Novelist, comic book writer, and also comic book reviewer for www.BrokenFrontier.com, also website marketing coach for the Online Marketing Solutions company Push Traffic dot com. Incidentally, I am also the worst writer in the world.
Okay, I admit it, I've been a recalcitrant pop-culturalist: I've never watched a single Bond film before Pierce Brosnan's GOLDENEYE. Well, I have vague memories of a Roger Moore Bond, and one Timothy Dalton Bond, both circa 1980-something, having watched a few scenes when I was a tyke and my mom had them playing in the background, but I was far too young to retain specifics and don't acutely recall a damn thing about either. So James Bond, as a viewing entertainment experience, for me, began with the Brosnan years.
I saw and enjoyed GOLDENEYE and then TOMORROW NEVER DIES, but fell off and heard far too many awful things about the third and fourth Pierce/Bond flicks. I have watched and feel happy enough with CASINO ROYALE - I'm not completely in love with what's-his-face (Daniel Craig) as the new "gritty" Bond, but it works well enough, and ultimately I realized - I had no idea what the flying $^&k I was comparing any of it to! I've never seen any other Bond!
Were any of these quote-unquote "good Bond films"? I guess I've never really been able to say. When people mention that Sean Connery is the best Bond, I can't imagine the guy without a white beard. Time I rectified that.
So I've plowed through Connery's years, and here's my thought on the first three:
First came DR. NO, and it was...okay. The first half was mesmerizing in its dated, sexist, racist, but nevertheless thrilling attempts at gritty pulp fare, but the second half slipped into over the top nonesense that really did make little to no sense. The villain was ominous, but ultimately ineffectual at doing villainous thing, and the climax/final big fisticuff was slow and mostly weird, a dud - which I suppose is poetic as it was about defusing a nuclear attack. The iconic white bikini chick - the first poster Bond girl - was a simply tossed in there character, appearing at the last half hour and sporting a laughable "origin" (a seaside drop dead gorgeous [well, for the time] orphan running around crazy free? Wait, what from where and why? Brrrprrprrprrp, trill the lips of my poor overtaxed brain).
Connery, though, I'd admit, made a suave Bond. His cool-as-cucumber posture coupled with his alarmingly agressive, straight-on glare at everyone who crossed his path gave him menace and charm, which is what Bond is all about. The deadpan quips with just a *touch* of lift at the end - par excellance.
Then came FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, hands down the very best the Connery Bonds ever achieved, and so I was on board to stay after this one. Connery was now form-fitted into the role, which had yet to balloon into sheer ridiculousness. The villains were fantastic, while also being sympathetic, the "Girl" of the story wonderfully three-dimensional while nevertheless fitting the 2-D plot device mold which allowed the movie to still be, at its core, a simple Bond movie. SPECTER is introduced, the fighting sequences were brilliantly choreographed with rough-and-tumble "realistic" half brawling boxing, half fine-tuned martial art moves. The story itself was the most coherent and twisty; this one seemed to have the perfect blend of pulp and grit, of real and surreal. It reminded me of the BOURNE films, and truly I see a lot that BOURNE stole/was inspired by from RUSSIA. This would collapse in its entirety with GOLDFINGER.
Yes, GOLDFINGER...I really wanted to like this one more than I did. It's the quintessential Bond flick, the one that set the mold for all to come: lunatic villains with bizarre prowess (in this case a touch that turns to gold), unforgettably lethal henchmen (Odd Job!), "Girl" names that must be heard from the lips of the actors themselves to be believed (Pussy Galore!), lines quotable for decades to come ("I don't expect you to talk, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!"), and action that moves waaaaaay past the realms of anything resembling "the world". And it was boring. Or, well, it was...weak.
Lots of gooniness, an admittedly great battle bewteen Connery and Odd Job at the climax, but beyond that, the movie just wanders and does little to cement itself - more in love with the brilliance of its MOMENTS rather than its whole. The great moments have already been shared via oral tradition and everything else is forgettable. Connery as well, especially when he's strapped to a table or otherwise not in motion, can literally be SEEN thinking "hmmm...I wonder what else I can do with my career...?"
Thankfully, the series picks up a bit better in THUNDERBALL and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and even the break-from-Connery-for-a-single-movie George Lazenby as Bond ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE does some wild but inspired visual storytelling. GOLDFINGER set the standard, but mirroring the dynamic between DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, what came next figured out how to do it better. I'll talk about those some day soon. --Dave B.