By Last Caress.
“Bond. James Bond.”
With Sam Mendes’ Spectre (2015), the 24th movie in the James Bond series, about to be released on DVD/Blu-ray, BRWC thought it was time to send Agent Last Caress on a not-so-secret mission: To rank the all of the Bond movies, from worst to best. Now pay attention, L.C.!
24. Tomorrow Never Dies (Spottiswoode, 1997)
Despite an impressive opening scene (followed quickly by a fantastic theme tune from Sheryl Crow), Tomorrow Never Dies is undone by a ridiculous antagonist in Jonathan Pryce’s Eliot Carver, a Rupert Murdoch/Robert Maxwell hybrid trying to kickstart global warfare so that, somehow, he’ll have more dramatic headlines which will sell more papers or get a foothold in the lucrative Chinese market, or something (I stopped paying attention if I’m honest). Everything felt ridiculously overblown yet still not enough felt at stake, either. I mean of course a potential World War III is a lot at stake but I don’t think I bought for a second into Carver’s ability to make that happen, no matter how much Tomorrow Never Dies tried to present him as a Blofield-level supervillain. Perhaps they should’ve focussed more on Ricky Jay, whose Henry Gupta was a more interesting antagonist. Teri Hatcher’s attributes as a Bond Girl are obvious but she was all too brief, however Michelle Yeoh was a fantastic choice of Bond Girl, very sexy without overtly trying to be so, and she proved a capable sidekick for James too; all very Lara Croft. And I thought Pierce Brosnan himself was okay, despite his Mr. Whippy hairstyle; this film has 99 problems, but James Bond ain’t one. Ultimately though, some bizarre comment on the power wielded by our media moguls is simply not a satisfying issue for the attentions of Commander Bond of MI6, certainly not when it’s handled as poorly as this.
Oh, and how about that detonation countdown at the end while Bond and “Cardboard Cut-Out Blonde German Stereotype Henchman #561” Stamper are fighting? “T MINUS 40 SECONDS” (seventy seconds later) “T MINUS 20 SECONDS” (twenty seconds later) “T MINUS 10 SECONDS” – are they in the bloody Twilight Zone?
23. Moonraker (Gilbert, 1979)
-My God, what’s Bond doing?
-I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir…
Nope. Roger Moore was the supposed “fun” Bond but, in Moonraker, the joke’s not funny anymore. We’re a long, long way from underneath the mango tree of Dr. No now (and, regarding the “gag” above: I doubt Moore could manage “entry” at his age there, let alone “re-entry”). It’s not the same type of film at all at this point, and this movie is not in any discernible way, shape or form representative of the Bond I had enjoyed so often previously. Moore looks like a chewed toffee wrapped in an Alan Partridge double-breasted blazer, and yet we’re still expected to buy into all these women falling at his feet, although to be honest the Bond girls were well below par in this outing; I think Jaws’ squeeze Dolly (Blanche Ravalec) might’ve been the best one, and she looked intentionally goofy. And what exactly was Jaws doing in this picture? Drax the Dourface had only taken “perfect” people up onto his crappy sexship of love, I thought. EXCEPT for Jaws and his oddbod missus? That’s handy, once wrinkly James needed a bit of assistance up there. I understand that at this point there were issues surrounding Eon being able to use the characters/concepts of Blofeld or SPECTRE but the Blofeld-a-likes were becoming grating. Drax was a particularly wooden effort. Who would work for this bellend? Guys in yellow boilersuits and anti-windowlicking headgear, I suppose. And of course, he has to explain everything to Jimmy B, show him around the place et cetera. Yawn. And as a final ballbag-smacking coup de grace, Bassey hits us with not just her worst effort from three, but the entire franchise’s worst theme tune from the eleven up to that point.
Any good points at all? Hm, I suppose the opening sky-diving sequence was okay. The python fight in the pool had potential (although the scene failed to live up to it). Oh, and Q’s exploding bolas were pretty cool, if for no other reason than that they allowed me to make mention of “Q’s exploding bolas” just then. But no, not much at all here worth returning to ever again. All those spacemen floating about “lazering” each other. What a load of old bumsh*t! It all seemed as though, despite the outer space trappings, the budget had been cut considerably. Everything looked so cheap and nasty. And yet when I looked into it, I noted that Moonraker was up to that point by far the most expensive Bond movie ever made. Depressingly, I also noted that its $210m+ box office was also Bond’s highest, not just at that point but right up until Pierce Brosnan’s debut in Goldeneye (Campbell, 1995). Still, I’m going to credit that particular anomaly to George Lucas and the ripple effect of the Star Wars phenomenon rather than to Broccoli, Moore and director Lewis Gilbert.
22. Die Another Day (Tamahori, 2002)
Well! This is how the Brosnan era ends and, to paraphrase TS Eliot even further: Not with a bang, but a BANG! MASSIVE UNREALISTIC BAAAAAANG!!!
Has a movie ever been made before in which every single line of dialogue is a smug, pithy comeback? It has now! And the gadgets – sh*tting crikey! Every scenario contained a gadget to put Bond in the sh*t, a gadget to be misappropriated/pressed into service as something else, and a gadget to get Bond out of whatever sh*t the first gadget had put him in to begin with. This Bond movie didn’t require James Bond. Anyone from Batman to Mr. Bean would’ve done, since every single event was created by a macguffin and resolved by a deux ex machina. Sillier and sillier it got (I’m talking about the gadgets and the lines of dialogue now, for clarity). Pop-up machine-guns and rockets and anti-rocket rockets and ejector seats are now pretty much standard on all cars in the James Bondiverse, it seems, so what next? Ah – the invisicar! The Aston Martin Van-ish. Brilliant! See what they did there? A guy who’s face refuses to reject the foreign bodies lightly embedded in them? Okay! A smarmy-arse Korean who’s now an even smarmier-arse English dude? If you say so! A satellite with a f*cking big sun-gun on it, ploughing through the Korean DMZ without so much as a “Boom shanka!” from f*cking ANYONE?!? Oh, why not? By the time Jimmy B had reconstituted a land speed vehicle into a parasurfing kit in order to beach-boy his way out of certain death by ice block/sun-laser combo, I’d long stopped finding it all a bloody great distraction. Screaming “Turn them off or I’ll only be half the woman I used to be!” when tied down and in real mortal danger of being sliced to pieces by wildly gyrating and out-of-control lasers (what is it with lasers in this film??) doesn’t only sound unreal, it sounds absolutely ludicrous, except that in the world of Die Another Day, it just seems… typical.
And that’s the thing. Die Another Day took a swan-dive off of reality more than any other Bond film, which of course is saying something. More outlandish even than the f*ckawful Moonraker. The real stunts which, as mentioned above, always give the Bond films a measure of integrity no matter how one feels about them, had largely been binned for cgi hocus-pocus. It’s as though the Bond creators had all been given computers for the first time ever, and they’d all gone mental. The scriptwriter appeared to have been shanghaied from his previous position as the Gold Blend ad writer, so strong was the cheese in each and every verbal exchange. M’s character veered wildly from “Bursting-with-pride mother” to “Bond’s personal nemesis” randomly and with nary a glance at any reasoning behind why. John Cleese’s credentials as a comedy actor are beyond reproach but here, replacing the late Desmond Llewelyn, the obligatory Q scene was jarring, out of place (perhaps to my mind this new quartermaster hadn’t earned the stripes to be lipping Commander Bond in the way the previous Q did? I dunno). Madonna’s shoehorned cameo was more shameless than all of BMW’s product placement throughout the previous half-dozen or so movies. Almost everything in this movie that wasn’t deeply improbable, was deeply unlikeable. But Die Another Day pushed the incredulity so far, it stopped mattering. And, as a result, some universal law of physics snapped somewhere, and Die Another Day ceased being as hateful as it really should’ve been by all previously-held tenets. I mean, it was still rubbish, of course. How could it not be? But I’m afraid it’s like this: I found Die Another Day – one of the most ridiculous films I’ve ever seen – to be preferable to Moonraker and Tomorrow Never Dies. In fact, I could see myself watching it again some dreary Sunday, when the drugs haven’t quite flushed out yet and I’m all out of pornography.
21. Octopussy (Glen, 1983)
(Straightaway, let’s just take the cocking dreadful Coolidge number All Time High as the pile of auld spunkfling that it is, so we don’t have to dissect it any further, cool? Cool)
The quite hideously-titled Octopussy, then. The movie was appropriately Bond-sized in its reach, the gadgets started creeping back in again but were, for the large part, fairly low-tech (floaty croc-a-float thing) or, at least, fairly low-key; the plane out the horse’s @rsehole was probably the “Bond”est of gadgets and it was over and done with before the opening title credits hit (No, we’re not discussing All Time bloody High. We agreed that), the locations in the sub-continent were beautiful as one would expect, the tone – with some glaring exceptions – was largely serious and befitting of the franchise as I appreciate it, and tennis player Vijay Amritraj, who I thought would balls everything up, didn’t. He was quite good really, all things considered and despite the heavy-handed tennis gags.
Still, it’s far from top-tier stuff. Why? Well it’s hard to put my finger on it since much of what I dislike about Bond had been jettisoned for this outing. I think that the most obvious things to which I can point are that a) it’s almost certainly a good half-hour too long and b) it’s… well, it’s just a bit dull, really. Beautiful, but dull. Like a Bond girl! Talking of which: Maud Adams (Octopussy), Kristina Wayborn (Magda) – nah. You can keep the pair of ’em. Stephen Berkoff unabashedly screaming his head off and chewing the scenery non-stop simply kept pulling me out of the proceedings. I was sure he was trying not to corpse throughout his performance. I know he was playing a Russian but he kept reminding me of either Ade Edmondson or Ken “Reg Holdsworth” Morley in their comedy turns as German military officers in Blackadder Goes Forth and Red Dwarf VII respectively. I read that critics and fans alike were unimpressed by James Bond being made to dress up in a clown outfit but that didn’t bother me. No, if he’s a spy, he needs to be undercover, in whatever outfit is appropriate. What did grate though was the “Tarzan” ullulation as Commander B swung from a vine, and also agent Vijay attracting Bond’s attention as he stepped ashore with a blast of the Bond theme on his pungi. Needlessly kept pitching the movie – and by association, the entire franchise – back into daft light comedy territory.
20. The Man With the Golden Gun (Hamilton, 1974)
See, now I could see myself vegging out to this on a lazy Sunday afternoon, yet I still think it’s fair to say that I didn’t think it was much good. It’s just that it was so lightweight, “not much good” is still plenty acceptable by its own low standards, if that makes any sense. If Connery or Lazenby had been in this it would’ve been an absolute debacle but Moore… well, he’s a bit of a clown really, isn’t he? Comedy Bond. I can’t believe they shoehorned that bloody sheriff back into the proceedings! What was that all about? I quite liked Christopher Lee – then again, I always likes me a bit of Christopher Lee, he’s the Lord of Darkness – although I reckon I could’ve done without the third nipple. By which of course I mean Nick Nack. I mean, I like Hervé Villechaize, who doesn’t? He was great in exactly the same role opposite Ricardo Montalban in Fantasy Island. But who had him down as a quality henchman? I suppose the idea was that Scaramanga doesn’t need a henchman in the way Blofeld might since he, Scaramanga, is the badass, but still: Hervé Villechaize?? And poor old Scara’s end-of-the-pier-style lair was like something off of 60-Minute Makeover, covered as it was in crappy woodchip props and boards, and shop mannequins. Oh dear! Is that a tuppence-ha’penny second-hand crapper of an exercise bike that that yank gangster just walked past, the likes of which you’d find on any boot fair in the land on an overcast Sunday morning? Yes, it is. And what was Lulu caterwauling about? Possibly the worst Bond tune of the lot so far, worse than Bassey.
Still, it remained low-key enough for it to retain at least a core of plausibility (inasmuch as, say, You Only Live Twice really required the f*cking Avengers to sort it out, never mind DoubleOhSeven), I liked Scaramanga as previously mentioned (you’ve got to love these megalomaniacs gleefully explaining absolutely everything to Bond, including a full tour of the facilities, right?), I liked the Thai setting and the limited chop-socky action, and I enjoyed the car chase despite the gimp sheriff and the f*cking slide-whistle noise as Bond made the twisty bridge jump (and despite all the cars in this movie being utter bumwipe). And of course, as stupid and irritating as Mary Goodnight most assuredly was, she’s still an in-her-prime Britt Ekland and, as such, storms up to the Bond Girl summit alongside Diana Rigg and Ursula Andress.
That golden gun’s a piece of crap, though.
19. The World is Not Enough (Apted, 1999)
Right, I’m calling it:
Pierce Brosnan is not a bad Bond.
This third Brosnan film – not as good as GoldenEye by any measure, not as bad as Tomorrow Never Dies either – has convinced me that if there were problems with the Brosnan age – and there were – it’s not the man himself. It might be his hair, but it’s not him. In fact, I don’t think there’s been a genuinely bad actor in the Bond role, but I digress. What about The World is Not Enough?
Well, the opening speedboat chase down the Thames to the Millennium Dome was kind-of the story of The World is Not Enough in microcosm: Spectacular here and there but patently ridiculous and, too often, just daft. Did Q say that that was his retirement fishing boat? Didn’t it have homing missiles on it? What was he fishing for? How much in public funds was he diverting to make a retirement fishing boat complete with homing missiles? Sounds like a job for James Bond…
The plot? Blah blah pipelines, blah blah murdered billionaire, blah blah don’t make this personal, Bond, blah blah sexy girl turning Jimmy B over, blah blah implausible bad guy. Blah. I know the Bond franchise needs to retain some staples and The World is Not Enough manages to keep things reassuringly familiar, but… ah, it’s becoming tiring now. What was all that hoo-hah about the bullet in Robert Carlyle’s head? It’ll eventually kill him but, meanwhile, it’s making him stronger and stronger by removing his senses as it goes? Wha? Is this a Marvel film, now? Not that I mind an improbable happenstance which turns an individual into a superhuman instead of killing them stone dead as one would imagine, but are we in The Incredible Hulk territory now, or what? I like Robert Carlyle but I think he’d have made a decent foil for Bond without the bullet thing. Less can be said though for Goldie. I think Goldie is a uniquely gifted musician and artist, I really do. But he’s not an actor, bless him.
The shame of it though is that I thought The World is Not Enough had quite a few things going for it: A greater dollop of plot for Judi Dench’s M had been overdue since she took the role, the Bond Girls were in fine form – Sophie Marceau was gorgeous and Denise Richards was still sexy even though a) her character was of that deeply irritating Scrappy-Doo spunky sidekick-with-attitude variety, and b) the poor cow couldn’t give a convincing performance if her vacuous life depended on it, Brosnan remained effective and even likeable throughout yet another rather doughy script, John Cleese’s turn as Q’s eventual replacement wasn’t nearly as distracting as I feared it might be and was actually rather warm (sad to note that this was Desmond Llewelyn’s final appearance as Q before his death in a car crash), and I even found myself giving a toss when Robbie Coltrane’s Zukovsky met his end. Oh, and I really liked Bond’s x-ray specs. Sod the gadgetry, they just looked cool.
Still, the bottom line though is that story is king, and this story veered too often from silly to boring. For the most part I didn’t care about what was happening, or to whom. And too many silly bits felt shoehorned in, like the hologram of Renard’s head to explain to us dumb viewers how the bullet in his brain was affecting him, or Bond’s outdated little tête-à-tête with Dr. Warmflash (!), or indeed Denise Richards’ entire character, as sexy as she was. This wasn’t the most f*ckawful Bond I’d ever seen, but it was maybe the most “meh”, and in some ways that’s even worse.
Oh, and the theme tune, by Garbage: Too easy to say “It was ‘Garbage'”, ha-bloody-ha, but… well, it was. I’d never rated Garbage even back when I couldn’t switch on the bloody radio without having them blaring out at me. They did one half-decent track as far as I can recall, and it certainly wasn’t The World is Not Enough.
18. You Only Live Twice (Gilbert, 1967)
The most parodied of all the Bond pictures, You Only Live Twice was the movie I feared all Bond movies were before I’d ever seen any (prior to 2015, I’d never seen one of them, presuming them all to be… well, pretty-much like this one). It’s all of the excesses of the world of James Bond piled on top of the overcomplicated story which makes little sense on the face of it and is out-and-out stupid looked at any closer. Well, I guess that’s true of all of them, but many of the other movies in the franchise had kept me interested enough not to want to pick away at the holes). I liked the Japanese setting, I liked the styling of Blofeld’s volcano lair*, and that was it really. Oh, the ninjas. It’s hard to dislike an army of ninjas.
*Which contractors do you call in if you want something like that? “We’ll need stairs up to the top of the volcano there, spaceship launch/landing combo pad over there, the collapsible footbridge over a piranha pool just there, with the mini-monorail just behind it over there.” That smug talking ballbag on Grand Designs would have a field day.
17. A View to a Kill (Glen, 1985)
A View to a Kill isn’t great – very little from the Moore era is – but it isn’t terrible by any stretch and is even quite fun here and there. As a film it’s overlong and needlessly convoluted; Fiona Fullerton was a top lass in her day but that entire tape-swap fake-out sequence could have and should have been snipped out of the picture. And the globetrotting nature of the Bond films felt laboured this time somehow, as though the writers identified Ascot, Paris and ‘Frisco as locations first and then built the story backwards from there. And for all I know maybe that’s how they build all the Bond films, but it felt engineered this time. Racetracks, restaurants in observation towers, Silicone Valley – the entire story could’ve taken place in California. Still, Christopher Walken is always a great watch and that’s no different here. For pantomime-style scenery chewing, there is none finer. Well, maybe the late, great Alan Rickman. Eon missed out in never having him as a Bond villain. But I digress. Grace Jones is surprisingly good as a Bond villain henchman, even if the lifting-a-bloke-over-her-head trick looked like the sort of gag you’d see in a comedy. But she certainly looks the part; she has always typified the ludicrous excesses of the eighties but she’s always also managed to carry that off well. And Patrick Macnee looked like a natural fit as a Bond character even if he was starting to resemble a blancmange by 1985. It felt as though he’d been playing the part for a while and it was a shame they killed him off here as IMO Sir Godfrey Tibbett could’ve provided a decent light-hearted foil for Bond in at least another couple of pictures. A great theme tune from Duran Duran, though; don’t know if it felt particularly like a “Bond” theme but it was (and remains) a decent number. Not that I’d imagine anyone would “dance into the fire”, except for Norman Wisdom, possibly.
A View to a Kill saw the Roger Moore era all squared away (it was also Lois Maxwell’s final turn as Miss Moneypenny. Good job too; her and Moore were becoming indistinguishable). There had been a few highs (For Your Eyes Only, elements of Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me to a lesser extent). There had been a few lows (Moonraker, Rita Coolidge, the issue of Moore’s advancing years which were a slight concern the moment he debuted and which had become a colossal elephant in the room by the time of his departure), but probably not as many as I’d suspected there would be. But what there was in abundance was a whole lot of “Meh”. Too silly for the nature of the character and his world but not amusing enough to get away with it, not enough courage in its convictions to present anything with any honesty but expecting us to buy into Roger Moore f*cking and Kung-fu-ing his way around the planet when he looks in dire need of a shopmobility scooter, a blanket over his legs and a nice nap. In many ways – and rightly so – the entire Bond franchise has maintained certain defining characteristics as any brand should, but at the same time the Moore films felt like a very different experience than the Connery/Lazenby films which preceded them, and not in a good way. If Moore had preceded Connery instead of succeeding him, I reckon I’d have quit watching Bond inside three films. Old Rog was nowhere near as offensive as I thought he was going to be but unfortunately for the most part he and his movies never had quite enough about them to be anything more than the sort of fare to which one can nod off on a lazy bank holiday afternoon, which explains exactly why ITV always put them on at those times.
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