saw it in the 90s which meant that I’ve always seen it through nostalgic eyes. It’s got the look in the film stock once again and yes it was on Channel 10. Connery here is in better shape than he was twelve years earlier for his last Eon production and he’s enjoying himself. Moore gets a lot of credit for being the funny Bond but Connery was just as much a master of the dead pan and there is a lot of wit in this film not to mention Connery is a good sport about the commentary given to Bond’s age. I love the bit where Connery in a ballroom whispers to Kim Basinger’s Domino “Your brother is dead. Keep dancing!”. Cheesetastic! There’s an excellent bike chase, Barbara Carerra hamming it up wonderfully as a femme fatale 12 years before Famke Janssen would be celebrated for her work as Xenia Onatopp and Klaus Maria Brandauer sulking about Bond magnificently. Yet it is seeing an older Connery, an icon of the 60s looking as good as ever in the early 80s as Bond that is the real draw here just before he disappeared into white haired/bald Connery with facial hair and became just as big a star as he had ever been as Bond.

12. Tomorrow Never Dies

We’re at the half way mark with Tomorrow Never Dies a solid but unexciting Bond film. The action is ramped up but there is enough wit and characterisation to make it more than a series of set pieces. Michelle Yeoh a charismatic performer holds her own and is presented as an equal in Chinese agent Wai Lin. Jonathan Pryce savours the opportunity to be outlandish and send up media barons as Elliot Carver. Judi Dench as M and as always gets some nice moments. Pierce Brosnan in only his second time out completely and utterly owns the role. But it is a basic by the numbers adequate Bond. Why it ranks so high is the fact that I’m a Brosnan guy and its relative youth means the stunts remain more interesting to me. If there have been a few on the list so far  that could rank higher next week this is the first that could rank lower but I do love it. My favourite sequence is when he gets taken into a room and beat up. Managing to get the upper hand he eventually subdues his several opponents. Pryce is doing a presentation downstairs and to embarrass him Bond pulls the power to the building. The look on Pierce’s face says it all. He then goes back to his hotel and plays cards staying up with vodka and a pistol waiting for more attackers to come get him. The scene is classic Bond and harkens back to the darkness of the character and the Connery years. I believe Brosnan was always pushing for stuff like this but it is Craig who has gotten to play it more. Instead of enemy henchman Teri Hatcher comes as Paris, a former lover and now the wife of Carver. This is a Bond of regrets and their love scene is passionate. When Paris is murdered by Vincent Schiavelli’s eccentric hit man and Bond manages to get the drop on him there is a great deal of satisfaction. By the way Brosnan wore a Royal Naval uniform in this one so we’re long overdue for Craig to get polys out. I don’t care how tall he is.

11. Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds maybe forever but Sean Connery no longer plays Bond. Most things in life after all are not forever. After Lazenby got arrogant and walked away or his Bond didn’t make as much money Connery got a sixth go at the role. Who knows which reason is accurate but hint-Connery got 1.25 million dollars which set up the Scottish International Education Fund and United Artists commitment to produce two films he wanted to do. Sounds like United Artists at least wanted him back. In hindsight we got lucky. After all they couldn’t keep going back to this well but thankfully they did and we got Connery in the 70s. It’s an odd film. Tracey Bond is never mentioned by name but Connery is typically ruthless in tracking down Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the beginning and killing him (not really but thinking so anyway) while on personal leave. Imagine if Salvalas had returned to take on Connery? Or Lazenby?! Or if Connery had done the previous film but projected some of that lovesick vulnerability that Lazenby did? Missed chances. But afterwards not a lot is made of the past or even of Connery’s return. Moneypenny is still flirting and asking for a ring. Really? M is still M and Connery ends up with some girls and is still his cheeky self. What’s interesting is Sir Sean is not really out of shape but there is a little puppy fat and the temples are allowed to show grey hair along with those 70s sideburns. He looks visibly older and while not out of place in the 70s fashion it reminds us how much the world has moved on in the past 10 years.  Which is why maybe the primary setting of 1970s Las Vegas matters so much? In a town known for being seedy and about gluttony a little tired and older Bond suits the setting. What’s neat though is Connery looks comfortable driving a muscle car, sporting the sideburns and being at the centre of a more silly plot, silly female leads and even a camp non-threatening but delightfully witty Blofeld played here by Charles Gray. God help me but I just love Diamonds Are Forever. It’s interesting to note that while Moore often has some hard edged scenes in his first couple of Bonds, Connery is here alongside some of the fun cheeky stuff that Moore would become known for. He does well. “I was just walking my rat and I seem to have gotten lost.”

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.