There’s no one quite like James Bond.
For 50 years, 007 has been thrilling folks like you and I with his trademark style of action, coolness, and panache. Six different actors have filled the role of Bond over the course of 22 movies with number 23, Skyfall, releasing in just a few days. While I will happily watch any 007 outing and every one has had it’s thrilling moments, not all James Bond movies are created equal. For every Goldfinger, there’s a Moonraker to match. In celebration of Skyfall and the Bond 50th anniversary, I have set out to separate the great flicks from the not so great. This isn’t a mere 1-22 ranking; rather I’m going to separate the movies into four different tiers. We’ll be showing off one tier per day leading up to the much anticipated release of Skyfall on November 9.
Today, we review the Bond films that are significantly flawed, but still are incredibly entertaining in spite of those flaws. The “guilty pleasure” Bonds, if you will.
Tier 3: “The things I do for England.”
A View to a Kill (1985)
A View to a Kill gets a pretty bad rap amongst Bond fans, and deservedly so. There’s a lot not to like. Tanya Roberts is up there with the absolute worst of Bond girls. Roger Moore was 175 years old during filming, and is badly doubled in a ton of scenes. People expected more out of Christopher Walken. “California Girls.” Despite this, there’s an irrational fondness I have for this movie,which I will attempt to justify.
First, Grace Jones portraying May Day is a terrific right-hand woman to Walken’s Max Zorin. As much flak as Walken gets for his performance, I feel it’s undeserved. No one plays psychotic quite like him. Amazingly, no one had used crazy Nazi experiment as a plot device in a Bond film up to this point. The pre-titles sequence, poorly placed musical cue aside, is pretty awesome. It has arguably the best title song in the series. The biggest reason I have it in this tier though is despite it’s issues, and there are quite a few, it’s still a fun watch every time it’s on.
A View to a Kill is a poorly-done Goldfinger re-imagining with quite a few problems. Moore, way too long in the tooth at this point, sadly doesn’t help the movie at all. Thanks to the fun villains in this one though, I still can’t help but enjoy it.
Aw, who am I kidding. It’s in tier 3 almost entirely because of Walken.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Speaking of terrible Bond girls, Denise Richards. She that badly casts a shadow over what otherwise is a very serviceable and entertaining Bond film. Can you believe the Broccoli family saw her audition and thought, “There she is! We found our nuclear physicist!” And Christmas Jones?! Really?! That’s dumb even by Bond girl standards! Take her away, and here’s what you have:
Brosnan has his deepest and best acting performance as Bond in this film. Sophie Marceau does a wonderful job, and when she turns on Bond, you’re genuinely surprised. The pre-credit sequence, though it goes on a bit too long (as all the Brosnan ones seemed to), is a great mix of cool, action, and surprise. You get the added suspense of having M feature prominently in the story for the first time. Lest I also forget Desmond Llewelyn’s poignant final farewell to the franchise (even if it wasn’t originally supposed to be). There are other issues with the film to be fair. Robert Carlyle is fairly wasted in his role as Renard. It also is the ugliest Bond movie ever from a location standpoint. These are minor gripes. This a smartly-paced Bond film with a lot of emotional gravitas.
But Denise Richards. Terrible. I wish “Christmas only came once a year.”
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
Here’s another example of a very, very flawed film with a lot of stupid moments that is still entertaining thanks to some solid action and casting. This is pre-Moonraker, so Roger Moore is still pretty badass-ish in this one. Christopher Lee as Scaramanga is sensational as essentially the other side of the same coin as Bond. The story has some unexpected twists and turns. When Bond learns he indeed is not Scaramanga’s intended target, the audience is just as shocked as he is. The Golden Gun itself is a clever little piece of engineering, and equally clever is the MI6 office set inside the sunken Queen Victoria. Golden Gun also contains the funniest M/Bond exchange in the series:
Bond: “Who would pay a million dollars to have me killed?”
M: “Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors; the list is endless.”
But like I said, for everything awesome in this movie, there’s something idiotic. The spiral car jump is my favorite car stunt in the series, but it’s coolness is stunted by the addition of the slide whistle sound effect and the inexplicable return of J.W. Pepper. Bond infiltrating Hai Fat’s compound by posing as Scaramanga is clever, especially as he talks himself (Bond) up to Hai Fat. Giving a sumo wrestler a wedgie is dumb. The flying car is a neat idea. Too bad it looks silly and like a child’s toy. The final battle with Scaramanga is tense and interesting. The film’s coda on the boat against Nick Nack is cartoonish. Is this unevenness that keeps The Man With the Golden Gun so low from a quality standpoint?
Much like A View to a Kill though, I can’t help but watch this one with joy anytime it’s on TV. The chemistry between Moore and Lee lends a lot, and the entire third act makes things worth the price of admission. I just wish some of the stupidity was dulled. If it were, The Man With the Golden Gun would be among the finest Bond films. Instead, it has to settle for mediocrity.
Die Another Day (2002)
If there’s one franchise that doesn’t need an “anniversary edition” release, it’s James Bond. Yet here is Die Another Day crammed so full with references and throwbacks to the franchise’s past. Many are subtle, but most are incredibly ham-fisted and overt that it distracts from the film itself. The other reason Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as Bond is all the way down in the dregs? The undistinguished notoriety of being the “CG Bond.” True, a few other Bonds had used CG to augment a few of their stunts, but none as blatant as the para-sailing away from a beam of light, invisible car antics of Die Another Day. Oh, and the ill-fated Madonna cameo as well.
It’s a shame too. There’s a lot to like in this movie as well. John Cleese holds his own as the (albiet temporary) heir to the Q mantle. The title sequence is the most interesting one in the franchise, as it’s the only one to show real-time events happening to progress the story. James Bond not only being captured, but held for a prolonged period of time as a prisoner of war, was very unexpected and a spectacular plot device. There are also several wonderful fight scenes in DAD, including the sword fight between Bond and Graves at the Blades club and the dueling fights at the end on the jet. From it’s set pieces to it’s villains and plot, there is a ton of uniqueness in Die Another Day, and that alone is interesting enough to make the movie worth watching.
Ironically, this also leads to the films issues, as Die Another Day seems less like a Bond movie, and more like a generic run-of-the-mill action flick you would have seen at the time. There’s even an inordinate amount of Wachowski-esque zooming around in the film. I don’t want to watch The Matrix when watching a Bond movie! Give me authentic stunts, and most importantly, make a movie that stands up as memorable on its own merits; not one that keeps needing to give constant call-backs to the series’ past.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Along with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this is probably the Bond that’s been seen the least among casual watchers. It also stars one of the more dubious Bond actors, Timothy Dalton, who is the most vilified among casual viewers (mostly because they have no idea who George Lazenby is). If you re-watch The Living Daylights though, it’s really not a bad movie. It just has some bland performances that detract from the overall quality of the film, Dalton being a large contributor to this.
What you have is a very winding plot that centers around a fake Russian defection, one of Bond’s sweeter romances, and a couple of villains trying to play two countries against one another to get rich. You also have some great action sequences, among them the opening fight on the Rock of Gibraltar, the battle on the cargo netting of a flying plane, and the car/cello chase across an icy lake. I’ve always found The Living Daylights to be a Bond film full of intrigue and excitement.
While I don’t abhor Dalton, he’s not my favorite Bond. I’ve always found the Welshman to play the role too seriously and straightlaced. Missing is the coolness exhibited by Connery and Brosnan. Also missing is the light touch with some of the more humorous moments that Roger Moore is so adept with. He always had a look of uncomfortability. He gets better in License to Kill where his seriousness makes more sense with the tone of the movie, but here it makes the movie feel heavier than it needs to feel.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the other elephant in the room with The Living Daylights, and that is the fact that Bond does fight along side the Mujahadeen in the movie. In retrospect, with the events that happened in this country over the past decade plus, it does make one uncomfortable seeing those scenes now. That said, remember that when The Living Daylights was made, this was an alliance that made sense; it’s unfortunate that real-world events cast a unfair shadow on this film.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
It has to be said that whatever film followed Casino Royale had its work cut out for it. That being said, Quantum of Solace didn’t do itself any favors with it dizzying plot and milquetoast supporting cast.
I’m no idiot, but it took me two viewings of Quantum of Solace to even begin to understand what in the world was going on in this movie. Even to this day, I’m stil not entirely sure how Quantum was organized! Is Mr. White the leader of the organization? Was it Dominic Greene? Was it the Algerian dude who played Vesper that Bond confronted at the end of the film? For fans like myself who after seeing Casino Royale thought we were finally getting a modern day version of SPECTRE surely left QoS quite disappointed in what we got.
I love Daniel Craig as James Bond, and thought he did a great job here. It’s a shame that aside from Judi Dench and Jesper Christensen (Mr. White), the rest of the supporting cast was a big dull dud. I didn’t have any emotion about Olga Kurylenko’s performance whatsoever. Mathieu Amalric’s portayal of Greene was among the most unmemorable of Bond foes. Much was made about the casting of Gemma Arterton as Strawberry Fields, but she had all of three scenes, served as nothing more than a sacrificial lamb (of which there were many in QoS), and didn’t exhibit much chemistry with Craig. Giancarlo Giannini, who was a revelation as Mathis in Casino Royale, seemed like he was doing his best Mathis impersonation in this film. I defy anyone reading this to immediately recall any of these actor’s standout scene in this film…can’t think of one can you? The best you can do is Fields laying oil-covered on the hotel bed, and I don’t even count that since there wasn’t any real acting involved.
Quantum of Solace was a capable and entertaining Bond, but in the end, “unmemorable” seems to be the best way to sum up this movie.
Octopussy, the Bond film whose title makes the most immature of us snicker whenever we hear it, is probably the silliest of any Bond film there is. Here is the film that gives us our hero dressed in full clown makeup, which for many is a visual summation of Roger Moore’s tenure as 007. Here is also the Bond movie that has Bond getting away from a wild tiger by telling it to “Sit!” right before swinging on a vine with the customary Tarzan yell. We also have an ally get Bond’s attention by playing the James Bond theme on a flute as 007 walks by. Octopussy probably elicits more eye rolls from me while watching than any other 007 outing.
Octopussy also has an edge of your seat final fight on top of a flying plane (and remember, this stunt was legit!). It gives a couple of nods to Goldfinger in the way Bond purposely antagonizes the villain early in the film. Despite the way Vijay enters the film, he is quite a likable ally, and you feel sad when he’s offered up as the customary sacrificial lamb. Maud Adams, who previously starred in The Man With the Golden Gun as the Bond girl destined to be killed is much more memorable here as the title character. Steven Berkoff as the crazy Russian General Orlov is a scene-stealing delight. “Crazy military officer” only plays well if the role is performed by a solid actor, and Berkoff was the perfect choice.
The movie itself is relatively ho-hum in the end, and the stupidities certainly don’t help it pull itself up. It’s a far from terrible film though, and certainly one worth watching if you’ve never seen it. And it beats the heck out of the faux-Bond film Never Say Never Again, which happened to release the same year. Fortunately, the real Bond movie smashed the imitator in the box office, old Sean Connery’s return be damned.
Day two is in the books. Tomorrow, things only get better as we start getting into the upper echelon of Bond movies.
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