Tag: James Bond

Goldfinger (1964)

Goldfinger header
Sean Connery defines Bond forever in Goldfinger

Director: Guy Hamilton

Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore), Gert Fröbe (Auric Goldfinger), Shirley Eaton (Jill Masterson), Tani Mallet (Tilly Masterson), Harold Sakata (Oddjob), Bernard Lee (M), Martin Benson (Mr Solo), Cec Linder (Felix Leiter), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Burt Kwouk (Mr Ling), Richard Vernon (Colonel Smithers), Bill Nagy (Mr Midnight)

It took three films, but Goldfinger was when they got the James Bond formula spot-on. So spot-on, that all the James Bond films that followed would employ elements introduced here. This is where we got for the first-time: the pre-credits action sequence, Q, a gadget filled Aston Martin, a bizarre assassination tool, a villainous henchman with a bizarre skill, an outlandish scheme and Bond delaying being saved at the end for a few more moments of rumpy-pumpy. It’s Connery at the height of his powers, has a knock-out song, one brilliant sequence after another and marks the moment where Bond wisely severed any connection with the real world, like a laser slicing through gold towards our hero’s crotch.

On vacation in Miami, James Bond (Sean Connery) has a run in with Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), gold bullion millionaire and card cheat. During this his romance with Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) is cut short when she is killed by being covered completely in gold paint (a fatal case of the not-actually-real ailment “skin suffocation”) by Goldfinger’s silent steel-rimmed hatted manservant Oddjob (Harold Sakata). Bond is hungry for revenge when he is tasked by M (Bernard Lee) to find out how Goldfinger is smuggling Gold bullion. He finds out Goldfinger has an even more fiendish plan in the works, involving Chinese agents, a nasty gas, an all-female flying circus headed by Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) and the US gold reserve at Fort Knox.

Goldfinger was a massive hit and pretty much lands somewhere near the top of any poll of the greatest ever Bond films. That’s because it’s just a massive explosion of cool fun. It’s exciting, funny, perfectly paced and has one scene after another that are so perfect, Bond films for the next fifty years would more-or-less repeat them again and again (taking it even further, A View to a Kill is virtually a remake of Goldfinger and even Quantum of Solace has a homage to death-by-gold-paint). Goldfinger takes place in a heightened reality of thrills and spills – unlike From Russia with Love or Dr No there is not even the slightest pretence espionage might work something like this – and barrels along with such pace and momentum it becomes a thrill ride you don’t want to get off.

The plot is actually rather close to Fleming’s original. Goldfinger’s plan has been tweaked, but the film still finds time for the classic “Bond takes on the cheating villain at a gentleman’s sport”, with Bond duelling with Goldfinger in a round of match-play golf (I like to think this is where Connery’s real-life obsession with the sport began, cunningly swopping the cheating Goldfinger’s ball on the final hole for default victory). But the film adds a playful, tongue-firmly-in-cheek quality. It manages to mix thrills with not taking itself too seriously, becoming a grandly entertaining thrill ride.

The re-working of the elements of the novel for the screen created an indelible template for Bond. Oddjob became a walking icon, his shadow instantly recognisable, invulnerable with a killing method – a steel rimmed hat he throws with Olympian accuracy – that’s a perfect mix of just-about plausible and utterly ridiculous. And also, of course, perfect to playfully imitate a home. What you can’t imitate is bombing around hill roads in a gadget-stuffed Aston Martin, but you can dream. The car chase is not only a show case for cool driving, it also lets you see each of the super-cool enhancements introduced by Q one-after-another (a pattern the series would follow time and again whenever a gadget-stuffed car appeared) and hammers home Bond’s super-cool confidence.

Connery was of course perfect for conveying that. In Goldfingerhe was still interested, clearly enjoying some of the best quips he got as well as just enough acting challenges – from Bond’s sad regret at anger at the death of no less than two Mastersons, to his terror at the prospect of being unmanned by a laser. That sequence has of course gone down in film history – from the striking image to the classic exchange “You expect me to talk?” “No Mr Bond I expect you to die!” – but a lot of it is sold from Connery’s desperate search for the right words to turn that machine off. Connery is cool but still just about vulnerable, cunning, smart and witty but also human. Who wouldn’t want to be so unshakeably cool that he can emerge from a wet suit (with a model seagull on his head!) unzip to reveal a tux, light a nonchalant cigarette while a factory explodes behind him, seduce a woman and then off a killer with a bathtub and a heater (“Shocking!”) – and that’s just the first five minutes!

Every scene in Goldfinger is a doozy. The playful cool of Bond outsmarting Goldfinger in Miami then getting his comeuppance (Connery is so cool in the film btw you forget that Bond is such a staunch conservative, he cheekily disparages the Beatles – that other icon of Swinging Sixties Brit Cool – to Jill as casually as he offs villains). That golf game in Kent (capped by a decapitated statue). Hillside driving with Tilly (with extra dodged bullets). Late night gadget-filled car chase. The first meeting with Pussy Galore (“I must be dreaming…”). Goldfinger’s briefing (his offing of all the attendants makes the whole thing even more funny, since its clearly just Goldfinger enjoying a bit of showing off). Bond dragging a nuclear bomb around an epic Fort Knox set. Oddjob surviving everything but a million volts. Goldfinger earning his wings in the film’s climax. It’s all terrific.

And it all works because it’s got the balance spot-on between cartoon and reality. You can see it come together in Ken Adam’s set for Fort Knox: the inside was all made up (no one would stack gold that high!) but people believed it was the real thing, because it felt like the Fort Knox we shouldhave. Goldfinger is a scowlingly wicked villain, with a little kid’s delight in his own naughtiness. Honor Blackman doesn’t appear until the film is halfway through, but is an assured, forceful, brilliant presence, more than a match for Bond (we’ll gloss over the slightly dated way Bond seems to ‘convert’ her from implied Lesbianism to – well perhaps bisexuality). The briefing sequence with a grumpy, unimpressed Q was so good Desmond Llewelyn would essentially repeat it another 13 times (only OMHSS and Live and Let Die would skip the “Now pay attention 007” sequence between this and TWINE). All of this has the bright, primary colour fun of a rollicking graphic novel.

You can watch Goldfinger about a million times – and anyone who has written a Bond film probably has, it was such a template for the next seventeen films that followed – and it would still thrill, excite and entertain you. Connery’s interest after this went downhill, and the magic wasn’t always recaptured – but this when Bond went from being a cool spy to a cultural phenomenon. Bond became the box-office franchise that would dominate cinemas for decades, the ultimate spy caper that others would be compared to. Goldfinger mixed silliness and seriousness perfectly, thrills and laughs, action and comedy. It’s a superb and hugely influential film. It’s one of the Best Bonds ever: it clearly has the Midas touch.

No Time to Die (2021)

One final mission for Daniel Craig in No Time to Die

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Lea Seydoux (Dr Madeleine Swann), Rami Malek (Lyutsifer Safin), Lashana Lynch (Nomi), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Eve Moneypenny), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Christoph Waltz (Ernst Stavro Blofield), Ralph Fiennes (M), Billy Magnussen (Logan Ash), Ana de Armas (Paloma), David Dencik (Dr Valdo Obruchev), Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner)

Remember when Daniel Craig was cast as Bond? Remember that CraigNotBond campaign, based largely on Craig being blonde? For about five minutes there was doubt about the franchise… and then Casino Royale became one of the best Bond films ever made. Craig is, clearly, one of the greatest Bonds ever, so No Time to Die, his sign-off for the role was always going to be a big movie. It’s at times exciting and gripping, but also a strange beast, partly straining at the confines of the franchise at others desperately trying to service all expectations.

It’s five years after the events of Spectre (you’d assume the less said of that the better, but unfortunately that film is absolutely at the heart of No Time to Die so we can’t dodge it). And it’s five years since James Bond (Daniel Craig) abandoned Dr Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), believing she had been responsible for luring him into a Spectre ambush. Today, Spectre agents steal a biological weapon from MI6. A retired Bond, living off the grid in Jamaica, is recruited by Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to hunt it down for the CIA but MI5, and their new 007 (Lashana Lynch), are also on the trail. Plots within plots are slowly revealed and it seems all roads lead back to Madeleine and her childhood escape from a scarred killer, the mysterious Safin (Rami Malek). Just when Bond thinks he’s out, they drag him back in…

I have very mixed feelings about No Time to Die. You have to admire the skill and expertise with which it has been made. It looks absolutely gorgeous. The action set-pieces are full of ingenuity and excitement – in particular a duel between Bond and Safin’s agents in a mist-filled Norwegian forest. The opening action set-piece, in a picturesque classic Italian town, with Bond leaping off bridges and bringing out the Aston Martin for one final spin, is a doozy.

But do you remember when Bond was, y’know, escapist fun? Or even really just fun? If there is one thing I’d argue that No Time to Die isn’t, it’s fun. Yes lots of exciting things happen, but it’s also a rather maudlin film. It’s got a weary end-of-days feeling and a slight air of self-importance. Its absurd length doesn’t help puncture this. Unlike almost any other Bond film, I have a hard time imagining watching this again: it’s probably a better film than, say, The Spy Who loved Me, but honestly which one would you rather watch on a Sunday afternoon?

But Daniel Craig is superb: the ultimate expression of his wryly amused but guarded and distant Bond, a man constantly worried about lowering his defences and letting anyone in, hiding pain under an insolent grin but secretly desperate for an emotional connection. It’s clear he is one of the great Bonds. He also feels rooted Fleming. Fleming’s Bond was never a super-hero, but a flawed, lonely man, often muddling through, far more vulnerable and emotional than people remember. No Time to Die has a lot of echoes of Fleming, which is no bad thing.

No Time to Die buries itself in the emotional world of Bond. This is as close as you going to get to a character study of our super-agent. So much so that the action (and even the presence of a Bond villain) feel like only a contractual obligation. I would love it if they had made a final, indie-tinged film on a small budget where we saw Craig’s Bond wrestling with complex feelings and trying to work out what it’s all about. More of Bond playing kids’ games with Leiter in a Jamaican bar, or preparing a child’s breakfast in the morning (scenes where the film literally has its heart). It makes No Time to Die an often poorly structured and ill-focused film (factors that contribute to its length) that’s trying to be about Bond but also be BOND. It’s a circle the film can’t really square.

The Bond franchise has always slavishly followed whatever the latest big trend in cinema was so No Time to Die doubles down in following the Marvel series, by retroactively converting all of Craig’s Bonds into one single Bondverse, with No Time to Die as its Avengers Endgame. Problem is, this was all thought of far too late, feels hideously thrown-together with no thought, and means both this film and Spectre had to bend over backwards to retroactively fill out now crucial back story.

As a result, we get the bloated runtime as the film needs to set up a personal back story, explore an emotional arc, establish a new threat and thread in huge set pieces. The writing and structuring aren’t deft enough to do this as well as Marvel does. The result is something three hours long but still feels hard to follow. Craig’s best film – Skyfall – worked because it was basically a stand-alone entry. The series (and the character) works best as a mission-focused individual.

Many elements of the story introduced here make little or no sense. Safin – in a truly awful performance by a whispering Rami Malek, straining to look intimidating – is possibly the worst, most incoherent Bond villain ever. His motivation makes no sense: at first he seems focused on eliminating only those who murdered his family; his rants about collateral damage in no way squares with his plan to unleash genocide via a bio-weapon. His “we are two sides of the same coin” confrontation with Craig feels like a feeble attempt to recapture the magic of the confrontation with Bardem in Skyfall.  An opening sequence suggests a plot-defining link between him and Swann which has promise but goes almost no-where (when they finally meet again mid-film, she doesn’t even know who he is).

A braver film would have dumped this bio-hazard nonsense and placed issues of family at its heart: a hero uncertain about settling down, the villain a person desperate to find a new family. This would have placed the link between Safin and Swann at its centre, and also allowed an even more intriguing exploration of Bond’s character by contrasting him directly with a villain explicitly focused on the same preoccupations. Instead, the comparison isn’t there and Swann remains an incoherent character – alternately weak and strong as required by the plot. Craig and Seydoux also have no real chemistry and look physically mismatched (Seudoux’s youthful looks make Craig look older than he is). Compare their chemistry with that between Craig and Ana de Armas (in a knock-out guest slot, the film’s most fun moment).

Instead it feels like a film where every single idea has been thrown at the frame and all of them made to stick. Lashana Lynch has some fine charisma, but basically nothing to do as the new female 007 (the part actually feels like a bone the franchise has tossed at diversity – Bond even gets the 007 title back part-way through). There are constantly plots within plots within plots, like a dementedly rushed series of 24. Bond goes AWOL, then AWOL from AWOL, then he’s in then out then in again from MI6. A more tightly structured story would have dared to cut some of the flab, but No Time to Die is only part way towards being the brave break from tradition it needs to be.

Sure, it takes daring decisions: it has a tragic ending and shock deaths punctuate the film. But while it needed to be a smaller, intimate story with a sombre mood, it still throws in ridiculous villains, bases on islands, armies of goons and a world-ending threat. These things honestly don’t really work together and contribute to making the film too long and too sombre to be any fun. It’s a film that’s only part way to being what it wants to be, but still obsessed with being what it thinks it should be. An awkward Frankenstein that I’m not sure will have as much shelf life as its maker’s hope.

Thunderball (1965)

The most memorable moment of Thunderball – and it happens in the first few minutes

Director: Terence Young

Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Claudine Auger (Domino), Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo), Luciana Paluzzi (Fiona Volpe), Rik Van Nutter (Felix Leiter), Guy Doleman (Count Lippe), Molly Peters (Patricia Fearing), Martine Beswick (Paula Caplan), Bernard Lee (M), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Roland Culver (Home Secretary), Paul Stassino (Francois Derval/Angelo Palazzi)

By 1965 no one bigger than James Bond – and the films had to reflect that. Thunderball had more money spent on it than all the previous Bond films put together. I suppose you can see that on the screen, but it doesn’t change the fact I’ve always found Thunderball one of the most meh of all Bond films. I always fail to get really engaged in it, and it’s stuffed with the sort of high-blown set-pieces where it feels the producers were so pleased at the possibility of doing something, they never stopped to think if there was an actual reason to do it.

Thunderball’s plot is the first example of what would become a pretty standard Bond trope: the swiping of nuclear missiles by criminals to hold the world to ransom (the principle would be repeated again in You Only Live Twice, Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker). In this case it’s Spectre agent Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), who steals a British nuke-carrying jet and demands £100 million ransom to return it. All the 00 agents are scrambled, but of course James Bond (Sean Connery) has the only lead – helped by the fact he was staying at the same health farm where the hijacker was being surgically altered to replace the jet’s pilot. Bond heads to the Bahamas to follow his lead, the pilot’s sister Domino (Claudine Auger) – only to find out she’s Largo’s girl! Will Bond get those missiles in time and dodge sharks, heavies, red-headed femme fatales and deadly street parades?

Well of course. After all, Nobody Does It Better. Thunderball is big, expensive and has several high-octane fights. But it’s also strangely slow and ponderous, takes ages to get started and has the distinct whiff of everyone going through the motions. Compared to Goldfinger and From Russia with Love there is a noticeable lack of spark and wit. All the invention seems to have gone into some of the gadgets – look Bond has a jet pack! – and none into the script which presents a series of plug-and-play characters and a plot set-up that lacks any real sense of quirk.

It also doesn’t help that what feels like vast reams of the film are filmed underwater. The producers were obviously thrilled by the invention of underwater cameras, so were eager to throw as many action sequences down there as possible. Problem is an underwater action sequence is devoid of sound and, due to the breathing apparatus, it’s nearly impossible to see anyone’s face. All this makes for some slow-paced action sequences where it’s rather hard to tell what’s going on and who is on what side.

The score tries to compensate for this by hammering up the musical intensity. Everything in the film is trying desperately to tell you this is thrilling, but you eventually realise all you are really watching are a group of wet-suit clad stuntmen moving slowly around trying to hit each other. All this in a silence only broken by the occasional ‘dead’ character floating away in a burst of despairing oxygen bubbles. Nothing that happens underwater in Thunderball sticks in the mind, for all the money spend on it.

But that’s kind of the case for the whole film. It’s a huge spectacle, but also one of the hardest Bonds to recall. The opening sequence is overshadowed by Bond’s brief escape via jet pack (where does he get it from? How does he find the time to put it on when he’s being chased? Don’t ask) but is still a witty bit of fun as Bond works out that the widow at the Spectre agent’s funeral he’s observing, is in fact the widow in disguise. But the film from here takes a very long time to get going again, with Bond pottering around a health farm. The investigation into the missiles is cursory even by Bond standards, and the only sequence that really stands out is Bond limping bleeding through a street party and using the femme fatale as a human shield.

It’s all very competently, if rather lifelessly, directed and looks great. The sight of Largo’s boat splitting into two and one part zooming away is still impressive. Sharks get a healthy workout – sharks in Bond films are always about twenty seconds away from ripping people apart. But it’s all got an air of duty about it. Its a massive box-ticking exercise. It doesn’t even have a proper ending: Bond and Domino are literally air-lifted away without a word a few seconds after Largo’s death, as if the scriptwriters hit their page count and didn’t bother putting anything else down (future films would not miss up the chance for a bit of double entendre laced shagging while waiting for rescue).

Sean Connery looks like he might have had enough (this was his fourth Bond film in about four years), heading towards the autopilot that would become even more pronounced in You Only Live Twice. There are sparks of the old cheek and charm – and he does the final fight scene with a physical viciousness that I don’t think he displayed in any other film – but his mind is elsewhere. Not much comes from the rest of the cast, almost exclusively made up of European actors all-too-clearly dubbed. Largo is the most non-descript Bond villain on record, Domino a character so forgettable the scriptwriters don’t even remember to have Bond sleep with her. Luciana Paluzzi makes the best impression as the femme fatale Fiona Volpe (although she later claimed she was never taken seriously as an actress again).

Thunderball is reasonably entertaining, but it’s the most missable background playing of all the Bond films. There is nothing in here that really stands out, no moment that dominates the clip shows, nothing that you can put your finger on that makes it really unique. It’s not even terrible like some of the other films. It’s dominated by dull underwater sequences and has a cast of largely forgettable characters. It’s a film made to order but with no love.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh take on big media in the fun Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Cast: Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Jonathan Pryce (Elliot Carver), Michelle Yeoh (Wai Lin), Teri Hatcher (Paris Carver), Joe Don Baker (Jack Wade), Ricky Jay (Henry Gupta), Gotz Otto (Richard Stamper), Vincent Schiavelli (Dr Kaufman), Judi Dench (M), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson), Geoffrey Palmer (Admiral Roebuck), Julian Fellowes (Minister)

For Pierce Brosnan’s second Bond film, they knew there was life in the old dog yet. GoldenEye’s success meant Tomorrow Never Dies could be all about bangs and fun, a Moore-esque caper with a modern touch. And fun it certainly is – exciting, amusing and with some top gadgets. This doesn’t re-invent the gun barrel, but it gives us a hell of a ride.

A British Navy ship is sunk in Chinese waters (the navy is always so luckless in Bond films!) and a Chinese MiG is shot down. Each side blames the other: but MI6 believe they are both being played against each other by a third party – media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). There’s 48 hours to find the truth and stop a war. Best send Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to Carver’s HQ to shake things up, not least because he has a past relationship with Carver’s wife Paris (Teri Hatcher). Soon partnering with Chinese Intelligence agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), the two work to expose Carver’s dastardly schemes to start a war to increase his ratings and secure those lucrative Chinese broadcast rights.

Tomorrow Never Dies sometimes has a by-the-numbers feel to it – probably because the script was written on the go, with only locations and set-pieces decided in advance. Usually that’s a recipe for disaster, but with TND it works. Probably because everyone looks like they are having a whale of a time making it and the tongue is wedged so firmly in the cheek it’s practically touching the ear. And its concept of a mogul using fake news to manipulate the world seems alarmingly prescient today – think how powerful Elliot Carver would be if he ran Twitter (as he surely would today).

You can forgive Tomorrow Never Dies almost anything because it has so many stand-out sequences. The film has a (literally) explosive start, with Bond racing against time to fly some nuclear missiles out of a terrorist trading camp, before a British cruise missile blows the base sky high (and “make Chenoboyl look like a picnic”). Naturally the destruction as Bond lays waste to the camp makes you wonder why they wasted the money on a cruise missile when Bond can destroy the place for free.

Front-and-centre though is the “Bond drives a car through a shoot-out on the back-seat with a remote control” sequence. Which when written down, captures only about 5% of the sequence’s delight. Narrated by an over-cautious sat nav (constantly warning about hazards ahead, while the car is pummelled by bullets), we get all the gadgets we expect (bullet-proof glass, rockets, caltrops, a buzz saw that conveniently rises to the exact height required to cut through a steel wire obstacle) while also watching Bond masterfully steer a car around a multi-storey car-park on his phone from the back seat. Of course, Brosnan knows it’s silly and telegraphs his enjoyment, letting out a chuckle when he reinflates his tyres after driving over his own caltrops (I love this moment).

Tell me he’s not having fun.

There is a cursory sense of mystery, but TND wisely doesn’t have much patience with that. Bond is nominally under-cover at Carver’s HQ as a banker (inevitably using his own name) but, just like his Moore-heyday, Bond’s undercover skills are hilariously bad and his hints clankingly blunt. Fortunately Carver follows Bond villain form, confirming any suspicions by ordering his goons to beat Bond black-and-blue (more fool them, as Bond uses every instrument in a sound proof recording studio to best the baddies).

This was Brosnan in absolutely top form. He’s extremely charming, handles the action very well and gets more than a few grins. He looks like a guy just delighted to be there, living the dream of playing Bond. He’s both self-deprecating and cocksure and manages to be both a believable ruthless killer and a sort of charming little-boy-lost when needed. He loves a pun in a way no other Bond apart from Moore has done (“brushing up on a little Danish” indeed…) and his chemistry with Michelle Yeoh is superb, the two playing off each other like a sort of all-action Morecambe and Wise.

It’s a Bond where comedy is to the fore. An expensive satellite at Carver’s HQ is introduced (“It’s worth $300 million. You break it, you bought it”) solely so Bond can trash it without a second glance. A hitman (hilariously played in a cameo by Vincent Schiavelli) assures Bond he could “shoot him from Stuttgart” and still make it look like a suicide then apologises with embarrassment when he has to delay the hit to ask Bond how to unlock his car (“I don’t know what to say. I feel like an idiot.”). Moneypenny even calls Bond a “cunning linguist” after she interrupts by phone Bond’s tryst with a Danish professor (a joke which I certainly didn’t get when I first watched the film at a young age).

The lighter side of the script works more successfully than some of the attempts at emotion. The script bluntly states Bond had deep feelings for Paris Carver, but this never comes across at all in the performances. Probably because the emotions were torpedoed by the blatantly obvious lack of chemistry between Brosnan and Hatcher (allegedly they couldn’t stand each other). This is made all the more obvious by contrasting it to the delightful chemistry between Brosnan and Yeoh (watch the motorcycle chase with them handcuffed together – brilliant stuff, and Yeoh is excellent in this). When Paris is dispatched early in the film, Bond is cut up about it for literally 10 seconds before he’s having a whale of a time in that car park chase.

“There’s no news…like BAD news!”

Like many Bond films you can see how the franchise had become besotted with the latest “cool thing” in cinema. In this case, the film seems deeply in love with John-Woo-Hong-Kong-action gunplay. Bond probably fires more automatic machine guns in this film than he does in all the rest of the franchise put together, and the film’s finale (the dullest set-piece) is a run-of-the-mill shoot-out on a stealth boat, that feels pretty familiar from the series’ countless “face off in a sub” endings.

Spottiswoode directs with a straightforward lack of flair. Pryce has fun going OTT (and channelling Gus Hedges from Drop the Dead Donkey) as Carver even if the part is a bit under-written. But the main joy is in watching Brosnan have a huge amount of fun running around, blowing things up and shamelessly smirking through some dodgy puns. His Bond may never have been the most complex interpretation, but at his best I’m not sure anyone else was as purely enjoyable. Much like the film.

Die Another Day (2002)

Pierce Brosnan signs off as Bond with the mess that is Die Another Day

Director: Lee Tamahori

Cast: Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Halle Berry (Jinx Johnson), Toby Stephens (Gustav Graves), Rosamund Pike (Miranda Frost), Rick Yune (Tang Ling Zao), Judi Dench (M), John Cleese (Q), Michael Madsen (Damian Falco), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson), Will Yun Lee (Colonal Tan-Sun Moon), Kenneth Tsang (General Moon), Madonna (Verity)

Die Another Day was the highest grossing Bond film ever released. So why was it almost four years before another one was made? Put simply, because this one weren’t no bloody good. Released at the Bond series’ 40th anniversary, Die Another Day was meant to be a celebration of everything Bond – instead it’s like the final nail in the coffin of an entire lifecycle in the franchise that started probably around the early Roger Moore films. When Bond came back out after this, he was radically different. 

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent undercover to Korea to take out renegade Korean Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee). The mission is a success – but Bond is betrayed and captured by the North Koreans. Coming out of Korean prison a year later, Bond is no longer wanted by MI6. So he goes off on his own to find out who betrayed him – and finds newly emerged diamond businessman Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) might have something to do with it. With a trail that starts in Hong Kong and heads to Cuba, the UK, Iceland and back to Korea he’ll work alongside CIA agent Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry) to find out how this all ties together and get his revenge.

Die Another Day starts a bit like a Connery Bond – and about half way through it segues into being perhaps the most ridiculously overblown Roger Moore-esque Bond you’ll ever see. I suppose you could say this was the scriptwriters trying to capture the essence of 40 years in one movie. But actually it’s probably just incoherent scriptwriting and stupid storytelling. It starts trying to be grounded – Bond is captured and tortured for a year! – but then shrugs off any aftereffects of this year of hell with lackadaisical ease before throwing us into the sort of “Ice palace! Invisible cars! A weapon that channels the power of the sun!” malarkey that even Roger might have thought was a little bit too much.

It’s not helped by the fact that the entire film is so shoddily put together and so lazy in its execution. The one liners in this film are terrible – there are no double entendres in this film only single entrendres (words like thrust, pleasure, weapon and mouthful are used with gleeful abandon) – and far from being a playful exercise in Bond’s cheekiness are just hand-in-the-mouth embarrassing. But that’s almost as nothing compared to the woeful special effects. Even in 2002, nothing in this film looked real. 

I hardly know where to start with the awful plasticky sheen of the effects here. The film opens with Bond and fellow agents surfing (!) into a deserted island – at the end of which Brosnan in front of blatant blue screen rips off his mask to show it-was-definitely-him. As if that wasn’t bad enough (Bond surfs? I’m out!) Bond surfs AGAIN in the movie halfway through, using a parachute as a sail to escape possibly the least convincing wave ever put onto film. It really has to be seen to be believed (or rather not believed). That’s not to mention the wonky overblown final plane sequence, or a laughably unrealistic looking Jinx dive from a cliff down into the water below.

Brosnan probably tries his best in all this, but even he can’t save this total mess. How does a film that started with Bond in prison and emerging damaged and on a gritty quest for revenge end with a villain wearing a robot suit controlling the sun? The script after the first 15 minutes gives Brosnan nothing to play with. The film loses all interest in the traitor plotline about halfway through, and when she is unmasked (in a twist that surprises no one at all) Bond barely seems to care. Pierce himself looks frankly too old and a little out of shape (his running in this film with his arms pumping up to his face looks terrible), something only magnified by the youth of his co-stars. 

Not that I’m saying his co-stars are any good either. When this film came out there was a brief flurry of excitement that Halle Berry’s Jinx would be worth a franchise of her own. That died shortly after the film came out – this is a character that acts tough when needed, but still needs to be saved twice in quick succession by Bond, who says faux-tough things like “Yo Mama!” but has barely two personality facets to rub together. Berry simply does her bit and meets the requirement of looking sexy and fighting. Mind you she still fares better than an embarrassing Toby Stephens, whose villain is so paper-thin the actor seems to have taken the bizarre decision to channel Alan Partridge. Rosamund Pike’s fencing MI5 agent barely registers.

Needless to say Bond beds her – as he beds all the women in this with a perfunctory inevitability that fits the box-ticking exercise of the whole film. The film is littered with references to past Bond films, although that is probably only going to make you want to watch almost any of the other films instead. Perhaps to try and up the ante and make this one “even biggerer and betterer than before” there are more gadgets than ever before. These are topped with the crowning turd of the invisible car, a nadir for the franchise, a senseless advantage (Bond at one point follows directly behind two walking heavies in the car – it’s invisible NOT silent for goodness sake!) and something so overblown that however much the producers at the time tried to justify it by pointing at military technology just sounds silly. Don’t get met started on the bizarre VR training sequence Bond carries out (later replayed for a grotesquely demeaning Moneypenny joke that made me feel sorry for Samantha Bond).

But then the whole thing basically sounds silly. Giving the villain a huge ice palace lair might have seemed like a cheeky nod, but again it just looks absurd and the producers desperately trying to find a location that hasn’t been used before. The entire film feels like a rushed attempt to get something out for the 40th anniversary (perhaps the rush helps explain the insane product placement, leading to the film being nicknamed Buy Another Day). The script has been assembled from the off-cuts of other Bond films. There are no fresh ideas at all and everything that happens in the film has the air of “well this sort of thing happens in Bond films”. The script and special effects feel half finished. Rather than a tribute to how Bond was done in the past, it feels like a tombstone. Here lies James Bond c. 1967-2002. No wonder under Daniel Craig he needed to be reborn as someone who felt vaguely in touch with something approaching reality.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Roger Moore takes aim in this most low-key of his adventures – and one of his best

Director: John Glen

Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Carole Bouquet (Melina Havelock), Topol (Milos Columbo), Julian Glover (Aristotle Kristatos), Lynn-Holly Johnson (Bibi Dahl), Michael Gothard (Emile Leopold Locque), Cassandra Harris (Lisl van Schlaf), John Wyman (Erich Kriegler), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Jill Bennett (Jacoba Brink), James Villiers (Bill Tanner), Geoffrey Keen (Minister of Defence), Walter Gotell (General Gogol), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Jack Hedley (Sir Timothy Havelock)

Where could Bond go after he went to space in Moonraker? Another planet? The future? The producers of Bond decided they couldn’t top that – probably wisely – so for Bond’s next outing they went back to low-key basics. For Your Eyes Only Bond would find himself in an old-school Cold-war game of cross and counter-cross, scrambling for the Russians for ownership of what looks like a cross between a typewriter and child’s cash till toy. 

That toy is the ATAC (though it might as well be called MCGUFFIN) a ministry of defence system used to co-ordinate nuclear subs or some such. When the ship it’s on sinks somewhere off the coast of Greece, MI6 and the KGB swing into gear to be the first claim it from the Ocean depths. So Bond is off to Greece to investigate, not knowing who to trust: should it be MI6 contact and shipping magnet Kristatos (Julian Glover) or playboy smuggler and former resistance man Columbo (Topol)? And how will he deal with Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), the long-haired, half-Greek archer intent on revenge on whoever ordered her parents killed while they (without her knowledge) searched for the ATAC? Either way it will involve chases, deadly winter sports, flirtatious teenage ice skaters and a death defying climb up to a monastery at the top of a mountain.

For Your Eyes Only is one of those quiet gems of Bond movies that, because it is about something quite small scale and quiet compared to the films it precedes often gets overlooked. It’s certainly the point where Moore should have stopped making the films – when your turning down the advances of someone because she’s too young (as he does ice skater Bibi) you know it’s time to go – and to be honest Moore was flagging already here, clearly too old for the action and certainly far too old for Carole Bouquet, who looks like she could have him for breakfast (she struggles to muster much sexual interest in him). But it doesn’t really matter because this is an old-school bit of spy cool, mixed with some decent but grounded fights and chases and shot with a loving eye for Switzerland and Greece (with plenty of clichéd visuals and sound cues thrown in from both as you would expect).

The producers wanted to shy away from the gadget filled antics of the previous films. As if to make the point, Bond’s car is destroyed almost immediately, forcing him to make a getaway at one point in a bashed up Citroen 2CV. The long sequence in the film where Bond is chased around a ski resort – which takes in cross-country skiing, a ski jump, a toboggan and several other winter sports is remarkable for nary a gadget in sight, with Bond relying on his wits and native skill with skis. Even when ascending the mountain at the film’s end, he uses nothing more than standard climbing equipment, putting his trust in ropes and hooks. It’s possibly the least tech heavy Bond film since Doctor No. There isn’t even a novelty watch and no humorous Q briefing on the gadgets. The only visit to Q’s lab is to use a cumbersome facial recognition system, that hilariously uses computer disks the size of stone slabs loaded into something that today resembles a dishwasher.

Other than that Bond is on his own, and it’s fairly neat to see him go about an investigation and follow a trail – even if Bond is, as usual, a hopeless undercover agent who largely relies on waiting to see who tries to kill him first. The villains, as always oblige, spending most of the film attempting to off Bond for all sorts of confused ill-defined reasons. Perhaps it has something to do with our main villain – the rather low-key Julian Glover, playing possibly the least colourful Bond villain ever, a guy who just wants to sell the ATAC for some cold hard cash – using so many cut outs for his operations, speechless goons (including an early appearance from Charles Dance) and East German skiing champions who seem motivated to kill Bond purely for larks and the evilz.

The first half of the film though is huge fun, watching Bond blunder around the ski resort dodging hits, fighting people, punching out butch hockey players and the like that it hardly matters that most of the plot is pretty inconsequential. When Bond finally stops mucking around in Switzerland and heads to Greece the ATAC is found in about 5 minutes flat (Havelock helpfully left a map with the downed boat coloured in on it, making his daughter’s ability to translate his cryptic notes pretty much useless), while the villain immediately takes this chance to comprehensively unmask himself.

After a further elaborately sadistic attempt to off Bond involving dragging him across coral in shark infested waters (sharks are always such deadly threats in Bond films), Bond unites with Topol to storm the castle in an actually pretty gripping and vertigo inducing climb sequence, another triumph of John Glen’s mastery of the action sequence. It’s a nice touch as well to introduce the “guest star” of the film not as the antagonist but as a protagonist ally, a neat twist that must have come as quite a shock back in the day. Topol plays his role with realish, cracking nuts, gags and heads with equal glee.

The film also heads into some dark places. For all his charm, gallantry and debonair wit, Moore does his meanest thing in years here when he kicks a heavy’s teetering car off a cliff. But that’s a fair repayment for the brutal running over of his mid-film squeeze (played by Pierce Brosnan’s real life late wife Cassandra Harris) earlier on by the same heavy. The early murder of the Havelock’s is surprisingly graphic (and also gives a great reaction shot for Carole Bouquet as she turns and looks back as the plane carrying her parent’s murderers jets away, her eyes screaming “I shall have my revenge!”) and Carole Bouquet’s Melina is determined figure, who does more than her fair share of the action.

Of course the film can’t endorse too much her need for revenge. “That’s not the way” Bond, like a disapproval uncle, rather prissily tells her several times. Which is a bit rich coming from a man who opens the film by dropping his wife’s murderer down a factory chimney shaft. That opening sequence by the way is a joy, a neat call back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (whenever Bond went serious, it referenced Bond’s status as a widower) as well as a the dispatching of a it-could-be-anyone bald, scared, cackling villain with a white cat who makes an ill-advised attempt to kill Bond with a remote controlled helicopter (the film is so anti-Gadgets, only the baddies seem to use them and they don’t even work for them). It’s a neat “fuck you” to Kevin McCloy, at that time in a feud with the producers over the rights to Bond who had refused to allow them to use Blofield or Spectre again in the films. Keen to show they didn’t need Blofield, the producers introduced him in all but name to ignominiously kill him off, his final pathetic words a hilariously meaningless offer to buy Bond a “delicatessen in stainless steel” if only Bond would let him go.

FYEO is a crackingly old-fashioned Bond film that, despite being more grounded, has some great action sequences and a host of actors having a good time. Carole Bouquet is one of Moore’s best Bond girls and Moore himself certainly should have stopped here, this film throwing together one of his best mixes of light comedy, moral uprightedness, playfulness mixed with a dash of cruelty. John Glen did such a good job assembling this one he directed the next four films. It’s not got the smash-and-grab of The Spy Who Loved Me, but it’s an excellent action adventure.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Bond finds himself in another pretty pickle in The Spy Who Loved Me

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Barbara Bach (Anya Amasova), Curd Jürgens (Karl Stromberg), Richard Kiel (Jaws), Caroline Munro (Naomi), Walter Gotell (General Gogol), Bernard Lee (M), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Geoffrey Keen (Frederick Gray), Robert Brown (Vice-Admiral Hargreaves), George Baker (Captain Benson), Michael Billington (Sergei Barsov), Vernon Dobtcheff (Max Kalba), Nadim Sawalha (Fekkesh)

Roger Moore had made two Bond films before he made The Spy Who Loved Me – but this is the one when he finally hit upon the formula that works for him. It’s also probably the moment where the Bond films became – once for all – comedy adventure capers. It was but a few more degrees from here until Bond was telling a tiger to “sit” or racing past a double-taking pigeon in the middle of St Mark’s Square. And the public loved it. For better or worse, Moore’s Bond here helped define the franchise for a whole generation.

Anyway, the story. It’s eerily familiar in many ways to Thunderball and You Only Live Twice: a power-crazed lunatic (Karl Stromberg) running a secret organisation wants to destroy the world. His plan? To capture one American and one Soviet submarine and use them to fire nuclear missiles at the nation’s two capitals, to kickstart a nuclear war, leaving only his underwater kingdom intact. Just as well then that an over-keen Stromberg (Curd Jürgens) first captures a British sub, meaning James Bond (Roger Moore) is called in to investigate. Bond will work with the USSR’s finest agent – Anya Amasova, Triple X (Barbara Bach) – to find out what’s going on and why.

TSWLM is a lot of fun, possibly the ultimate expression of what a lot of people think Bond is. It’s hugely silly, rather exciting and has almost no connection with reality whatsoever. Moore goes through the whole thing with his eyebrow forever arched, tipping the wink at the audience – “You do know, dear boy, this is all dreadfully silly stuff”. Sometimes in Bond this humour gets a bit much – but here it’s pretty much pitched perfectly. And Moore looks like he is having the time of his life.

The film is crammed with action set pieces in striking locations: the Alps! The pyramids! A converted oil tanker base! Nothing is left to the imagination, and everything is thrown at the screen. It gets the sense of excitement right from the pre-credits sequence, with Bond’s high-speed ski chase across the alps from Russian would-be hitmen. Fools – what chance did they have? I don’t know what I like most about this scene: is it the wild ski stunts? The way music and camera action combine so well? The fact that it’s crystal clear Moore probably spent precisely zero days on location for this sequence? What am I talking about, it’s got to be that insane parachute jump at the end – with the camera leaving it just long enough for you to start to think “is Bond going to get out of this one?”. (Spoilers he does.)

That’s almost nothing compared to the famous Lotus-turned-submarine car chase, which pretty much set the standard for all the car-based action (not to mention gadget filled cars) that would follow in the franchise. The idea of a car that turns into a submarine: it’s both brilliant and so overwhelmingly silly that, like Bond at its vibrant best, it seems to transcend class and logic into a higher plane of excitement.

And all this with a plot that is almost staggeringly stupid. Jurgens has a lot of arch, naughty fun as scheming monomaniac (with subtle webbed hands) Stromberg, a pompous arsehole and a great villain. Of course he wasn’t a physical threat – hence the invention of Jaws, surely the most popular henchman ever invented for Bond. Jaws is a lunking, vicious but strangely endearing brute – it’s hard to put your finger on why he’s strangely likeable, maybe it’s just the totally absurd idea of a hitman whose killer tools are metal teeth. Maybe it’s because Richard Kiel has such a dorky sense of humour – and is as good at the glance at the camera as Moore himself is.

Of course it is a dated film – and it’s always the women that show it. If this set a lot of good Bond archetypes, then it also helped to cement a few bad ones. Anya Amasova is (allegedly) the greatest agent Russia has. Not that you would know it, as she stumbles in this film from moments of staggering incompetence and stupidity to victimhood and damsel-in-distress. There is a hint of character development – Bond offs her boyfriend in that alpine chase literally without a backward glance – but that’s soon forgotten by the end under Bond’s charms. The poor woman can’t even drive stick (“That’s reverse, let’s try again shall we” says Bond with smackable smugness) and by the end of the film she’s bikini-clad and being rescued by Bond. It says a lot when the strongest thing about her character is that her name isn’t an innuendo.

But you can let it go, because the rest of the film is such good fun. Everything is nonsense of course, and you could steer a submarine through the plot holes. If Stromberg only needs two submarines to start his evil plan, why on earth does he grab a third one at the start of the final act? (Just as well he does, of course, as otherwise Bond would never get on board his base.) Stromberg is ruthless enough to eliminate three underlings and to set up a nuclear war to wipe out the world – but those captured submarine crews he keeps alive, imprisoned, with a small guard, next to the armoury on his base. Ooops. His plan is almost effortlessly undone with a radio message from Bond. But never mind. It doesn’t matter.

The point is that this is all great fun and basically set the tone for the next ten years of Bond films – until Dalton shifted gears. Moore is really good in it, as a sort of ringmaster of silliness – and he’s clearly enjoying it wildly. The Spy Who Loved Me is his best film – and for all its dumbness, its leaning into cheap humour, its ludicrous plot and sexist attitudes, it’s still up there at the top of the franchise. Because for a lot of people, all those negatives are exactly what they now expect from Bond.

Spectre (2015)

Bond heads into danger in thematic mess Spectre

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Christoph Waltz (Franz Oberhauser/Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Léa Seydoux (Dr Madeleine Swann), Ralph Fiennes (M), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Eve Moneypenny), Dave Bautista (Mr Hinx), Andrew Scott (Max Denbigh), Monica Bellucci (Lucia Sciarra), Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner), Jesper Christensen (Mr White)

SPOILERS: Okay, surely most people have seen this by now – but just in case I’m going to spoil the big twist of Spectre. It is, by the way, a really, really, really stupid, annoying terrible twist. So you won’t mind. But just in case you do… Spoilers.

In 2002, Austin Powers: Goldmember had, amongst its ridiculous plotlines, a reveal that Austin Powers and Dr Evil were, in fact, long lost brothers. It was the crowning height of silliness in the franchise, the ultimate punchline to Mike Myers’ James Bond spoof. Well the wheel comes full circle: in 2015, Spectre’s shock plot reveal was – James Bond and Ernst Stavro Blofeld – wait for it – they were only – guess what! – raised by the same man, so basically sorta brothers! Who would have thunk it? The world’s greatest spy and world’s greatest villain both grew up together. Yup, the Bond producers actually thought this was a good idea. Yup they were completely wrong.

Spectre opens in Mexico with Bond (Daniel Craig) preventing an attack on a football stadium – although this attack basically involves trashing an entire city block. Benched by M (Ralph Fiennes), he investigates the shadowy organisation known as Spectre, which he discovers is run by Franz Oberhauser (Christop Waltz), a man Bond seems to know a great deal about. Meanwhile M engages in Whitehall battles with the intelligence director Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) and his sinister “Nine Eyes” programme, designed to control all surveillance in the developed world.

Spectre is a film that really falls apart in its final third, as ridiculous revelation piles on top of ludicrous contrivance. After Skyfall, we all wanted Sam Mendes to come back to do another Bond film, but this makes every single mistake that film avoided: self-conscious,  silly in the wrong way, takes itself way too seriously, despite its best efforts it doesn’t really do anything new, and attempts to build a “Bond universe” around a franchise that works because it keeps reinventing itself in stand-alone films. It’s the Bond producers attempt to do a Marvel film – and it ain’t pretty. Did we need to create some sort of tenuous link between the Craig-era Bond movies? Did we need Blofeld and Bond to have a “very personal” connection? No we massively did not.

Mendes shoots the action with a mock grandeur that seems to be serving other things than the plot. Critics fawned over the long shot that follows Bond through the Day of the Dead street festival, through a hotel, out of a window, across a series of roofs and into the first action scene. But for me, it’s a self-conscious, look-at-me piece of trickery. It’s an air of pretention that runs through the whole film: it’s a film that wants you to think it’s making Big Points around Bond’s psychology and background, but keeps running aground because it goes about them in such a ham fisted way, particularly when compared to Skyfall’s subtlety and willingness to look at Bond’s vulnerability.

Most sequences in the film feels strangely flat and lifeless. There is a surprisingly sterile car chase through the streets of Rome between Bond and Hinx. The opening montage in Mexico just never really grips – maybe because it’s not clear what’s going on, maybe because it feels so self-consciously grandiose. The film’s tone is over the place – there are lashings of Moore. Bond falls through a collapsing building only to land on a sofa. During the car chase, Bond hits a button only to have some Frank Sinatra start playing on the radio. Craig does at least go through the comedy with a breezy lightness, though it sits oddly in a film that features a villain shooting himself in the head, and a guy having his eyes gouged out. 

The whole investigation into Spectre just isn’t interesting. Because the film has been written with such a self-conscious eye on fandom, it never gives us a reason within the film to care about it at all. Spectre don’t seem to be doing anything, other than being a shady organisation making money. We don’t get told why Bond is invested in it or Oberhauser until late in the day. The film pins everything on a “beyond the grave” video from Judi Dench’s M to give us a reason for chasing this plot. But nothing feels at stake and we don’t get told about Bond’s personal stake in it until almost the end – and even when we do, Bond doesn’t really seem to give a toss about the reveal.

Ah yes. The reveal. A few years ago, Star Trek Into Darkness had a terrible, nonsensical reveal around Benedict Cumberbatch’s character – turns out he was Khan. This was met with derision because (a) it had no impact on the wider viewers who didn’t know who Khan was, (b) it felt shoe-horned in as fan service, and (c) it had no impact on the characters in the film who’d never met Khan before. So who cared? He might as well have said “My real name is Fred”. This was the case with the Blofeld reveal here. The name means little to non-Bond fans. And it means naff-all to Bond. We’ve never heard it mentioned in the film before. It comes out of nowhere. It means nothing – it’s dropped into the film to get a cheer at comic con – so nakedly so, that it just annoyed people.

It doesn’t help that the whole “secret brothers” thing is a really, really dumb idea. I mean so mega-dumb it was, as mentioned, the final ridiculous flourish of Austin Powers. How did they look at this and think “yes”? Again it feels like retreading Skyfall ground – this already had given us interesting insights into Bond by having him return to his childhood home. But what did we learn about Bond here? Sweet FA. Whatever iconic status Blofeld had is immediately undermined by making him a pathetic envious child. Christoph Waltz’s bored performance doesn’t help either.

And as the film doesn’t spend any time establishing Blofeld or Spectre doing terrible things, it has to make a series of tenuous connections to Craig’s other films to ludicrously suggest that everything that happened in those films was Blofeld’s evil plan. This is so clearly bollocks, retroactive adaptation that it just makes you snort. Skyfall’s villain was very clearly established as a personally motivated lone-wolf – it makes no sense that he was sent by Blofeld. The first two Craig films established a secretive organisation, but it was framed very much as corporate ruthless villainy – the idea that it was an organisation established to destroy Bond is nonsense.

The reveal that Blofeld wants to destroy Bond personally makes most of the film itself make no sense. If Blofeld wants Bond to come to his base to exact revenge for childhood wrongs, why does his muscle-man Hinx spend the film so aggressively trying to kill him (especially in the film’s stand out action sequence, a no-holds-barred scrap on a train)? It’s almost like they were making it up as they go. Even Quantum of Solace held together better plotwise than this (ironically QoS goes almost completely unmentioned in Blofeld’s evil schemes – probably because it’s a bad film). The final confrontation between Bond and Blofeld strains credulity and patience – reaching for a personal rivalry that hasn’t been established by anything other than fans’ vague memories of watching You Only Live Twice on a Sunday afternoon years ago.

I’ve not mentioned the Bond girls either. The film tries to make a “strong female character” in Léa Seydoux’s Madeline Swann, but she is a plot device rather than a character, with no consistent personality, solely there to be whatever the plot requires. When it needs her to be a gun-toting, self-reliant, go-getter who sasses Bond, she is. When it needs her to be a damsel in distress she forgets all that firearms stuff and waits for a man to save her. When the plot needs her to express total devotion for Bond she does. When it needs her shortly afterwards to leave him, guess what, she does that as well. She is a character who makes no sense at all. It doesn’t help that she looks way too young for Craig. The wonderful Monica Belluci is given a thankless role of informant and brief sex partner for Bond – she of course was far too close to Craig’s age to be the main Bond girl. Just as he did with the shower sex scene in Skyfall, Craig manages to make this seduction seem inappropriate and pervy – it’s not his strength.

Lea Seydoux. She is, by the way, 17 years younger than Daniel Craig. Just saying.

 The stupidly unclear, dully predictable “Nine Eyes” plot doesn’t make things any better either. One of Skyfall’s neatest tricks was to cleverly mislead us about Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory, setting him up as an antagonist to slowly reveal him as an ally. This film attempts an inverted version of this trick with Andrew Scott’s Max Denbigh. Problem is, Scott is at his most softly-spoken Moriarty sinister – you are in no doubt he’s a wrong ‘un from the first frame. What would have worked is making Denbigh Bond’s ally. This would make the reveal of his villainy at least a surprise for some people in the audience. As it is the whole reveal is no shock what-so-ever. The whole plot starts to feel like plates being spun in the air, a way to give Fiennes, Kinnear and Harris something to do on the margins of the film.

I mean – he just LOOKS like a villain doesn’t he?

Okay Spectre is well filmed. It’s got some good scenes. Ben Whishaw continues to be excellent as Q – and gets loads to do here which is great. Craig actually does some of the comedy with charm and skill – even if he hardly seems as engaged with the material here as he did before, as if he was already becoming tired of the whole enterprise. But it’s too long (over 2 and a half hours!), and straight from its pretentious “The Dead Are Alive Again” opening, it’s straining for a thematic depth and richness that it constantly misses. It makes nothing of its family feud plotline and we learn very little about Bond as a character at all. It mistakes stupid fan-service and pointless reveals for plot, and it builds itself towards a reveal that it expects to get a cheer from the audience, but has no real connection to the plot of the film we are watching, and is in no way earned by the events of the film. 

Spectre is, at best, in the middle rank of Bond films – too self-important, incoherent and (whisper it) a little dull in places to really work. It’s not a complete failure – but it is a major disappointment. There is enough here to entertain most of the time, but not enough to really engage the mind or the guts. For Sam Mendes, lightening didn’t strike twice.

The Living Daylights (1987)

Timothy Dalton’s meaner Bond takes aim in top Bond Film The Living Daylights

Director: John Glen

Cast: Timothy Dalton (James Bond), Maryam D’Abo (Kara Milovy), Jeroen Krabbé (General Georgi Koskov), Joe Don Baker (Brad Whitaker), John Rhys-Davies (General Leonid Pushkin), Art Malik (Kamran Shah), Andreas Wisniewski (Necros), Thomas Wheatley (Saunders), Robert Brown (M), Demons Llewellyn (Q), Geoffrey Keen (Minister of Defence), Caroline Bliss (Miss Moneypenny), John Terry (Felix Leiter), Walter Gotell (General Gogol)

After A View to a Kill,even the Bond producers realised something had to change. Roger Moore at 60, was definitely too long in the tooth to still be the debonair super spy. The producers were quick to land their first choice – TV’s Remington Steele star, Pierce Brosnan. But a last-minute renewal of the cancelled show meant Brosnan was out – and the producers turned to one of the first choices when Connery left: Timothy Dalton. Dalton had considered himself too young in 1969, but the stars aligned now. So we had a new Bond – a younger, sleeker, meaner model. To quote that other franchise with a revolving lead: Change my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon…

James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is tasked to protect a defecting Russian general, Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé), but during the mission he refuses to take the life of Kara Milovy (Maryam D’Abo), a cello player from the Viennese orchestra turned sniper, whom he believes to be nothing but an amateur. When Koskov is snatched by mysterious forces, Bond must trace his only link to Koskov: Kara Milovy, who he quickly discovers is Koskov’s lover. Soon he questions the legitimacy of the defection – and the links to sinister American arms dealer Brad Whittaker (Joe Don Baker).

First and foremost, this is Timothy Dalton’s film. His Bond was something so radically different from Moore that, to a certain extent, the public wasn’t ready for it. Dalton went right back to Fleming’s books, and brought to the screen for the first time a Bond who actually feels like the character of the novel: world-weary, cynical, reluctant (even bitter), a man on the edge of anger with a darkness behind the charm. When Bond is threatened by being reported to M by his colleague Saunders (an excellent Thomas Wheatley), he snaps in response: “If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it”. Can anyone imagine Moore or Connery saying that?

He’s also a man capable of genuine emotion and loyalty, who forms friendships and relationships throughout the film that we haven’t really seen before. Sure some of the comic elements feel shaped more for Moore’s lips than Dalton’s, but Dalton’s Bond made everything feel more grounded than the overblown later Moore movies. To put it bluntly, Dalton makes Bond feel like a human being, not just a super-hero. There’s a reason he’s been called the best actor to take on the role. He treats it like an acting job. He might be the best Bond.

This works particularly interestingly as this film is a sort of half-way-house between a Moore film and an early Connery film. The tone of the film is kept relatively light (a key chain that works via a wolf whistle! Skiing down a slope on a cello case!), but the villains of the piece are relatively low key (they want to make a killing on drug deals) and there is a nice mix between some exciting (but not over the top) stunts and an almost Hitchcockian feel.

This Hitchcock feel is not least in the (rather sweet) romance between Bond and Kara, with its Notorious feel of a man manipulating a woman while genuinely growing to care for her. Setting most of these scenes in a romantically shot Vienna also helps enormously, with its noirish Third Man feel. Unlike many other Bonds, the relationship here between Bond and the girl feels like a genuine romance. Kara may be a bit of a damsel in distress, but she feels like a warm-hearted, decent person wrapped up in events beyond her experience. And although audiences at the time, accustomed to Moore and Connery’s unending conquests, were critical of the reduction in Bond’s sexual adventures, making him less promiscuous results in Bond feeling like much more of a jaded romantic than a casual philanderer, and makes his relationship with Kara much more resonant.

The whole film feels much more grounded in reality, without losing a sense of fun. The film does its action sequences extraordinarily well. The car chase through snowy Austria is brilliantly done (the car gets a series of stand out gadgets), with Dalton delivering each new revelation of the car with a winning dryness. This sequence develops into the brilliantly funny cello-case skiing sequence (“We’ve nothing to declare!”/”Except a cello!”). Again, the sequence works so well because it is skilfully counterbalanced with the almost Le Carre-ish piece of spycraft Bond uses first to get Kara out from the under noses of her KGB watchers.

Interestingly, one of its most striking sequences doesn’t even involve Bond: that plaudit has to go to the thrilling one-man assault by unstoppable ubermensch Necros on the MI6 house where Koskov is being held. A particular showcase here is the brutal kitchen fight between Necros and an MI6 officer, surely the greatest fight in the series not to feature Bond (and all the more exciting as you don’t know what could happen to these characters), plus it’s great to see someone in MI6 other than Bond being able to handle themselves.

The final major sequence of the film, with Necros and Bond fighting while clinging for their lives to a net, dangling out the back of a plane, is a truly striking action set-piece, a real vertigo inducing stand-out. If you can put to one side in your head the fact that Bond’s key allies during the whole Afghanistan sequence of this film are basically Al-Qaida in an earlier form (with Art Malik’s charming Kamran Shah basically exactly the sort of man who went on to become Osama Bin-Laden), and you can enjoy the sequence for its terrific excitement.

The weaknesses of the film are in its structure. Both villains (and their plot) are underwhelming. Koskov is something very different – charming, feckless, manipulative (he’s quite well played by Krabbé) – but hardly much of a threat, and he drops out of the film for a chunk in the middle. Joe Don Baker’s Whittaker is too distant from the central plot for him to earn his role as Bond’s final antagonist. It feels like the writers have split one character into two – a Koskov who hid Whittaker’s ruthlessness and bullying under a charming, foolish veneer might have really worked. Their plan is grounded in a reassuring reality, but it never feels like that big a deal. Its complexity is also probably a little too great for the narrow focus the film gives it. The final Whittaker-Bond confrontation is underwhelming considering what we’ve seen before.

But that is because this is Dalton’s film – or, if you like, a Bond film focused on Bond. From the stirring introduction on a training mission parachuting into Gibraltar, Dalton seizes the film by the scruff of the neck. Unlike nearly any other Bond film before now, this feels like one about the type of man Bond is – the killer with a well-hidden heart, the cynic who believes in his cause. He has great chemistry with his fellow actors – not least John Rhys-Davies, excellent as General Pushkin – and above all romantic chemistry with Maryam d’Abo.

The humour allows us to warm to Bond, while the darkness Dalton brings to the role helps us invest emotionally in his more tortured interpretation. All else aside, TLD is damn good fun with some excellent action sequences and a terrific score. It’s very much in the upper echelon of Bond films.

The World is Not Enough (1999)

Pierce Brosnan falls into Sophie Marceau’s clutches. Time for one last screw.

Director: Michael Apted

Cast: Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Sophie Marceau (Elektra King), Robert Carlyle (Renard), Denise Richards (Dr Christmas Jones), Robbie Coltrane (Valentin Zukovsky), Judi Dench (M), Michael Kitchen (Bill Tanner), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), John Cleese (R), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Ulrich Thomsen (Sasha Davidov)

I’ve long been of the belief that Pierce Brosnan’s Bonds were each a decline from the last, no matter how much money and action were thrown at the screen. TWINE in no way shakes that opinion. It’s a film I remember when I saw it in the cinema twenty years ago being a little, well, disappointed by.

After the assassination of an oil tycoon in MI6 headquarters, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is assigned to protect his daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau) as she vows to complete the pipeline her father started. MI6 believes her life is endangered by her former kidnapper Renard (Robert Carlyle). Heading to Eastern Europe, Bond soon finds himself in the middle of a complex game, with a mysterious string puller, that seems to revolve around the stealing of a nuclear warhead and the kidnap of M (Judi Dench), with only nuclear scientist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) to help.

TWINE is all about its electrifying opening sequence. It’s possibly the biggest, most exciting introduction to a Bond movie yet. Not only does it have a truly compelling action sequence in the boat chase down the Thames, but there’s plenty of plot, tension, mystery, revelation and humour – Bond straightens his tie under water – to match the entire content of some Bond capers. Brosnan is deadly in the Bilbao sequence – you believe he’s a killer – he’s working out of the money trap is Bond at his most ingenious and the beautifully filmed and edited boat chase is an absolute wonder. It’s edge of the seat stuff and when it finishes, you can just imagine a cinema full of people letting out a sigh of relief and kicking back to enjoy the rest of the film.

In fact that’s part of the problem. As Anthony Lane said in his review of the film “It’s the best 15 minutes in film this year. Let’s pack up and go home”. The problem is literally nothing in the film that follows can even hope to live up to this – and by the end, it’s practically given up trying. How does a film that started so vibrantly end with such a hackneyed fight on a submarine, with our heroes squabbling over something so fiddily it looks like an ink cartridge?

In between the phenomenal start and the damp squib ending, the film pings off to a lot locations – Azerbaijan! Turkey! Bilbao! – but everywhere still has the same bland, identikit feel to it, for all the shots of the odd famous landmark. That’s not to mention the rather laborious plot that ties the film together. It’s a film that feels like it’s trying to make a series of big statements about our hidden selves, revenge, manipulation – but falls short each time. It’s wrapped inside the most elliptical villain scheme I can remember. I only watched it a few days ago and even I’m not sure why Elektra wanted to blow up that damn submarine in Turkey.

Bond and Renard face off in the underwhelming sub sequence

Increasingly it becomes bogged down in machinations that feel recycled from previous films in the series. Shady Russians, corrupt security guards, chases down the snowy mountains, fiddily endings in old style nuclear subs. The film’s second biggest set piece – the attack on a cavier factory – has a rather formulaic inevitability about it. 

It has its moments of cool and charm, but in many ways it’s a blunt and crude film. What sort of eclectic film casting selects people as wildly diverse as Goldie and Ulrich Thomson as sidekicks? Robbie Coltrane returns as Zukovsky, but his character has been broadened from his first outing in GoldenEye into some sort of comic relief, a cane carrying buffoon a million miles from the ruthless ex-hitman in his first appearance. We even get a return of the “MI6 accidentally stumbles in on Bond doing the nasty” closing gag so beloved of the Roger Moore era. By the end of the film it really feels we’ve come a million miles from the ruthless efficiency and dynamic action it opened with.

The film’s most interesting beat, without a doubt, is Elektra King. It’s a stroke of inventiveness to turn the character established as the Bond girl, into the film’s villain.  Elektra uses many of the tropes of traditional Bond girls – vulnerability, sensuality, playfulness, a certain gutsiness – and repackages them as villainous tools, weapons of manipulation and deceit. Sophie Marceau is very good as possibly the most intriguing villain of the whole series, and the film neatly leaves open the question of how far her experiences twisted her, or whether her sociopathy was a deep lying trait. Her chemistry with Brosnan seems at times a little forced, but she gets most of the meaty content of the story and handles it with gusto. It’s especially neat to see how Marceau adjusts and adapts her performance for each person she encounters – with Reynard she’s playful and infatuated, with Bond she’s more aloofly sensual.

Denise Richards gets all nuclear physicist

She certainly fares better than poor Denise Richards, playing a character who feels like she was written backwards from the film’s closing punchline (“I thought Christmas only comes once a year” indeed). As if the producers wanted to counterbalance the innovativeness of Elektra, Richards feels like she’s wandered in from a classic Moore film: nominally an expert in something grand sounding (nuclear physics – and you can have a £1 from me if you ever meet anyone who believes Denise Richards has a PhD in rocket science) but really a damsel in distress dressed in hot pants. I’d further add that Brosnan already looks far too old for her.

The film’s best asset though is Brosnan’s Bond. The more I rewatch Brosnan’s efforts, the more I feel sorry the guy didn’t get more of the sort of material Dalton and Craig received either side of him. He clearly has the acting chops to do something a bit more interesting with the character, but his Bond is always a bit tonally confused – one moment he will stare viciously at a fallen opponent, the next he’ll be wearing a shit-eating grin and perving over ladies’ underwear in a nightclub. Brosnan does both these things, I hasten to add, extremely well: this film is probably his peak action performance, and at several points (not least his first encounter with Reynard) his sense of physical danger is jaw dropping. TWINE is a kind of perfect embodiment of his era: 1/3rd Connery to 2/3rd Moore.

For all that the big picture of the film gets away from Apted, he does have a good eye for smaller moments that stick with you – the tie moment, Brosnan’s look into the camera after his first kill. Moments like this appear throughout the film: a cut back to Zukovsky’s grin when Bond’s car is destroyed, the pinpoint bullet shot that hits a plate of glass right in front of an unblinking Reynard. Moments like this get increasingly lost as the film pushes on and becomes more and more formulaic and traditional, but they are still there.

That’s what it all comes back to: the film is not the sum of its parts. Moments stand out, but the whole thing really doesn’t. Everything feels a little too pre-packaged. Even an actor as brilliant as Robert Carlyle (the sort of actor everyone said should play a Bond villain) is lost in the mix, his performance as forgettable as a million other “ruthless anarchist” types we’ve seen before. There are some neat homages – I like the painting of Bernard Lee in MI6 HQ – but too much of it feels like more of the same, told with a professionalism that crushes the life out of individualism. So while it has moments that excite and entertain, as well as elements (such as Elektra King) that feel unique and original, too much of it also feels like, well, any other Bond film. For all its energy, it feels like watching a world-class athlete run on the spot.

FINAL COMMENT:This film does get some credit however for how tastefully it handles the final scenes of Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Tragically Llewelyn died in a car crash shortly before the film was released, but his work here is possibly some of the best he contributed to the series. Never let them see you bleed and always have an escape route.