A Bumper Post of Bond Reviews

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With Skyfall launching into cinemas today, I thought I’d mark the occasion with a special “one post, 25 reviews” bumper instalment on all cinematic things Bond. One brief paragraph for each, plus the Radio Times Film Guide rating out of five stars as a benchmark and my own counter-bid alongside it. I look forward to hearing which you agree with and which provoke violent dissent in the ranks!

Update: now with a bonus 26th review with a thumbnail take on Spectre – although there’s a proper view of it elsewhere on the site.

Ready? Here goes …

Dr No
RT: *****
Me: 4.5/5
I’m giving this sightly under full marks only because there’s even better to come: Bond’s debut outing had a few rough edges where the lack of available budget shows through, but really this is still a hugely enjoyable and convention-changing film. It’s a little different from what you’ll expect a Bond film to be – more detective mystery than superspy thriller – but that just makes it even more fascinating to watch all over again today.

From Russia With Love
RT: *****
Me: 5/5
Talking of even better to come … This is even more atypical sort of Bond film, not least because Bond is the hunted rather than the the hunter and it all comes down to a case of multiple murder on the Orient Express. A thrilling tale that would work even if it was totally separate from the Bond franchise, thanks to some of the best characters in a 007 film including Rosa Klebb, Kronsteen, Kerim Bey and Red Grant – all vibrant and enthralling personalities.

Goldfinger
RT: *****
Me: 5/5
And finally, here it is: the quintessential Bond film, the ultimate DNA pattern for what is to follow. The template is complete, and the characters here are wonderful – is there a better Bond villain than Gert Fröbe? A more sublime Bond woman than Honor Blackman? A more memorable villainous sidekick than Harold Sakata’s Oddjob? A better Bond gadget than the Aston Martin? Or a more iconic moment than the dead golden girl in the hotel room? If you don’t give this full marks, then you can’t give them to any Bond film.

Thunderball
RT: ***
Me: 4/5
Original Bond director Terence Young returns to the series having taken a film off, and been slightly irked by the success of his stand-in Guy Hamilton’s instalment. He set out to show that he too could make a big, spectacular and epic Bond film every bit as good as Goldfinger, only classier. By and large I think he does it, but the adversaries aren’t a patch (geddit?) on Goldfinger and there’s a major problem with the number and length of underwater scenes that slow things down, as the Scuba masks make everyone look the same and render dialogue impossible.

Casino Royale (1967)
RT: ***
Me: 1/5
An utter mess of a movie, with five different directors but not a single coherent script between them. Despite the presence of David Niven, Woody Allen, Orson Welles and John Huston this is an inexcusable disaster. Not one of the official/canonical Bond films, needless to say.

You Only Live Twice
RT: *****
Me: 4/5
The one that introduces the Dr Evil stereotype and the volcano secret lair for the supervillain. Roald Dahl’s script is so strong that it is reused with merely cosmetic changes at least three times in the rest of the series. For all that, I can’t quite give it top marks: it dallies too long on sightseeing in Japan, as the film was the first major western production to shoot in the country and as a result takes a rather dated tourist view of the country’s sights and culture that slows down the pace at awkward moments for a modern audience.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
RT: ****
Me: 3.5/5
The Marmite film of the Bond canon: condemned as a flop at the time, then ‘rediscovered’ as an unacknowledged jewel later on. The truth is somewhere in between, with a decent story and lots of effective set-pieces. Lazenby’s not as bad a Bond as people will have you believe – but he’s saddled with a plot that sends him undercover in a kilt and his voice dubbed in by George Baker at his most effete.

Diamonds Are Forever
RT: **
Me: 2/5
The first real misstep of the canon, not least because for the first time James Bond is no longer leading the fashion of the 60s but is a fashion victim of the 70s. Fleming’s novel about diamond smuggling is rammed into a third showdown with arch villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and the setting of Las Vegas sends the filmmakers into using really embarrassing stereotypical Mob hoods. The campy gay assassins will make you squirm.

Live And Let Die
RT: ****
Me: 3.5/5
This film’s true success is how it makes you accept Roger Moore as James Bond in the first five minutes. Otherwise, this is “007 does 70s blaxploitation”, although it gets away with it by making sure the snobbish English view of things is the target of mockery more than anything in New York’s Harlem or the Caribbean. It certainly ends up a lot less racist than Fleming’s embarrassing “work of its time” novel. Bond’s on-screen fling with a black woman caused shockwaves in many regions, while the ugliest character (physically and spiritually) in the film is unequivocally red neck Sheriff JW Pepper. That mid-film boat race is still too long, but the voodoo edge adds a uniquely effective air to the whole outing. Plus, it’s got that theme song.

The Man With The Golden Gun
RT: ***
Me: 2/5
I hate this film with a passion. It’s the instalment that nearly sank the franchise, and with reason. The nadir is the moment Bond has to be saved from his adversaries by two schoolgirls trained in karate: Bond has become the butt of the joke. There’s no way for him to look heroic when called upon to beat up a three-foot midget or when saddled with the ultimate comedy klutz female sidekick. The only saving grace in the entire debacle is the magisterial Christopher Lee as assassin Scaramanga who deserves much, much better. For his performance alone does this get an extra point.

The Spy Who Loved Me
RT: ****
Me: 5/5
An unreserved favourite of mine: for me, this is what Bond is all about. The best of Roger Moore’s outings, not least because he plays it seriously and there’s a sense of realism, high stakes and of danger to the proceedings. Curt Jurgens is terrific as the adversary, Jaws effective in his first appearance, and Barbara Bach is just divine. The whole thing is a perfect gem in my book, right down to the Lotus Esprit.

Moonraker
RT: **
Me: 3/5
Generally poorly regarded, I’m afraid I have a soft spot for this film and like it rather more than I should. There are certainly moments that make you cringe (the Venetian gondola sequence; Jaws’ love interest) but there’s also much to delight in, from the location shooting in Venice, Rio and Guatemala through to the astonishing set designs of Ken Adam and the brilliant shuttle FX by Derek Meddings.

For Your Eyes Only
RT: ***
Me: 3/5
Down to Earth after Moonraker, this is more realistic but also far duller that its predecessor. Nothing is either quite good enough or bad enough to really make an impact in your mind, and you’ll find it slipping from your memory even as you’re watching it. There’s some good patches here and there, but the dance-funk score is emphatically not one of them.

Octopussy
RT: ***
Me: 3/5
Opinions vary wildly on this one, with some thinking it’s a welcome return to form for the series and others thinking it’s an embarrassing mess. It certainly lurches in all sort of directions, and the plot feels like two stories artlessly welded together in the middle as a story about an art smuggling ring collides head-on with a Soviet plot to blow up West Berlin. The film just about survives the unclear plot and lack of a strong central adversary, and even 007 dressing up as a clown; the Indian location shooting is a delight.

Never Say Never Again
RT: **
Me: 2/5
The other ‘non-official’ Bond despite the presence of Sean Connery as 007, and the result of a legal dispute between regular production team Eon and independent producer Kevin McLory who had the rights to make Thunderball. This is a loose remake of that story, decent enough but suffers from not being able to tap into the trappings that make the Eon’s films the ‘authentic’ article, instead taking on a terribly 80s air to the soundtrack and fashions.

A View To A Kill
RT: **
Me: 1.5/5
A plot which is part a rehash of Goldfinger and the rest of it lifted from Superman The Movie, this is the series running on empty, devoid of ideas, and with a star now looking far too old. Only the ever-interesting Christopher Walken and the startlingly powerful (if weird) screen presence of Grace Jones salvages it, together with a lovely warm interplay between Moore and charming guest star Patrick Macnee.

The Living Daylights
RT: **
Me: 3/5
I’m surprised to see the Radio Times quite so down on this maiden Timothy Dalton outing. He restores some of the credibility of Bond after Roger Moore overstayed his time in the role and plays it much closer to the literary hero. The story is much more down to earth but also at least one entire sequence too long, and it also lacks a credible strong central adversary at the heart of it. Meandering, but it’s still a solid entry along the way made better by the weakness of the films on either side of it.

License to Kill
RT: **
Me: 2/5
If this were a typical 80s drug war revenge thriller starring any other action hero then I might give it a higher mark than 2 out of 5. It’s perfectly sound, but simply not a Bond film. It lacks any of the identifying features of class that a Bond film needs to work. As a one-off in the series it’s an acceptable experiment, but thank goodness this didn’t indicate an enduring new direction.

Goldeneye
RT: ****
Me: 3.5/5
I’ve never been as sold on this film as everyone else seems to be. It’s solid enough, and achieved the difficult task of rebooting Bond after his longest break from active duty at the cinema (because of financial and legal problems at MGM/UA.) It does a sharp job in updating the psychology of the ultimate Cold War relic – James Bond – for the 1990s, and introduces the superlative pairing of Judi Dench and Samantha Bond as the new M and Moneypenny. But there are some rough edges which include an unmemorable plot, some broad humour that doesn’t work and a sub-par soundtrack by Eric Serra (theme song excepted.) Even the new Bond, Pierce Brosnan, seems a little gauche and awkward in his first outing.

Tomorrow Never Dies
RT: ****
Me: 4.5/5
Ahh, but this is more like it. Suddenly everything they were setting up in Goldeneye clicks together. There is a sheen and polish of true class to this movie that’s been missing from the series for over a decade; Brosnan totally nails his performance as Bond second time out and gets the ultimate in kick-ass Bond women in the form of Michelle Yeoh; the plot works and benefits from a great villain (Jonathan Pryce gloriously chewing the scenery as a press tycoon not called Murdoch); and there’s a brilliant soundtrack from new regular composer David Arnold who revives all that’s best about classic John Barry scores while bringing them bang up to date at the same time. For me, it’s the best film in the series since The Spy Who Loved Me – which, to be honest, it owes a good half of its plot to.

The World Is Not Enough
RT: ****
Me: 4/5
Not quite a match for its predecessor despite maintaining a high level of quality. The opening sequence alone (the assassination inside MI6 and the ensuing boat chase down the Thames) is one of the best sequences in the series, but then the script gets a little too clever for its own good, giving us a decoy baddie and story about oil pipelines before revealing the real threat in the third act. That means the antagonists don’t get to make the impression that they really need to, but it’s wonderful that M (Judi Dench) gets increased screen time.

Die Another Day
RT: ***
Me: 3.5/5
This much-criticised film got the blame for derailing the franchise and ousting Brosnan from the role, which is hugely unfair. The damage is done by a couple of dodgy CGI effects and the audience not buying the invisible car – but you show me a Bond film without a few dodgy FX or back projection moments together with some over-the-top gadgets, and I’ll show you a dull Bond film (and it’s called For Your Eyes Only.) Look past those flaws and there’s a hugely enjoyable romp of the You Only Live Twice tradition with a great sneery villain in Toby Stephens and a knockout Bond woman in Halle Berry.

Casino Royale
RT: ****
Me: 4/5
But falter the series did, and so Bond needed another reboot. This was it – and very effective it proved to be in resetting 007 all the way back to a brand new beginning. After all that criticism about Daniel Craig being an unacceptable “Blond Bond”, it’s staggering how quickly he feels utterly right in the role. The story is strong and robust, loyal enough to the source novel while also adding a modern spin, and it’s well directed by Martin Campbell in his second resurrection instalment of the series after also helming Goldeneye.

A Quantum of Solace
RT: ****
Me: 2.5/5
Rather surprised to see the Radio Times Film Guide mark this as high up as it did, because the truth is that the script is a mess and at times incoherent; the characters are poorly defined; and the direction is all over the place, frequently wrecking some perfectly decent on-screen action sequence by its cack-handed editing approach. That said, it’s a serious enough effort with a good cast and is certainly handsomely shot, so it’s not a complete disaster by any means.

Skyfall
RT: *****
Me: 5/5
Quite probably the best actual film of all 23 Bond outings – it’s a stunning, powerful, grown-up piece of work. It’s also not your typical franchise instalment by quite a long way, and I can well understand that those looking for their usual easy-going blockbuster entertainment might well be put off. This is a whole different type of film, one we’ve never seen in the series before, and chances are it’s the emotional punch rather than the explosions that will leave you reeling at the end.

Spectre
RT: ***
Me: 3.5/5
Following Skyfall was always going to be a daunting task, and Spectre takes on too much. As well as reintroducing Bond’s most famous adversary, it seeks to be a continuation of the dark, melancholic style of Skyfall as well as a direct continuation of the story (which also retroactively makes a series ‘arc’ covering all four of Daniel Craig’s Bond films), but also tries to lighten the tone and have fun with some knowing jokes, nods and winks to the past. The combination doesn’t always gel and the pacing is noticeably off in parts – action sequences without conviction cut short, while other sections have a ten minute quiet time that drags. A noble experiment that always looks very glossy and with much to commend itself, but ultimately not able to work the same magic.

2 thoughts on “A Bumper Post of Bond Reviews

    Sebastian Crump said:
    November 6, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Well? Should I go and see Skyfall tomorrow then?

    andrewlewin responded:
    November 7, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Finally saw this yesterday, and updated the post with my ‘quick hit’ view while I chew it over for a longer piece But the upshot is: yes, you should most definitely see it! Probably the best film I’ve seen all year. Although not necessarily the best Bond-genre film per se

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