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The Wonderful World Of James Bond: From Best To Worst
23: A View To A Kill(1985): Here’s a tip. Buy the soundtrack. It’s the only saving grace for the film. John Barry’s score is wonderful and Duran Duran’s title track is one of the better songs of the eighties. The remainder of the film is a tired and sluggish affair. Roger Moore looks far too old to play James Bond ( to his credit, he has subsequently admitted he should not have made the film because of his age), Moore’s intimate scenes with Grace Jones and Tanya Roberts are creepy at best and the action scenes, once inspiring and complex, now look dated. There’s no evidence of Christopher Walken’s Oscar Winning brilliance here; much like everything else in the film, Walken’s Max Zorin seems worn out and passé.
22: The World Is Not Enough(1999): Bond films have been many things throughout the years. Extravangant (Thunderball), far-fetched (Moonraker), underwritten (Octopussy), convoluted (Quantum of Solace), sadistically violent (Licence To Kill) or in the case of Tomorrow Never Dies, all of the above. One thing Bond films should never be is boring, but that sadly is the case with TWINE. It’s a sluggish film featuring questionable special effects, needlessly long action scenes and non existent chemistry between Pierce Brosnan and Sophie Marceau. Robert Carlyle is given little to do, while the inclusion of Denise Richards is one of the series more laughable castings. Brosnan himself is awful. He looks as tired here in only his third Bond film as Sean Connery did in his sixth.
21: Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Sean Connery returned to the role for a hefty pay-cheque and his clear ambivalence with the project shows. The first major disappointment in the series, ‘DAF’ understandably moved away from the darkness of ‘OHMSS’ to provide something lighter. Where screenwriters Tom Mancheiwizc and Richard Maibaum went astray was confusing fun with funny and intelligent with moronic. ‘DAF’ feels more of a pastiche of a Bond film than a Bond film. Charles Gray is horribly ineffective as Blofeld, while wooden is simply not strong enough to describe Jill St. John’s acting abilities. Yes, Shirley Bassey’s theme song is a knockout, and Lana Wood enjoys her cameo as Plenty O’ Toole. But the rest is lame, more akin to ‘Carry On’ than espionage.
20: Die Another Day(2002): You’ve got to feel sorry for Pierce Brosnan. He should not have ended his Bond career on this turkey. In the decade since its release, DAD has aged horribly. Halle Berry stinks as CIA agent Jinx, the kite surfing sequence is visual urinitation, while the plot is arguably the most preposterous of the series. Invisible cars and hammy dialogue do not a classic spy thriller make. On the plus side, Brosnan does give it his all and Toby Stephens makes for a formidable villain. However, Rosamaund Pike’s Miranda Frost looks young enough to be the middle aged Brosnan’s daughter, making their love scenes that bit more uncomfortable to watch. The filmmakers never learn, do they?
19: Octopussy(1983): 1983 was a pathetic year for James Bond. Despite the promise of the two classic Bond’s starring in films, the end results were two sluggish movies, neither coming close to proving either actor’s true potential. One of the more convoluted tales, ‘Octopussy’ rejects coherency for ballsy action, a trait that would kill the Pierce Brosnan films. Maud Adams’s performance as the eponymous temptress has its moments, but ultimately falls flat. Ever Steven Berkoff’s over the top diacritics could not save this train wreck. Watching the film thirty years on, it looks racist, misogynistic and stolid. The locations of India are well filmed, and the experience would inspire Roger Moore to join Unicef and gallantly embark on his commendable work. So at least that’s something!
18: Moonraker(1979): Spy thrillers and outer space do not not not mix. Got that? Good. ‘Moonraker’ is easily the campest Bond film of the lot, its ending an embarrassing example at how pathetic the Bond series had become by the end of the seventies. Size isn’t everything, you know?
17: Thunderball (1965): After a solid trio of films, ‘Thunderball’ proved itself as an indulgent exercise. The film turns completely ridiculous, solidifying the growing comic book fantasy elements to the point of overdrive. The underwater scenes (which account for nearly a quarter of the film) prove overlong and tedious and the gadgets, which until now accompanied the films, take centre place. Thunderball would ultimately set the precedence for over the top Bond films. All in all, it’s a film made for money (which it did, it still remains the most successful film adjusting for inflation), not for pleasure. Still, Rik Van Nutter’s turn as Felix Leiter is the strongest Leiter to date, and Luciana Paluzzi’s Fiona Volpe has constantly been imitated as a villainess, but never equalled.
16:Quantum of Solace (2008): Following Casino Royale’s undeniable brilliance, QOS was undoubtedly something of a let-down. Too complicated, too gritty, too much shaky cam, the critics said. These criticisms all breath a certain amount of truth. Hampered by the 2008 Writer’s Strike, the film certainly feels incomplete, and in the hands of Marc Forster, who joins Lee Tamahori and Michael Apted as directors who could not understand the material within their grasp, is guilty of turning this film into an Freudian psychosis rather than a thriller. Still, Daniel Craig is excellent, there is a genuine sex appeal not seen since the sixties and some of the action sequences (such as the aeroplane chase and the motorcycle sequence) are absolutely stunning, though the questionable use of forensic editing makes other scenes unwatchable. It is a reasonably good film, but nowhere near the film it could have been.
15: The Man With The Golden Gun (1974): Much like ‘QOS’, this is one of the greater missed opportunities in the series. The world’s greatest secret agent versus the world’s greatest assassin? A wonderful concept, although the end result is a patchy affair. The over reliance on comedy and the unwelcome return of Sheriff Pepper do little to serve the film. But it does feature a wonderful interplay between Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga and Roger Moore. Despite the undeniable sex appeal of Britt Ekland and Maud Adams as the films bombshells, its the chemistry between the two male leads that is the more exotic and enthralling, an interplay repeated in ‘Licence To Kill’ and ‘Skyfall’, but rarely in between.
14: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): It was pretty clear from ‘TND’ onwards that Pierce Brosnan was no longer starring in Bond movies, but generic B-action movies. The finale itself, where Bond and Chinese secret agent Wai-Lin mercilessly gun down a ship of men, feels more at home in a ‘Rambo’ movie than a Bond movie. Jonathan Pryce wastes himself as Elliot Carver, the media mogul with a taste for genocide. Teri Hatcher is horribly underwritten as Paris Carver and her apparent love for Bond is nowhere to be seen. Director Roger Spottiswood (like Michael Apted, Lee Tamahori and Marc Forster) clearly has no concept of James Bond, and the result is testosterone fuelled example of sadism. On the plus side, Pierce Brosnan is strong, accounting for a suaveness peculiarly absent from the series since ‘You Only Live Twice’. And Michelle Yeoh really kicks ass as Wai-Lin!
13: You Only Live Twice(1967): It’s a shame Roald Dahl rejected the contents of one of Ian Fleming’s more interesting novels, instead choosing to concoct an over the top fantasy containing rockets, helicopters and volcano based lairs. If ‘Thunderball’ started the comic book trend within the films, ‘YOLT’ pushed the gears up to eleven! But it’s a well shot film, the action scenes are nicely choreographed, the Japanese locations are gorgeous, Ken Adams sets are breathtaking and the film is inherently very sexy. Sean Connery, however, does little to disguise his boredom within the role and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (as played by Donald Pleasance) is so overdrawn he invites parody from every Tom, Dick and Harry. Succulent fluff, but fluff is all it is.
12: Live and Let Die (1973): Yes, the film is indefensibly racist and sexist in places and it is an early example where the Bond producers jumped on any band wagon possible (blaxploitation in this case). But there is no denying this is great ‘Boys Own’ fun. The alligator stunt is cinematic magic, the hang glider stunt (performed by Roger Moore himself) is also fun. And who cannot enjoy machine gun laddened scarecrows?
11: For Your Eyes Only (1981): You know something, Roger Moore was actually quite a good actor when he challenged himself. Here he rejects his erstwhile flippancy for sombreness, the opening shot of Bond visiting his wife’s grave is particularly touching. Starring Cassandra Harris (Pierce Brosnan’s wife), the film brings the series a certain gravitas that its predecessor ‘Moonraker’ completely lacked. An awful eighties soundtrack and menial time length not with-standing, a strong entry to the series.
10: Goldeneye (1995): Following a six year hiatus, James Bond returned to the big screens with a bang. Following an awe inspiring bungee jump for sheer spectacle, the film moves into high octane territory, moving through Monte Carlo, St. Petersburg and Cuba before audiences can utter the film’s title. Sean Bean is excellent as Alec Trevelyan, Bond’s former ally, turned nemesis. Famke Jannsen’s Xenia Onatopp remains the series second strongest femme fatale (narrowly beaten by Fiona Volpe), a vixen of pure evil. Pierce Brosnan, however, is undeniably stiff. He can charm the women and looks nifty with a gun, but ultimately, he seems lost during the film’s more dramatic moments (to be fair, so did Roger Moore and George Lazenby during similar scenes). Despite this, director Martin Campbell keeps the film rolling like a bullet, giving the film a panache conspicuously missing from the series during the nineties. In retrospect, following the intelligence and originality Timothy Dalton brought to the series, it is a shame that the Bond producers chose to return to a more traditional style of Bond film for ‘Goldeneye’. It is, however, a cracking ride none the less, and more than a strong reinvention of the character to a post-Cold War world.
9: Licence To Kill (1989): One of the darkest Bond’s, and arguably the most violent (although Casino Royale would give it a run for its money), LTK is a polarising watch. Eschewing witty one liners and family fun for hard hitting action scenes and a tale of revenge, LTK proved unpopular to American audiences and performed poorly at the box office. Twenty five years on, the film has aged very well, with its attention to realism much more akin to the Daniel Craig films than either the Roger Moore films or Pierce Brosnan’s. Timothy Dalton is excellent as a menacing killer on the pursuit of revenge, giving what is one of the finer performances of any Bond film. The action sequences are some of the best in the series; the oil tank chase sequence is particularly impressive. Robert Davi and Benico Del Toro are very well cast as the film’s villains. True, neither of the Bond girls are particularly well developed and the film’s budgetary cuts are audible throughout. But the film, if imperfect, certainly has dated well and it was a step in the right direction continued for the excellent Casino Royale.
8: Skyfall (2012): For a film lauded as the greatest film in the series, there are some substantial drawbacks to it. Javier Bardem’s Silvia plays it too over the top, while co-star Judi Dench’s M comes across somewhat gratingly in the process. The plot features a number of plot holes (what happened to the file with the secret agents?), while many of the one liners come across as stilted and scripted (Daniel Craig’s exclamation of “I fell in deep water” and “it’s the circle of life” lack the joie de vivre of Sean Connery and Roger Moore). But the cinematography is wonderful, arguably the finest to date, and the supporting cast of Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw are a welcome inclusion into the Bond canon. The opening pre credit sequence is very well choreographed and the British locations used are a welcome change to the series. As a fiftieth anniversary celebration, the film particularly pays tribute to the films of Connery, Lazenby and Moore, while the film’s epilogue is likely to leave an idiot smile on any Bond fan’s face.
7: Dr. No (1962): The face that launched a thousand ships? The first film in the series, it’s also the cheapest looking and the most dated. But it does feature two of the more iconic images in cinema history: Ursula Andress’s sensous rise from the sea and Sean Connery’s immortal introduction. The former set a new standard for screen sirens, the latter provided a template that has frequently been imitated, but never bettered. For the most part, it feels more like a detective film, rather than a conventional action movie. But the film showed the direction for future films, from the visual absurdness of the dragon machine and the Three Blind Mice to the animal ferocity within the various fist fights. It may lack in style, but it sure as hell showed the makings of one of the better action heroes.
6: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Bravo Moore. Just as Sean Connery nailed his suave take in ‘Goldfinger’, Moore’s third film provided the perfect forum for his light-hearted fantasy performance. Opening with the greatest pre-credit sequence of the lot (the parachute still looks incredible thirty-five years later) and ending with a delightfully over the top naval battle, ‘TSWLM’ is blessed with the series best theme song ‘Nobody Does It Better’, the menacing Jaws, a henchman to die for and the wonderful Barbara Bach, who may have been the sexiest woman to co-star in a Bond film. The plot (featuring a megalomaniac who wishes to create global annihilation in order to create a society underwater) is suitably ridiculous and the end result is a fantasy adventure par excellence.
5: The Living Daylights (1987): You know what. Timothy Dalton could very well have been the best James Bond! Certainly, he seems the only character capable of actual espionage. Less of a traditional Bond film and more of a classic Carré spy thriller, ‘TLD’ focuses its attentions on James Bond ascertaining information from cellist Kara Milovy about lover and Soviet defector Georgie Koskov. The scenes filmed in Vienna have a classic feel to them, while the film’s primary fight on the end of a plane still raises hairs on arms. Focusing the film’s attention between Bond and Milovy, the film features a romantic quality to it largely absent from the series. The pre credit sequence, filmed on the Rock of Gibraltar, remains the finest after TSWLM, while Dalton’s performance as the cigarette smoking, introspective agent is the most faithful portrayal of the literary character on screen yet. True, it’s eighties soundtrack and Glasnost politics have aged the film, and there is a reversion to the silliness of Roger Moore in a couple of scenes. But for sheer class, brilliant action sequences and a tangible storyline, it’s hard to beat TLD.
4: Casino Royale (2006): If Die Another Day nearly killed the franchise, Daniel Craig’s debut was exactly the antidote it needed to restore the cinematic brilliance of James Bond. A lean, mean prequel that explored the inner workings of the man like never before, the film succeeded in its tenacity to produce a gadget free thriller filled with twists and turns. The film’s card game shows that tension can be created by the simplest of ploys, while the parcour chase sequence may be the finest choreographed action scene of any Bond film. Classically styled and suitably thrilling, ‘CR’ returns to the animal ferocity of the earlier films. At a time when Jason Bourne and Jack Brauer were the ‘JB’s’ of choice, ‘CR’ showed just how artistically relevant James Bond could be. The best action movie of 2006.
3: Goldfinger (1964): Shirley Bassey’s theme tune. The gold covered Shirley Eaton. The indescribably sexy Pussy Galore. Oddjob’s hat, proving there’s something to fear from a hair covering condiment. The beautifully lit Fort Knox. The gadget laden Aston Martin. Oh, and Sean Connery’s pretty good as 007 (bloody good, in fact)! What a film!
2: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service(1969): Frequently discarded on the basis that it stars one off James Bond George Lazenby, ‘OHMSS’ has a quality to it that no Bond film has matched since. It features the series greatest soundtrack (hats off to John Barry!), more beautiful cinematography (the shots of Piz Gloria are gorgeous) and the finest supporting actress in any film, Diana Rigg. Telly Savalas is the most thorough version of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and such regulars as Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell are never better than here. Even if Lazenby lacked Connery’s sex appeal, at the very least he made up for it with an emotive quality. It’s certainly the most romantic Bond film, accounting for a tale of love and loss.
1: From Russia With Love (1963): The perennial favourite of Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Craig, Terence Young, Michael G. Wilson and Albert R. Broccoli. The film that propagated the action genre. It’s hard to fault the film. Everything from John Barry’s great score to Ted Moore’s vibrant cinematography to Peter Hunt’s frantic editing style are in place. Daniela Bianichi would prove to be the Bond bomb shell of the series, Pedro Armendariz the ally to end all allies, Lotte Lenya the most frightening villainess of the series. Robert Shaw and Sean Connery share one of the most intense scenes in cinema history together, while their fight on the Orient train could forever be rivalled, but never equalled. Terence Young nails everything from the bedroom scenes, to the action pieces, to the venerable swagger. One of the best films of the sixties- if not of all time!
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