The Best and Worst of Bond, Part 1

The old saying tells us that “even bad pizza is still pretty good.”  I don’t know if I completely agree with that, but I do see some wisdom baked into that sentiment.  The Bond movies are a lifelong love of mine, and even the ones that miss the mark still have plenty of stuff to enjoy.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at the cinematic life of 007, from bottom to on-a-top.  (And we’ll stick to official Eon Productions, so the Connery one-off Never Say Never Again and the 60s comedy version of Casino Royale get snipped from this list.)

We do an entire podcast dedicated to all things Bond.  To access that, click here.

 

24.  A View to a Kill (1985)

By this point, the Bond films weren’t just tired and passé, they were a moth-eaten leisure suit in dire need of dumpster status.  In retrospective interviews, Roger Moore vented his frustration with this movie’s script, and his disdain comes across in the form of a sleepwalking performance.  Along for this joyride in neutral are a shrill, shrieking love interest (Tanya Roberts), a bland, blonde Christopher Walken (who seems like somebody doing a bad impersonation of him), and a hackneyed plot about annihilating Silicon Valley.  Even the action scenes are yawn-inducing.  The only true bright spot:  A supercool theme song by Duran Duran.

 

23.  Moonraker (1979)

Roger Moore detractors will tell you his 007 era was laden and leaden with goofiness.  This movie, with its cornball puns and Star Wars-style space action, serves as Prosecution Exhibit A in that argument.  Moonraker takes the clichés that Bond fans have come to expect and rockets them into overdrive.  Jaws, the steel-tooth golem from The Spy Who Love Me, gets played for hyuck-hyuck laughs here.  As Holly Goodhead, Lois Chiles delivers her lines with intensity of a flatlining EKG.  The pre-credits skydiving scene is about the only thing worth watching in this whole damn movie.  And poor Shirley Bassey, who can Ethel Merman as good as Ethel Merman can, is forced to sound swanky and sensual in a theme song about a space shuttle.  It’s a blander, boring Bond extravaganza.

 

22.  The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

I promise I like Roger Moore more than these rankings might lead you to believe.  Movies like this are good example of the man outshining the material.  As 007, Moore brings a glib silliness that, in carefully measured doses, adds a refreshing touch of humor to the series.  He’s a great Bond, but we’ll cover that further down this list.  This outing is…what’s that intellectualism I’m fishing for?  Stupid.  And offensive, when you boil down it.  Bond goes to Asia this time, and encounters a battalion of karate-chopping stereotypes along his journey.  Hervé Villechaize is stuck playing his diminutive height for laughs as henchman Knick Knack.  Clifton James wandered straight outta Hazzard County as shitkickin’ Sheriff J.W. Pepper.  Christopher Lee gives the film a boost with his badass take on the title character.

 

21.  Die Another Day (2002)

Like Moore’s View to a Kill, this outing showed it was time to shake up the Bond Etch a Sketch.  This time, Bond gets disgraced and disavowed, and goes after a North Korean madman to restore his name.  As with some of the other weaker Bonds, the action goes overboard to cover up the watered-down quality of the script.  We got hovercraft, para-snowboards, cars that flip over…lots of sound and fury.  Halle Berry makes a game partner for 007, but even her best moment (popping out of a sun-shimmering ocean, a la Ursula Andress) can only echo a better moment from a better movie.  And that clunky Madonna theme song?  Tech-no.

 

20.  Diamonds are Forever (1971)

A hybrid movie that melds the goofiness of the Roger Moore films with the unflappable panache of Connery’s take on the character, this is ultimately a weird, mildly entertaining, wholly forgettable Bond film.  007 squares off against archnemesis Blofeld one last time (for a long time, anyway).  There’s a plot to smuggle diamonds, impersonate a Howard Hughes-type gazillionaire (played by sausage king Abe Froman Jimmy Dean), and use satellites to destroy nuclear weapons.  Or something like that.  Much like Oreos and sour candy, these action scenes and nutball set pieces don’t sit will together:  A moon buggy chase?  Blofeld making duplicates of himself in boiling mud baths?  I just…don’t get it.  As for Connery rejoining the franchise, this is the biggest waste of talent since Michael Jordan came back to play for the Washington Wizards.

 

19.  The World is Not Enough (1999)

With this one, I remember leaving the theater with a profound confusion.  Had I just watched one of the better Bonds, or one of the worst?  I mean, there’s that cool boat chase on the Thames, some wicked ski action (they love putting Bond on the slopes, for some reason), and Judi Dench–an Oscar-winner, Jerry!–as M.  Sophie Marceau is alluring as the Bad Girl Who Might Be Good.  Composer David Arnold makes a nice stand-in for John Barry.  But….then there’s Denise Richards.  You wouldn’t think one flat performance could sink the whole movie, but it does.  Like a candy bar floating in the pool, Richards ruins the whole party as Christmas Jones.  Yup, Miss Monotone 1999 plays a nuclear astrophysicist with the passion of a clerk working a DMV counter.  She pops up mid-movie, and the whole game of Jenga crashes to the ground.  Of note:  This is Desmond Llewelyn’s last go-around as Q, the gadget guru.  Llewelyn had natural chemistry with every Bond actor, and that’s no small feat.  He was the franchise glue, and is greatly missed.

 

18.  Live and Let Die (1973)

This installment kicks off Roger Moore’s 12-year Bond reign with a bit of a whimper.  Once again, it’s the movie’s fault, and not the man himself.  007 heads to the tropics again, only they don’t do that voodoo so well.  Bond tangles with a nefarious gangster (Yaphet Kotto, surprisingly ineffectual), a gorgeous fortune teller (Jane Seymour, I’ma use that word again, gor-jusss), and a litany of blaxploitation clichés.  I swear, when the Bond franchise tries to be topical the wheels fall right off the wagon.  And there’s that damn hick sheriff!  But hey, the boat chase is pretty wicked and Paul McCartney delivers a pile-driving, arena-sized theme song.

 

17.  Quantum of Solace (2008)

Or, The Bourne Confusion.  I guess this is the price we pay for Matt Damon’s turn as Jason Bourne.  Lots of choppy incoherent action at the service of a choppy, incoherent story.  A wormy, boring villain (Matthieu Amalric, dude’s real name is cooler than the character he plays) with a boring plan to horde Bolivia’s water supply.  Forget it, James.  It’s Chinatown.  Craig is a spot-on choice to play bond, and he grows into the role a little more with every movie, but this one has all the feel of a sophomore slump.

 

16.  You Only Live Twice (1967)

It doesn’t get said enough:  Every dude who played Bond long enough had at least one double-o-dud, even Sean Connery.  We’re a million miles from the lean and mean days of From Russia with Love and Dr. No here, with Blofeld camped out in an active volcano (okay, bust out your Dr. Evil voices:  “liquid hot mag-mahhh.) and spaceships swallowing other spaceships.  It’s an early taste of the camp and kitsch that would overwhelm the series in its middle years.  Every time 007 goes to Asia, it seems the filmmakers go straight for the stereotypes.  No wonder this experience made Connery step away for the next installment, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

 

15. Octopussy (1983)

Ah, the conundrum of Bond movies:  Are they trying too hard, or not nearly enough?  Octopussy sticks firmly to the template, while also heaving everything it has onto the screen in the name of entertainment.  No joke, the contents of this movie feel like a wild night for Bill Hader’s Stefon character.  This place has it all:  Elephants, fire-eaters, twin killer clowns, a micro-jet, tennis star Vijay Amritraj.  The action scenes–especially a wing-walking battle royale–are top notch, as always.  As for the usual cavalcade of puns and sight gags?  Not so much.

 

14.  Spectre (2015)

Daniel Craig brings such frosty gravitas that he can even make the mediocre Bonds feel compelling.  Spectre makes a lot of the right moves:  It’s about time the producers brought the classic, cat-stroking villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld back into the double-0-fold.  And casting Christoph Waltz in the part?  Magnifique!  Monica Bellucci makes a perfect Bond foil, and it’s great to see a woman who isn’t 22 in the part.  Dave Bautista, apparently a recent grad from Oddjob’s School for Weirdo Henchmen, does a fine job conveying silent menace. The action scenes are titties, per usual.  It’s just a shame they decided to Xerox so much of the vibe that made Skyfall a unique entry.  Sam Smith’s title song is blander than a box of rice cakes.

 

13.  Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Pierce Brosnan looks so much like James Bond, it’s like they built him out of a kit.  It’s just too damn bad most of his movies splat hard on the pavement. Don’t get me wrong–we got good ideas and good intentions e’rrywhere:  Jonathan Pryce has more than enough chops to play a twinkly-eyed megalomaniac (see:  High Sparrow, The), so his casting as villainous publishing tycoon closes out that bullseye.  Michelle Yeoh kicks more ass than George Lazenby could in three of these movies.  Teri Hatcher is plainsong boring as a rich bitch done wrong.  This script was glued together like that vase you broke at grandma’s house that one time, and it shows:  The action scenes feel perfunctory–been waiting to use that $10 word for a while, gang–while the story just doesn’t snap together like it should.  After the perky, pull-out-the-stops feel of Goldeneye, this one seems to just slog through the motions.

 

12.  Thunderball (1965)

All things must end, and James Bond’s glorious cinematic winning streak comes to a halt with this saggy, soggy installment that made heaps of money but doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings.  The plot features typical Cold War shenanigans:  Slimy SPECTRE baddie Largo swipes two nukes and smuggles them to the Caribbean. Bond and his buddy Felix Leiter have to recover the warheads and stave off WWWIII.  Hope y’all like scuba scenes, ’cause this movie has enough of ’em to make Jacque Cousteau go pruny.  Seriously, I have to wonder if these underwater camera crews worked by the hour.  Maybe these had a cool novelty back in the day, but now they just provide an undertow for the story momentum.  John Barry’s sleepy score doesn’t do it any favors.  Still, you’ve got Sean Connery as Bond, Adolfo Celi as a serviceable villain, and Claudine Auger gives us a strong-willed, beautiful female lead.  Like those balcony Muppets used to say:  It ain’t half bad!  It ain’t half good, either!

 

11.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

You may have noticed a theme on this list:  Plenty of Bond movies have a great and game lead player, only let him down with meh material.  (Meh-terial?)  Well, this one gives us the flip side.  One-off George Lazenby is a so-so 007, paired with a strong, intelligent, and restrained script by Richard Maibaum.  Diana Rigg has charm and attitude as Bond’s ultimate partner.  And who doesn’t love Telly Savalas as a snide, sneering Blofeld?  (Blojack?)  Lots of cool chase scenes, and a kick-ass John Barry score.  All the pieces are there, but George Lazenby just doesn’t have the gravity to pull it all together.  Good chance that if Connery had stuck around, OHMSS might’ve been a series highlight.

 

Continued on PART 2:

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Author: Todd Wofford

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