And so today, on the heels of “Spectre” crossing the $500 million worldwide box office mark in just three weeks, your trusty Filmcore Squad Lieutenants Alex Kirschenbaum and Greg Brecher are breaking down the entire James Bond cinematic canon. The listed rankings are Alex’s, and Greg is offering a counterpoint on each entry. And yes, we’re counting “Never Say Never Again” in the official movie count, because Sean Connery IS James Bond, and we don’t care whether or not Sony/MGM/EON count it. Actually Sony/MGM does count it, because they bought out the rights to it from Warner Brothers, but EON still holds a grudge. We are NOT, however, counting the ’54 or ’67 “Casino Royale” adaptations.
There is a reason James Bond is the biggest (adjusted for inflation), longest-lasting series in movie history. That would be because it’s (a) the coolest and (b) not just about shooting people. It’s also about sex. Lots and lots of sex, spanning decades and decades of different sexual partners (92 total). It’s also about, well, a few other things, which we will touch on, at considerable length, below. This is a list of many parts (well, three). Links to the other two can be found below.
Part I Rankings Index
25. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969; Bond: George Lazenby)
24. “Quantum of Solace” (2008, Bond: Daniel Craig)
23. “Moonraker” (1979, Bond: Roger Moore)
22. “A View To A Kill” (1985, Bond: Roger Moore)
21. “Skyfall” (2012, Bond: Daniel Craig)
20. “Octopussy” (1983, Bond: Roger Moore)
19. “Spectre” (2015, Bond: Daniel Craig)
18. “License To Kill” (1989, Bond: Timothy Dalton)
17. “The Living Daylights” (1987; Bond: Timothy Dalton)
Alex: Well, sports fans, I was BLINDSIDED by the sheer shittiness of this one. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” has somehow, grotesquely morphed into a secret fan favorite. On the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate of all Bond movies by critical preference (their list includes the 1967 “Casino Royale,” which, again, shouldn’t count), “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” comes in at #7, above “Goldeneye” and several Connery Bonds!
The first few reels apathetically luxuriate in a flat romance between Bond and the mysterious Tracy (Diana Rigg), later revealed to be the daughter of a shady crime syndicate boss, Draco di Vicenzo (Gabrielle Ferzetti). Even the characters are somewhat disinterested in each other for a good portion of the movie, outside of wanting a quick lay. Initially, Tracy tries to drown herself, then Bond saves her, then her bodyguards try to beat up Bond and take Tracy away, then they meet again in a casino, then ANOTHER one of her bodyguards tries to beat up Bond, THEN they have some really boring banter, THEN they sleep together but are both deeply disinterested in the process. THEN, a few scenes later, the boss tries to convince Bond to romance Tracy, first for $1 million (Bond refuses), then for information from Draco on the evasive Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond is totally cool with this plan. THEN, at a horse race, Tracy discovers the nature of Bond and Draco’s arrangement and leaves their derby table in disgust. Bond follows Tracy to convince her that he really loves her. THEN we are subjected to an emotionless, joyless montage as Louis Armstrong squawks in the background. It’s only a two-minute sequence, but it feels five times longer. You could have moved two storefront mannequins around and gotten more personality during this montage. And, well, during the rest of the movie. Eventually, maybe 40-45 minutes into this thing, we get to the actual plot. If the people making the movie didn’t care about establishing this mandated romance, why should we? EON must have been similarly displeased with the results, because director Peter Hunt (editor of the first three Bonds) never helmed another Bond movie again.
And ho-ho, what a doozy that plot is. Blofeld, we discover, is obsessed with tracing genealogies — he wants confirmation that his lack of earlobes links him to a bloodline that would certify him as being a Count. Bond disguises himself as Sir Hilary Bray, the genealogist Blofeld has been communicating with. Next, he’s off to Blofeld’s mountaintop “research clinic” in the Swiss Alps! With a disguise so convincing that —
THERE IS NO DISGUISE. Oh, he wears a hat and a pair of glasses at first, sure, BUT he removes them before meeting Blofeld! A reminder: in “You Only Live Twice,” this movie’s direct predecessor, Bond and Blofeld HAVE ALREADY MET AND FOUGHT EACH OTHER. Bond, in fact, blew up Blofeld’s entire compound in that movie. Hard to forget a face like that, wouldn’t you say? So how does Blofeld not immediately recognize James Bond through his non-disguise when they meet face-to-face here? Is it because Bond is a different actor? Is it because Blofeld is a different actor? Is it because Blofeld miraculously can see through both eyes now, because for some reason EON decided not to give Savalas the scar that Pleasance had (and Christoph Waltz acquires) when he played Blofeld? Later, when Blofeld “discovers” that the man he thought was really Hilary Bray is actually James Bond, he tells Bond that the spy slipped up by listing the wrong location for the graves of Blofeld’s supposed royal ancestors. Again, though, BOND SLIPPED UP BY DRESSING LIKE JAMES BOND.
Telly Savalas supplants Donald Pleasance (from “You Only Live Twice”) as Blofeld here, and opts to play the character with no accent and no cat (he’s still bald though). Turns out the genealogy plot is just a red herring. The Savalas-Blofeld’s goal is to destroy the world economy through bacteriological terrorism, creating total infertility in plant and animal species the world over. He’s hypnotizing 12 girls with weird allergies to propagate the neutering chemicals, which they will take all over the planet. I’m not kidding, that’s his plot. A LOT of time is spent on this set-up and yet… it’s completely unclear what exactly the chemicals are, or how the girls will release them (we see the containers that the girls are supposed to transport the bacteria in), or upon what specific plant and animal species they would start. The Savalas-Blofeld does a lot of what Roger Ebert would call The Fallacy of the Talking Killer, but he doesn’t really explain much at all.
Savalas isn’t the only problematic co-star. Tracy MARRIES James Bond at the end of the movie, and the character is established as nominally being THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE. Her murder at the hands of Blofeld in the scene immediately following the wedding — and Bond’s supposedly poignant last line — are designed to hammer that point home. After all, he never comes close to marrying anyone again. The sort-of-reboot incarnation of Bond, Daniel Craig, falls hard for Vesper Lynd, but that’s about it. It’s kind of hard to believe James Bond is in love with Tracy AT ALL in this movie, after a very protracted, very lackluster courtship that takes up way too much of the flick’s run time. Plus, Rigg and Lazenby have ZERO chemistry with each other — Rigg is clearly the superior performer, but isn’t given nearly enough to do, and looks lost and frustrated playing such a cardboard Bond girl. So she’s compromised. We’ll talk about Lazenby more in a second, but… it almost seems like these actors didn’t even like each other when the cameras stopped rolling.
Why else doesn’t it seem like James Bond, simply as a character, wasn’t particularly in love with Tracy Bond? Whilst in Blofeld’s research compound, Bond-as-Bray sleeps with two of the girls with allergies in one night (spitting virtually the exact same game at them in bed) and then tries to go for THREE girls the next while on Blofeld’s premises. He is found out by Blofeld but eventually escapes, only to be followed by some Blofeld goons. Tracy rescues him and they hook up again, camped out in a barn beneath the Alps. He proposes to her THAT NIGHT. So, just to be clear, Bond proposes to the love of his life ONE NIGHT AFTER hooking up with two rando’s and ON THE NIGHT that he has tried to hook up with those two again PLUS A NEW ONE. Forgive me if, 30 minutes later when Tracy dies, I don’t believe James when he cradles her dead hand and sobs. THOSE ARE CROCODILE TEARS YOU MONSTER.
On to that crocodile: the biggest failing of the movie, by far, is George Lazenby. While he gives a dynamite interview now (and is apparently doing quite well for himself), he was clearly the flattest, blandest Bond of them all. A horrible, horrible, horrible actor, so painful to watch that I stopped and started the movie maybe five times, it took me almost a week to finish it, all things considered. The movie is so sloppily handled, so utterly devoid of anything worth investing in, that it’s miraculous it made any money at all.
It’s hilarious how franchise entries that suck somehow become completist fans’ belated favorites when allotted the passage of time, because fuck this movie. Greg, I really, really hope that this is your 25th favorite Bond movie, too.
Greg: I have to admit, this was not at the bottom of my list until I re-watched it recently. Somehow I had a much better movie in my memory, and I’m wondering if maybe that’s the case with most Bond fans who rank it higher now. What’s amazing about this Bond is how it is extremely complicated and lazy at the same time. You’d think that with such an ambitious plot and desire to one-up the Connery films, they’d pinpoint the best aspects of the first films and really give Lazenby a platform to excel in. There’s this pathetic attempt to slip Lazenby and Savalas in on pure looks as if they are Connery and Donald Pleasance from the last film. I actually like the idea of Savalas as a villain, but just make him a new guy one! Don’t call him Bloefeld just because he’s bald and the last guy was too! I’m not totally out on Lazenby, I think he probably could have continued as a lesser Connery if they had given him some more to work with, but maybe I’m being generous. Wasn’t there a dispute with Connery which led to them casting Lazenby? I’d put this down at 25, but honestly to me Bond films rank in groups, the worst ones all sort of swim in the same pool so you could have this or the next 4 roam about the pits of the Bond universe interchangeably.
Alex: Basically what happened with Connery was a monetary dispute, yeah. Eon producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman kept re-negotiating their deals with United Artists as the Bond movies evolved into a global box-office phenomenon, and Connery felt slighted that he didn’t get profit participation or merchandise points. He was probably right to feel that way. Lazenby does look a lot like Connery, for sure, which highlights just how much shittier he is as an actor. Savalas played Blofeld because Blofeld was the bad guy in the original Ian Fleming “OHMSS” book, but I agree with you, they should have changed it if Pleasance was going to pass. I’m so glad that we’re on the same page with this one.
Alex: At least “Moonraker” had Holly Goodhead, and at least “A View To A Kill” had Evil Nazi Test Tube Baby Christopher Walken going apeshit PLUS THAT THEME SONG. This has absolutely nothing going for it in any department aside from Bond himself, and is visually incomprehensible (the action scenes are cut to within an inch of their lives, to a point that basic geography of the scene spaces is a complete mystery), to say nothing of its unintelligible plotting. I was stunned when I saw it; it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be quite so bad with Casino Royale paving the way. AND Bond is as chaste as a monk in this one, he never so much as kisses Olga Kurylenko (one of the hotter recent Bond girls who is completely wasted in this one) — THEY JUST HUG. He also never smooches Gemma Arteton on the lips. Seriously, this is James Bond we’re talking about! Sleeping with fly honies is in his damn job description, along with killing evil foreigners who stupidly tell him their exact plans for mass destruction. Matthew Almaric plays his foe in this one, looking about as dangerous as a mildly unpleasant men’s suit salesman at Bon Marche’s.
The quality of “Quantum of Solace” brings me to a very, very important topic: are we sure Daniel Craig is the second-best James Bond ever? He’s only made one very good Bond movie. Granted, “Casino Royale” is an all-timer (it’s pretty high on this very list, as you’ll see), but “Quantum of Solace” is one of the worst-ever Bond movies, and “Skyfall” was mediocre at best. “SPECTRE” is his second-best Bond movie, and you still more or less hated it. I think it was solid but un-“SPECTRE”-tacular (I had to).
I’d submit, actually, that ALL the Brosnan movies are better than those three. Yes, even the one with the invisible car. You can say Craig SHOULD, on paper, be the superior Bond. When he was given a great script, he brought back the cocky ruthlessness that no non-Connery Bond has ever been able to manage to this point. But, “Goldeneye” is an all-timer in its own right, on the Bond scale, and the Brosnan films while less ambitious just plain out knew what they were and what they were going for.
Greg: I hated this one from the moment it became clear that it was a direct sequel to “Casino Royale.” And when I say direct, I mean that it begins right when the “Casino Royale” ends. The problem of this whole new Bond franchise to me started right there, because it meant we were going to get a story that threaded its way through the rest of the Craig films. The beauty of Bond has always been that the stories didn’t need to be or benefit from a continuous story. Bond is a Western hero who rides out into the sunset and then comes back from wherever and whenever. His personal life is nonexistent, he has no home, no family, only adventure. The decision to ground the character in a real and continual world was an interesting one, but it ultimately missed out on what’s fun and exhilarating about Bond. I think the producers conflated grittiness with realism, and didn’t realize they could make a gritty Bond who still exists beyond our reality. I mean, throughout this new Craig series we find out all about Bond’s childhood as a rich kid snob who grew up in a mansion called Skyfall. I don’t want to know anything about where Bond came from! It doesn’t hurt to have little character attributes sprinkled in, but could we please keep some mystery to the man of mystery? Now I’m not saying much about “Quantum of Solace” here in specific because there really isn’t much to say. This came right on the heels of one of the best Bonds in history, and they managed to avoid every single thing that made “Casino Royale” interesting and infinitely re-watchable.
To your point about Craig as the second-best Bond. I’d like to think of him as the Derrick Rose of James Bonds. He had one killer MVP season in “Casino Royale,” but if you compare him to Brosnan’s Chris Paul, you find you get longevity and consistency, instead of just one transcendent season. I don’t think it’s necessarily Craig’s fault, his Bond films are more ambitious and came out in a more difficult movie-watching culture, but they ultimately lose to their own trappings. Pierce’s Bond lost it when they tried to compete with Vin Diesel’s “XXX,” but the first three really hit a sweet consistent stride. Ultimately though, when you chalk it up, Craig and Brosnan come out about even just because of how great “Casino Royale” really is.
Alex: Ugh, Derrick Rose. Now I’m just depressed. LOOK AT WHAT HE ONCE WAS. I agree though, that’s a perfect way to describe Craig. Like Icarus, they flew too close to the sun. And yeah, the movie-to-movie continuity and the backstory stuff are such an awkward fit for James Bond. Who cares where he’s from? Let’s see where he’s going (and who he’s going to fuck and kill as he gets there)! I’m giving Brosnan the edge for now (as I would Chris Paul), but here’s hoping Eon hires Martin Campbell back for Craig-Bond #5 so that I can amend that ranking. Also, “XXX” was pretty sweet.
Alex: Best element of this movie: the Tom Mankiewicz-devised astronaut moniker Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), leading to Roger Moore’s 12 year-old schoolboy delight whenever he has to shout “DR. GOOD-HEAD!” After “The Spy Who Loved Me” righted the course following the modest success of “Live and Let Die” and the modest failure of “The Man With The Golden Gun,” Cubby Broccoli didn’t want to damage the formula too much, so they basically threw out Ian Fleming’s original “Moonraker” and made their version of “The Spy Who Loved Me In Space,” featuring the “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” theme song as a musical door code. Boring goatee’d villain Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) has the exact same evil scheme as his infinitely better “Spy” predecessor, Karl Stromberg: to create a master race in a weird place. Drax wants to make a kind of blond Aryan asylum in space, whereas Stromberg’s dream was to start his new universe under the sea. Drax just lacks any of the charisma, elegance or creepiness that made Stromberg so fun. Broccoli even brings back the least successful element of “The Spy Who Loved Me,” Richard Kiel’s Jaws, and make him a good guy who falls in love with a little blonde fraulein, and ends up saving the day with Bond and Goodhead (hah, Goodhead).
This is the first movie where Roger Moore’s dotage really begins to set in, as he starts looking quite craggy when next to Lois Chiles (who’s pretty fly, especially when her hair is up in a bun). The theme song sucks. Beyond Jaws they have yet another stream of interchangeable blond henchmen. The production values pale in comparison to the exquisite model and compositing work of the then-recently-released “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (those space suits! those lasers!), and the whole thing comes off as unforgivably cheap and outmoded. ALSO. That zero-gravity “attempting re-entry sir” sex scene is quite possibly the dumbest sex scene in any Bond movie this side of…
Greg: Hahah I never thought about the “The Spy Who Loved Me” parallel. Is there a quote somewhere out there of them admitting they’re basically remaking it? You’re totally right it is the same movie! I know I shouldn’t say this, and you’re probably right in ranking it this low, but I enjoyed this movie a bit more than being this far down on the list, I think I’d have “Octopussy” in this place. I like that the whole thing sort of feels like a ’70s porno. Isn’t there a sequence where he bathes in a jungle pool with some of the prospective master race women?
Alex: There sure is. One of the movie’s few highlights. Yeah, okay, fair it’s definitely got a themed porno vibe, come to think of it. Very “Flesh Gordon”-core. No shame in liking it more than I did; “Octopussy” is certainly pretty bad, but I mean, it’s Bond on an island full of women. Sort of like a pre-VHS ’80s porn.
Alex: The biggest net positive we can take away from “A View To A Kill” is the top-notch Duran Duran theme song. Honestly, I really think most of the theme songs kind of suck. I would be perfectly comfortably if EON just suspended opening-title songs from the equation for the foreseeable future; they were a cool conceit once upon a time, but most of the songs are utterly terrible and the title credits featuring silhouetted naked girls and guns (I can’t believe I’m saying this) just feel played out.
Even though he was still a good-looking guy, Roger Moore looked like an old 56 by the time he, EON and John Glen got around to shooting “A View To A Kill.” The wrinkles were out in full force. Frankly, the man was never a gym rat the way Connery was, and it shows. There is an incomprehensible scene with a butterfly-whisperer who is also a covert audience-murderer, so remarkably awful that I had to re-watch it five times to confirm that, no, there wasn’t anything else to it. The pre-coital scene between a 56 year-old Roger Moore (who looks like a 72 year-old) and an androgynous, robotic 36 year-old Grace Jones’s May Day feels like it was uncomfortable for all parties involved, right down to the caterers. Tanya Roberts, then 29, was young enough to be his daughter. For some ungodly reason, Christopher Walken reigns in that wacky Brooklynite dancer we all know him to be in playing wartime Nazi Test Tube Baby Max Zorin, with the fakest bleached-blonde hair this side of Javier Bardem (see #21). His stupid plan? To destroy all of Silicon Valley, thus cornering the “microchip market.” Well who, exactly, outside of Silicon Valley was all-in on microchips?
Doesn’t it sound hilariously bad? So-bad-it’s-good bad? Well, you could frame it that way, in fits and starts. But the thing is SO glacial that it’s almost not worth it unless you’re a psychotic completist, like myself or Greg. Action notes — the blimp battle atop the Golden Gate Bridge at the end is pretty fun, and quite obviously a set. The other action scenes are all uninspired, shot too tight, and not nearly compacted enough for time.
Greg: I want to pour one out for my homie Lois Maxwell, as this was her last appearance as Miss Moneypenny. Sad that she had to go while Q’s Desmond Llewyn made it (amazingly) all the way to “The World is Not Enough” (1999). Here’s the thing about “A View To A Kill:” I love Christopher Walken, and I realize that could be clouding my judgment, but I think this is a semi-good Bond movie that would be better if Connery were still Bond. It feels a lot like a shitty version of “Goldfinger,” and plot wise it basically is. He wants to destroy his competition to make his stuff more valuable, a la Auric Goldfinger making all of Fort Knox’s reserves radioactive. So, I’d like to think that, had this one starred a younger and better Bond, we might have it a lot higher in our estimations. Making Zorin a Nazi baby is cheap but also works in a pulpy kind of way. And I think that’s really where the Moore movies lost. They traded in pulp for camp throughout most of them, so I’ve always felt like “A View to a Kill” was one of the better Moore entries. Also, props for featuring a black female lead and a bunch of interracial relationships. Also, not to belabor the point here, but I can’t believe we haven’t reached “Octopussy” yet!
Alex: Hahaha. Oh, we’re getting there! Walken is certainly better than the completely forgettable villains of “Octopussy,” but otherwise “A View To A Kill” really dropped the ball. It’s a little sexist that they dropped Moneypenny but retained Q — HOWEVER, the Dalton-era Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) was a babe, probably the hottest of the four Moneypenny’s. I’d agree about the pulp-vs.-camp thing; the Moore movies had the most difficult time navigating between the two. If we’d had Dalton (or Remington Steele) and the whole thing was maybe half an hour shorter (with no butterfly-whisperer murder scene), I’d probably have dug this more. Maybe I’m giving “Octopussy” too much credit.
Alex: They really botched that Moneypenny reveal in committing so much screen time to the M transition. Seriously, why would James Bond not know Moneypenny’s name by the end of the movie? He asks for her full name, too, so it’s not just a last-name reveal. I think they did that to draw out the reveal, since she introduces herself by her first name, then pauses dramatically. But you have to think that a spy as thorough as James Bond is supposed to be would know everything he needs to know about the hot colleague who rides alongside him in the beginning of the movie on a shared mission, accidentally shoots him, sensually shaves him, and coyly flirts with him over concealed walkie-talkies during a life-or-death stake-out?
Did you know that this thing is listed as the #1 MOST CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED BOND MOVIE ON ROTTEN TOMATOES? What is wrong with people? Why are they settling? I’m going to have to continue ranting, I think, to dispel your unwarranted enthusiasm for “Skyfall.”
A couple points:
-Who cares about James Bond’s childhood, exactly? Ian Fleming didn’t even care — Bond was birthed on the page wholly formed, in “Casino Royale,” just as he was earning his 00 cert. We were never supposed to know much about where he came from, that was never the point. He was a lethal killing and fucking machine serving England no matter the cost. So going to his Albert Finney-hosted Scottish childhood home, and having the estate’s name be the (stupid) name of this movie is a really aggravating plot device. Bond being Scottish at all was a nod from Fleming to Connery immediately after seeing “Dr. No;” he was endowed with a Scottish parent and a Swiss parent, but Bond himself was still a full-fledged Englishman. So Bond and Q bring Javier Bardem’s Silva and his entourage to the Skyfall manor for… a 40-minute, under-lit riff on “Home Alone?” This whole thing falls so, so flat.
-Do you remember how Silva dies? Bond just throws a knife into his back. Some guys get eaten by sharks or inflated until their bodies explode or sucked out of airplanes or electrocuted at Fort Knox or impaled on a satellite dish tip. This guy gets a knife in the back? I know it’s supposed to be a more “realistic” Bond, but that whole thing went out the window with this movie anyway.
-Do you remember the main Bond girl? Oh wait, there IS only one Bond girl this time — unless you count Moneypenny, whom he never even kisses. There’s another one, too, though. A more legit one. You have no idea who I’m talking about, do you? The character is Severine (Berenice Marlohe), she was sold into prostitution as a child and is now bound to Silva and his crew. Bond more or less rapes her in a shower, then spouts a tasteless quip when Silva shoots her dead right in front of him. Silva at gunpoint forces Bond to prove whether or not he’s still in fighting form. He misses on purpose, but Silva cleans this up by shooting her in the face. In no other subsequent scene is this character or moment alluded to. We never even see Severine’s dead body, which is a bit disorienting, because she kind of folds in on herself, but we never see her body collapse onto the ground. Evidence that Sam Mendes struggles to cover basic action choreography.
-Silva’s entire character is such a rip-off of Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” (i.e. with Max Zorin’s haircut) that I can’t believe the major critics ignored it. He is an effete, smiling terrorist specializing in chaos and vengeance (the Joker isn’t a cyber terrorist, but still) with a wild haircut. He gets uncomfortably intimate with Bond in one scene. He forces Bond to make an impossible choice with regards to Marlohe (the way the Joker did in making Batman choose between Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart). He WANTS TO BE CAPTURED. He specializes in exploding transit vehicles in areas beneath street surfaces — the Joker favors Lower Wacker Drive, Silva an abandoned subterranean train station. He disguises himself as a cop to take out Bond’s most senior ally in public — in “Skyfall,” it’s Judi Dench’s M at a court hearing; in “Dark Knight,” it’s Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon at a public procession. Unlike the Joker, Silva arrives really late into the movie, which is annoying since he’s the only vaguely interesting heel.
Anyway. In my estimation, Craig has made two really bad Bond movies to this point, one OK Bond movie, and one fantastic Bond movie.
Greg: First of all, the premise that Moneypenny would be “demoted” to Secretary is so silly it immediately set off alarm bells for me. After “Quantum of Solace” I really went in thinking they were going to right the ship. The writers of this behemoth seem to completely rely on a Save the Cat plot formula, which apparently worked because critics and audiences were creaming themselves over this thing. I’m with you on all the above points, but I’d also like to note that what you’re talking about are the same structural issues that started in “Quantum,” and then culminated with “Spectre.” It’s that weird combination of grounding Bond as a real person while still trying to make him a cool mythic action figure that’s the problem. The second we had this back story to M and some commentary on what it meant to be an agent for her I was out. We’re supposed to believe that Bond cared about M, but I don’t need Bond to care about anyone. That’s not what Bond is.
Also, let’s not gloss over the Albert Finney role as Bond’s butler. That whole scene was clearly written and designed for Sean Connery to play. I’d take Connery as a villain, I’d take Connery as an older agent in retirement, I’d take him as anything beside a new Bond’s butler. What a misfire to have this tense build-up to the butler’s reveal to find out he’s… just Albert Finney. Coincidentally, that same year Finney played an old CIA scientist in “The Bourne Legacy.” And what I think we see happening in the Craig Bonds is a basic “keeping up with the Joneses” with the Bourne films — that is, trying to internalize the character instead of just letting him be mysterious and mythic. I can just see Connery telling his agent: “I’m not playing the bloody butler!”
Alex:Followed by, “I’m gonna go play some golf.” Yeah, it would be nice to have Connery return to a Bond movie for sure. I’d even take him as Old Bond. You know, his last role, technically, was as Bond? He recorded voice-overs as 007 for the “From Russia With Love” video game in 2006. On the Bourne movies — the only entry I liked was the Doug Liman one, the first one. After that, they ceased to make sense, and, though Paul Greengrass’s love for verite-style camerawork was fun to look at, there was no story and there were no compelling characters behind the sequels’ impressive technical acrobatics.
Alex: Whereas predecessor “For Your Eyes Only” was a far more understated (relatively), realistic (sort of) Roger Moore Bond outing after the too-elaborate “Moonraker,” “Octopussy” opted to do a complete 180, and instead finds itself jockeying for pole position of “Most Over-The-Top James Bond Movie Ever” along with “Moonraker,” “A View To A Kill,” and of course “Die Another Day.”
I love how, 90% of the time when Bond is abducted, he is put in a luxurious bedroom with silk sheets, gifted an expensive, fitted suit, and served a lavish dinner with the main villain. How do they tailor the suits? When he’s knocked out, does someone come in for his measurements? I’m also pretty down with the baddie’s buddy. I also enjoy how they never decide to check his pockets for random Q gadgets, like pens packed with acid that can burn prison bars off.
Let’s keep track of the Ridiculous Bond Disguises In This One:
-A fake mustache to pass himself off as the Cuban Colonel Toro (to keep it from seeming less offensive than it was, they cast a white Moore look-alike outfitted with the same faux ‘stache)
-A horse’s ass (well, he disguises his plane as a horse’s ass, but he’s piloting the plane, so I’m going to count it)
-An alligator (twice)
-One of the Meyer circus twins
…He also swings from the vines of some Indian jungle trees and howls like Tarzan, though not in a disguise. It should kind of half-count though, right? Back me up here man.
Also, after a little digging around, I found that Maud Adams (Octopussy herself — although the origins of her nickname are… disappointing, to say the least) hasn’t appeared in two James Bond movies, as I had originally thought, but three. I knew that prior to Octopussy, the Swede had also appeared in “The Man With The Golden Gun” as Scaramanga’s girlfriend, whom Bond turns, Pussy Galore-style. However, she was ALSO an uncredited extra in two scenes of “A View To A Kill,” making her the only three-time Bond Girl (not counting Moneypenny, of course). Nice double entendre: “The jewelry, sir, I think, if you’ll forgive the analogy, is only the tip of the tentacle.” Just the tip, if you will. I think I see where he’s going with this. M even chuckles ’cause he totally gets it.
Greg: Finally! We’re here, but you know a funny thing has happened. In re-watching it, I realized I don’t actually hate it as much as I thought I did. Love or hate campy Bond, I appreciate consistency above all else. So, while I don’t personally love this movie, I think it’s really solid in what it’s trying to be. To all your points above, it is not good Bond, and it’s an affront to the character that Sir Connery created. But, as a weird almost-parody of itself, I think it works well. I mean look at all the various disguises you outlined, it is asking us to laugh at it, and that gives it points in my book. When you compare it to the other Moore films, it really stands out in how much it makes fun of itself. Now, to me it does itself a disservice by being so jokey, and rests a bit too much on Moore’s charisma. I don’t like camp and I don’t think it makes for good films, so I’d still keep it at the bottom of the pile. But it probably works better throughout than some other ones.
Alex: As with Pussy Galore and Dr. Goodhead, part of the fun of Octopussy is hearing her character’s name uttered with a straight face by the other actors. And yeah, maybe the flick’s consistency in its camp is part of what made it more watchable for me than something like “A View To Kill.” I also thought the pacing was a bit more consistent, and the fly honies were more fly (plus there were way more of them).
Alex: As you touched on in your review and our podcast, Greg, “Spectre” represents something of a missed opportunity. How much it misses is what we disagree on, but regardless, I will concede that it’s somewhat frustrating. “Casino Royale” was an absolutely spectacular, exciting slice of next-gen Bond, and we both thought it pointed towards a sleeker, cooler future without losing the swagger, intelligence, or international flavor that sets 007 apart from other big budget Hollywood series. That was not to be. We’ve talked about this one plenty already — ultimately, I enjoyed Blofeld, I loved Lea Seydoux (decent character, very good and very good-looking actress), I dug two of the big four action set pieces (the epic Day of the Dead opener and the “From Russia with Love” callback train fight), and the one-note Dave Bautista baddie with the lethally filed nails hit a good note. I also liked that Ben Whishaw’s dorkier Q was more integrated into the story, and that he and Bond inflected a bit more humor into the proceedings this time (as did Seydoux, a bit).
Honestly, Blofeld has never been my favorite Bond bad guy (or even in my top 15), so having him framed as the “ultimate” architect of this and the last three Craig movies doesn’t do much for me. And motivating him by making him James Bond’s sort-of-stepbrother is incredibly stupid. Like the Moneypenny reveal, I feel like no one who hadn’t guessed his identity going into things would be familiar enough with the older movies to care. I did appreciate that he wore the standard Blofeld jacket and had a fluffy white cat though.
ALSO. I know they’re trying to get “darker” and “grittier,” but I’m sorry, do they remember what SPECTRE stands for? “Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.” I mean, come on. You can’t take that too seriously. And they do.
Greg: But THAT is why the movie sucks and belongs at right about this number. To my earlier point with “Octopussy,” a movie knowing what it is and being able to execute that, is what separates the wheat from the chaff. “Spectre” did not know what it is, and unfortunately that’s true of this whole latest Bond series. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the next version will look like. Oh man I forgot that SPECTRE is an acronym… that just makes this movie ten times dumber. How do you go from “Casino Royale” to this?
Alex: I think part of the problem was hiring non-action directors like Marc Forster (“Quantum”) and Sam Mendes (“Skyfall” and “Spectre”). Their command of the visual language and the pacing of a movie like this is fairly shaky, and their occasional efforts to imbue these silly stories with Shakespearan self-importance is a huge miscalculation.
Alex: This ends with a fish winking at the camera. A FISH. WINKING. AT THE CAMERA. The best Bond movie to do strong drugs to, in that said drugs will convince you that you were privy to a much, much better movie than the mediocrity that you actually experienced. This also happened to me when I watched “Juno.”
But to the movie: you’d think an ’80s coke movie with lots of sex, sharks and Evil Benicio Del Toro would be right up my alley — but flat, disengaged acting from Timothy Dalton and Bond girls Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto dooms it to mediocrity. Fun ’80s wardrobe production design and wardrobe though (including tow hilarious hairstyles for Lowell). The bad guys are the best things about this movie — Robert Davi as South American drug kingpin Sanchez and Benicio Del Toro as his violent id are pretty fun to which. The gory deaths (including by shark, by hyperbaric pressure tanker, and by cocaine shredder) and soaking-wet clingy outfits for the girls are an added bonus. Look, I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying it’s a bit underwhelming and slow; it definitely feels smaller, slighter somehow, than the big action movies of its day (“Lethal Weapon 2,” “Batman,” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” starring the real James Bond, all came out that same summer).
Timothy Dalton’s Bond was the first insecure ruthless character I’ve ever seen in a movie. I don’t think that choice was deliberate, but it was undeniable. Bond needs swagger, and Dalton has always been more secure on the other side of the cinematic moral coin (to wit: his baddies in “The Rocketeer” and “Hot Fuzz”).
Greg: The Tim Dalton Bonds were ahead of their time in my eyes. I think you’ve got them too low. I’d definitely put them both in the middle tier of Bond, but then again I do not remember a winking fish! I’ll have to take your word for it, but when I think of these movies I think of B-level ’80s action flicks. The gruesome shark death, and Robert Davi drugging up and beating women was legitimately troubling to watch, especially for a Bond film. Ultimately though, “Casino Royale” succeeded in doing what these Bonds admittedly tried to do, namely ground Bond as a more realistic and broken figure. “License to Kill” ramps up the pulp and I like that it narrows down the scope of its baddies. But the Timothy Dalton casting is a misfire and I think that’s where the failure lies. And if I remember correctly the role was supposed to go to Pierce Brosnan, but he couldn’t get out of his “Remington Steele” contract. So we’re getting a consolation price with Dalton from the beginning. I wonder what Brosnan’s tougher version would have looked like. He plays a great killer in “The Long Good Friday,” so maybe letting Brosnan put out a little “crazy Irish” would have added something. It’s strange and definitely a sign of the times to have Bond fight drug dealers, but I think it was the right instinct at least.
Alex: HERE IS THAT WINKING FISH (the very last shot before the wide shot that doubles as the end-credits overlay). I think the B-level action flick thing is part of what bugs me. I want scope out of Bond; even if it’s a sleazy drug movie, I want it to feel like a BIG sleazy drug movie. Less ’96 “Pusher” and more ’83 “Scarface,” you know? And you’re right about Brosnan, he would’ve been Bond in “The Living Daylights” had NBC not renewed “Remington Steele” at the 11th hour. Dalton, incidentally, was courted to be Bond as early as 1968 for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” but he passed, considering himself too young. He would certainly have improved “OHMSS,” but he’s probably only my 4th or even 5th-favorite Bond.
Alex: Q on a rocket launcher hidden inside a boom box: “Something we’re developing for the Americans, it’s called a ‘ghetto blaster.'” The Dalton-era Moneypenny, Caroline Bliss (stage name), is pretty damn cute. ALSO, the true leanings of Jeroen Krabbé, playing double-agent KGB General Georgi Koskov, are fairly obvious almost right away — mainly because it’s Krabbe playing him. Krabbe, remember, was Harrison Ford’s double-crossing best friend, Dr. Charles Nichols, in “The Fugitive.”
Andreas Wisniewski (who was Karl’s brother, Tony, in “Die Hard”) plays the “Living Daylights”-edition blond henchman. He really loves his cassette player. John Terry turns in a really bad Felix Leiter performance, and he’s in it a bit too much for that to be completely okay. Solid assortment of baddies, though — Krabbe, Joe Don Baker (who returns as a good guy in two Brosnan Bonds, but here is the most intriguing villain, a history-buff general-turned-arms-dealer); Tony; and the ambiguous Jonathan Rhys-Davies as the head of the KGB.
So… Bond and the super-cute Russkie cellist (Maryam d’Abo) befriend a bunch of Mujahideen fighters in the Afghan desert (led by Art Malik as the British-accented Kamran Shah)? The Mujahideen were the Afghani rebels fighting the Soviets, the predecessors to Al Qaeda that the Carter and Reagan administrations bankrolled. So… the enemy of the MI-6’s enemy was not, in fact, their friend, this time. Although the movie paints a picture to that effect. d’Abo plays a naive waif, a more rounded, more grounded Bond girl than usual, who actually has a motivated, plausible character arc in this one! Kind of a rarity.
I buy Dalton as a smart detective and a cold-hearted killer, but the Casanova element falls flat — and he doesn’t seem to really enjoy a lot of his detective work! These movies shouldn’t feel like so much work, I think Dalton and Craig are guiltiest of forgetting that among the Bond actors. The story moves much better than “License To Kill,” and Dalton’s performance hasn’t gone pitch-black miserable just yet.
Greg: Fun fact: Maryam d’Abo is a cousin of Olivia d’Abo, whom you may remember as Kevin’s promiscuous older sister in “The Wonder Years.” I knew this would somehow all come back to Fred Savage! In all seriousness though, to your point about Dalton being flat, I think the producers realized this fact by the time the final cut came in, leading them to go darker with “License to Kill.” This film still tows the line between ridiculous and gritty. It lacks a confidence that allows it to try different things that ultimately don’t pay off. I stand by my earlier comment though that I think a better actor may have been able to combine the two better. Besides Brosnan, who do you think would have been a great Bond for the mid-’80s?
Alex: Oh good question. Hmm. Well Sam Neill also screen-tested to be Bond for “Living Daylights,” along with Brosnan and Dalton. He could’ve been fun. Brian Brown (the guy from “F/X” and “Cocktail”), Gary Oldman, Jeremy Irons, Kenneth Branagh and Tim Roth could’ve all been interesting. I think my personal preference, however, would be Alan Rickman. I think Hans Gruber has always been great at balancing the comic and the dramatic, and cuts a good figure in a suit. Maybe he just wasn’t “pretty” enough to be Bond?