Alex and Greg’s Bond Movie Power Rankings return. Again, the rankings are Alex’s, and the rebuttals are Greg’s. Get ready for some of the best Moore and Brosnan Bonds, including a series entry that most people hate but Alex for some insane reason really enjoys.
Part II Rankings Index
16. “For Your Eyes Only” (1981; Bond: Roger Moore)
15. “The Man With The Golden Gun” (1974, Bond: Roger Moore)
14. “Never Say Never Again” (1983, Bond: Himself)
13. “The World Is Not Enough” (1999, Bond: Pierce Brosnan)
12. “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977, Bond: Roger Moore)
11. “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997, Bond: Pierce Brosnan)
10. “Die Another Day” (2002, Bond: Pierce Brosnan)
9. “Live And Let Die” (1973, Bond: Roger Moore)
Alex: So this was actually a fairly understated Moore Bond, as far as those go. And thus, sort of handily, one of the superior Moore Bonds. BUT here’s the rub to that statement: it has to battle its way back from a ridiculous pre-credits sequence that’s just stupid. It’s a weird 10 years-too-late Blofeld murder scene, featuring Blofeld in a wheelchair and neck brace, seen only from behind in the suit Donald Pleasance wore in the first movie (and Mike Meyers wore as Dr. Evil in every “Austin Powers” movie), stroking his beloved cat. He has the German accent again, which he has otherwise lacked in all non-Pleasance, non-Waltz iterations. This accent, though, is pointedly fake. It actually kind of sounds more ambiguously European, closer to Bela Lugosi than Werner Herzog.
The goofiest element and side effect of the Blofeld cameo: they NEVER SHOW HIS FACE OR REFER TO HIM BY NAME. For some reason. The side effect of not seeing his face, because they have to show something’s face is a LOT of close-ups of the cat looking sinister. Thus, a green Bond movie viewer would not be forgiven for assuming that, well, the cat is the villain, talking via telekineses or something. Such a strange way to wrap up a guy who has been Bond’s adversary over the course of five other movies directly (“You Only Live Twice,” “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Never Say Never Again,” and now — SPOILER ALERT BUT IT’S OBVIOUS IN THE TRAILER TO ANY SENTIENT PERSON — “SPECTRE”), and five movies indirectly (he is the malevolent SPECTRE mastermind pulling the strings of every pre-“YOLT” Connery Bond movie). So… 10 total movies. And he’s killed in the first ten minutes for a throwaway pre-credits sequence without ever being referred to by name? COME ON, CUBBY BROCCOLI, DON’T DO ME LIKE THAT. “Goodbye Mr. Bond, have a pleasant… FRIGHT? BAHAHAHAH.” He is murdered by… being deposited via helicopter into an industrial furnace chimney. The guy gets his lairs blown up in practically every movie, and somehow he is finally done in by… a chimney. Theme song would make a pretty good coke song. I’d imagine. Probably.
The shot of Melina Havelock (Caroline Bouquet) kneeling over her dead parents’ bodies on their yacht, cradling the emerald dress she had just bought and gifted for her mother, and then STARING DIRECTLY, TEARFULLY INTO THE CAMERA AS THE MUSIC SWELLS is unintentionally hilarious. Why would director John Glen think this was a good idea? And why would nobody deter him from filming it?
Watching this immediately after “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” I was struck by a phenomenon that hadn’t registered with me before: the basic perfunctory COMPETENCE of Roger Moore over, you know, a stiff like Lazenby or Dalton. Moore was never an ideal fit as Bond for me, but he is at least a charismatic actor with some personality. That is much, more than you could say for the horrible George Lazenby. I relished him actually delivering the horrible Bond double entendres and puns with some panache and style and winking self-awareness. I dug his chemistry with the primary baddie, Julian Glover. I always enjoy a bad guy who’s a kind of evil suave sophisticate mirror of Bond, and Glover’s Kristatos has the added benefit of being an INTERNATIONAL evil suave sophisticate mirror, in this case a Greek one. Glover, like Sean Bean after him, was actually a candidate to replace Connery as Bond after “Diamonds Are Forever,” though he lost out to Moore. Which begs the question: could Moore have managed as convincing an accent and as swaggering a menace as Glover does here, were Moore cast as Kristatos in an alternate universe?
Carole Bouquet is incredibly, incredibly gorgeous as a Bond girl; and I appreciate her super-hot Greek accent. I love her. A lot of great underwater photography in this one, must have taken a lot of time to fill up those tanks in Pinewood.
Heartless baddies are the best, as illustrated by anyone who leaves their henchmen to get ravaged by sharks (see “License To Kill,” above — Blofeld feeds a Bad Bond Girl to a hyperactive school of piranhas in “You Only Live Twice,” that can kind of count). That’s how you know Glover means business. Also the way he seems to savor trying to run down Bond and Carole Bouquet with a massive ship.
There are some ridiculous Moore-esque staples here, obviously — the Blofeld opening, Caroline Bouquet disguising as a monk, the annoying talking parrot Max, why Kristatos would murder Carole Bouquet’s parents on their ship but leave her alive to find him and avenge their murder, etc. — but by and large, this is one of the more restrained Moore entries, and a huge improvement over “Moonraker.” Also the last good Moore Bond movie. In terms of the camera’s movement and shot selection, “FYEO” is much, much better filmed than any Moore Bond this side of “Live and Let Die” and “The Spy Who Loved Me”
I also kind of enjoyed how the young ice-skating babe Kristatos is sponsoring, Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson), tells Julian Glover he’s “too old” for her, since Glover is 7 years younger than Roger Moore, who she was practically throwing herself at before, so… Are we supposed to believe Roger Moore is any younger than like 50? He looks like a very fit 50, for sure, but… totally 50. His 50 doesn’t look anything like Tom Cruise’s 50, or Johnny Depp’s 50, or Monica Belucci’s 50. He wasn’t nearly as… preserved. Anyway, to be fair, Daniel Craig isn’t holding up too great either — he’s way fitter than Moore, but his face is getting weathered in a hurry, which emphasized an age disparity with “SPECTRE” leading lady Lea Seydoux.
The ending, where Carole Bouquet’s beloved family parrot speaks sweet nothings to the Queen of England as Bond and Bouquet swim around, is patently dumb. Essentially then, outside of some poorly executed bookends, this is pretty solid mid-era Moore Bond.
Greg: This one is strange because that opening scene where Bond finally murders Blofeld is so ridiculous, that it feels like it was shot for a different movie. That scene really does spoil the movie for me and puts it beneath the lesser Connery entries. But, that being said, if they re-edited it to take it out, this would instantly shoot up a few spots for me. As you can tell, I gravitate towards the movies that keep a small scope despite seemingly end of world stakes, so I’m with you on all the positives “FYEO” offers. There’s some fun plot stuff too that I think works better than most other Bond stories. The flip, where it turns out Topol (played by famed theater actor Milos Columbo) is actually on Bond’s side is a clever piece of intrigue. Julian Glover is definitely a solid baddie and we know those roles are right up his alley (“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!” “The Empire Strikes Back!”). I’d say in general a lot of my thoughts on these are based on the level of positive nostalgia I have for them. This was one of the Bonds I’d re-watch frequently because it provides you with a very clear picture of who all the players are and what their roles are in relation to Bond. All the missile-stealing stuff works as MacGuffin, but it’s just there to clue us into who the bad guy appears to be. I never remember which opening missile-stealing sequence belongs to which flick. Feels like they all sort of do the same thing. It’s always something about SPECTRE or someone else trying to start a Cold War. So given that first step, what I look for is a clear story with plausible characters.
Alex: Topol’s awesome. He kind of looks like a Greek Beatle. Yeah, there are so many nukes and so many missiles and so much random technology and so many terrorists trying to hold them hostage that it’s hard to keep track. This movie’s plot basically gets repeated in “Tomorrow Never Dies” (#11 on this list): the MacGuffin is called an Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator, basically a big radio network for the British Navy’s submarine fleet, and their subs all come equipped with ballistic missiles — when the sub containing the ATAC sinks, the Soviets tap their Greek resource to grab it before MI6 can find it (who turns out to have been the debonair Julian Glover character). At the end, Bond destroys the ATAC just as the KGB’s head honcho, General Gogol (Walter Gotell) is about to snag it from Julian Glover. Bond kills Glover, then the KGB guy shrugs, gives James his props, and… leaves him alive? Out of… respect? I guess because Gogol’s a man of principal, and just wanted the ATAC. Because the ATAC has been destroyed already, killing Bond would just be an act of petty vengeance, which I suppose Gogol thinks he’s above. The Gogol character is in every Bond movie from “The Spy Who Loved Me” through “The Living Daylights,” actually. Yo also, I forgot to mention this — I kind of love the Sheena Easton “For Your Eyes Only” theme song. Great coke song. I’m gonna listen to it right now. I’m glad you dig this one too, I was surprised by how decent it was outside of that horrible opening.
Alex: Too bad it couldn’t be Connery for this one, because it boasts one of the best bad guys in the Bond movies, the triple-nippled assassin Francico Scaramanga, played by the ultimate bad guy, Christopher Lee. I don’t want to talk about Knick-Knack. I’d like to think that Connery would put the kibbosh on that, but then again, this is the movie he was making when “TMWTGG” came out.
“The Man With The Golden Gun” is primarily notable because it boasts the first upper-tier Bond baddie (he’s my #11), the titular Francisco Scaramanga. He is a cruel, suave, sophisticated assassin, not unlike Bond himself, except with a mistress (Maud Adams, later Octopussy) whom he treats like a prisoner, a private island, and a little person assistant who undermines his coolness quotient way too much. Moore has already by this point started to lose interest in committing to the action scenes, which saps the urgency out of this one, despite a cool beach stand-off and a nice fun-house mirror scene at the climax. I know the book did this too, but did we really need to see Roger Moore don a faux third nipple when disguising himself as Scaramanga? The Fleming novel somehow made it feel less ridiculous, but the movie can’t possibly mask it.
Greg: Down to the title, this Bond is a lot of pulp, and the best of the Roger Moore Bonds. I love the third nipple, I love Herve Villechaize as the no. 2 baddie, I love how Scaramanga’s pad is a horror-house of tomorrow. But most importantly, I love that at its best moments it’s a movie about Bond dueling with his evil doppel-gänger. At its worst (and the reason it’s not a great Bond film,) it pulls really corny, slapstick punches that pave the way for the “Octopussy” camp-fest. I don’t remember the movie being as silly as it’s considered, but I think there’s probably too much 70s psychedelia infecting it that it doesn’t have the discipline to control. The whole energy crisis sub-plot is annoying because it’s just not fun. How about Scaramanga just wanting to kill Bond because in their circles he wants to be known as the most dangerous man?
I buy that! There’s some good moments for Moore to show off his fighting skills like in the Dojo where he fights off a bunch of karate students, or when he has to take down a Sumo wrestler in this nightmarish garden he stumbles into. He does show enough action chops that you remember Moore was known in England for being rough when he had a few drinks in him. I forget who mentioned it (it was one of Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris or Oliver Reed,) but they were quoted as saying the only man they knew who could match them drink for drink was Roger Moore. The Welsh are known for being tough and Moore was known as being someone you don’t mess with! So it’s funny that he’s known as the prissy Bond of the era. I’ll have to find that quote!
Alex: I don’t want Dracula to have a third nipple!! But yeah, the idea of Scaramanga wanted to be atop the pyramid of predators gives him an arrogant homicidal coolness, and makes him feel kind of like a distant cousin of Joel McCrea’s character in “The Most Dangerous Game.” Christopher Lee, by the way, was actually a distant cousin of Bond creator Ian Fleming. I’d like to see that quote about Moore — having done a bit more research on him in preparation for this most indispensable of all Listcores, I feel like I’ve been a bit hard on him. In real life he seems like a pretty cool guy.
Alex: I’m going to side with Siskel and Ebert on this one — far superior to the same year’s “official” Bond entry, “Octopussy,” by benefit of its overqualified talent (and lack of clown make-up or crocodile disguises): beyond nabbing Bond himself (the only Oscar-winning Bond, by the way), they’ve got the terrifying hairline of Klaus Maria Brandaeur as Spectre #2 Largo, the acting chops of gorgeous future Oscar winner Kim Basinger as main Bond blonde Domino, and Bergman staple MAX VON SYDOW (the priest from “The Exorcist” and the knight from “The Seventh Seal!”) playing Blofeld!
Directed by ’80s sequel expert Irvin Kershner (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Robocop 2”), “Never Again” is a weird one, because it’s a remake of “Thunderball” starring the Bond who was in “Thunderball.” Ian Fleming was embroiled in copyright lawsuits with “Thunderball” co-writer/producer Kevin McClory that ultimately gave McClory the right to remake the movie after a certain amount of time had transpired. His great coup was un-retiring Sean Connery (probably because Connery at the time was still bitter about being under-compensated by Eon on his final few Bond movies), who refreshingly returns the exact alchemy of sweet and sour to Bond that Moore always lacked. I’ve personally come to like Moore, but his clear discomfort during his fight scenes (you can tell that at least Connery and Craig did considerably more of their own stunts) really hinders his effectiveness in the role. Seeing “Never” next to the ridiculous “Octopussy” only hammers home how snugly Connery fits, even if his theme music didn’t follow him into this movie. It turns out that MGM, home to the 24 Eon Bond movies, secured the rights to “Never Say Never Again” from Warner Brothers in the late ’90s. So… why isn’t “Never Say Never Again” compiled into the big Bond Blu-Ray box sets? Beats me.
Greg: Funnily enough, this was one of the first Bonds I saw as a kid, so I have an affinity for it that may not be warranted. Looking back, it’s clear Connery was too old already. Frankly he was already showing his age with “Diamonds Are Forever.” But that being said, it’s good to see him back and it’s not like they try to hide his age. The beginning of the film has him going to a spa to take care of his health for Christ’s sake! It’s clear they knew they were on borrowed time here, but still it’s a better movie than “Octopussy,” and Connery’s charm has no limits. Also, when you have Kim Basinger in her prime you’ve got to do a lot more than put Connery in a gym to mess that up. I particularly like Klaus Maria Brandauer as Largo. Brandauer is one of my favorite European actors, and he brings a sort of quiet violence to the character that was missing with what they tried to do in “Quantum” with Mathieu Amalric. I could have done without the presence of SPECTRE again, but I get why the film makers did that in their stupid little producing war with EON. I might move this up a few spots just for Brandauer alone.
Alex: This was one of my early Bonds logged as a kid too! I may have seen it before the OG “Thunderball,” actually. I agree that Connery is looking a bit older by this one. He was 52 when they shot it, to be fair, and he still looks fairly fit and like he could handle himself in a fight. I’m still convinced he could be Bond here, is what I’m saying. Of course, Connery is so cool that even in “Entrapment” 15 years later I thought Connery-as-a-roof-scaling-jewel-thief could kick serious ass. I agree re: “Diamonds Are Forever,” actually — it seems like he gained 10-15 pounds in the succeeding four years between “You Only Live Twice” and “Diamonds,” and a lot of it went to his face. Peak Basinger is nothing to sneeze at, and Brandauer is a marked improvement over original Largo, Adolfo Celi (who was dubbed).
Alex: Most boring Brosnan villain (Robert Carlyle) by far, a moping and brutish ex-KGB agent (EON returning to the well 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union) whose one cool attribute is an MI6 bullet lodged in his brain that is slowly killing him and robbing him of all senses. At least it motivates the moping. All the same, his character Renard was such a waste of a high-level talent with a flair for dark comedy (“Trainspotting,” “The Full Monty,” “Ravenous”). The bad girl, French smoke show Sophie Marceau, notches a spot as one of the most gorgeous international Bond ladies of all time (which is saying a lot). Happily, she wears a lot of translucent silk garments and is actually a good actress, suggesting hidden depths to a troubled, sadistic femme fatale. Her erotic torture scene of Bond strapped to that chair with the twisting band tightening around the neck was an obvious highlight of the proceedings. Robbie Coltrane returns as Russian mafioso/former KGB agent (of course) Valentin Zukovsky, although he’s not nearly as quotable as he was in “Goldeneye.” Still fun comic relief that doesn’t strain the enterprise too far towards the comedic.
A lot of the Brosnan Bonds felt like they were revisiting tried and true tropes, running out of interesting ideas. So here we get more tone-deaf embroilment with the (ex-) KGB, another chase on ski’s through some slopes and another submarine fight, painlessly but unspectacularly by “Up” series documentarian Michael Apted. The opening sequence was pretty cool, though, a motorboat chase on the Thames. “World” marked one of the two Bonds where John Cleese more or less plays Q (although in this one EON gently retires Desmond Llewyln’s Q with a depressing farewell scene, and Cleese is called “R” here). I’m not quite sure why the official, authorized canon post-Fleming novels (the latest writer is Anthony Horowitz) have always been ignored by EON. As far as source material goes, it’s got to be better than some of the Purvis/Wade stinkers (i.e. “Quantum of Solace”). I can’t say that the script is a particular strength in this movie. Dr. Christmas Jones was a laughably horrible character that I frankly enjoyed a lot. Was she only named “Christmas Jones” by oft-maligned latter-day (Brosnan/Craig) Bond screenwriters Neil Purvis and Robert Wade for that last climactic (see what I did there?) sex joke, “I thought Christmas only came once a year?” I would assume so, since neither before nor since this movie had I heard of anybody being named “Christmas.”
Greg: Denise Richards goes down as the worst Bond girl of all time in my book, and unfortunately I think that has to count against “World is Not Enough.” By the way if you haven’t been following what’s up with Denise these days, have some fun and Google her photos now. She looks like a Tampa Bay divorcee who spends a lot of nights drinking white wine and passing out to Chelsea Handler specials. Thankfully, I think the movie provides some mercy by balancing her out with the ever so sexy Sophie Marceau. I really bought Bond falling for her and getting completely blindsided by her duplicity. Yeah Robert Carlyle is a misfire, but he does what he needs to which is provide the muscle. Marceau is the real villain and she plays a great femme fatale for Bond. You always get the sense in their scenes that he’s a cunt hair away from forgiving her and letting her get away with more. Brosnan is consistent and I’ve got no complaints with him here. He just seems a bit tired of it all and this really should have been his last Bond. I’m getting worried that we haven’t hit “Die Another Day” yet…
Alex I will concede that having a Valley Girl ditz moonlight as a nuclear physicist with a stupid name was never a good idea (she’s actually from Downer’s Grove, but graduated from high school in Oceanside, California). But as an 11 year-old lad, I could not get enough of those tank tops and short shorts. Richards in her prime was an absolute babe, and somehow I didn’t care that she couldn’t act because HOT DAMN. But yes, she has aged poorly, it’s a shame. And she can’t hold a candle to Sophie Marceau, because Sophie Marceau is French. Bahahaha A CUNT HAIR AWAY. I could forgive Sophie Marceau for pretty much anything, I think. I would be a very fallible Bond. And you should be worried about “Die Another Day,” because it’s ranked higher than anyone would think.
Alex: Beyond Bond’s keeping the British end up in Barbara Bach, “The Spy Who Loved Me” is most notable for boasting this list’s first member of a very important sub-list, the Top 10 Best Bond Baddies. Qualifiers includes main villains, henchmen, and bad girls (even if they become good later).
1. Auric Goldfinger, “Goldfinger” – ‘Cause obviously.
2. Odd-Job, “Goldfinger” – His triangle-heavy theme music is a big part of this.
3. Dr. Julius No, “Dr. No” – Those metal claws, so unfortunately contained in rubber gloves, were just really cool. He had the best lair, too (shout-out to frequent Bond production designer Ken Adam).
4. Pussy Galore, “Goldfinger” – She was a woman of many parts.
5. Alec Trevelyan, “GoldenEye” – While a lot of the villains over the years have tried to emulate Bond’s slick playboy style (the most successful clocks in at #9 on this list), Trevelyan was the opponent with the best evil twin candidacy. Super-smooth spy who always knows what to say in the midst of unspeakable pressures, just happened to have the wrong political affiliations. Okay, okay, and be a murderer many times over.
6. Le Chiffre, “Casino Royale” – An asthmatic poker enthusiast and mid-level Spectre paymaster WHO CRIES BLOOD, Le Chiffre is nevertheless infused with a great, believable presence by underutilized Swede Mads Mikkelson (“Hannibal”). I love that he is violently pressured by other parties to win
7. Red Grant, “From Russia With Love” – That train fight, though.
8. Xenia Onatopp, “Goldeneye” – She managed to stay Onatopp of a lot of disposable men in that movie.
9. Dr. Kanaga (Mr. Big), “Live and Let Die” – Bond let him die in a hilariously, um, inflated surrealist moment.
10. Karl Stromberg, “The Spy Who Loved Me” — His evil scheme for a purified new underwater world order, his great Ken Adam-designed lair, his decadent dinner table and outfits, the execution of his character, and his great death scene all earn him the nod over Scaramanga. His demented scheme (subsequently ripped off by Bond’s producers in the very next movie)? Nuclear world destruction while he and a select few privileged citizens survived in his underwater lair, the Atlantis. Seems like you’d get a lot of inbreeding, the ship doesn’t appear to have a capacity for that many people, but whatever.
ALSO, while we’re on the topic of Bond baddies: I never liked Jaws (who first shows up in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and unfortunately bleeds into “Moonraker”). He just looked silly and awkward with the metal chompers that could rip through metal and that uncomfortably parted coif. So over-the-top, and he moved way too clumsily to be intimidating. Was Wilt Chamberlain not available?
But back to Barbara Bach — the future Mrs. Ringo Starr’s Anya Amasova (great name) was a way more special effect than the Atlantis miniature. High-level cleavage coverage in tight purple dresses. Your inner 13 year-old boy will appreciate her. The Egyptian foot chase against the projector is an inspired sequence, and that pre-credits sequence (“But James, I need you!” “So does England.” And… PARACHUTE) inspired a LOT of future James Bond parachute scenes.
Greg: I totally disagree about Jaws! Yes he becomes cartoonish and his turn in “Moonraker” was horribly unnecessary. But, in “The Spy Who Loved Me” he is legitimately mysterious and threatening. No matter what Bond does Jaws keeps coming back like a horror film monster. It is a curious choice to give a villain magic teeth though, like beyond chewing on power lines or biting off fingers, when else does that really benefit him as a hired goon? If it’s just for intimidation that’s pretty good, but I’ll take blood tears or a blade bowler hat over metal teeth any day.
“The Spy Who Loved Me” is the only real Moore Bond in my book that could have been a Connery Bond. It hits all the right notes and yes the underwater lair is ridiculous, yes Jaws is kind of a weird henchman. So I’m not totally sure why I like it as much as I do. I thought for a moment that there may be a correlation between the movies I like with the books actually written by Fleming. And that tends to be true, but his third book was “Moonraker” and he also wrote short versions of “Octopussy” and “The Living Daylights,” so it’s not a great theory. At the end of the day, I it just feels a lot more confident and traditional then the first two Moore’s which harks back to the Connery flicks. By the way, I like that you have my man Sean Bean so high up on your villain’s list. I believe he was also considered to take over for Bond correct?
Alex: I really loved “GoldenEye,” and a big part reason being that Sean Bean’s Trevelyan was so great. That first pre-credits scene with them finally felt like Bond had a comrade (get it?) who was a true equal — so of course he had to be a bad guy. Back to “Spy,” though — it must be a bitch for Jaws to brush those things, no? He felt like a horror film monster that was in no way scary, like the gorilla in “Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla” (yes, that’s actually a movie). “Spy” is my second-favorite Moore, it definitely has a grandiosity and confidence that the other Moore Bonds couldn’t pull off successfully (the two other very good Moore Bonds were both more intimate in scale). A note on “Nobody Does It Better” singer Carly Simon — in 1965, Sean Connery apparently apparently tried to get Carly Simon to have a threesome with him and her own sister. Simon declined, but Lucy Simon… did not.
Alex: EON must have been devastated when the Cold War ended. For their first post-Soviet Union (and first Brosnan) Bond, they returned to that already-exhausted well, making Alec Trevelyan an underground USSR loyalist eager to restart communism. By the second Brosnan outing, they (correctly) intuited that, you know, maybe it was time to take Bond plots somewhere else. So they went with a kind of More Evil Rupert Murdoch/Ted Turner TV billionaire, Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce, in what appear to be sick Sharper Image reading glasses) bent on using a GPS encoder to prompt a war between the UK and China, with the hopes of replacing the Chinese government with a puppet government amenable to installing his Carver Media Group Network (i.e. a sinister Turner Broadcasting or Fox Media Corp) as the only broadcasting resource in the country. I feel like the doomed trophy wife/mistress is too commonly a go-to Bond trope (“For Your Eyes Only,” “Goldfinger,” “Spectre,” “Casino Royale,” and probably others?). It also has a Blond Henchman.
Kind of stereotype-core in terms of the Bond beats it hits (boats, motorcycle market chases, submarines, mistresses, blond henchmen), but packed with higher-level action scenes than the non-“Goldeneye” Bonds. Definitely a sneaky-good Brosnan Bond that, Carver aside, has aged like a fine wine.
Greg: It is fun to get away from all the Soviet stuff, but going after news conglomerates really dates it now 18 years later when we live in a day with instant news. Still, Jonathan Pryce is a great villain and I appreciate how he’s basically just crazy without any need for more psychological explanation to his character. This was a fine follow up to “GoldenEye” but I’d put it lower on the list as a minor and generally forgettable Bond film. It feels more like a filler in the Bond timeline than an important or unique entry, but ultimately I appreciate how straightforward and well crafted it is. The action sequences are some of the best of the series and it’s cool having Bond back in Asia for the majority of the movie. You didn’t mention Michelle Yeoh who is probably the most believable fighting Bond girl ever. We’ve certainly seen women fight in movies since but props to her for really leveling the playing field.
Alex: Oh right, that’s a good point — Michelle Yeoh is the main Bond fly honey here, and happily her character name isn’t nearly as horrible as Kissy Suzuki — it’s Colonel Wai Lin, a Chinese spy. Yeoh, as a legit Hong Kong action star (also the star of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), can really handle herself in a way that most other fighting Bond babes cannot. Director Robert Spottiswood (sounds like a Bond Girl last name, no?) can deftly maneuver action choreography here, especially that market motorcycle chase scene.
Alex: I thought the Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) character reveal twist (he is a SECRET ASIAN WHO DOESN’T SLEEP AND LOVE-HATES HIS DAD) was one of the dumbest, most hilariously improbable ideas in the entire series, I thought all the Halle Berry innuendos were pretty fucking great, I even dug the bad girl, Emma Frost (not much of a surprise when she turned), I thought they at least had a cool-looking henchman with crystal shards in his face, Zao (Rick Yune) who, like Darth Maul before him in the pantheon of baddies with sick make-up in rapidly-aging movie series, did absolutely nothing aside from looking cool. Halle Berry, by the way, is hot as fuck in this movie. It’s utterly ridiculous, but never boring, and really a lot of fun if you’re open to it. The invisible car thing was too stupid for words, though.
“Die Another Day” wins the “Most Over-The-Top James Bond Movie Ever” award. But it really owns that status in a way that’s endearing. The flick’s credentials in the over-the-top/ridiculous department: a henchman called “Mr. Kil” (that’s how he spells it); a Japanese guy who turns into a British guy via repeated overnight radiation; a dude with shards of exploded glass in his face and… eyes, somehow; Halle Berry being single; a palace made entirely of ice, AN INVISIBLE ASTON MARTIN; and Madonna as a British fencing instructor with a Midwestern accent. Speaking of Madonna, the eponymous lead single is the WORST SONG IN THE HISTORY OF SONGS.
The Gustav Graves origin story is incredibly weak — in the “grittier” pre-credits scene, Bond goes incognito in North Korea to disrupt an illegal African conflict diamond trading ring run by Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee). He gets imprisoned for several months, grows a beard that rivals Steven Seagal’s coma beard for realness, to the tune of said Madonna song. Colonel Moon seemingly perishes in a botched prisoner exchange — MI6 surrenders Yao in exchange for Bond, then tries to kill the fuck out of Moon. THEY APPARENTLY SUCCEED BUT DO THEY REALLY?
NO. He creates the guise of “Gustav Graves,” another in the long line of Evil Mirror-Image Bonds, who’s into fencing (against Madonna) and curling his upper lip into an impressive snarl. Also, I can’t believe the Clash made it into a Bond flick (“London Calling”). Roger Moore would never have been down for that. Moon’s evil scheme — using a laser satellite to MELT through the Korean Demilitarized Zone, invade South Korea and unify the countries under North Korean rule.
Greg: I remember seeing this in high school, walking out of the theater and telling my friends that the Bond films were over. I hated this movie then and I stand by that now! The goofy and over-the-top action just spotlights how uncomfortable Brosnan is at this point with the role. There’s a CGI surfing sequence in the beginning that really feebly attempts to appeal to millennials. I mentioned this before, but this came out the same year as “XXX” with Vin Diesel, and it’s patently clear they were trying to compete with what they thought would be a cooler and tougher character. I can’t believe you have this in your top ten! Do you remember that the beginning of the film is Bond being captured and locked in a cell for so long that he grows long hair and a beard? Bond with long hair and a beard! Sacrilege! This whole thing stinks of insecurity in the story and Brosnan as Bond. It’s no surprise to me that they went back to the drawing board after this with “Casino Royale.” You’re seeing a movie here of producers and creatives who are at the end of their rope, and it shows! Throwing Halle Berry in there was a “Halle-Mary” that just did not pan out. I think she was the first real superstar to play a Bond girl, and choosing to do that proves my point. They knew they had a turd on their hands and were hoping she’d cloud that obvious fact from viewers. No man, you can’t have this in your top ten!
Alex: Oh God, the CGI surfing sequence! I remember that! I mentioned the beard — it’s basically a slightly better Steven Seagal “Hard To Kill” coma beard, clearly made out of dyed yak hair. True, Bond would never be captured for that long because he’s James Fucking Bond and he’d just do this the first chance he got. Excellent Halle-Mary pun work. I really wanted you to say that EON was hoping Halle Berry would “Cloud Atlas” that obvious fact from viewers. Ah well. I mean come on, that “Basic Instinct” rip-off sex scene was pretty fun, no? And I totally dug it when it came out, although I’m less high on it now. It’s camp, but it’s well-executed camp, and it’s ridiculous in a way that’s always engaging and never boring. Speaking of “XXX,” guess what “Die Another Day” director Lee Tamahori’s next movie was? “XXX: State of the Union.” I may have a soft spot for the Brosnan Bond movies because he’s the Bond we grew up with, so that could be clouding (“Cloud Atlas”-ing) my judgment here. “Die Another Day” also sports a great stupid Bond sex joke, when he introduces his cover to Berry’s American spy, Jinx: He’s an “ornithologist,” he tells her. She eyeballs his package long enough for us to pick up on the joke, then looks back up at him. “Now there’s a mouthful.” I think your mouth can handle it, Halle.
Alex: So is Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die” the best Bond theme ever OR the second best after “Goldfinger?” Tough to call. I’m going second, but by a mere sliver. A SLIVER I SAY. This is easily, HANDILY, the best Moorecore. Dr. Kananga, as we’ve established, is an upper-tier baddie, running a baller heroin smuggling ring in NYC but ALSO stationing himself in a tricked-out Ken Adam Jamaican lair, keeping top-notch psychic-while-a-virgin Jane Seymour on prisoner-retainer, and flaunting voodoo henchman in sick skull paint Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder).
Some other high notes: A sick NOLA opening that ends in a murder, a boat chase that ends with a tree crash at a wedding. Roger Moore actually looks committed to the stunt work this time. And the great Beatles producer George Martin created the score!
Greg: I really like this one primarily for the setting and putting Bond in a world that’s outside his norm. It’s funny and cool to see Bond in such a unique sub-strata of American culture. I’m a little troubled by all the blaxploitation tropes in it, but it has enough fun with it that it’s hard to take too seriously, especially when you include Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) in it as your comic relief clearly indicating the Brits are just making fun of us here. Apparently, critics didn’t like the small scope of the villains as basic drug dealers, but we’ve had the benefit now of seeing many different versions of Bond for comparison, and in the grand scheme of things I think it works as a bold move away from from the Connery films.
We also haven’t talked too much about the role good directing plays in the better Bond movies. This one was directed by Guy Hamilton who first came onto the scene with “Goldfinger,” and then helmed “Diamonds are Forever,” and “The Man with the Golden Gun.” And I think something should be said for letting a director really play in that universe, who have the value of that experience to draw from. So we’re talking about three good to very good Bonds, and one masterpiece for Hamilton. He’s like Gregg Poppovich getting the chance to really know his team and what he’s working with. I didn’t like Sam Mendes’ two Bond films, but I think looking for consistency in direction is the right strategy. That being said, please don’t bring Sam Mendes for the next one! John McTiernan all the way!
Also, yes the theme song for this is the best one in the whole series, hands down. End of discussion.
Alex: Clifton James and his ridiculous Southern accent were so awesome in this that he booked himself a return engagement in “The Man With The Golden Gun,” and thank goodness for that. And yeah, I agree that Guy Hamilton is an upper-tier Bond helmer, and that Mendes is not. Hamilton, Terence Young (“Dr. No,” “From Russia With Love,” “Thunderball”), and Martin Campbell (“GoldenEye,” “Casino Royale”) are the three best Bond directors we’ve seen. Between them they’re responsible for 9 of the top 15 Bond movies, which is quite the showing. I’d love to see McTiernan direct a Bond, and you could get him for peanuts now. EON does like to stay international a lot of the time with their directors, but I’m not exactly clamoring to see Guy Ritchie take the wheel on these. In terms of other under-appreciated action directors who deserve a crack at Bond, I’ve got a few names: Renny Harlin, Tsui Hark, John Hyams, and Adam Wingard would all be interesting.