Words: J. Wood
Daniel Craig is advertising vodka, Naomie Harris is advertising mobile phones, and Sam Mendes is set to appear as special guest on a live episode of Kermode and Mayo while TV Talk shows at the minute are full of Craig, Harris, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz and Ben Whishaw. All this can only mean one thing, Spectre, the 24th James Bond film is finally upon us. Bond is one of those rare cinematic specimens that have somehow transcend to become a cultural phenomenon and, 53 years after the release of Dr No, the franchise seems as popular and in good health as ever. I myself am brimming with excitement at the prospect of Spectre’s release, hoping they capitalise on the great success of Skyfall rather than make the same mistakes made on Quantum Of Solace. Until then, I decided to have a look back at my favourite James Bond films, and share my thoughts with you.
7: You Only Live Twice
You Only Live Twice brought about some of the tropes of Bond that have made their way into popular culture so permanently. Of course anyone who has seen the Austin Powers movies will see much of what Mike Myers was riffing off within this film, and to label it a cultural yardstick would in my opinion be very accurate. It is as well a very good movie, and yet the first of the series that truly stepped well away from the vaguely plausible and into the absurd fun we now take 007 for. From the spaceship that eats other spaceships, to the volcano based lair, this film really does megalomania very well, rolling out the concept of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. from Thunderball. As Blofeld, one of cinema’s most iconic villains gets his most iconic rendering thus far, here by Donald Pleasance, and while the Bond girl is somewhat lacking, the setting of Japan is wonderful, whilst John Barry’s score still remains a highlight of the entire series.
6: Live And Let Die
When I proposed this article to my editor, his only condition was that I consider Live And Let Die for inclusion, which only proved what a man of excellent taste he is. Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond is impressive, with Moore easing into the role and setting out his own particular take, which in the early movies was actually darker than I remember. Live And Let Die somewhat hints at a trend that the Moore-era occasionally came back to, in mirroring current cinematic trends, in this case Blaxploitation (see also Moonraker). The film has a refreshingly small scale plot, focussing on a Caribbean dictator trying to flood the heroin market in the USA, but it is within the bizarre, voodoo influenced atmosphere in which the film thrives. Some of the action sequences are long and laboured, but all in all a very enjoyable film.
For many the quintessential Bond film, for me a dated work that still stands up thanks to being just about grounded enough. Boasting one of the very best villains the series has to offer in Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger, and his henchman Oddjob, the series’ very best, Goldfinger is a film surprisingly light on action when looking back. Tilly Masterson’s vengeful fury over her sister’s iconic death (by gold paint) is very dark for the early era of the franchise and, while I myself do not hold Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore in as high an esteem as many do, she is still an engaging character nonetheless. While I may have referred to You Only Live Twice as a trendsetter in Bond, Goldfinger, from the somewhat megalomaniacal plan to irradiate America’s gold reserves, Oddjob’s little iconic quirk (razor top hat), double-entendre Bond Girl name and the laser beam scene are what truly embedded this franchise deep into the public consciousness. For me the heart of this movie however is the golf game, a highly cinematic sequence despite how it sounds, with the chess like battle of wits between Bond and Goldfinger the real stand-out moment in this film.
Sam Mendes triumphantly reignited the franchise just in time for its 50th birthday with this fantastic film that marries everything long-time fans love about Bond with the new world order of action cinema brought about by Paul Greengrass and Jason Bourne. Eschewing the traditional formula for something much more personal, and at the same time making full use of Judi Dench as M, Skyfall never lets up for air. Daniel Craig cements himself as a genuinely great James Bond with a tortured performance here, as a jaded Bond at odds with his mission while somewhat struggling to reconcile with the actions of his superiors. Javier Bardem unsurprisingly gives a brilliant performance as Silva, perfectly treading the fine line between dangerous and ridiculous, with his motivations refreshingly different from world domination, merely revenge. Up until this point in Craig’s tenure he had been without some of the mainstays of the Bond canon, yet the seamless inclusion of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris bodes well for the future of the franchise. While the ending may have divided some, it was for me a fantastic way to resolve this story.
3: The Spy Who Loved Me
A surprisingly tender inclusion into the Bond canon, this is a film that is much greater than the basic outline of its plot. Stromberg may not go down in the annals of Bond history as a top tier villain, nor will his plot to enact nuclear annihilation on Earth and make a new society under the sea, but he is enough of a presence and his base truly is iconic within Bond. What sets The Spy Who Loved Me aside from many of the Bond films of its era is the way in which it treats its Bond girl Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach). She is almost co-lead in this picture and is a convincing spy, who is able to look after herself without Bond having to save her every two minutes, while at the same time there is the threat she poses to Bond given that he killed her former lover. She and Moore have excellent chemistry, with Moore giving for me his finest performance as Bond, mixing the suaveness with the danger just enough, prior to turning the role into a caricature in future films. This film also saw the first appearance of Jaws, and was the film that turned him into an iconic henchman, before Moonraker made him a laughing stock. Rewatching the fight scenes in and around the pyramids early on in the film, I was astonished quite how brilliant and cinematic they were, and must have been some inspiration for the Shanghai scene in Skyfall.
2: Casino Royale
If anyone should want to know how to reinvigorate a struggling franchise they have only to watch this. Essentially a reboot, from the stark black and white opening that sees Craig’s Bond getting his Licence to Kill, the film sets Bond out for the 21st Century brilliantly. I read an article about Casino Royale on a site called Den Of Geek by a writer called Max Williams who theorised that this is three small films making one overarching narrative, which I wholly subscribe to. The film is packed full of memorable sequences, from the laws of physics defying parkour sequence, the plane chase at Miami airport, to the most excruciating torture moments seen in Bond history. What made this film succeed more than anything for me was the way that they made the poker aspect of the film so enjoyable. Essentially 40 minutes of people sat around a table playing cards, Mads Mikkelsen’s chillingly brilliant performance as a villain who oozes danger despite being shown as weak throughout makes these sequences work so well, the tension between he and Craig feels like it’s from a wholly different type of movie. Likewise Eva Green’s turn as Vesper Lynd defies what we have come to expect from Bond, embracing the sexiness and sultriness, while at the same time displaying a hitherto unseen fragility. Hers and Bond’s love seems genuine. Is the end a mess? Not at all, it’s just so clever that it is unexpected from Bond, and takes two or three viewings to fully appreciate.
1: The Living Daylights
In spite of Daniel Craig’s finest efforts Timothy Dalton is still the finest Bond in my eyes, being the one who perfectly marries up the suaveness and charm with the tortured soul and threat of the character. This first outing was doubtless his best, set in a time where Bond as a franchise was beginning to show its uneasiness about its place in the world as the Cold War began to thaw. This is a film that deals almost entirely in defections, double agents and uneasy alliances. That a film can overcome the dual weaknesses of Jerome Krabbe and Joe Don Baker as villains says plenty for its strengths, as it globetrots its way from Gibraltar, in a fantastic pre-credits sequence, all the way to Vienna and Afghanistan, by way of Tangiers. I would call this the last good ‘traditional’ Bond film, prior to the harshness of Licence To Kill and the franchise stumbling throughout the 1990s in a Brosnan induced stupor. This is Bond at its most confident, willing to have a henchman dress as a milkman to cause utter chaos, depict sexual harassment in the workplace, and of course see Bond become the only person in history to use a cello as a toboggan. I love the film because it has such confidence, because it is so well made, and because it is willing to embrace its ridiculousness yet somehow not be defined by it.