After 50 years, I think it’s safe to stop using the word “franchise,” and start using the word “tradition.” James Bond’s next (and 23rd canonical) film will be released in theaters next month, almost 50 years to the day of the release of Dr. No, the first James Bond film. The suave MI-6 superspy has seen six actors, has bedded dozens of women, drank gallons of martini, and murdered hundreds. He is one of the most beloved and reliable cinematic standbys. Some of the films are legitimate classics, and some are outright stinkers, but they all have their charm. After all, they all have James Bond.
To celebrate this long-standing action tradition, a sub-genre unto itself, MGM has released a spectacular 23-disc box set of every film to date, the first time this has ever been done; previous editions usually included four or five films together tops. Indeed, only 11 of the Bond films were previously available on Blu-Ray. For the holistic James Bond fan – and I don’t usually use such bland and straightforward collector’s terms – this is a must-have. It’s a satisfyingly hefty box, and each film is appropriately loaded with extras, contained within its own disc. Although I was disappointed to learn that most every one of the extra features on this set closely match the two-disc DVD versions released in 2006. Although, in the case of the more popular movies, and especially the newer Daniel Craig ones, the extra features were expanded to include a few 20-25-minute documentary shorts about an aspect of each film’s making.
The bonus disc is included pretty much for yuks, and contains only a few fun short montages about the James Bond universe, i.e. a highlights reel displaying each of the Bond Girls, or each of the Bond Villains (seeing all the actors to play Blofeld lines up is especially amusing). The best montage is a one-hour-long chronological string of every one of the famous Bond title sequences, complete with their trademark songs (best song: “A View to a Kill.” Worst song: “All Time High” from Octopussy). This is a great party reel. The title sequences from Dr. No all the way through Licence to Kill were designed by Maurice Binder.
I’m not going to review all 22 films in the set, as I spent a large chunk of this year doing just that in The Series Project: James Bond, right here in the pages of CraveOnline. My coverage was so strenuously complete (if I do say so myself), it would be redundant to reiterate anything here. I do, however, encourage you to check out what I had to say. I can say this: No one can watch 24 James Bond movies and not be a convert. I was a casual James Bond fan before the project. Now I feel like a legitimate fanatic. That’s probably the bets best part about this box set: It awaits to convert you.
So, to be brief, I will, instead, actually rank the James Bond films, from worst to best, and give a brief commentary on each.
Die Another Day (2002)
The James Bond film made after 9/11, and the final film for Pierce Brosnan, was an oddball clash of tones, and seemed like a litter bin of previously unused Bond ideas, all thrown into one movie. James Bond is tortured! Madonna cameo! Invisible car! Asian guy surgically transformed into a white guy! Nothing was too silly for this mishmash. It’s almost hard to watch.
This Roger Moore film wasn’t really planned (it was rushed into production), but James Bond felt the need to compete with Star Wars in this gooftastic space-themed mindblower. Hence, the film’s climax takes place aboard a space station with an army of MI-6 agents shooting down thugs with laser guns. The whiff of Star Wars imitation is too strong to ignore. Plus it has a hover-gondola.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
The most recent James Bond film (Skyfall notwithstanding) was also the shortest, and was also, you’ll find, the only proper sequel in the series, continuing the events of 2006’s Casino Royale. A kind of limp film, it has the brutal version of Bond as played by Daniel Craig butting heads with an unambitious villain who wants nothing more than water rights in a small area of South America. Brief, and not very fun.
Licence to Kill (1989)
I like Timothy Dalton as an actor, but I don’t really like him as James Bond. There’s just something off about the guy playing the suave playboy we all know and love. Licence to Kill also commits a grievous cinematic infraction by making up a country where the action takes place, which is odd given James Bond’s reputation for globe-trekking. Why not just go to a real country? At least Robert Davi was fun as the villain.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Sorry Tim. You just don’t do it for me. Although The Living Daylights is much better than Licence to Kill. Most Bond villains have oblique plots to take over the world, but I wasn’t sure what Joe Don Baker was up to in this film. Diamonds, drugs, and human organ trafficking all played into it somehow. Also, this joke may have been funny in 1987 but isn’t anymore: a team of Afghanis show up in a public place with grenades and bazookas. They apologize for being late, “but we had some trouble at the airport.” Snicker.
Thunderball was only the fourth James Bond film, back when Sean Connery was still playing the man, but it’s also one of the dullest. It’s long, and features perhaps a full 30-40 minutes of footage that takes place underwater. Which makes for people who move awkwardly and cannot speak. I can’t say much else other than it’s a snore. Plus it has that goofy scene where Blofeld electrocutes evildoers around a corporate table.
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
After George Lazenby’s film tanked, Sean Connery was brought back for this “encore” movie, the seventh in the series. The pandering shows. I think I’m ranking this one low because of the chintzy Las Vegas setting, the bizarre gorilla suit scene (you read that right), and the grating obnoxiousness of Jill St. John as the be-permed Bond Girl.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Aside from the underwater car, and Carly Simon’s soulful theme tune, there’s little that can be remembered about The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s merely efficient, which can be fine, but it doesn’t have the whiz-bang, nor the rompy joy of Roger Moore’s other movies. The bad guy’s crab-like water base seems like an inefficient place to stage a nuclear holocaust.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Pierce Brosnan’s foray into oil politics in the late 1990s is a fun little flick, although Robert Carlyle’s evildoer who invades MI-6 and can’t feel pain tips slightly into cartoon territory – which is usually at home in the James Bond universe, but doesn’t work so well here. Plus the film doesn’t really get going until maybe an hour in. As a Bond Girl, Sophie Marceu seems especially lugubrious.
Roger Moore dresses as a clown. You can’t really say the title without snickering. A thug has a razor yo-yo. Maud Adams plays a Bond Girl for the second time. James Bond hides in an alligator submarine. Most of Roger Moore’s seven films felt a lot more broad and slapstick when compared to the other Bond movies, but this one especially so.
A View to a Kill (1985)
We’re finally moving into fun territory, although Moore’s A View to a Kill is enjoyable mostly for its bonkers elements. Any film to feature Grace Jones and Christopher Walken engaging in sexual fisticuffs has got to be worth something. Also, the film gets a lot of points for the pretty awesome Duran Duran theme song. The plot is about computer technology, which was prescient in 1985.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Connery wasn’t above his own bonkers entry in this mildly offensive but still pretty good installment. It was the fifth film along, so the series had been codified, and the action and settings (in Japan) were first rate. Points both added and taken away for the scenes wherein Connery, a tall, hairy Scot, puts on slant-eye makeup and takes to the streets as a Japanese man. The Japanese might have to boycott this one.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Roger Moore's first film is also bonkers like A View to a Kill, largely because of the odd racial angles the film has. Yaphet Kotto plays the villain, who uses countless acolytes to kill spies and deal drugs. He also has an army of voodoo priests at his disposal. When looked at in a certain way, it looks like every black person in Louisiana is a bad guy. Kotto is inflated to death.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
George Lazenby got, and still gets, something of a bum rap. He is actually the most sensitive Bond, but still manages to be charming and sexy. This film was a departure for Bond, as he was given a legitimate mate in the form of Diana Rigg, and they have what looks to be a real romantic courtship; a change of pace for the spy who typically bedded and left dozens of women as a matter of course. It’s exciting and even a little sweet.
Casino Royale (2006)
Daniel Craig’s James Bond is not quite the James Bond I like the best; I prefer the flip, charming quip-meisters over this thick-necked thug. But Craig is still compelling in this redefinition, and he’s certainly sexy. What’s more, Casino Royale has the best screenplay of any of the Bond’s, incorporating witty banter and actual mysteries. If Craig had been softer, perhaps the film would have been better. But I know that’s not what this new “reboot” was going for.
Dr. No (1962)
It’s a little goofy, yes, but the original is still one of the best, setting the tone for the decades-long tradition by giving us a kind of action flick that wasn’t typically seen in the 1950s and1960s. I wish I could have been there when it opened. What a stir it must have caused. Not too many fans like the notion of SPECTRE, the evil corporate entity that James Bond battles throughout the first seven films, but the series was new. Let it breathe.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Full of awesome action (the motorcycle chase is amazing to behold), Tomorrow Never Dies gets a lot of points for a villain whose motives strike as resoundingly relevant in a world being increasingly taken over by communication technologies. Pierce Brosnan matches wits with Jonathan Pryce, a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-type, who seeks to control the world’s electronic news. It was made 15 years ago, but the plot could be the same today.
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
A carnival of weirdness, The Man with the Golden Gun features Christopher Lee as the bad guy and Hervé Villechaize is his sidekick. The villains are so interesting in this film, I have a hard time not enjoying it. It’s rare to have a villain who is as charming and as offbeat as Bond himself. Plus, the film has a circus holodeck thing where Scaramanga likes to shoot people.
From Russia With Love (1963)
An early entry, this film was still codifying the James Bond feeling, and actually made for a taut thriller. The story is easier to follow than in some of the films to come, and the bad guy (SPECTRE) is represented less by a single charismatic megalomaniac and more by efficient and hard-working counter-spies. The “kiss my shoe” scene is tense and cool.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Roger Moore’s best film. I can’t say much more for For Your Eyes Only than that it is simply incredibly made. The action scenes are all amazing to watch, the plot is straightforward, and James Bond is at his Moore best. Nothing less than a great action flick.
Pierce Brosnan is still the best James Bond (I stand by that), and his 1995 debut is the only film in the series to, rather poignantly, question the mechanics of MI-6 in a post-Cold War world. James Bond is, after all, a reflection of the Cold War. What happens after the Russian coup? GoldenEye answers those questions, keeps the series alive, and delivers a kickass action film to boot.
It was the third James Bond film, but really it was the first. Goldfinger set all the standard by which the future films would be made. It had the villain, the babe, the quips, the personality of James, all finally in place. If there were no other James Bond movies, Goldfinger would still be an amazing and important action classic.
James Bond 50 (Blu-Ray):