RANKINGS OF 24 BONDS and COUNTING PART FOUR: 05 to 01

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5. The Spy Who Loved Me

If there are some surprising low ranked entries on this list this one won’t come as a surprise for being Moore’s best. For Your Eyes Only might be more serious and contemporary but if there is one consistent theme throughout this list it is that however noble your intentions if the film gets boring it goes down the ladder. The Spy Who Loved Me is not serious with noble aspirations of character development or plot twists but it is never ever boring and it is the high watermark of Moore’s tenure. The fun Bond in his most fun Bond movie.

Barbara Bach is stunning in a way exceptional even for the beautiful Bond girls but more importantly one gun barrel sequence from Agent Goodnight we have a woman in Agent XXX who is Bond’s equal in every way. Yes she has to be rescued in the end but that only makes it personal for Bond and the audience. We like her and he does too. She kicks ass and even beats Bond at one point. Bach may not be the greatest actress of the Bond series but The Spy Who Loved Me she doesn’t have to be and she performs well being more than eye candy.

The Henchman is Jaws in this one. Think of the icons the Bond series has given us over the years. Blofeld, gold painted Shirley Eaton, the Ashton Martin DB5, Blofeld as played by Donald Pleasance. Jaws is right up there and tellingly a decade on from those images. There’s a few fans that wished he’d died in Egypt, he gradually becomes less terrifying after he drops that stone on his foot in the ruins but there is a reason why the audience cheered when he was seen alive at the end of this film. Introduced as a monster here and often compared to Frankenstein, it is fitting then he gets a girl and turns good in Moonraker. Frankenstein after all just wanted to be loved and understood. Jaws used for his strength and size is recognised for his feelings by 007 in his final film. In The Spy Who Loved Me, though Jaws is a force of nature, in a fairly light hearted film he creates a definite physical threat. Both extremes are all Richard Kiel and I can’t help but feel that while Jaws remains a villain in this film the audience recognised some of Kiel’s heart in the performance and just responded to the big guy with affection. Either way he adds something to the rogues gallery and fits right in with the rest of the film which is BIG in terms of production design, action set pieces, laughs and Barbara Bach’s wardrobe.

Speaking of icons, that Union Jack parachute does not make sense for a secret agent but it doesn’t matter because it looks so cool. Rick Sylvester skiing off that mountain and then his parachute almost not inflating as it is struck by the discarded skis is definitely in the top 5 of stunts that this series has pulled off. Rick gets two with that fall For Your Eyes Only. Thank you for being a mad man Mr Sylvester.

Curd Jurgens plays the villian Karl Stromberg…Hardly a Blofeld and I’m a bit of a sucker for Drax actually but you have got to love his casual request to cancel a money transaction after blowing a helicopter out of the sky with the intended recipients inside.

Moore also appears in Naval uniform at Faslane or somewhere pretending to be Faslane. C’mon Craig get your kit on. Here is Moore in the British Army.

A special note, HMS Fearless an amphibious assault ship features heavily at the end of the film. In 1982 she played an important role in the Falklands Islands War.

After building such an impressive set (a giant tanker swallows up nuclear submarines) they had to have a pitched battle in it, the first since OHMSS. For all the spectacle though even here they take time to show young men dying and making it matter.

Every now and then there are make or break Bonds that ensure the survival of the series. Goldfinger created the formula and is the classic that kick started everything. GoldenEye re-introduced Bond for a new era and re-invigorated his box office prowess. Daniel Craig continues to make us more excited about Bond than we ever have been. In 1977 the series had been coasting for a while still making money and Moore was settled in the role after Connery had left and come back and left again. But The Spy Who Loved Me essentially proved Bond could live on beyond those 60s classics without having to steal cultural influences. In a lot of ways it’s a mix of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice and it doesn’t matter.

I’m going to say it again, the key here is fun. This is just so much fun and a bit of luck. Moonraker proves that. The follow up is fun, has great set pieces, a witty villain, Jaws and…it is not nearly as good. There is a time and a place and everything here just works. Roger Moore is on fire here whether sternly cutting short discussion of his wife, dropping fish out of cars that should not be in them just for a sight gag, facing down Jaws and then saying “Later.” before going on to have sex and it all starts with that magnificent “So does England.”

The car chase with the Lotus reflects both the work ethic of everybody involved and perhaps why the film works so well. We start off with a bike chasing 007 in a car, then a car and then a helicopter ending with the Lotus driving off a pier and becoming a submarine. It’s escalation of force until the movie tops itself by doing something unexpected and original. To make that effect work took work, experimentation and first and foremost a fun imagination. It’s what the Bond series can do at its best.

Bond is a broad Church as the saying goes. If you look at my Top 6 there is a Bond from every decade with every actor who played him minus Lazenby. Part of what makes it work as a franchise is it moves with the times and constantly re-invents. It actually makes a great deal of sense that they’re movies you watch with your Dad since they’re something that your Dad grew up on and his love of the older films is something he can share with you as you take ownership of the current ones which are still familiar enough to him. I’d argue The Spy Who Loved Me made this possible. It’s when the franchise made something new and iconic for a new age and was rewarded with enormous success as a result. Roger Moore maybe the funny Bond but the franchise doubled in age and output during his era and that’s on him largely. This was his pinnacle.

4. GoldenEye

One of the last times my father took me to a movie was on Boxing Day with my sister and brother to see GoldenEye. I was 15, soon after I was seeing movies with my mates. As a kid I enjoyed The Living Daylights, Moonraker, You Only Live Twice, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Octopussy. If Licence to Kill failed to compete against Ghostbusters 2, Lethal Weapon 2 and BatmanGoldenEye made Bond feel like event cinema again. That 720 foot bungee jump off the Verzasca Dam in Switzerland made the film something that had to be seen on the big screen and Brosnan looked the part in a ridiculously good looking way. Glamour was back. Gadgets were back. Stunts were back. Interestingly to note, the first post cold war Bond made Russians the bad guys albeit all renegades but it’s not like they really re-invented the wheel first time out and this is from a series that had actually avoided making the Soviets the bad guys for the most part. If The Living Daylights is 80s Bond and The Spy Who Loved Me is 70s Bond then GoldenEye is the 90s Bond.

We really got the whole package in Pierce Brosnan a desire to go dark, one of the most ridiculously good looking men ever, prepared to get physical but also not taking any work away from the stuntmen, that silky Irish voice pronouncing the Queen’s English, comfortable with puns or passionate with wounded hurt over lost loves and traitorous adversaries. What more could you want? Well a good script would have been nice but I digress. I’ve got something positive to say about every Bond actor there has been but sooner or later you have to admit who your Bond is. Connery maybe my favourite but I don’t feel a sense of ownership over him. He’s my father’s Bond. Pierce Brosnan is my Bond and I couldn’t be happier.

Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp was delightfully over the top mixing sex with death in the way that the Bond series always has. Looking back over the series I don’t see any obvious inspirations for her except for Barbara Carerra in the rogue Connery production. Her performance is one of a kind and is still celebrated. Izabella Scorupco might seem to suffer as a result but she’s one of the best Bond girls actually. Smart, capable and with a good sense of meta humour. “You’re like boys with toys.” She admonishes at one stage. In the hallowed history of the series sexual imaginings are set up but not shown. That sarong fluttering in the breeze around her bikini is perfection in almost revealing but not quite. Hey I told you I was 15. Sean Bean could have played Bond and is enjoyably here a Double 00 Agent Alec Trevelyan gone bad. A special note for Special Effects Designer Derek Meddings. Derek Meddings worked with model effects and worked on Thunderbirds, various Bond films, and the original Superman and Batman film. The man who led the team that created the Krypton of my childhood last worked on GoldenEye with his sons. In post-production he died from colorectal cancer and GoldenEye is dedicated to his memory. Goldeneye is one of the last films to use models on a large scale with stunt work and developing CGI.

The middle aged guy was in the audience for this one too. When Bond drives the bike off the cliff and free-falls into the plane that is when I heard the chortle this time. There is so much to love here. That opening. The scene with Q. The first time we meet Judi Dench in the role of M. That tank chase is pure Bond, over the top and epic showing us something that has never been done before. In a lot of ways the big finale lacks the energy of the first half. What makes it work is the taunting of the character for the first time in the franchise and the fact that we’ve been saving up for a fight between Alec and Bond all movie and when it arrives it doesn’t disappoint. Sure a lot gets blown up but GoldenEye remembers that when there is something personal going on with the characters we as an audience are way more invested. Too bad they didn’t do anything cool with the Z3 Roadster but all the more reason I defend Die Another Day. For the first time Bond grossed $100 million at the U.S. Box Office and the Broccolis were back in business. The below photo sums up my feelings about the wasted potential of the Brosnan Bonds that followed.

3. Skyfall

Nothing like success to breed criticism. First Bond to gross a Billion worldwide, critically lauded, a hit song and search the internet and you’ll find a lot who don’t understand why everybody raves about this. They’ve got a point. Bond fails in his mission, there’s plot holes galore, and is he having sex with a former child prostitute uninvited and Bond’s injuries get forgotten as the story moves along plus why has the DB5 got all the gadgets? None of that matters though. Bond here is wounded, vulnerable, and older and we finally delve into his backstory if only a little bit. “You know the answer to that. You know the whole story.” “Orphans always make the best recruits.” “When he did come out, he wasn’t a boy anymore.” Like sex, the Broccolis know, just enough to get our imagination going is far more satisfying than any elaborate exposition. If I have a nit-pick it is I would have preferred if M was a better shot. I waited for her to mix it up ever since that kidnapping in The World is Not Enough and along with Eve’s resignation from the field I can’t help but feel the women get the short end of the action stick here for no good reason. Connery as Kincade would have been stunt casting and Albert Finney is wonderful but admit it-I’d watch that movie and so would you. Connery hadn’t done an onscreen role in 9 years at this point. It would’ve been the perfect way to retire and wipe that League of Extraordinary Gentleman crap away but not to be. A special note for DP Roger Deakins, this is a glorious looking digital movie and he’s done stellar work on this year’s Sicario. Spectre by comparison looks gloomy and muted in the trailers but let’s wait and see.

The pay off with the setup of Moneypenny and M and Q feels right. The band is back and we’ve come full circle. Where that leads in Spectre or in 10 years’ time is anyone’s guess but Bond remains. After 53 years and 24 films we’re still looking forward to the next one. Skyfall keeps that love alive. I find it telling my mother likes Pierce Brosnan the best (I sense his persona rather than his interpretation of Bond informs this most) and my father likes Sean Connery the most, so the other night I asked them both what was their favourite Bond film and without hesitation they both answered Skyfall. Jarvier Bardem as SIlva is menacing and camp all at the same time, gloriously selling a larger than life character with little subtle choices in his performance. Hired most likely due to the success of his Anton Chigurh this is a very different type of villainous portrayal and just as great.

It’s always hard for me to decide whether I like Skyfall more than Casino Royale. Something that I always think about is that Casino Royale has the love story with Eva Greene as Vesper Lynd and then I think yeah but Skyfall has the love story with Dame Judi Dench as M. If you look back at the Brosnan films she has a hard ruthless edge in those films film too even if they don’t necessarily play it up as much as they do in the Daniel Craig era but she’s great here. Sassy, weathered but determined. Under attack but not ready to throw in the towel. There’s so many facets to her character, a late husband mentioned (remember we saw a man in her bed in Casino Royale), a trust in Bond to get the job done even if he’s damaged, no hesitation early on to have Bond shot or have another agent bleed out and yet look at the satisfaction on her face when she looks Bond in the eye with her dying breath and says “I did get one thing right.” You got a lot right M.

2. Casino Royale

We spend a lot of time in that casino. We do have that incredible fight scene in the stair well but this is if you like the bottle episode of the Bond franchise and paradoxically it opens up the possibilities of the franchise like never before relying on character interactions, battle of wits and superb dialogue to get us through. It’s Bond in a way we’ve never had him and it leaves an impression. So much so that we forget maybe that massive parkour chase and set piece at Miami airport that plays like a more regular Bond picture. Even in those scenes here the exciting things are relatively low key. A particular highlight is the knife wrestle in a crowded public place. One of my favourite scenes in the whole movie is Bond going back to his room to dress his wounds, scowling in pain and downing whiskey before joining Vesper who is in shock. What’s neat is that by showing Bond himself hurting first it makes it less about him comforting her and more about them sharing their survival. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd ten years younger than Craig none the less has great chemistry with him and their love affair feels very genuine. This is a film that takes time to breathe like for example From Russia With Love but unlike that film I remember this as being more exciting. I knew from my Dad having read the books that Bond got tortured in a particular way in the original novel. I mused with him before seeing the film whether they would modify that torture to be more palatable for modern audiences but no they went ahead and did it. Again you have to hand it to the Broccolis. It’s safer to hand Pierce a truckload of money and do another Bond epic. Each Brosnan film made more money than the last. Instead they reinvented the franchise yet again with an unknown star that at one point seemed to only have their support and together they proved everybody wrong. I would have loved one more Pierce Bond and I would have been interested to see him do that Casino Royale with Quentin Tarantino but not a day goes by that I don’t love this movie. The ending hurts just like that one from 1969 albeit I think that is still by far more emotionally wrenching. I’m kinda hoping Vesper is mentioned in Spectre. She should be remembered. That death should carry weight even now. When Craig retires from the role it may not hurt to call Martin Campbell again either.

1. Goldfinger

David Letterman once said of all American chat show hosts “We’re all trying to be a little bit like Johnny Carson.” And every Bond film sans the last entry (maybe!) is trying to be Goldfinger. A lot of the formula is present in Dr No but it solidifies in Goldfinger and they’ve been remaking it ever since with various degrees of success and intertwined with modern influences. They’ve made some great ones, I think at least one that epitomises the decade and the Bond of that era but Goldfinger is timeless and beats them all. Plot holes, third acts that lose steam, inconsistent tone, too serious, too silly. None of this matters with Goldfinger it’s perfect from beginning to end. Throughout this list each film has almost inevitably touched upon a shopping list of things to tick off or comment on. Song, Henchman, Villain, Car, Female Lead. Here they are not just series highlights but highlights of cinema itself. The song sung by Shirley Bassey. The Henchman Oddjob. The Villain Auric Goldfinger. The car Ashton Martin DB5. The Female Lead Pussy Galore played by Honor Blackman. Finally it has at the heights of his powers The Bond. Look at the photo below. Now isn’t that just the coolest motherfucker there ever was. From a boy pulling milk around with a cart in the tenements of Edinburgh to twenty five years later being James Bond. What an incredible journey it was for Connery to come from humble beginnings and become James Bond. It was no accident, Connery oozes old movie star charisma in this film but always the hint of something real and post modern in his approach. Nothing I can say about this film hasn’t already been said. Watching it recently I was amazed by how endlessly quotable and known the dialogue has become, how the stunts held up and how the era had transformed from something dated to something ageless as the cool 1960s have become. A final note my journey with Bond starts here. One night when I’m very young my Dad tells me there is a good movie on tonight, (yes it was Channel 10) and we sit down to watch it. It’s about a spy and it’s an action film. Some guy comes out of the water in a ski suit and takes it off to reveal a dinner jacket underneath. There’s a fight, not long after, there’s a car with gadgets like K.I.T.T. I don’t fall asleep or get bored and go in the other room. I like the movie and after that whenever I get told it’s a Bond movie whether it has Roger Moore or Sean Connery or Timothy Dalton I want to see it and I think of it as a Bond movie. There is something consistent in the brand if not the tone or tastes or even success and that is to be applauded. The journey continues but I can’t help but feel very fortunate Goldfinger was my first. I think it will always be No.1 for most because it is timeless. What I admire most about Eon productions is I think they know Goldfinger will always be the best too and yet every Bond movie they make, even A View to A Kill, they set out to finally make one better than it. I admire that and who knows maybe one day they will.

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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.”