James Bond Franchise Review

It was after reviewing Skyfall the other week that I got to thinking. I quite like the James Bond movies, but there was a whole bunch of them I hadn’t seen, or at least hadn’t seen in full.

I decided it would be good to go back into the archives of espionage history and have a gander, which rapidly became a run-through of every Bond film ever.

The Bond films vary from deadly serious action to not-so-serious fun adventure stories. They have succeeded and failed in both endeavours. The following is my attempt to rank the Bond movies, from best to worst, in as comprehensive a fashion as I can. My choices will not be too everyone’s taste or agreement I am sure, but it is my personal appraisal of the Bond franchise. So:

The Very Good

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig pretty much came out of nowhere and blew everyone away with this reboot, creating a Bond much closer to the original Fleming vision: a dangerous individual that you wouldn’t leave your daughter alone with. An excellent adaptation of the source material, modernising when necessary (the bad guys, the airport sequence, the end fight) and keeping what was best about the first novel (everything in the Casino, the Vesper relationship, the torture scene). Only Judi Dench is kept around from the old era, and that gives Craig’s Bond a great degree of freedom to do something that seems brand new while still being Bond at its core. With nary a bad performance to be found, excellent pacing, tense, riveting, beautifully shot and scripted, I struggle to actually find anything bad to say about Casino Royale.

Skyfall

Two Craig films top the bill? Bit of a trend I suppose. I loved Skyfall, which was easily the best acted, most emotive Bond film to date. Making the character of M a focal point, with the twin arcs of Bond and Silva in trying to save and kill her, was a brilliant move. Perhaps a little too long, but Skyfall has a great score, great action scenes, great callbacks to previous Bonds and effortlessly completes the reboot process with Moneypenny and Q being introduced. You can read more about it here.

Goldfinger

Who doesn’t like Goldfinger? Connery is typically seen as the best Bond and this was his best movie. A villain just out for his own greed is almost an oddity in the franchise, and he had one of the most memorable henchman in Oddjob – a figure with such visual presence as to overshadow the rather dumb weapon he wields. Add in Pussy Galore, perhaps too toned-down from her novel persona, and you have some excellent characters to round off a whip smart plot. Goldfinger truly excels in its individual moments which are uniformly shot and scripted in as memorable a way as possible. The girl with the gold paint, the golf game, the laser scene, the showdown with Oddjob, it’s all wonderful and has aged well too. This is classic Bond at his best.

Goldeneye

After an absence of several years, Bond had to be back with a bang. Pierce Brosnan steps into the spy’s shoes with panache, with the more personal duel between him and rogue agent Alex Trevelyan making this an intriguing viewing experience. Updating James Bond for a post-Cold War is the goal, and that goal is accomplished. Some great locales and chase scenes polish it off, with memorable characters like the sexually depraved Onatopp and Hollywood hacker Boris. Though a bit explosion heavy, Goldeneye had an emotional heart, and was an excellent way to shine up the franchise with a new Bond, M and Moneypenny with Sean Bean stealing the show throughout.

The Quite Good

You Only Live Twice

I’ve always had a soft spot for this one. The gigantic shift in the middle, from standard spy story to fighting criminal supervillains, can be a bit jarring, but I loved the location, I loved the autogyro, I loved Tanaka and I really liked Donald Pleasence’s all too brief stint as Blofeld. The ending is all kinds of awesome as the ninjas attack the secret volcano base in a crazy grenade and karate blend. It lacks a decent Bond girl and has some embarrassingly racist/sexist elements, but this tops the list of “fun” Bond films.

Tomorrow Never Dies

Probably not gonna have too many on board with me here, but I really liked Brosnan’s second. I can appreciate a scenery chewing villain if he has the right blend of charisma and menace and Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver has that, with vicious German mercenary Stamper backing him up. The plot is pretty out there, it lags in the middle and Yeoh struggles as foreign agent Bond Girl archetype, but this is Brosnan at his misogynistic dinosaur best, saving queen and country from megalomaniacal weirdos. Loved that stealth ship too.

Dr No

The first and still a classic. It hasn’t aged as well as Goldfinger, but Dr No still has all the elements that made us love Bond. From that iconic scene in the casino to the exploding oil rig, Dr No is the best of both worlds: a standard spy adventure that becomes fantastical with the title character’s introduction. Wiseman is pretty bland actually and the first half drags a good bit, but the last half an hour is pure gold. It gets brownie points for setting many trends that subsequent Bond films would follow.

License To Kill

I liked Timothy Dalton’s Bond, and I really wish he had more of a chance to impress. This film has gotten some flak for its incredibly violent nature, but it’s not like Bond was always a caring peacelover before this. Davi is a new kind of villain for Bond, Lowell is one of the better Bond girls, the tanker chase is fantastic and Dalton really sells the personal vendetta quite well. This is the first (and until Die Another Day, the only) “rogue Bond” story and it has that extra bit of excitement as a result. Watching people being fed to sharks or thrown into rock crushers might not be to everyone’s taste, but I really think this could have been the real starting point to a decent run for Dalton.

The Ok-ish

The World Is Not Enough

Brosnan was starting to struggle a bit for this one. It’s a perfectly acceptable movie, but lacks that little something that he previous two had. Carlyle is OK as the deranged terrorist but Sophie Marceau is fantastic as the first really prominent female Bond villain. But it’s all ruined by Denise Richards, atrocious as “Christmas Jones”, the least plausible nuclear physicist in film history. It’s not well paced either and some of the action scenes, like the skiing one, aren’t that great. It has a nice conclusion and M is given a bit more to do, but you have to chalk this one up as a missed opportunity. Could have been better.

The Spy Who Loved Me

As high as the Moore ones will go I’m afraid. This is a fun little action movie, with decent set-pieces and Moore’s best effort as 007, actually getting to be a bit stern on occasion, like when he casually throws a man to his death. Bach isn’t too bad as the Russian agent and Jaws gives us a really excellent henchmen to fear/gawk at. Stromberg is a bit dull as a villain, but the end fight in his sea base brought me back to You Only Live Twice. It’s an enjoyable little romp is what it is. The problem is that the producers would just try and copy it wholesale for the next one.

From Russia With Love

A let down from Dr No, this one is way too long and rather dull. Bond lurking around Istanbul and gypsy camps is just plain boring at times, and not enough is done with Robert Shaw’s creepy “Red” character. Bianchi is just a bimbo really and Rosa Kleb and her foot knife doesn’t really cut it as a finale. Still, it’s exotic and does a half-decent job at a down-to-earth spy story.

Die Another Day

Some might be surprised that this is as high as it is. Yes, they go a bit crazy with the CGI and the gadgets, and yes Halle Berry is pretty lame as “Jinx”, but I still just liked Die Another Day. Gustav Graves is a delightful over the top villain, a kind of evil Tony Stark, and there wasn’t an action scene that I disliked. About time that a new enemy country got introduced, this one being North Korea. Brosnan may have wanted to go out on a better note, but this isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be.

The Middling

The Living Daylights

Maybe the reason they went all out with the gore in License to Kill is because of how tame Dalton is in this. He’s not bad at all, it’s just the material is pretty lame. The Bond girl they throw at him doesn’t convince, and the way they wind up in Afghanistan seems far too “political point of the day” to me. As for as locales, villain, score and supporting performances, one of the worst, hence it placing here. It strikes me that the producers just wanted to make something that could have been done by Moore, without realising that they could get away with something much different with the new Bond.

Diamonds Are Forever

When you put the best villain in the Bond series in drag, you’ve gone wrong. Blofeld just plain sucks in this one, and Connery has a certain lack of interest. He’s clocking out, it’s plain to see. It’s important to realise that he made all of his films in a decade, so some burn-out is to be expected. The plot is farfetched, the bits with the moon buggy are laughable, and there is way too much comedy stuff. The assassins, Mr Kitt and Mr Wint, kind of save it a bit though, as two of the most genuinely creepy villains you’ll ever see. Still, a massive disappointment considering it was Connery’s (official) swansong.

The Man With The Golden Gun

Christopher Lee makes this movie, but there is only so much he can do really. The general set-up of the master assassin is good, but everything else: the midget, the flying car, the “Solex” device, the crappy fight scenes, the unimpressive locations – just drag it down to a poor level. Moore just isn’t cutting it as Bond at this stage. Lee is good as Scaramanga, but this whole production is treading water due to its innate ridiculousness. When you’re closing off the movie with Bond stuffing a midget in a suitcase, you have to wonder just what the hell you are doing to the franchise.

Quantum Of Solace

Man, what a letdown. I suppose nothing could compare to Casino Royale but this, even on its own merits, is disappointing. Craig’s vendetta has none of the venom it should have, Kurylenko is really bad, the villain is creepy but rather impotent as a threat, it’s too long, badly paced and has a completely flat ending. And something like four chase scenes too. I suppose it’s a case of the creators flapping around for ideas after Craig’s first and coming up with this dross. Considering the length of time between this and the previous, less than two years, it’s easy to see that an element of “rushed out” is responsible.

The Bad

A View To A Kill

This isn’t as bad as some make it out to be, but it’s still terrible. Moore is aging and shows it, Walken is just a bit too openly bloodthirsty to work as a Bond villain, the Bond girl is pretty much a ditzy blond and the plot to flood Silicon Valley with a manufactured earthquake is pretty much eye-rolling territory. Grace Jones is sort of memorable I suppose, but everything else is mediocre to the hilt. Moore acknowledges that this was one film too many and he’s not wrong.

For Your Eyes Only

The real sign of slippage from the Moore era. This film is just really, really dull. I found my mind wandering during it, to the extent that I began to miss relevant plot details. Moore has to stop someone from giving some box to the Russians and they’re in Greece and yaddayaddyadda. This is a bad film because it’s so routine as to be completely forgettable. Nothing stands out, hence it being placed here.

Thunderball

Like above, I found this one rather boring and pedestrian. It’s way too long and slow moving, with Bond taking forever to do anything or advance the plot. The Bond girls are ok-ish and Largo is somewhat effective, but it just drags and drags. The underwater segments and fight scenes are poor as a spectacle and the production has no real sense of tension or danger from the SPECTRE threat like other films had. That last bit in the boat is pretty ridiculous too, even for its time.

Never Say Never Again

Not an official EON film, but I’ll include it anyway. This has all of the problems of the above, with added comedy elements dragging it down even further (what is Rowan Atkinson doing in this movie?). This pretty much seems like some sort of Sean Connery vanity project gone crazy and that bit with the video game in the casino is utterly laughable.

The Terrible

Live And Let Die

The first of many Moore outings at the foot of the table. Live And Let Die is racist to the hilt, shockingly so, and looks truly bigoted by modern standards. Moore ambles along in his first outing, but there is nothing he can do to distract the audience from the blaxplotiation going on around him. A ridiculous finale where he blows up the bad guy, literally, tops it all off. Abysmal.

Octopussy

Another one that’s low in the table because of the dullness rather than anything else. After you get over the stupid title you have an inane adventure through India and Germany, where Bond lacks any charisma at all and later gets to wear clown make-up for some reason. The bad guy seems more like a disgruntled manager. Nobody comes out of this one looking good.

Moonraker

The most insane of the insane. The villain is wooden, Moore is phoning it in and the whole thing is one huge cash in on Star Wars popularity. In truth, this carries many of the same elements as The Spy Who Loved Me, but adds all this comedic nonsense, like Jaws finding a girlfriend and laser guns. A Bond movie that is just so out there as to be easily dismissed.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Ah yes. Lazenby is awful. It’s too long. It’s boring in large segments. They gut the Blofeld character. Too much skiing. Too much comedy. Bad score. Badly written. Just plain bad. Not even the final scene can save this one from being at the foot of the table. Just a film with so very few redeeming features. Moonraker is so bad as to almost be an interesting watch, but OHMSS cannot even say that.

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2 Responses to James Bond Franchise Review

  1. Reading the above put me in mind of an early 80s movie with Connery called (over here at least) The Man with the Deadly Lens that had a certain Bond-like quality to part of it. Must look to pick up on dvd and give it a watch from the vantage point of another 30 years and see if it has aged well.

  2. Pingback: NFB’s Top 25 Films Of 2012 And Awards | Never Felt Better

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