By Last Caress.
Concluding our rundown of all of the James Bond films, ranked in order from worst to first (Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE):
8. Skyfall (Mendes, 2012)
Poor 007. Shot off of a moving train, hitting the Vodka Martinis a little too hard during his extended convalescence, and when he finally gets back to work following an explosion at MI6, M has to fudge his aptitude results just to get him back in the saddle because he couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo, he’s developed a range of “issues” and, worst of all – as it always is – he’s gone and gotten old, dagnammit.
So, why’s he back to work at all? He’d been presumed dead, nobody was looking for him, he could enjoy his retirement by the beach, shacked up with some sort, half-cut and performing alcohol-based party tricks with scorpions for shits and giggles. Have that, you wanky arachnids! Well, he has to get home to trap a far larger creepy-crawly under glass: Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent out for revenge against M for hanging him out to dry years earlier for “the greater good” and all that. He survived eating a cyanide capsule – although he now needs some pretty nifty cosmetic dentistry to hold his face up and stop him resembling a dish cloth hung on a hatstand – and he wants M to suffer for it. Not that she isn’t suffering already: Like Bond, she’s considered past it, a relic. The debacle of a stolen hard drive full of the identities of all of Britain’s spies in operation (culminating in the aforementioned shooting of Bond off a moving train, accidentally, by Miss Moneypen.. um, by “Eve”. Ahem) has given M’s critics the ammo they need to bundle her into a metaphorical trebuchet and fling her, screaming, into retirement. She needs Bond to get his funky sh*t together and waste that manic Hispanic before he can Bench the Dench. Sounds easy? Funnily enough, it is. Hmm. A little too easy…
Third Daniel Craig Bond and third terrific movie, although despite the retention of the globetrotting locations and the in-camera stunts, and despite the return to the Bondiverse of Miss Moneypenny and the DB5, the dilution of the character of James Bond continues unabated. The sense of humour often displayed by Bond specifically and throughout the films in general is almost entirely absent here, and James himself is… well, he’s a mortal. One of Bond’s many trademarks was always his uncanny ability to be better than everybody else at everything else. Whether he took the form of a 32 year-old Sean Connery or a 106 year-old Roger Moore, James Bond 007 could unload his PPK into your ballbags whilst unloading his ballbags into your missus – and still not spill his shaken-not-stirred – faster than you can say “Now pay attention, Bond!” Not so, here. Craig’s Bond is looking his age, looking worn down, worn out. In Skyfall, he’s the ageing gunfighter, gunshy and grizzled, having his hand forced by a vengeful antagonist in order to save his family (M, the closest thing to family Bond has). Incredibly, it’s no longer a given that James Bond is going to survive.
Oh, and we welcomed a new (though far from improved) Q in Skyfall although, promisingly, he shares my general disregard for the sillier gadgets Bond had to negotiate down the years (“What were you expecting, Bond? An exploding pen? We don’t go in for all that anymore.”).
7. Quantum of Solace (Forster, 2008)
What is that tuneless gibbering debacle masquerading as a Bond theme by the usually reliable Jack White and Alicia Keys? Why must this movie be the first Bond film that doesn’t work as a standalone picture? Did I read somewhere that, because of the writer’s strike, parts of the script were cobbled together on the fly by director Marc Forster and Daniel bloody Craig (obviously I did read that, about ten minutes ago)? And what in sh*tting bumwrong is a “quantum of solace”, anyways?? James Bond’s 22nd movie outing happily racks up a list of issues before it’s even started. Well, amongst these faults we can also add “bad aim” because, despite its best efforts to shoot itself in the foot, Quantum of Solace is a fantastic picture. No, really.
Kicking off without a traditional “Gun Barrel Sequence” and straight where we left off at the end of Casino Royale, Double-Oh-Seven has Mr. White (sadly neither the Harvey Keitel OR Bryan Cranston versions, alas) in the trunk of his car and is taking him for a good old torture-up but as soon as Jim and M get to the “‘Quantum’? What are you chatting about, you divnut?” question already rending the cinema audiences asunder – oh noes! Some previously extraneous extra in the corner of the room turns out to be a fellow scallywag and BLAM! Bond’s off on what is already his second chase of the movie, and it’s only been on five bloody minutes!
And so it goes, with James following a trail that takes him around the world as usual, but this time commander Bond – is he still a commander, in this rebooted universe? – seems ready and willing to pop a cap into the ass of anybody who even looks at him sideways. “Can you try not to kill every lead we find, Bond?” implores M. “No. Up yours, Judi Dench!” implies Bond right back with that trademark Danny Craig smirk/scowl on his inscrutable granite-face, I’m going to assume. “Kill ’em all, and let God sort ’em out.” Probably. And kill’ em all is exactly what he does for the next ninety minutes or so as he edges towards QoS‘s big bad, Dominic Greene, all smarm, slime and psychosis, orchestrating a coup in Bolivia so’s he can seize control of almost all of the water in the country in order to extort the new regime and make a tidy packet for Greene and his associates in the shady and mysterious “Quantum” group. The actor who played Greene, the brilliant Mathieu Amalric, stated that he was aiming for a Nicolas Sarkozy/Tony Blair hybrid and you can certainly see it.
6. Licence to Kill (Glen, 1989)
The Secret Diary Of Benicio del Toro, Clearly Aged 13¾
Friday – My ballbags have just dropped. Aye Caramba! I’d better quit my boy band – The Funky Contras – and become a henchman to a suitably pock-marked Bond Villain.
Saturday – My new boss has just been nabbed by the Rozzers, including one who was getting married at the same time. Alicante! I’d better get stuck in by ensuring that the bride gets a “nice honeymoooooooon.” Muy es Bueno!
Sunday – Fed the sharks at Krest’s place. Shat myself when it jumped up at me. Fortunately: One Sheet does plenty! Stayed in that evening though, to finish my Geography coursework. ¡Ole!
Monday – Chiquitita! Just got a sweet gold tooth cap, free in this week’s issue of Whizzer & Chipotle. I’m going to wear it tomorrow night, see if I can get in a grown-up bar, dazzle some senoritas, eh? Lucha Libre!
Tuesday – Went to a sweet marine bar. Wore my tooth cap. The barman totally bought that I was 18! Muchos gracias, Whizzer & Chipotle! Started to pull this sweet Yank sort but in comes this widemouth Taff bastardos with the cock-block! Torremolinos! I heard her tell him I was in the Contras. I hope for the sake of my still-burgeoning machismo that he assumes she meant the Nicaraguan rebels, and not the boy band I walked out on earlier this week. Enrique Iglesias!
Wednesday – I’ve come with the boss to his meditation retreat. It’s a bueno looking place amigos, and I thought we were getting sweet massages, but – Una Paloma Blanca! – the whole place is a bastardos-strength cocaine lab! And… hey, I recognize that new guy my boss took on the other day… it’s that no good somonabitch Taffy cock-block! Old El Paso! I’m going to throw him in the coke-brick smasher, I assume I’ll be completely safe in a situation like that…
Yes, I liked this one a lot. Nearly fell off my chair to see a Leiter I’d seen before already. Immediately took to Bond in this location, though. Despite being 500 miles away and the wrong side of Cuba, I think the Florida Keys feels close enough to placing our James back Underneath the Mango Tree from whence he sprang, and I think he suits the West Indies. Or they suit him. The plot was a strange one: It felt at first as though it was going to be a very un-Bond-like story of straight-up revenge, and I suppose ultimately that’s what it was, but it seems as though Bond fortuitously stumbled upon some very typically Bond style shenanigans along the way. Who knew that the guy Leiter was after all these years would also have a big underground drug factory fronted up by Wayne bloody Newton of all people? Of course, Breaking Bad taught me that all big-time drug barons like a bit of underground factory action so, maybe it’s not so far fetched after all. Quite bloody here and there for a Bond film though; Poor old Krest getting the Scanners treatment in that pressurised diving chamber was a bit strong, wasn’t it?
I loved Robert Davi as Big-Bad-of-the-Week Franz Sanchez. He’s got such a great face. A bad guy face, you know? And despite taking the p*ss there, I thought young Benicio was really good too. He looked very young, yes, but the charisma and the personality was all there, even then. Tim: “Take your hands off her!” Benicio (grinning): “Nobody asked you, gringo…” Fantastic. Bond girls Talisa Soto (Lupe) and Carey Lowell (Pam) were of the Maryam d’Abo very-pretty-but-not-especially-sexy variety, but: What sort of a Bond Girl name is “Pam”? What happened to the good old days of “Jalapeno Clitsmack” or similar?
Still, Licence to Kill was a good ‘un and it was a shame to be saying hwyl fawr and iechyd da to Mr. Dalton so soon.
What is a licence to kill, anyways? Can Bond just arbitrarily shoot anyone, perfectly legally? Like, if Amazon say they’ll be at his gaff by lunchtime and then they don’t show up with his King of the Hill DVD until f*cking nine o’clock that evening, can he pop a cap straight in the surly courier’s nostril on his own front doorstep? If so, how can I go about getting me one of those licences?
5. Casino Royale (Campbell, 2006)
Despite having the budget and frippery of a typical 21st century blockbuster, Casino Royale keeps pretty much all of the stakes fairly small, by Bond standards, doubtless due to this being a reboot and subsequently a reintroduction to the character of Jimmy B and his universe. Well, all of the stakes are kept fairly small apart from, um, the stakes. I’ve seen scores of otherwise action-packed spag westerns screech to a halt for a poker scene so my heart sank when I saw that the centrepiece of this pic was going to be a mega session of Texas Hold ‘Em. But director Martin Campbell – who also helmed Pierce Brosnan’s 007 debut GoldenEye eleven years previously – keeps the poker action interesting, clear and tense, albeit largely via the simple trick of having Pazzi from Hannibal (Scott, 2001) provide Eva Green with card-by-card commentary. Plus of course the poker itself was interspersed with some terrific action set-pieces, in-keeping with the rest of the movie. I mean, there would be plenty of terrific action set-pieces, wouldn’t there? It’s Bond. But Casino Royale really hits the target in that regard, whether it’s a fight in a stairwell or a Venetian building collapsing into the Grand Canal. And how good was that free-running chase? I was so inspired I tried to free-run up the stairs for a poo earlier today but I just stubbed my toe and almost shat myself, alas.
So, how was Daniel Craig in his 007 debut? Well, I liked him but I don’t know if I found him to be especially “Bond”, although I appreciate that that was largely the intention; to present us with a quite different Bond to any we’d seen. He’s got that immovable granite face, and he always appears to be either smirking slightly or scowling slightly. Either way, if I was on set with Mr. Craig I’d have to resist the urge to push a knitting needle into his head, see how far I could push it before it hit skull. Mads Mikkelsen was a memorable villain but he’s just got a “villain” face, hasn’t he? Giancarlo Giannini was also a great addition in a supporting role. Judi Dench was excellent once again – as one would expect – as the only returning cast member, but this casting choice was a queer one, what with Casino Royale being a reboot rather than a continuation of the previous Bond timeline. I guess Dame Judi has simply now played two “M”s, rather than one continuous one. The reboot nature of the pic meant that, for once, there was a justification for bringing us yet another Leiter and Jeffrey Wright does well with the role in a short space of time. Still can’t top Jack Lord, though. Shame there was no Q of any kind this time, although I prefer Bond with less gadgets anyway. Chris Cornell’s theme is a grower, too.
4. Goldfinger (Hamilton, 1964)
The third movie in the franchise, and we’re really into some James Bond territory now. A tricked out Aston Martin DB5 (and you needn’t be a Bond fan to adore that car), revolving pool tables/control panels, lazer beams into the jaffas – yes, it’s all gone rather mental. The plots were starting to get a bit overengineered now, but Goldfinger was still a lot of fun. I would imagine that Auric Goldfinger’s weird obsession with gold could easily be viewed as bloody daft really, but as someone who has watched over 150 spaghetti westerns, an antagonist’s almost carnal lust for gold feels positively commonplace (and of course, Goldfinger pre-dates many of those spags). Anyway, I really enjoyed Goldfinger whilst not particularly taking to Auric himself (or Oddjob for that matter. That hat thing is silly. Not “good” silly, just silly). Also, Pussy Galore is a magnificent name, but Honor Blackman just simply isn’t all that. The Masterson sisters were better-looking but all too brief. A very sumptuous, attractive movie though. The sets were all almost as sexy as that car.
3. Thunderball (Young, 1965)
Bond: Oh, hello!
Patricia: Haven’t you had enough exercise for one evening??
Bond: Ah, it’s funny you should say that…
For me, Thunderball almost tops Dr. No as the best of the Connery era, even though it is by far the most over the top and convoluted, traits in the franchise I grew to increasingly dislike when handled by inferior craftsmen than star Sean Connery and director Terence Young, back for his third of the first four Bond movies (and his last). Almost as lavish as the previous three movies put together with ever-increasing gadgetry and a star who, incredibly, still seems to be getting better in the role, although James does appear to be moving slowly from “cheeky sex-addicted chappie” to “Actual sex-pest: Keep well clear”. Largo is a better villain than Goldfinger even though I couldn’t shift the thought of Robert Wagner’s turn as Number Two in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, which is desperately unfair since Wagner’s character is nought but a direct parody of Adolfo Celi’s Largo. Also, The Bond Girl concept hits a big spike (Best Rik Mayall impression: Yes, in my TROUSERS!) with virtually every girl in Thunderball being a looker, particularly Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona, Molly Peters as Patricia (both almost as good as Honey Ryder) and Claudine Auger as Domino (as good, if not even better than Honey Ryder, if that’s possible). And the early scene in the health spa with Bond strapped to some Godawful stretching device was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment.
2. Dr. No (Young, 1962)
“Bond, stop tonguing Moneypenny’s earhole and find out what’s happened to our man in Kingston… oh, he was close to rumbling a no-handed megalomaniac in a relatively poorly-defended island fortress, trying to topple over space rockets for shits & giggles (and some outfit he mentions in passing called SPECTRE or somesuch. Doubt we’ll ever be hearing from those again). Aaand… you’ve blown him up. Bravo Bond, take a short break to f*ck Ursula Andress in her boat (that’s the literal AND Cockney rhyming slang versions). Twice.”
Ground Zero for the James Bond movie legacy, and it’s a belter. I love that sumptuous sixties Technicolor quality, Sean Connery is affable and even vulnerable as well as being suitably quick witted, eager to kill and riddled with sex addiction issues, and the plot isn’t littered with unnecessary over-complication. Are they all this fundamentally simple at their core, beneath their shaken-not-stirred-now-pay-attention-Bond frippery? Of course not, and maybe a few of them should’ve paid attention to what brought Bond such acclaim in the first place.
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Hunt, 1969)
For this reviewer, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service unquestionably represents the high water mark for the James Bond Franchise. The best of the bunch. The gadgets and silliness are pared right back, revealing a terrific story underneath. Somewhat controversially I suppose, I thought George Lazenby was really rather good. He’s not as good as Sean Connery but I think it’s possible to miss Connery’s performance whilst still extolling the virtues of Mr. Lazenby. I loved the “This never happened to the other fellow” acknowledgement; I think it was smart that they got that out of the way up front. The story held me from start to finish, there were a bevvy of beauties (Angela Scoular, the actress who played Ruby – the curly-haired chicken-fearing one of Blofeld’s “Angels of Death” – was at one time married to Leslie Phillips. She sadly took her own life aged 65 by drinking bleach), Lazenby’s Bond was a tough f*cker who looked good in the fight scenes but was also vulnerable and even scared at times, Telly Savalas was a better Blofeld than Donald Pleasance* (though that may be because Pleasance’s version has been so parodied over the years) and WAY better than Charles Gray or Christoph Waltz, Diana Rigg was gorgeous, hitting #1 in the Bond Girl charts with a bullet (literally), and the entire thing came packaged with the best Bond title track of all from John Barry, as well as Louis Armstrong’s fantastic We Have All the Time in the World. In fact, the whole picture is so good that just writing about it makes me want to go watch it again. And maybe I will!
*Savalas was preferable to Pleasance for me but, despite Blofeld’s considerable evil means in OHMSS, I felt kind-of sorry for him; his Alpine hypno-spa still seemed like a hell of a climbdown from his volcano rocket base. Poor Blofeld.
Spectre is out on DVD/Blu-ray today, 22/2/2016.
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