I somehow never got into James Bond. The first Bond movie I ever saw was Goldeneye. I would often flip past a Connery-era movie on television, but never stopped to watch. My dad is a big fan of the Ian Fleming novels, and liked the earlier movies, but I guess Bond was voted down in my household due to the violent/sex-related content (yes, even though none of it’s that bad.) Whatever the reason, I understood Bond to be something of a movie icon, but I remained only vaguely interested. But then, all the noise about Daniel Craig being cast started, and my husband and I went out to see Casino Royale. And suddenly, a light got switched on. The action, the characters … Casino Royale clicked.
So, after greatly enjoying the movie, and understanding it to be Bond’s “origin story,” in a way, we left the theater curious, and decided to embark upon a second movie-viewing project as a sort of a counterpoint to the AFI list: we’d watch all the James Bond films. And now, nearly 5 years later, I’ve seen all of them. And you know what? I’ve got to say, most of them are not great movies. Oh, I know. They’re just supposed to be fun romps for the most part. And I’m cool with that. I like the action and the implausible plot points, and the ridiculous villains with their equally ridiculous plots. I don’t feel like talking about the offensive stereotyping of women or racial groups, or the sexism, or any of that. But seriously? There are some lousy movies in there.
Since it would bore you, and irritate me to try to run back through all of them, I’m just going to recap what were, to me, the highlights of our James Bond viewing experience. It’ll be like an award show! Let’s get started … ladies first!
Best “Bond Girl”
I’m really starting with this one because for me, it’s a total no-brainer. The absolute, hands-down, best woman in a Bond movie is the character of Xenia Onatopp, played by Famke Janssen and appearing in Goldeneye. I love this woman. She’s an evil henchperson who is very nearly Bond’s match in terms of ability and sex appeal. She’s a crack pilot and a trigger-happy psychopath. Killing gets her off – literally. Janssen obviously has so much fun playing her because she’s totally over the top, complete with ridiculous Eastern European accent. It was a breakthrough role for her, and deservedly so. What I like best about Onatopp, though, is that she’s possibly the only character that fits into the category of “Bond Girl” (not counting, say, Moneypenny) who doesn’t really fall for Bond’s charms. They have their moments of sexual tension, yes, but they never actually sleep together, and she certainly doesn’t ever breathe the words “Oh, James …” and melt into his arms. She’s too busy trying to kill him. And for that, she rocks.
Runners-up: Pussy Galore (Goldfinger), Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only), Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale).
I mean, really. How can you compete with Christopher Lee? Scaramanga, the titular “Man with the golden gun,” sort of covers all of the Bond villain stereotypes while still being effective, even if he does lose in the end. He’s a mysterious assassin who has a secret island hideaway, a weird right-hand man, Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize), and a mistress he would just as soon kill as make love to (whom Bond naturally seduces). But, in addition, he’s very,very good at what he does, and he’s definitely got a very suave menace going on. I dig menace. A lot of the villains ended up being much more comedic than evil, and as we moved into the twenty-first century, they have become less villainous, in some ways: computer gurus, media moguls, businessmen. Scaramanga, though, was a match for Bond. He was smart and ruthless, but cultured. Like I said. He’s Christopher Lee!
Runners-up: Goldfinger, Max Zorin (A View to a Kill), Alec Trevalyan (Goldeneye).
In this category I had one of the more difficult decisions. Everyone’s fond of either Jaws or Oddjob. I’m going with Oddjob here, though, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, because I pretty much hated all of the Roger Moore movies, mostly because they went too far over into the silly side of Bond, and I didn’t enjoy it. I do appreciate the absurdity of a good action flick, but I think that you can’t embrace that too much, or it just becomes ridiculous. Anyway, I think that Jaws sort of personified that, and he became laughable instead of scary. SO, Oddjob. Again, he’s a sterotypical baddie: ridiculous name, mysterious air, and all that. However, unlike a lot of the henchpersons, he was pretty much a bad-ass. Obviously, the bad guys end up losing to Bond, and Oddjob was no exception, but he was fun to watch, what with his hat-throwing, his uncommon strength, and his quiet ruthlessness. He was superior to Bond in skill, if not in cunning.
Runners-up: Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker), Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love), Zao (Die Another Day).
Best Chase/Fight Scene
This one was hard, but I’m going with the “Madagascar” chase scene from Casino Royale. As an introduction to a new Bond, I thought it was incredible because it really showed off Daniel Craig’s physicality. Additionally, it was visually interesting and set the tone for the whole movie. I liked that it was so stripped-down: no gadgets, no vehicles, and also that it was in a sort of a “realistic” setting. You know, as opposed to a nuclear reactor or a secret weapons facility, or whatever. Again, it really set up the movie, and the newest incarnation of Bond, perfectly.
Runners-up: Ski chase (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), remote-control car (Tomorrow Never Dies), boat chase (Live and Let Die).
My absolute favorite Bond theme song is actually from what is possibly one of the worst Bond films: The World is Not Enough. Definitely the weakest of the Brosnan films, at any rate. I have to admit to being a Garbage fan, and I remember hearing this one on the radio a lot. Additionally, one of my favorite music videos ever. I like how it’s rather Bond-esque without actually being related in any way. Check it out!
Runners-up: Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings), Diamonds are Forever (Shirley Bassey), The Living Daylights (a-Ha).
And the big ones …
This was an agonizing choice. As previously mentioned, I hated Roger Moore and thought all of his were pretty ridiculous. Connery had some good ones, I’m partial to Goldeneye since it’s the first one I saw, and Casino Royale is really, really first-rate. However, and I realize that this is blasphemous to a lot of fans, both my husband and myself thought that the most solid movie was actually the one-shot On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s unusual in a lot of ways: George Lazenby only appeared as Bond once, and he actually falls in love and gets married! But it is also one of the stronger stories, the emotional elements are enjoyable and not as incongruous as you would think, Lazenby was actually really good, and it had all of the important characteristics, like that ski-chase scene. Plus, I looove Diana Rigg. Seriously, though, we enjoyed this one most of all, and were disappointed that Lazenby didn’t continue in the role. Alas.
Runners-up: From Russia with Love (Connery), Goldeneye (Brosnan), Casino Royale (Craig).
And finally …
I thought about ranking the Bonds, but that kind of got sticky for me. I would really consider all of the actors who’ve portrayed Bond to have done a fine job, with one exception: yeah, I really disliked Roger Moore. Otherwise, though, they all do a great job and I think they sort of fit into similar categories. Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, and Timothy Dalton (who I want to say was very under-appreciated in the role) all have the sort of “thug in a tux” characterization going, and I definitely enjoy that, and think it’s most appropriate. Dalton again, George Lazenby, and Pierce Brosnan were more suave, and a little bit more soulful. Daniel Craig also fits a bit into the soulful category, mostly because of the storyline to Casino Royale. It’s hard to rank them without getting knotted up, so I ended up just choosing a favorite. I have to say that having seen only Brosnan films, and the random clip of Connery or Moore every now and then, I never got the true sense of Bond: the toughness, the sexiness, all of that. The moment that became clear to me and I really felt that I understood the character was in Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the newly licensed-to-kill Bond in Casino Royale. So, I will state for the record that Daniel Craig is “My Bond”.
Connery, Lazenby, Dalton, and Brosnan are all pretty evenly-matched and not far behind for me. It’s been a game of inches, I promise.
And there you have it! James Bond, all wrapped up. It was a fun project, and it’s exciting to have more or less reached the end of it. We’ve actually still got a couple more to go, but Tomorrow Never Dies was the last one that I hadn’t seen, and so the rest will be re-views. It’s interesting to have watched them all, and to be able to see pieces of the Bond construct in other action films like the Bourne movies. I am looking forward to Bond 23, which will see the return of Daniel Craig, and will this time be directed by Sam Mendes. Casino Royale had such promise as a “reboot” of sorts, and then Quantum of Solace was rather disappointing, but I am holding out hope that the next installment will bounce back. I hope that Judi Dench is returning as M, and the other names attached to the film thus far have promise indeed: both Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes are said to be considering roles.
And you, dear readers? Who’s “your” Bond? Are you looking forward to 23, or do you think this franchise has been played out? Tell me what you think of my wrap up!