There’s been some back and forth going on lately about what makes a great Bond film. (For those who don’t think Bond films are great, this post is not for you.)
I’ve been a Bond fan since 1979, when I saw my first Bond film on the big screen. It was, of course, Moonraker and at the very moment Bond was tossed out of an airplane without a parachute, I was hooked. It was totally unexpected and, as the James Bond theme music washed over the theatre and 007 kicked back his armed and swooped down on the unsuspecting pilot like a giant raptor, the crowd, and myself, quite literally cheered.
It was that moment, for me, that taught me about the “magic” of movies, sitting in that audience, whilst people gasped and then held their breath, then roared with thunderous triumph. The hair was standing up on the back of my neck.
Sure, Star Wars was cool, but it didn’t reach out of the screen and grab you. Moonraker was a roller coaster – an absurd, ridiculous roller coaster, but a really fun ride.
How could I not love this film, flawed though it may ultimately be?
Perhaps it’s just age? I saw Moonraker at age 14, and I never missed another Bond opening until Pierce Brosnan took over in 1995 – and I loved them all.
I saw Goldeneye with a date on my 31st birthday (It was still opening week, but it was the first time I’d missed opening day.) We walked out of the theatre in silence and turned to each other and said, “What was that?” It had all the Bond elements, and yet, somehow, it just wasn’t a Bond film. It was like one of those 1960’s “other” spy films trying to capitalize on James Bond – a pale comparison, but no the real thing, It seemed the producers had lost their touch – and yet, other people were walking out of the theatre raving about the film. “That was the best Bond film I’ve ever seen!” one woman exclaimed.
(I rather impolitely quipped, a little too loudly, “Don’t like Bond films, do you?” To my chagrin, she heard me. Oops.)
Honestly, though, that’s not what this post is about, that’s just the prologue.
So, I was having this Twitter discussion at lunch today with correspondents far and wide and was marveling at how disparate our opinions on Bond films were – despite all being fans of the series. I realized that no amount of discussion was going to bring them around to the correct way of thinking, so I did what was within my own power – I became introspective.
I tried to decide exactly what makes a good Bond film to me. First I tried to look at the elements that make a Bond film – Bond himself, hot babes, action, more hot babes, larger-than-life villains, larger-than-life (If you know what I mean) hot babes, cool gadgets, hot babes, daring stunts, hot babes, and, to a lesser degree, trivial things like plot and characterization.
I didn’t really reach a definitive conclusion, but I did decide that it wasn’t the hot babes. I’m apparently not as shallow as my previous paragraph might indicate. It’s something to do with a sense of fun. I go to Bond films to have fun.
Believe it or not, that’s not what this post is about, either!
While I was thinking about the various aspects of the different Bond films, I noticed something odd. I’ve seen all of the films, except Quantum of Solace a minimum of five times, and yet when I tried to summarize the major plot, I found some films’ plot completely unmemorable. Obviously, I could look them up, but I think this should be telling me something about these films (and not the possibility that my eidetic memory is failing with age.)
- Doctor No – Half-Chinese operative of SPECTRE uses base is Bahamas to topple US missiles.
- From Russia With Love – SPECTRE uses complicated trap to steal Soviet encrypting machine, blames the British and take revenge on Bond for Doctor No.
- Goldfinger – Goldfinger plans to break into Ft. Knoxß, irradiate the gold and see the value of his gold skyrocket.
- Thunderball – SPECTRE steals nuclear weapons and blackmails the world
- You Only Live Twice – SPECTRE tries to start WWIII by capturing US and Soviet spacecraft, blaming each other
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – SPECTRE tries to create massive crop/livestock blights and blackmail the world
- Diamonds Are Forever – SPECTRE builds giant laser in space and tries to blackmail the world
- Live and Let Die – Drug lord tries to sell lots of drugs
- The Man With The Golden Gun – World’s top assassin builds laser weapon to… umm.. I think he wanted to sell it to the highest bidder
- The Spy Who Loved Me – Mad billionaire steals nuclear subs in effort to start WWIII, kill world’s population and start new world under the sea.
- Moonraker – Mad billionaire plans to rain nerve gas down on Earth from space station, kill world’s population and start new world on Earth.
- For Your Eyes Only – Villain steals top-secret British missile command computer, tries to sell it to the Soviets.
- Octopussy – Crazed Soviet tries to blow up nuclear weapon on US military base in order to force nuclear pre-emptive strike, take over the world for Soviets.
- A View to a Kill – Genetically engineered villain tries to blow up Silicon Valley, for some reason.
- Living Daylights – Soviet spy defects, but it’s all a setup because some General is a crook, with no apparent purpose
- License to Kill – Bond goes on a vendetta against a drug lord for hurting his best friend.
- Goldeneye – Former 00 agent goes bad, betrays Bond, uses radio telescope to do something forgettable.
- Tomorrow Never Dies– Newspaper mogul tries to start a real shootin’ war so he can sell more papers.
- The World is Not Enough – Crazed oil baroness tries to get more business by blowing up rival pipelines with nukes.
- Die Another Day – North Korean guys builds an ice palace. (Was there more to this film?)
- Casino Royale – Bad guy tries to finance bad guy stuff by winning a card game.
- Quantum of Solace – Bond kills bad guys, bad guys had no memorable plan.
The point of this exercise is that, as we get into the later films, there’s less and less memorable villainy. These bad guys are big yawners compared to the likes of Goldfinger or Blofeld.
Oddly enough, the most memorable of the post-Timothy Dalton villains is the baddie in Tomorrow Never Dies, and I can’t remember his name, except that he’s supposed to be Rupert Murdoch. Which should act as a warning to everyone.
See also: The Best of Bond, and the Worst at Little-Storping-in-the-Swuff for a different take.