Bond Rankings, an explanation

I have previously published a ranking of EON Bonds, from 1-23.  I wish to explain.  I base the rankings on the quality of the typical elements of any Bond movie:

  • Bond himself
  • Plot
  • Villain, including henchmen
  • Bond girl(s), i.e., whom Bond beds**
  • Allies, non-recurring roles
  • Gadgets, cars, too
  • Usual suspects: e.g., M, Q, Moneypenney
  • Picture: locales, cinematography, editing, direction

**Yes, I know this is incredibly sexist.  Two retorts: 1) If you’re that worried about sexism, stop watching Bond movies and 2) I make judgements about how Bond looks, too.  OK?

Without further ado, in order of ranking:

1. From Russia With Love

  • Bond himself: Pretty much what Fleming envisioned.  Competent, patriotic, but also lets his weakness for women lead him astray.  Connery owns the role.
  • Plot: Takes the books already excellent plot and improves it using SPECTRE.  Never insults the audience.
  • Villain: Lotte Lenya is just fantastic.  Never underestimate the power of a loathsome woman.  Robert Shaw is just great as the powerful, psychotic Red Grant.
  • Bond girl: Daniela Bianchi is gorgeous and puts on a competent Russian accent.  She plays the part perfectly.
  • Allies: Does it get any better than Karim Bey?  The dude is a total stud.  Sadly, in real life, the actor playing him, Pedro Armendáriz, was dying of cancer during filming and ultimately took his life when he was finished.
  • Gadgets: The briefcase with the tear gas cartridge, knife, and gold sovereigns.  Relatively low-tech and exactly what Bond needs.
  • Usual suspects: M is usual gruff.  Kind of funny scene where Bond embarrasses him in front of his staff.  Q is introduced.  Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny is still young and pretty so the flirting with Bond is quite believable.
  • Picture: Gorgeous scenes of Turkey and the Orient Express round out a thoroughly amazing picture.

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

  • Bond himself: Lazenby could have been a good Bond over time.  Here, he’s unfortunately flat but not as horrible as many have alleged.  He at least looks like he belongs on the screen with his fellow actors, and he is quite tough.
  • Plot: Awesome and more or less follows the book.  The whole lair in the mountains is of course silly, but the bio-terrorism plot is realistic enough to be frightening.
  • Villain: Telly Savalas is the best Blofeld, even if he should have shed his American accent.  Else Steppat as Irma Bunt is scary good.  (Sadly, she passed away before the movie premiered.)
  • Bond girl: Diana Rigg as Contessa Teresa is simply the best.  Not just beautiful and tough, but portrays a degree of vulnerability that is rare in these movies.  But also very tough – she actually kills a henchman in man-to-man combat.  The book details her tragic backstory – Rigg makes it clear that there is tragedy in her life without needing it to be explicit.  The Angels of Death are good fun too, especially Ruby Bartlett.
  • Allies: Gabriele Ferzetti plays Draco, Teresa’s father, pretty much as described the book – that is, very likable.  Admittedly, the character is a little ridiculous – The Honorable Criminal.  Only into racketeering, no drugs or something like that.  The absurdity is captured perfectly at the end, at the wedding, where M and Draco are discussing  a previous confrontation some years before.  Does that ever happen?  George Baker is ho-hum as Sir Hilary Bray…until his voice dubs over Lazenby’s when Bond is “disguised” as Bray.
  • Gadgets: One of several models of automatic safe-crackers you will see throughout the Bond series.  This one, used in the lawyer’s office in Bern, was so reliable that Bond could sit and ogle the Playboy centerfold while it worked.
  • Usual suspects: Bernard Lee is at his best here as M.  Q doesn’t have much to do.  Moneypenny plays a small but critical role.
  • Picture: Peter Hunt only directed this Bond, but he should have directed more.  Previously, he was editor and his skill shows.  The action sequences are among the best in the series, and this is because the editing is done to help rather than hinder the viewer.  The scenery in the Alps and in Zurich is gorgeous.  And of course, the final tragic scene in which Tracy is gunned down is done exquisitely well – Lazenby succeeds wildly there.

3. Casino Royale

  • Bond himself: a revelation as Craig is worthy of comparison with Connery.  Ridiculously cut.  I think many men with spouses/girlfriends wished Bond could be played by, say, Kevin James instead.
  • Plot: a really nifty update on the book’s plot.  I wasn’t crazy about replacing Baccarat with Texas Hold ’em, but then again I do not have to market a $150M film to young audiences.
  • Villain: Le Chieffre is a bit of an odd duck.  He’s insanely vulnerable but somehow is able to stay one step ahead of Bond for much of the picture.  Mr. White is mysterious as he is meant to be.
  • Bond girl: Eva Green is not the prettiest or the toughest.  But she is real and smart and tragic and one of the best.  Easy to see why Bond falls in love.  I would have done the same.
  • Allies: Giancarlo Giannini plays Mathis with gusto – he is a lot of fun.  Felix Lighter, played by Jeffrey Wright, is as good as I can remember.
  • Gadgets: The medical kit in Bond’s car and…that’s about it.
  • Usual suspects: No Q or Moneypenny.  M is a bit awkward, as it is the same, wonderful Judi Dench but as a different M to fit the situation.
  • Picture: Gorgeous.  Montenegro and the town in which the casino resides is postcard-worthy.  The construction-zone sequence at the beginning is amongst the best action sequences of any Bond.

4. Goldfinger

  • Bond himself: Connery is a bit more relaxed here.  Also a bit less lean.  Never mind – he owns Bond more than ever here.
  • Plot: an improvement over the book in many aspects (including an explicit rebuke to the major plot hole of the book).  Less known is the disappearance of the vicious anti-Korean racism that the book unfortunately displays, as well as the uncomfortable nod to the casual anti-Semitism of the day.
  • Villain: One of the best.  By looks, Goldfinger, played by Gert Frobe, looks like a fat nobody, but we are over time disabused of that notion.  Harold Sakata as Oddjob is a series icon.
  • Bond girl: I never much liked Honor Blackman in the role of Pussy Galore.  (Though I admire her for how she reportedly took pleasure in embarrassing journalists with her character’s name.)  The picture also commits one of the worst crimes of all – making what looks like Galore’s rape by Bond to be a good thing.  Ick.  (Also, you gotta love Denk’s slap on the ass followed by “man talk.”  I’ll bet Connery enjoyed that.)  Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson is unforgettably beautiful and and tragic – her death, of course, is iconic.
  • Allies: Felix Lighter is useless.  More useful is the guy who stops the bomb’s clock ticking with 7 seconds to go.
  • Gadgets: The Aston Martin DB5, of course.  Also, the magnetic homing device used to track both Goldfinger and Bond himself.  (Bond’s went in the heel of his shoe.)  While these gadgets were really cool, I think the enormous success of this movie led later to a dependence on gadgets which was really not a part of Fleming’s novels.
  • Usual suspects: M is a delight with the black-tie dinner with Bond and The Banker.  Q has his iconic scene (“I never joke about my work, 007.”)  Moneypenny is meh.
  • Picture: terrific of course, but the set design by Ken Adam in Fort Knox is masterful and among the best in the series.  However, the “laser” is really cheesy, I don’t care that the movie is from the 1960’s.  The dialogue is endlessly quotable.

5. Thunderball

  • Bond himself: Still on top of his game, although Connery’s attitude toward women is at best questionable with yet another sexual assault by today’s standards.
  • Plot: A great one that follows a great plot in the novel pretty closely.  (Fleming was not solely responsible for this one.  The consequences of this on the series were tremendous.)  The plot is simple to follow yet completely engaging.
  • Villain: Adolfo Celi is fantastic as Emilio Largo.  He could have outwitted Bond, but you just can’t find good help these days.  However, a revelation is Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe: beautiful and completely evil.  I mean, do you really believe Bond when he says he bed her “for king and country”?  Riiiight.
  • Bond girl: Paluzzi wanted the part of Domino and was beautiful enough to get it.  But then the producers chose Claudine Auger, by far the most gorgeous woman in any Bond movie.  Her character is a bit of a needy girl (which is how she wound up ion her mess), but ultimately performs an act of bravery for which she suffers.  She also performs the coup de grace on the bad guy.  Top 3 or 4 easy.  And then there’s Molly Peters as Nurse Fearing whom Bond assaults (at first…), who is also as lovely as any Bond girl.  This movie is a standout with beautiful women.
  • Allies: Rik van Nutter is an improvement as Felix Lighter.  Martine Beswick – previously of the catfight scene in From Russia with Love – is nothing special as the tragic Paula Caplan.
  • Gadgets: The jet pack!  That one was real and really worked – why haven’t we seen more of them?  Also, the convenient, pocket-sized four-minutes of air as well as the geiger-counter-in-a-camera that gets Domino in trouble.
  • Usual suspects: M has his moments (scolding Bond in front of his fellow agents).  Q and Moneypenny are ho-hum.  Felix and crew are quite good here.
  • Picture: Bahamian scenery is stunning.  Editing a bit choppy, especially at the end.  Lots of underwater sequences that are gorgeous but hard to follow.

6. Dr. No

  • Bond himself: Iconic.  Connery, with “Bond. <pause> James Bond.” defines the role forever.
  • Plot: A bit hard to connect with.  Toppling rockets? Who really cares?  Adding atomic power I guess makes the whole thing seem modern for 1962, but I prefer the book’s obsession with guano.
  • Villain: Dr. No is sufficiently menacing, even if he is played by the decidedly non-Asian Joseph Wiseman.  (I guess Dr. No is half-German in the film.)  Unfortunately, Dr. No’s henchmen are incompetent.
  • Bond girl: Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder would be unmemorable is she weren’t the first.  Seriously.  She is dubbed over by Nikki van der Zyl, a rabbi’s daughter who would dub over many voices in the early days of the Bond series.  Eunice Gayson plays the aggressive love interest Sylvia Trench (and is also dubbed by van der Zyl).
  • Allies: Jack Lord plays the best Felix Lighter until Jeffrey Wright.  John Kitzmiller plays the tragic Quarrel unforgettably.
  • Gadgets: Nothing special.  There was the scene at the beginning where Bond is forced to trade in his Beretta for the iconic Walther PPK.  That was actually in the book and made more sense there because Dr. No was the sixth novel and Bond by then really had been injured in From Russia With Love previously.  One of the many instances in which the movies being completely out of order with respect to the novels causes confusion.
  • Usual suspects: M and Moneypenny are introduced.
  • Picture: A small budget ensures that corners were cut.  Jamaica looks gritty, and Dr. No’s lair is a bit cheesy.

7. Skyfall

  • Bond himself: It’s Craig, so it’s good, but much disbelief has to be suspended.  First he’s shot and falls like 100 meters off a moving train into a river.  Then, playing dead, he lives a life of leisure and drink on some island, but still looks like the cover of Men’s Health.  Still, the journey back to where he needs to be is well done.  And his response to homoerotic intimidation is classic.
  • Plot: Kind of wild, and really good.  Lots of twists and turns that keeps you on your toes.
  • Villain: Javier Bardem is an excellent actor, but he plays it weird.  As Silva, he is very menacing but could have been better.
  • Bond girl: Berenice Marlohe as Severine is forgettable, and just sad.  I wonder if we can include Naomie Harris as Moneypenny here, whose role is quite meaty and good.
  • Allies: Albert Finney just kills it as Kincaid the gamekeeper.
  • Gadgets: “A gun and a radio…not exactly Christmas, is it?”  The gun is a palm print-enabled PPK –  a much more compact model than that used in Licence to Kill.  The radio is…a little transmitter.
  • Usual suspects: Judi Dench is marvelous as one would expect, especially as her role is prominent.  Ben Whishaw is introduced memorably as Q.
  • Picture: gorgeous.  Shanghai looks unforgettable, as do Macau and the forgotten island in the South China Sea. The new MI6 HQ are also quite good.

8. The Spy Who Loved Me

  • Bond himself: As good as Roger Moore gets.  Still campy, but quite deadly serious and convincing, if still over reliant on the gadgets.
  • Plot: first of two Destroy the World stories.  Still, as pure escapism it works.  And really, what if someone got a hold of sub nuclear launch codes?  Scary.
  • Villain: Curd Jurgens plays Karl Stromberg with the evil-meter turned up to 11.  He is quite menacing, even if his existence is patently ridiculous.  And of course, everyone knows Richard Kiel as Jaws.
  • Bond girl: Barbara Bach could have flopped – her Russian accent just doesn’t work, and her acting chops are not the best.  Yet…she is a pleasure to watch as the agent XXX who must work besides Bond, even though Bond had killed her lover in the opening sequence (in self-defense of course).  She manages to be sexy, smart, and tough when need be.  Good show despite the odds.
  • Allies: I like the submarine captain: “What, you’ve never seen a major take a shower before?”
  • Gadgets: The submergible Lotus that can take out a helicopter from under the sea.
  • Usual suspects: Meh
  • Picture: Really well-done.  The opening sequence, ending with the Union Jack parachute, is unforgettable.  Sardinia makes for a lovely set piece.  And the submarines and ships that serve as the settings for many of the scenes are quite realistic.

9. You Only Live Twice

  • Bond himself: Well, this is where Connery starts to get a bit flabby and is clearly not happy about being Bond yet again.  He still owns the role, but the exhaustion is there.  It was said that he and Broccoli (the producer) were no longer talking during filming.  Yikes.
  • Plot: The good news is that the crappy and depressing end to the SPECTRE trilogy in the books has been changed.  The bad news is that the screenplay written by Fleming’s friend Roald Dahl is not a huge improvement.  Why is England even needed here?
  • Villain: Blofeld makes his maiden (explicit) appearance, and Donald Pleasance looks great in the role.  Unfortunately, not menacing enough.  Karin Dor as SPECTRE agent Helga Brandt is better  – the right mix of sexy and mean.
  • Bond girl: Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki is beautiful and beguiling at first (though she of course falls for Bond’s charms).  I imagine having Japanese leads at the time was seen as a bit exotic, but I think Hama, as well as Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki make their characters accessible and enjoyable.
  • Allies: Dikko Henderson is played by Charles Gray and is quite different than the drunk Aussie from the book.  His portrayal here, which is fine, makes his later portrayal of Blofeld patently ridiculous.  Tesoro Tamba plays Tiger Tanaka with edge – he makes every scene he’s in that much better.
  • Gadgets: Little Nellie, which was a real thing actually flown by its creator.
  • Usual suspects: Poor Q just seems extra irritated.  I love M’s line” “Well, now that you’re dead…”  Moneypenny is a little fetching in her naval gear.
  • Picture: the Japanese settings are beautiful as anyone who’s been to Japan would expect.  The volcano lair at the end, though, is the definition of excess and makes the movie a little more ridiculous than intended.

10. GoldenEye

  • Bond himself: Pierce Brosnan’s first turn as Bond, and not bad.  He’s trying to find that happy medium between Connery and Moore, and away from the over seriousness of Dalton.  This is his best performance.
  • Plot: Fascinating, as should be expected in the first post-Cold War Bond.  Some cruel people are using Soviet weapons technology stolen from people they have killed in cold blood in what is essentially a mega-robbery.  Good stuff.
  • Villain: The main baddie is Sean Bean who is  serviceable but really not noteworthy in the grand scheme of things.  Actually, this movie belongs to Famke Janssen as Xenia Onotopp, perhaps one of the most unforgettable characters in the entire Bond lore.  Six feet tall and stunning, she is as big and strong as any man.  She kills mainly by crushing men between her powerful thighs during coitus.  Oh, and she orgasms as she kills.  Seriously, does this movie need anything else?
  • Bond girl: Izabella Scorupco is OK as Natalya Simonova, a programmer who is the sole survivor of a massacre committed by Onotopp.  One thing I became aware of is how hard it looks for someone who speaks Polish to put on a Russian accent.
  • Allies: Joe Don Baker is terrific as the CIA Guy Not Named Felix.  Robbie Coltrane is also a hoot as Zukovsky – at one point, telling one of his singers to get lost.  That singer was played by pre-fame Minnie Driver.
  • Gadgets: The exploding pen that gets derided in Skyfall.
  • Usual suspects: Judi Dench debuts memorably as M and calls Bond a “misogynistic dinosaur,” a charge that will never go away.  Desmond Llewellyn continues on as Q, but one wonders what the retirement age is in England.  The aptly-named Samantha Bond plays Moneypenny.
  • Picture: the movie opens with an insane bungee jump that is accomplished in a long shot.  There are a lot of nice scenes, including a tank chase through Moscow traffic.

11. The Living Daylights

  • Bond himself: This is the debut of Timothy Dalton, who is a great Shakespearian actor but had a hard time connecting with audiences.  He seems sullen as Bond, but I understand what Dalton was trying to do: play the character that Fleming wrote.  Daniel Craig would prove him right many years later.
  • Plot: a bit meandering, involving defections, Afghanistan, and illegal guns, but it begins to make sense around the 12th viewing.
  • Villain: Jeroen Krabbe as Kostkov is a fun villain to watch, especially because you’re not sure what to make of him at first.  Joe Don Baker plays Brad Whittaker, an arms dealer, well enough but not with enough panache to stick with you.
  • Bond girl: A great deal was made about Maryam D’Abo and how her relationship with Bond reflected the 1980’s.  Whatever – she still falls for Bond and he still beds her.  She is very pretty but she tends toward the helpless shrieker when all is said and done.
  • Allies: Thomas Wheatley is a bore as the unfortunate Saunders.  John Rhys-Davies on the other hand is fantastic as Pushkin.   Then of course Kamran Shah is played by a dude named Art Malik, which is not insulting at all.
  • Gadgets: The exploding wolf whistle used to pacify the sadistic Russian jail guard.  (And while we’re at it, how stupid was that guy to contribute whistles himself – was it not obvious that the whistles were going to lead to bad things for him?)  Also, the Aston Martin that has a “few optional extras installed.”
  • Usual suspects: Robert Brown plays M – he never stood out to me.  Neither did Caroline Bliss at Moneypenny.  Desmond Llewellyn is still Q.
  • Picture: The smuggling of Kostkov through the gas pipeline is awesome.  The scene in the Russian Afghan jail is a lot of fun: “James, we’re free!”  “Kara, we’re in a Russian airbase int he middle of Afghanistan.”

12. SPECTRE

  • Bond himself: Daniel Craig, who seems to be tiring of the role.
  • Plot: Sigh.  It involves a conspiracy to remove actual human spies and horde intelligence so that evil people can spy on everyone and wreak havoc.  Problem is the actual evil being done feels remote from the actual on-screen action.  A better effort would have had an unsuccessful attempt to stop a terrorist attack by the baddies, but as the movie is already 148 minutes, too bad.
  • Villain: Christoph Waltz as Blofeld!  He makes do with a weird backstory involving Bond being his little brother when in fact Blofeld as portrayed in the Fleming novels is not anything remotely like that.  Waltz is thus forced to play things too intimate when Blofeld, as played by the likes of Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas, was cold and brutal.  But he does it well because…Christoph Waltz!  Dave Bautista plays a very very brutal henchman very very well.
  • Bond girl: Lea Seydoux is the best thing about this installment.  She is stunningly gorgeous and tough and seductive and delivers her lines with panache.  She’s up there with Diana Rigg and Eva Green.  Yes, that good.  Monica Belucci was advertised as the oldest Bond girl ever; her appearance was thankfully brief.
  • Allies: Felix Lighter is briefly mentioned but never seen.  How about Mr. White?  He has now made appearances in three of the last four Bonds and has been uniformly good.  This one is his best: sick, dying, crazed, and betrayed by his organization.  His scene is very good.
  • Gadgets: Exploding watch and a car that doesn’t quite work.
  • Usual suspects: M is badass!  Q and Moneypenny get more substantial roles than traditionally given, and it’s a good thing.
  • Picture: A mixed bag.  The initial action sequence in Mexico City is tops, one of the best.  The action scenes generally are all top-notch.  But the story as a whole is weakened by the ridiculous need to tie all of Craig’s Bonds together.  It makes zero sense and adds nothing to the story.  (OK, the end where all of the villians and girls are used to supposedly hurt Bond somehow, but in the end it really doesn’t matter.)  Take that away, make the evil plot more concrete, and you would have a top-notch Bond.  Alas.

13. Quantum of Solace

  • Bond himself: Daniel Craig.  Nothing else needs to be said.
  • Plot: A bona fide sequel, which is unusual.  The main thrust involving the hijacking of precious resources of a poor country through political manipulations seems relevant but ended up being kind of blah.  I like how the movie tied up the whole Vesper Lynd affair though.
  • Villain: Mathieu Almaric plays Dominic Greene, a self-identified environmentalist who plans to make a killing off the backs of the world’s poor.  Almaric is a good actor, but I think his character is weak and forgettable.
  • Bond girl: Olga Kurylenko plays Camille Montes.  Sure, and maybe I’ll screen test as an African warlord someday.  Couldn’t they have found, you know, a pretty Latina actress for this role?  Gemma  Arterton plays Strawberry Fields and gets covered in oil for her troubles.
  • Allies: Jeffrey Wright is still wonderful as Felix Lighter.  Giancarlo Giannini is back as Mathis, whose fate is quite morally disturbing.
  • Gadgets: Nothing much here, although I will nominate the can of oil at the end that Bond gives to Greene after abandoning him in the desert.
  • Usual suspects: Judi Dench plays an M who both loves Bond as a son but wants to see the back of him.  Still no Q or Moneypenny.
  • Picture: one of the most difficult to watch.  The editor of this movie should really find another vocation.  Choppy in the extreme, the action sequences are impossible to follow.  Half the time, I wanted to throw up or have a seizure.

14. Live and Let Die

  • Bond himself: Roger Moore’s debut, and it must have been a shock.  OK, maybe not, as Connery went the way of camp in the previous movie.  Moore plays it suave to the hilt, and that worked with audiences.  I have the feeling though that Fleming was turning over in his grave.
  • Plot:  It was an act of bravery – or stupidity, depending on your perspective – to adapt the borderline racist material from the book. (At times, even well over the border.)   The movie simplifies the utterly bizarre scheme in the book and makes the crime heroin smuggling.  But still, it ends up being a blaxploitation flick starring Roger Moore.  Somehow, nobody complained much.
  • Villain: The inimitable Yaphet Kotto plays Kananga/Mr. Big.  You are supposed to be shocked that they are the same person, but nobody making the film seemed to be that interested in this crucial point.  Julius Harris as Tee-Hee is very enjoyable.
  • Bond girl: Jane Seymour plays Solitaire quite well. Like Domino in Thunderball, Solitaire is a powerful-seeming woman who is actually a girl in a very troublesome situation beyond her control.  Seymour is an excellent actress as would be proven over the years and is generally a quality Bond girl, if not the most memorable.  Gloria Hendry is awful as Rosie Carver – likely because the role is awful, not the actress.  (That said, nice to see Bond bed an AfrAm character, still gutsy in 1973.)
  • Allies: Felix is here, and pretty run-of-the-mill.  Roy Stewart plays Quarrel Jr because Quarrel was killed off in Dr. No.
  • Gadgets: The magnet that unzips dresses of Italian agents.
  • Usual suspects: M and Moneypenny are fun here.  Q’s absence is welcome, as Moore for once needs fewer gadgets.
  • Picture: the boat chase in the bayou is really the centerpiece of the film and worth the price of admission, even if it involves the execrable Sheriff JW Pepper.

15. For Your Eyes Only

  • Bond himself: Roger Moore plays it with a little less camp here and thus puts on one of his better performances.
  • Plot: It’s kind of a mixture taken from several Fleming short stories and involves the usual Macguffin.  Really, it’s about figuring out who the friends and enemies are.  Mildly interesting.
  • Villain: Julian Glover (who once was considered as Bond) as Kristatos is someone you want to punch in the nose, so Glover is quite good.  The other bad guys (Locque, Hector Gonzales, Erich Kriegler) are menacing.
  • Bond girl: Carole Bouquet as Melina Havelock seems exotically Greek but in reality is sort of plain.  Cassandra Harris, the exotic-looking model, brought along hubby Pierce Brosnan to the set to meet Albert Broccoli – the rest is history.  I will not count Lynn-Holly Johnson as Bibi as that would just be criminal.
  • Allies: Topol is fantastic as Columbo.
  • Gadgets: That Identigraph used to identify Locque by matching Bond’s description with faces in a database.  It’s hilarious nay todays’ standards, but you do have to admire the fact that the writers totally anticipated what we can do today 30+ years later.
  • Usual suspects: Bernard Lee had passed away from cancer before filming began, so out of respect were was no M.  Q, Moneypenny as usual.  Yawn.
  • Picture: the scene where Bond and Melina are dragged, tied together, underwater is taken from the novel Live and Let Die.  The rock-climbing sequence at the end is stunning.

16. Octopussy

  • Bond himself: at 56, Roger Moore still has it, whatever “it” is at this point.
  • Plot: Actually one of the better ones of the series.  It is a bit complicated, involving jewelry smuggling and nuclear disarmament.  But ultimately it’s deadly serious and a bit scary.
  • Villain: Louis Jordan as Kamal Khan is evil and has this luxurious snob accent from Snobistan.  He’s a lot of fun.  Kabul Bedi as Gobinda aka The Angry Sikh is simultaneously hilarious and menacing – quite the feat.  Steven Berkoff is terrific as the crazy General Orlov; unfortunately, he would play Hitler the exact same way a few years later in War and Remembrance.
  • Bond girl: Why why why why was Maud Adams ever brought back?  Yes, she’s a pretty Swedish model who, at the age of 70, is still pretty.  But egad, what an awful actress.  She’s OK when sitting or saying unremarkable lines, but when asked to express emotion and she comes across as a robot.  Too bad, because the role of octopus is very meaningful within the Bond canon (she’s the daughter of a major that Bond had to arrest and ultimately committed suicide – a throwaway line that’s actually taken from a Fleming short story).  There were better actresses for that role.
  • Allies: Vijay, played by an Indian tennis star, is a fun but gruesomely tragic character.
  • Gadgets: The pen with acid that springs Bond from captivity and the little radio Bond plants in the fake Faberge egg.
  • Usual suspects: Robert Brown as M is not my favorite.  Lois Maxwell is the same age as Roger Moore but sadly age is not as kind to her, so thus we have Penelope Smallbone as something pretty to look at in Universal Exports.  Q tires of Bond’s “adolescent antics.”  The audience is not far behind.
  • Picture: Really, who the fuck thought it would be a good idea to insert Tarzan yells in a deadly serious chase?  Nobody knows whether they want camp or a serious Bond, so the story suffers.  Meanwhile, the Indian locale is stunning, and the climax at the circus in West Germany is thrilling.  Too bad that the editing staff had no idea what to do with the movie – it could have been Moore’s best.

17. Moonraker

  • Bond himself: This is the epitome of Moore as Bond: suave, campy, hardly breaking a sweat.
  • Plot: The movie keeps a few elements from the excellent book, but the rest involves the space shuttle and, well, extinction of the human race while the chosen few wait it out in space.  It gets as absurd as it sounds.
  • Villain: Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax is quite good.  I’ll bet Lonsdale knows that Drax is over the top and Lonsdale plays him with the requisite humor and good spirit.  Jaws comes back – apparently, he was needed when Bond killed Drax’s other henchman.  “Oh, if you can get HIM!”  Like megalomaniacs have a 1-800-GET-A-HENCH hotline or something.
  • Bond girl: I really never saw the attraction with Lois Chiles as Holly Goodhead (sigh).  Apparently, she was some sought-after model and agreed to be in the movie eventually.   She’s supposed to be a smart and clever female agent.  Instead,she’s a lousy actress and not all that memorable in any case.  Better was Corinne Clery as the tragic Corinne Dufour.  Too bad.
  • Allies: Emily Bolton plays Manuela, who I guess should be a Bond girl.  Anyway, the look of sheer terror on her face as Jaws starts to sink his teeth into her (but is foiled) makes an impact.
  • Gadgets: The wrist-enabled dart gun used to get Bond out of the centripetal accelerator (and, let’s face it, one of the most ridiculous scenes in any Bond – why on earth would Bond go into such a contraption while investigating the owner?).  Also, where did Bond get that tool used to stab the anaconda?
  • Usual suspects: Bernard Lee’s last outing – in retrospect, he seems weakened as M.  For once, he is actually protecting Bond from his tormentors in the government.  Moneypenny and Q return as usual.
  • Picture: Laser fight in space!  Yes, really.  EON felt that they needed to latch onto the success of Star Wars,  Good God.  Despite the utter silliness of these scenes, there are some good ones.  Draw throwing juicy steaks in front of his dobermans, who then only eat them on his command.  Draw complaining that Bond refuses the plan for him “an amusing death,” which has a sort of fourth-wall humor about it.  “And how does one kill four hours in Rio?”  How?  How?  Oh how I wonder!

18. The World Is Not Enough

  • Bond himself: Brosnan’s third outing, and we have pretty much gotten used to him by now.  Better than Moore, but not Connery, nobody looks better in a tux.
  • Plot: Several bumpy twists and turns, the plot concerns oil pipelines in the Caucusus, and the heiress to the empire whose oil flows in those pipelines.  This heiress had been kidnapped and has Daddy and M issues because they did not pay the ransom.
  • Villain: Robert Carlyle as Renard is OK, but his character is patently ridiculous.  (“He will grow stronger every day until he dies.”  What?!?)  I think ultimately the whole point was to use his lack of feeling (and, it is more than hinted, his inability to sexually perform) to make him angry and dangerous.  At the end, he is just another thug that get this in the end.  Much better is Sophie Marceau, his victim/lover and manipulator.  Her character is refreshingly complex and is a great user of men.
  • Bond girl: Denise Richards Oh My God.  So pretty, so shapely as Dr. Christmas Jones the nuclear physicist.  Read that again.  No, I am not gob-smacked at a woman – pretty or otherwise – being a physicist.  I am gob-smacked at Denise Richards and her awfulness as an actress.  Sophie Marceau is quite a lot better.
  • Allies: Robbie Coltrane is back as Zukovsky, to the movie’s credit.  Coltrane is great at balancing the cynical humor and deadly seriousness the role needs.
  • Gadgets: The airbag-like avalanche shelter.  The exploding glasses in the Swiss banker’s office.
  • Usual suspects: Judi Dench has a lot to do because the movie revolves around some questionable choices M makes.  Desmond Llewellyn as Q introduces John Cleese as R and retires in a sad sequence.  Samantha Bond returns as Moneypenny and is actually not bad.
  • Picture: the beginning is very promising with the longest opening sequence, very action-filled.  Another great sequence involves an attack filled with helicopter saws (!!) and a pool of caviar.  (Robbie Coltrane returns as Zukovsky and is a joy as usual.)

19. Licence to Kill

  • Bond himself: Timothy Dalton’s second and last outing.  He is like the Debbie Downer of Bonds.
  • Plot: Bond for whatever reason has involved himself with the DEA through Felix Lighter (and what on earth does the CIA have to do with the DEA?!?)  Felix suffers a ghastly fate when he is betrayed (a fate he suffers in Live and Let Die the novel), and Bond decides to throw away his double-o status so he can avenge his friend.  The most gruesome Bond, but also the most boring.
  • Villain: Robert Davi plays the uber-drug dealer Sanchez, and he is actually quite good in the role.  He has numerous henchmen, but this is Davi’s flick.  That said, kudos to Benicia del Toro for playing a really frightening henchman.
  • Bond girl: Catfight!  There are two: Talisa Soto as Lupa, who is actually Sanchez’s girlfriend who has attached herself to Bond (and whom Bond uses with glee).  Then Carey Lowell (she of the Law and Order ADA) as the comely Pam Bouvier.  You hope Bond ends up with Bouvier, which he does (barely).  (Not a racial thing – Lupa is really unlikeable.)
  • Allies: The various DEA agents are meant to be good guys but just come off as jerks.  Maybe this is how it should be.
  • Gadgets: the first palm print gun, but this does little but give Bond away to the people hunting him.
  • Usual suspects: Robert Brown as M revokes Bond’s double-o status, but worries about him.  Q has a large role to play as he too goes rogue to supply Bond with all the toys he needs.  Moneypenny simply frets about Bond.
  • Picture: This film features a lot of gruesome killings, none more so than the death of Milton Krest at Sanchez’s hand, by quickly depressurizing a pressurized chamber.  (Yechhh…)  Wayne Newton provides a nice little break for humor.  But really, death, killings, violence…a bit much for a Bond movie.

20. Diamonds Are Forever

  • Bond himself: Connery, back after the producers literally begged him to come back.  He has reduced the role to camp here and looks like he has aged 20 years.  Just awful, a real shame.
  • Plot: An interesting deviation from Fleming’s novel, this is a diamond-smuggling scheme involving a Howard-Hughes-like character and, ultimately, Blofeld.  The diamonds here are used for far more nefarious purposes, like changing the balance of military power in the world.
  • Villain: Charles Gray as Blofeld.  Really, they couldn’t have found someone that was bald?  Good Lord, what were they thinking?!?
  • Bond girl: Jill St John as Tiffany Case is another very pretty but in the end pretty flat.  She is introduced as a tough but when put to the test just sits and screams her head off.  More interesting is Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole who sadly doesn’t get enough screen time.
  • Allies: Felix Lighter has a meaty role here.
  • Gadgets: The fake fingerprints used to pass Bond off as Peter Franks.
  • Usual suspects: M is per usual.  Moneypenny has an interesting turn at passport control.  Q also has a nice array of gadgets, especially one for playing slots in Vegas.  Why not just stay there and retire?
  • Picture: Bond on a moon machine?!?  Whatever, the scenes in Vegas are well done, helped mainly by the local authorities who arranged for empty streets.  The scenes in Amsterdam are also nicely done.

21. Tomorrow Never Dies

  • Bond himself: Brosnan in his sophomore outing is really campy, using an array of double-and triple-entendres to establish his virility.  “Oh James, you are a cunning linguist!”  Groan.
  • Plot: A swipe at the likes of Roger Murdoch involves a media mega-mogul who actually plans to fool Britain and China into a war in order to monopolize its coverage.  Should be fascinating, but really handled poorly.
  • Villain: Jonathan Pryce as Elliot Carver is just weak.  He’s over-the-top evil, but seems laughable as Bond just keeps hacking away at him.  Goetz Otto plays his henchman Stamper, who is big and menacing.  The best, however, is Vincent Schiavelli (aka Mr. Vargas in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) as the moronic Dr Kaufman.
  • Bond girl: Michelle Yeoh plays Wai Lin and is extraordinary: desirable yet tough and every bit Bond’s equal.  Teri Hatcher plays Mrs. Carver who is unfortunately Bond’s ex-lover.  That does not go well for her.  Nor the audience, as Hatcher is awful.
  • Allies: Joe Don Baker is back as Bond’s non-Lighter CIA contact.
  • Gadgets: The car controllable by Bond’s cell phone – it led to a very cool chase in which Bond drives his car hunkered down in his back seat.
  • Usual suspects: Dench is meh as M, but Llewellyn is entertaining as Q posing as a rental car agent.
  • Picture: Some real brutality here, such as Stemper machine-gunning unarmed British sailors.  The mobile-phone remote control of the car is nifty and portends future innovations.

22. A View To A Kill

  • Bond himself: Roger Moore’s last outing, one too many as Moore is now 58 and looks every bit of it. No way he should have taken this role.
  • Plot: Cause a major earthquake in Silicon Valley, thus making the bad guy’s chips that much more valuable.  Unfortunately, even in the 1980’s chips were mainly made throughout the US so that scheme would be doomed to fail.
  • Villain: Christopher Walken as Max Zorin is sadly awful.  He plays an ex-KGB German freak experiment who is a psychotic genius as…every Christopher Walken character.  Sigh.  Grace Jones plays his henchman/girlfriend, which at this point why not, it can’t get any worse.
  • Bond girl: Tanya Roberts is ghastly.  I mean, she’s nice to look at, but she offers absolutely nothing as Stacy Sutton.  “James…SAVE ME!”  Good God.
  • Allies:  Patrick Macnee plays Sir Godfrey perfectly.  I mean, how would you react if you has a “sir” in your title but yet was a put-upon driver for a lowlife named “St John”? David Yip is OK as a CIA agent.
  • Gadgets: Whatever they needed to keep Roger Moore upright.
  • Usual suspects: Lois Maxwell’s last turn – 24 years with the company and they just dump her like an empty beer can.  Methinks her good friend Roger Moore kept her there.  Robert Brown continues his forgettable turn as M and Desmond llewellyn is still Q.
  • Picture: There is a scene in which Zorin machine-guns dozens of people – his own people – for what reason we have no idea.  It just seems gratuitous and cruel to the audience.  Dolph Lundgren has a cameo as a KGB agent – the backstory is that he was dating Grace Jones and was hanging around the set and was offered the part when the main actor got sick or didn’t show.  That’s about as interesting as it gets here.

23. Die Another Day

  • Bond himself: Brosnan’s last outing, and it may as well be that way.  To be fair, Pierce tries very hard, but he can’t save this movie.  Not much can.
  • Plot: A couple of N Korean baddies are using DNA alterations to hide among the westerners so they can wreak havoc on the 38th parallel.  Havoc is indeed wreaked.
  • Villain: Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves, the altered N Koran Col Moon, is over-the-top but is played with good humor.  Rick Yune as Zao seems like he should be really menacing, especially with those diamonds embedded in his face, but is actually pretty boring in the end.
  • Bond girl: Halle Berry should be awesome as Jinx, but ends up being nothing special.  She is actually lousy and a huge disappointment.  Rosamund Pike is beautiful but annoying as the turncoat Miranda Frost.  The catfight between these two has almost no zing.
  • Allies: Michael Madsen is awful as the CIA boss.
  • Gadgets: That invisible car.
  • Usual suspects: Dench as M is pretty harsh on Bond, considering he was held prisoner for 2 years in N Korea.  John Cleese never really pulls off his R successor to Q very well.
  • Picture: Invisible cars?  Ice castles?  Yeah, all done with CGI, ugh.  A major sign that the Bond franchise had poisoned itself.

24. The Man With the Golden Gun

  • Bond himself: Moore in his sophomore outing later stated that he was ashamed of some of the sequences he filmed for this movie.  Yikes.
  • Plot: Something to do with the energy crisis and some Macguffin called the Solex.  An assassin named Scaramanga who seems to have targeted Bond has gotten his hands on the Solex and…well, there’s a duel, I guess.
  • Villain: Christopher Lee is one of the film’s few bright points as Scaramanga.  Herve Villechaize is his henchman Nick-Nack.  Never should have happened.
  • Bond girl: Britt Ekland is awful.  Maud Adams is a little better, but not much.
  • Allies: JW Pepper?  Really?
  • Gadgets: An extra nipple.  Yes, you read that right.
  • Usual suspects: M, Q, Moneypenny don’t manage to make this any better.
  • Picture: a series of insults to the audience.  I mean, why is JW Pepper in this movie unless the writers are clutching at straws?  The end – after Scaramanga has been disposed of – devolves into borderline racism.  (Look at the way the dark-skinned guards leer at Goodnight.)  I could go on, but it’s kind of depressing.