By Last Caress.
Continuing our rundown of all of the James Bond films, ranked in order from worst to first (Part 1 HERE):
16. Spectre (Mendes, 2015)
SPOILERS BELOW! IF YOU HAVEN’T YET SEEN SPECTRE AND WERE WAITING TO CATCH IT AT HOME ON DVD/BLU-RAY, YOU’LL WANT TO SPIN PAST THIS BIT.
Spectre, the 24th and most recent Bond movie to date isn’t a bad film, but it’s definitely the weakest of the Daniel Craig films. I wonder if, in calling it Spectre and having the glorious return of a major arch villain and in trying to tie the previous Craig movies together, it was trying to give itself too much gravitas in every single scene like it was the boss level of all boss levels, and whilst getting busy giving everything such dramatic heft Sam Mendes forgot to put any real action into the thing? Consider the scene where Oberhauser is holding court at the big Spectre meeting while our Jim is safely tucked up in the Gods amongst the lesser lights, happily incognito, watching the proceedings, and suddenly Ober says, “Hello, James!” It’s supposed to be tense, right? But it felt at arm’s length, as did the immediate car chase sequence as Mr. Hinx goes after Bond (incidentally, I thought Dave Bautista did very well with his wordless henchman role, up there among the more memorable henchmen). This distancing from the events seemed to happen all of the time, but I don’t even think that that was the worst thing about Spectre; The worst thing was the decision to retrofit the previous three movies into one cohesive lead-in to this movie. Clearly, the intentions of the previous three movies’ creators were not to have these four movies link together as one big narrative all along, and as a result it just came across as daft when Ober/Stavros proclaimed that everything since Casino Royale (Campbell, 2006) had been him all along, working to a masterplan specifically aimed at James Bond. “I really have put you through it, haven’t I?” Giggles Blowey in that effeminate German lilt of Christoph Waltz’s which made Colonel Hans Landa so terrifying and Dr. King Schultz so entertaining but which does little for Ernst. Um, no, you haven’t put Bond through anything really, you credit-claiming fuckbum!
But Daniel Craig’s Bond pictures have been the Bonds for the Selfie generation, the Big Brother generation, the TOWIE crowd, the Twitterati. They’re good films in and of themselves but, in trying to think about exactly how these Craig-era Bonds have differed from the others, I’ve decided that it’s in the way that they’re so much more inward-facing; all about Bond, having him look at himself. The other Bond pics had something bad happening – usually of global size and importance – which had to be stopped by Commander Bond of MI6. Bond wasn’t the catalyst. The catalyst was money, or power, or money and power. But what Spectre was suggesting was that everything that had happened for four movies, had happened because of Bond; leastways, because of Stavros’ weird – and pretty lame, let’s be honest – perceived “ostracized sibling” issues. This all means that, far from being the asset to Queen and Country he’s always been previously, James Bond has in fact proved to be a massive liability, unknowingly or not. All about him. And that just ain’t James, baby. And when I thought about it like that, even the way in which the franchise re-booted itself for the Craig-era pics began to rankle. Here is a character whose legacy carried directly – albeit with a f*cked-up Simpsons-like approach to the passage of time – from Dr. No (Young, 1962) to Die Another Day (Tamahori, 2002). Forty years. And all that, is gone. Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan all played the same character, the same James Bond. Craig, he’s a different Bond. I mean, of course I knew that Casino Royale represented a reboot to the franchise but I guess Spectre has helped bring home another angle to that. A more selfish angle, in a way.
Still, I’ve whinged enough. What was the “hot” and the “not” of Spectre? Well, I thought Dave Bautista was good in the Bond Henchman role as I mentioned earlier, I appreciated young Q a lot more in this one than I did in Skyfall, I liked the DB10 (but nowhere near as much as the DB5), I thought the pre-credits scene in Mexico was hugely entertaining (which I guess made the remainder of the movie feel all the more disappointing as a result), Ralph Fiennes is possibly a better M than the fantastic Dame Judi Dench, and I don’t care how old she is: What’s not to like about Monica Bellucci? Exactly. Even the polarising Spectre theme by Sam Smith isn’t all that bad, once you tune your ears into his pitch so they stop bleeding.
Christoph Waltz – well, he disappointed I’m sad to say. Could it be that all of the strength in his Tarantino movie characters came from the pen of Quentin rather than the performance of Christoph? Could it also be that Christoph can only do one character, just with different hats? I certainly hope that’s not the case but for me, he represented the worst Blofeld of the lot. And Daniel Craig… was he disinterested this time, or was it just that strange, distant directing style from Sam Mendes making him look that way? From Daniel’s craggy and unmoving face, it’s hard to tell. I’ll go further: I think that, overall, he’s been the worst Bond of the lot. The movies have mostly been excellent (the three which preceded this one certainly were), and he’s been very good indeed at what he’s done, but what he’s done is a completely different character; Bond in name only. The other Bond actors still felt like “James Bond”, despite offering very different takes on the character.
15. Diamonds Are Forever (Hamilton, 1971)
The franchise said goodbye to Sean Connery – again – with Diamonds Are Forever and, whilst I agree that this movie represented Mr. Connery’s weakest effort individually – excluding the non-canon Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again (Kershner, 1983) – I nonetheless preferred this movie to You Only Live Twice. Yet another Blofeld, though? They can’t settle, can they? And even though his “space lazers” scheme felt once again more ambitious (ie increasingly f*cking sillier) in scope, the poor sod feels miles away from the threatening and shadowy “SPECTRE Number One” he used to be. Now he’s just some smarmy pillock in a nehru suit who’s number Commander Bond very much has. Lana Wood was quite sexy as Plenty O’Toole (!) and Jill St. John was very sexy as Tiffany Case. Hated the theme tune. In fact, I hated the Goldfinger theme as well. I know the Bassey numbers are iconic and arguably the tunes which people most easily associate with Bond but they’re… well, crap. An incredibly American movie, this one. Pressure from United Artists maybe? I’m not complaining, btw. I absolutely adored that Mach 1 Mustang.
14. The Spy Who Loved Me (Gilbert, 1977)
What is it with director Lewis Gilbert and Bond films in which big vehicles are eaten by bigger vehicles? I liked this movie considerably more than Gilbert’s previous outing You Only Live Twice although it treads a hugely similar path; maybe it’s because Moore suits the ludicrousness of it better than Connery. Still, Lewis Gilbert seemed determined to film a live-action Thunderbirds as opposed to a spy actioner. Got to love Stromberg’s underwater lair though, even though it comes straight out of Gerry Anderson’s playbook. It’s maybe my favourite lair of the lot so far. Talking of favourites so far, The Spy Who Loved Me features a pretty hot, seventies-centric Bond girl in Barbara Bach as Russian Agent Anya Amasova, but in a far-too-brief role, it also features Caroline Munro as ‘copter pilot/failed assassin Naomi, and since I have long believed Ms. Munro to be one of the hottest women ever to have lived, she tops my Bond Girl charts.
But no, overall I enjoyed this one, for all its goofiness. I said earlier that I only watched the Bond movies for the first time last year but I’ve got a feeling I saw this one before, years ago when I was a mere wee’un. Scene after scene evoked vague memories of a kids matinee double-bill at the long-demolished local theatre of my youth, and of being considerably more impressed by metal-mouthed giant imbeciles and submersible Lotus Esprits than I am today. Jaws remains a fun henchman, as silly as Oddjob really but pulls it off far better. He’s like Live and Let Die‘s Tee-Hee, but “more” so. Tee-Hee+, if you like. And catching hold of him by his metal gnashers using a f*cking big magnet – pure Batman (the TV show), that. Laughed out loud almost as much as I did when Kananga blew up in Live and Let Die. Arguably the greatest henchmanof the lot; certainly the most memorable. The Esprit though… I had toys of that car when I was a nipper, at a couple of scales, so I must have loved it once but, I dunno, it just looks really dated and silly now. I reckon Bond would’ve kicked Q right in the danglies if he’d really had to swap his DB5 for that f*cking thing.
13. Live and Let Die (Hamilton, 1973)
So, Live and Let Die. Or, Bond’s Gonna Git You, Sucka!, Sweet Jimmy’s Baadasssss Song, 007 the Hard Way or Super Spy TNT to give it one of its alternative titles. Probably. Without wanting to come across as having dropped a wildly racist pun, this is an incredibly colourful Bond pic, but there was some good and some bad in here. Firstly, it’s clear that Roger Moore is nowhere near up to the task of following in Sean Connery’s footsteps. That’s bad (or, as they might say on the set of Live and Let Die: Dat’s baaaaaaaaad, honky!). Also, Live and Let Die is infused with an injection of humour so large it threatens to turn the whole thing into an utter farce. Dat’s baaaaaaad too, mutha f*cka! But, Rog’s bemused/suave approach greatly suits the new, lighter approach to the character. Dat’s aaaall good, my brutha! The entire Blaxploitation vibe made the material feel as though the filmmakers were just using their franchise to keep up with (what was at the time) current trends instead of setting the trends as they did back in the Dr. No/From Russia With Love days. Dat’s baaaaaad! Still, any film which gives Yaphet Kotto an airing deserves kudos. Dat’s aaaall good! Also, the tailoring on some of those Harlem and N’Oarlins stereotypes was admittedly specf*ckingtacular; outfits I would wear myself in an instant. And the henchmen really came into their own on this one: Whisper, Tee-Hee and Baron Samedi, all superb. Double-good, brutha (I’m going to stop doing that, now).
But what was with the proto-Buford T Justice/Rosco P Coltrane sheriff? F*ck me, I half expected the General Lee to crash into view, hotly pursued by Clint Eastwood, Clyde the Orang-Utan, Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise. I mean, I know Live and Let Die predates those numerous 70s/80s hee-haws but we don’t expect (or want) them in a Bond film, do we? And the Bond girls, whilst good, weren’t as good as they’d been previously. Gloria Hendry was hot but she couldn’t. Stop. OVERACTING!, and her characterisation of Rosie Carver just came off as annoying as a result; and Jane Seymour was really a bit too childlike and helpless here in her role as Solitaire to truly stir the loins. Her seduction by the twice-her-age Bond just made old Rog look f*cking creepy.
Still, I enjoy Live and Let Die as the piece of fluff it undoubtedly is, even if it doesn’t feel especially Bond-like until close to the end when we get to Kananga’s underground shark-tank-heavy lair. Roger Moore’s Bond debut presented fans with a startlingly different take on the role; a self-deprecating take, dryly aware of the absurdity of the world Bond inhabits. But how else are you going to play Britain’s favourite homicidal sex-pest when you simply aren’t sexy enough to convince the audience that you really can f*ck/kill everybody else on the planet, as Mr. Moore’s predecessor undoubtedly was? Rog’s largely mediocre batch of movies would have scuppered the franchise had he tackled that material with the grit of Dalton or the angst of Craig. And whilst eyebrow-waggling bemusement will never be anybody’s preferred primary characteristic in Commander Bond of MI6, Roger Moore did it very well
12. GoldenEye (Campbell, 1995)
GoldenEye was a long time coming for Bond fans but, in the end, it was worth the wait. Sean Bean is a hugely charismatic actor and this was certainly evident in his performance as Alec “006” Trevelyan. Who knows, in another lifetime he may even have made a decent Bond. The movie opens magnificently and, whilst that opening spills into ridiculousness, it does so with a verve that makes it all okay. Pierce Brosnan made his debut as Commander Bond in GoldenEye and was actually not too bad at all, other than that I couldn’t really tear my eyes away from his “Play-Doh Barber Shop” hairstyle. I rather unfairly wanted to immediately dislike him and I just couldn’t. He was good. Judi Dench owned the few scenes she was in as one would expect and Q’s scene was genuinely familiar and funny, massively helping to ground our new Bond in the Bond world. The locations were rather dour by Bond standards – a brief stopover in Monte Carlo notwithstanding – but I liked them anyway; The whole movie had a bit of a Metal Gear Solid look to it. Alas, Miss Moneypenny has been downgraded from the saucy Caroline Bliss to the more ordinary Samantha Bond, although this was not as much of a distraction as Alan f*cking Cumming, who appeared to be performing in a different movie altogether, a farcical comedy called “Look Everyone! It’s Me! Alan F*cking Cumming!” or similar. But even more distracting than any of that was Joe Don Baker. Hang on! Weren’t you the villainous Whitaker only a couple of films ago in The Living Daylights?? I know he’s not the only actor to have been in a couple of roles within the franchise, but such a recognisable guy, in movies so close to one another? That was a mis-step, I feel.
Bond Girls? Well, Izabella Scorupco is undeniably lovely although she continues the unfortunate trend of “Girl-Next-Door”-style Bond Girls. However, all of that cutesy nicety is thankfully swept away by the carnal spectacle of Famke Janssen as the fabulously named Xenia Onatopp. Ms. Janssen is kind-of hard-faced but she’s incredibly sexy, she always seems even sexier when she’s playing a scoundrel, and here in GoldenEye she’s the very embodiment of sex, killing people as she does with them clutched ‘twixt her thighs. What a way to go!
11. The Living Daylights (Glen, 1987)
I know everybody likes to keep track of how many Bonds there have been, but is anyone paying any attention to the Felix Leiters? How many were we on by 1987? Seventeen, was it? Forty-six? A hundred-and-three? And still none of them had bettered Jack Lord. Still, The Living Daylights brought us to James Bond number four, and Timothy Dalton’s very good here in a movie that’s just shy of real greatness. Once again, gadgets were kept on the down-low but when they were utilised they were very good, the main one here of course being the tricked out V8 Vantage Volante, almost as sexy as the DB5 of old and starring this time in the perennial snowbound chase sequence where it also sadly meets its end. But of course it had to die, else we wouldn’t have been treated to Bond and Kara tobogganing down a mountain together in a cello case. I mean, who hasn’t tobogganed down a mountain in a cello case? There’s still a lot of improvement to be made on the Bond Girl front, though. Maryam d’Abo is lovely, but the character of Kara Milovy wasn’t a “sexy” Bond Girl, was she? This was a much more doe-eyed, Cupid’s Arrow type of a deal. Indeed, much of the middle of the film was a sort of Road Movie/Romance hybrid. I liked the henchman a lot though, and “Necros” is a top “henchman” name. And I liked Caroline Bliss as the new Moneypenny a LOT. Maybe they’ve sexed her up a bit TOO much, though; back when she resembled Christine Hamilton one could understand why Bond limited their interplay to the odd dirty limerick. Here though, I wondered why he didn’t just throw her atop a lab table, stuff his plums in her mouth and tell Q and his poindexters to do one for ten minutes while she hums the theme tune to Z-Cars. I couldn’t buy into Saunders however, chiefly because he was also Heimi Henderson the off-licence owner in The Comic Strip Presents… Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door. Hm, I wonder if The Living Daylights‘ screenwriters nicked the exploding milk bottle gag from the exploding tonic water gag in Mr. Jolly?
Anyway, I liked it. And I really liked Tim Dalton. I bought into him as James Bond from the off and I didn’t find my mind wandering back to other previous Bonds for comparison, either. The Mujahideen bit all seems a bit odd here in 2015 but what can you do? That was the world then and this is the world now. And the theme tune from A-ha is dated now but in the good way, like a Rubik cube. “The living’s in the waay, weeeeee, diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieee!” Nope, didn’t make a lick of sense, that. Still, good stuff.
10. For Your Eyes Only (Glen, 1981)
Now, I don’t know how necessary the sequence with “Bald Villain in Wheelchair” was; I suppose they decided that they’d have to have some sort of closure with a villain of Blofeld’s calibre and, since they no longer (at that point) had the rights to use the name, they’d have to make it a quickie. Still, once that was out of the way what we had he was a story utterly befitting the means of a superspy; almost a From Russia With Love vibe going on, in a way; something at stake here – the ATAC – to which someone like Bond would be assigned. There were plenty of enjoyable action set-pieces to be found here, not least of which was the 2CV car chase down a mountain road with cars finding themselves upside-down, spinning around, moving backwards at speed and winding up stuck in the trees (I wasn’t sorry to see the back of the white Lotus Esprit, and I think I liked the red Esprit Turbo better). They likes their ski sequences in the Bond films though, don’t they? The one on offer here is an absolute belter however, with Bond on skis being chased by nutters on bikes down an entire Winter Olympic location including ski jump and bobsled run. All very silly once again, but “fun” silly this time. Locations were all beautiful as ever, Topol is always incredibly likeable IMO and that’s no different here, and although Bond wins out in every eventuality (of course; they are Bond films, ffs), it doesn’t feel quite like the foregone conclusion it really is. The Bond girls in For Your Eyes Only were undeniably very attractive without necessarily raising carnal temperatures, with Carol Bouquet’s “Melina” up at the classier end of the spectrum and Lynne Holly-Johnson’s “Bibi Dahl” down at the “wide-eyed naïf” end. Quite why a twenty-three year old girl would be interested in a sucked humbug like Roger Moore, God alone knows. But at least old Rog had the good grace to look suitably embarrassed by the attention. I had to laugh though watching him say to that pretend countess, “I’m a writer researching… um, smugglers. You don’t happen to know any, do you?” Straight out of the Homer Simpson book of subtle subterfuge, that one.
It didn’t look promising with the Blofeld intro and the insipid theme tune with Sheena Easton actually on the screen wailing away (the synth score went a bit hysterical from time to time, too), but it was indeed a minor classic, and maybe not such a minor one at that.
9. From Russia With Love (Young, 1963)
“That’s right, Bond. I’m not Nash. I’m Robert Shaw from off of Jaws, codename: Badly Bleachblonde. And we were only keeping you alive long enough for you to deliver us the Lektor encryption device. And now that you have, you’re expendable. And now that you’re expendable, and I have you unarmed and on your knees, with a silenced pistol aimed point-blank at your massive eyebrows, I’m going to tell you everything. You heard me Bond, everything. I don’t work for SMERSH. I work for SPECTRE. That girl in there? She thinks she’s bending you over for the Soviets, but we’re bending her over just as she’s bending you over. Double bond, Bend – I mean, double bend, Bond. Yes. You see, her boss also works for SPECTRE. How did SMERSH ever think they’d keep hold of their soldiers with a sh*tty acronym like that? See here Bond – an incriminating roll of film of you donkey-punching that silly bitch in there. And here, a threatening blackmail letter from her to you. And – hang on, I’m not done yet – I’ve jotted down the address of SPECTRE’s head office in Hemel Hempstead, with an accompanying hastily-sketched map of how to reach it by bus, train and pedestrian footpath. I’ve written it all on the back of a Polaroid of the SPECTRE front gate. Look, there’s our leader, known only as “Number One” – although his name’s Ernst Blofeld, he runs Abra-Kebabra on Dagenham Heathway – standing outside, waving. And now, Bond, I’m just going to open this obviously booby-trapped British Intelligence briefcase…”
From Russia With Love, the second James Bond movie, is a superior film to its predecessor, although I still prefer the more raw and less fully-formed charms of Dr. No. Or maybe I prefer the colourful shirts and Mango songs of the first film over tense steam train journeys across the Balkans. Things are taking shape though now. The concept of the Bond Girl was of course already up and running (and I’m afraid Tatiana Romanova doesn’t come anywhere close to Honey Ryder), but From Russia With Love introduces us to Q and his gadgets, although that briefcase was more like a pre-schooler’s impression of what a spy’s briefcase should be. “An ordinary briefcase, Bond, but inside – and here’s the clever part – there’s a f*cking big sniper rifle. Ingenious, hmm?” And the plot itself, whilst still not needlessly convoluted by any stretch, was pretty silly, in the good “Bond” sense of course. Connery though is better here than he was in the first movie, and he was pretty bloody good then. The quips and one-liners come thick and fast here yet we still buy into Bond as a dangerous, double-hard bastard. Silly catchphrases and funny lines are of course a staple of the action hero pic but it’s actually pretty difficult to ride that line without it coming across as… well, sh*t, but Connery could really do it.
Our rundown concludes with part 3 HERE. Spectre is out on DVD/Blu-Ray 22/2/2016.
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