The 411 Top 5: Week 35
James Bland. James Blond. That asshole who is taking Pierce Brosnan’s spot. Alright, maybe that little one was a little harsh, but let’s face it, Daniel Craig has been receiving some pretty rough treatment from the public ever since it was announced that he would be stepping into the shoes of the world’s most famous secret agent in the 21st installment of the James Bond franchise. Are the detractors correct, or will Craig shut all the non-believers up and cement his place as one of the best Bonds yet? We finally find out this weekend, with the much-anticipated release of Casino Royale. So, to get in the mood for the new film, and to put a little extra pressure on it, I thought we’d use this week to review the best the series has had to offer so far, with 411’s look at:
THE TOP 5 BOND FILMS
5 – The Man with the Golden Gun – Count me among those who could just never really get into Roger Moore’s Bond films. I didn’t think he looked the part, I didn’t like the way he played it, and I really didn’t like how damn goofy the series got during his time. That being said, I enjoy this one quite a bit, although you can rest assured that has far more to do with Christopher Lee as Scaramanga than anything Moore did. I could have done without Herve Villechaize, but the gorgeous Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight more than made up for that. A pretty cool story, too, involving a showdown between Bond and the world’s greatest assassin.
4 – Tomorror Never Dies – One of the best Bond films when it comes to pure action. The idea of a media mogul so powerful that he can start WWIII on a whim can either seem frighteningly realistic or really lame, depending on your outlook. But because said media mogul was played by the awesome Jonathan Pryce, it was A-OK in my book. And forget all that ridiculous hype suggesting that Halle Berry was the most ass-kicking Bond girl ever when Die Another Day came out; that honor clearly belongs to Michelle Yeoh, whose Wai Lin actually seemed Bond’s equal. The rumored spin-off series for Berry’s Jinx never came to fruition, and thank god for that, but I totally would have been up for seeing Wai Lin get her own film.
3 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – There is a small but dedicated cult-following for this film, whose members consider it to have the strongest story of any of the Bond films. Count me among those people. If this had been a Sean Connery entry, it would undoubtedly be considered the best Bond movie. That being said, George Lazenby isn’t really that bad as Bond – he certainly fit the part more than Roger Moore. I think Lazenby is often considered a joke only because he did just one film; if he hadn’t been an idiot and walked away from the series after this, it’s likely he would be much more well thought of today. And besides, there is one very good thing about this not being a Connery entry – if this hadn’t been the first film for Lazenby, the producers probably wouldn’t have gotten scared and decided they needed a big star as the Bond girl. And then we wouldn’t have the presence of The Avengers‘ Diana Rigg. This would be a shame; Rigg is fantastic, so much so that you totally buy that this would be the one for Bond, the one who finally gets him to settle down and tie the knot. Which, of course, makes the devastating final scene all the more heart-breaking. Oh, and let’s not forget that this one has the best “Ski Chase” sequence of the series. Definitely an underappreciated gem.
2 – GoldenEye – Coming off of the deadly serious, and dreadfully dull, Timothy Dalton entries, it was important to remind everyone of just why they loved Bond in the first place. Brosnan was the perfect actor for this, and GoldenEye was the perfect film. Sure, maybe it feels a bit like a tribute to Bond films more than a Bond film itself, hitting on all the elements of the series that people love. But, you know what? It works. Every single piece of it. Kudos to the writers for the idea of having 006 turn to the dark side, one of the better story ideas of the entire series. This was of course helped by a great performance from Sean Bean. And obviously we can’t forget Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp, whose thigh-crushing capabilities and masochistic tendencies easily made her one of the franchise’s best villains. Then there was Robbie Coltrane. And Alan Cumming. And Judi Dench. Let’s face it, GoldenEye rocked. My personal favorite moment: when Bond takes a moment to casually adjust his tie in the middle of a chase scene, after having just smashed a tank through a wall. With that one small gesture, Brosnan cemented his status as a great Bond. His films never got this good again, but he can always rest easy in the knowledge that his debut was one of the series’ strongest films.
1 – Goldfinger – Judging by my #5 and #2 choices, along with this one, it’s apparently a very good idea to have the word “gold” in your title if you’re hoping to make a good Bond film. Anyway, while Goldfinger was the third Bond film, it might as well have been the first, since it was this film that pretty much set the standard formula for the rest of the series. An evil genuis with a ludicrous plan for world domination? Check. A scary but also somewhat goofy sidekick for the main villain? Check. A beautiful Bond girl with a funny name? Do the words “Pussy Galore” ring a bell. Oh, and on top of all that we have Connery’s best performance as Bond. If for some reason someone was only going to watch one Bond film during their entire life, I’d try my hardest to persuade them that it should be this one.
George H. Sirois
5. A View to a Kill – I came into the Bond franchise pretty late. This was my first one to take in, and I got a real kick out of it. Wasn’t too much of a fan of Roger Moore, but he pulled it together enough to finish his part of the relay race in style. Grace Jones was a real trip as May Day, Tanya Roberts was nice to look at even if she wasn’t as nice to hear, and of course Christopher Walken – the man who puts his pants on one leg at a time and then makes gold records – was a hell of a villain. And of course, there was the big ending on the Golden Gate Bridge.
4. Goldeneye – This was a hell of a debut for Pierce Brosnan in the role, and he settled into it very easily. Plus, this was the worldwide introduction of Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp, and… Damn! I also happen to be a sucker for “good guy goes bad” stories and Sean Bean made for a perfect adversary for Bond. Wasn’t much of a fan of the score, but David Arnold fixed that pretty quickly for Pierce’s second film. The opening song by Tina Turner, however, is still my favorite out of all of them.
3. Licence to Kill – Some movies fit certain Bonds really well, and Timothy Dalton’s harder-edged version of the character was like a glove for a revenge story like this. We got to see Bond be mean, and it was pretty damn cool to see. Damn shame what they did to Felix Leiter and his wife.
2. Tomorrow Never Dies – Everything about this one works perfectly for its time. Jonathan Pryce kicks ass as a media mogul who spends half his time reporting the news and the other half creating it. Pierce really comes into his own as the second best Bond out of all five. (We’ll see how Daniel does as the sixth one.) The action’s great, the car’s cool, the plot’s solid, and the women draw no complaints.
1. From Russia With Love – The definitive Bond in the definitive Bond movie. Sean Connery’s still the best out of them all for me, and the plot involving the head of SPECTRE sending Bond into a trap to avenge Dr. No’s death really gets the franchise going strong. It doesn’t hurt that Daniela Bianchi is a very worthy successor to Ursula Andress, and Robert Shaw’s a terrific henchman as “Red” Grant. It’s been a lot of years since I’ve seen this one, but my opinion on it still stands.
This has been a difficult list to compile because (and I really mean this) I enjoy all of the Bond movies. All of them. Even the ones I don’t think are as good as other ones. The series has been around for forty years, so even the “bad” ones have merit. I actually watched these movies a few years ago every Saturday night when ABC was doing some kind of James Bond celebration. But we’ll get to that whole thing in the next list.
– From Russia with Love (1963): It’s been made into a videogame, the new Bond people sight it as the one flick in the series they want to try to duplicate, and many, many people consider it the best of the series because it’s the last time the series was “realistic.” I think that’s all balderdash anyway. The reason this movie is so successful and because it’s so well remembered are the following: It has Sean Connery as Bond, the Russian lesbian bad guy has a poison tipped razor in her shoe and she’s a nasty butt lesbian, the great Robert Shaw as the blonde killer, the train car brawl, and the final Bond quip, after killing the Russian lesbian: “She had her kicks.”
– Diamonds are Forever (1971): After the perceived disaster of George Lazenby’s series of one turn as Agent 007, Connery is brought back one more time, officially, as Bond. It starts out with Bond looking for scumbag Blofeld, the man responsible for killing his wife. Bond gets his revenge, then goes to Vegas and has to find out what happened to some diamonds that we find out are used in some kind of satellite that the not quite dead Blofeld built for some reason. This is the “funniest” of the Connery flicks, apparently originally created for Roger Moore but that didn’t happen. It does get a little slow in the middle, but for the most part it’s a laugh riot. You’ve got the homosexual killers, the elevator fist fight, Jill St. John walking around in a bikini, the lesbian guards at Willard White’s mansion prison, Jimmy freaking Dean acting like Hugh Hefner, and the great big butt movie mistake of having the car come out of the alley on the wrong two wheels. Extremely watchable.
– Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): It’s James Bond against Rupert Murdoch (well, Jonathan Pryce acting like Rupert Murdoch) in one of the most violent of the series. It’s got a cool stealth boat, Michelle Yeoh running around kung fuing everyone in sight, Teri Hatcher getting killed, and just a general atmosphere of Bond going after the man who killed his millionth love (Hatcher).
– Live and Let Die (1973): Roger Moore’s first turn as Bond, James Bond, as he battles Yaphet Kotto the notorious “Mr. Big.” This is easily the best of the Moore movies, as it was the only one of his flicks that was able to straddle the line between comedy and action. Kotto is such a great bad guy, so mean and nasty, and he gets killed in one of the more imaginative ways (he’s given a sort of mini explosive type thing that causes him to explode). It also has the great running on the top of the alligators scene, the Mardi Gras parade death of the British secret agent, Jane Seymour as the yummy psychic Bond girl, and that fat guy killer Whisper (do you think anyone ever showed up to get him out of the metal container Bond tripped him into?). And then there was the guy with the claw hand and pseudo robotic arm (Julius Harris) and the voodoo guy Geoffrey “Punjab” Holder (easily the scarriest bit of Bond, him on the outside of the train at the end of the movie). And then there’s the final Bond quip, after throwing Harris out the train window and ripping his fake arm off, “Disamring.” And there was the Paul McCartney song, too. That was cool.
– On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): George Lazenby’s only James Bond adventure, which seems to have gotten better with age. Telly Savales as Blofeld is a bizarre choice (mostly because Savales looks like a body builder, compared to Donald Pleasance’s turn in “You Only Live Twice” as an old, evil looking weirdo) but he somehow works. And Lazenby looks like he can rip you in half. He’s almost as menacing as Connery. It also features a pretty cool skiing chase (or was it a luge thing? I remember the snow), Bond getting married, Bond’s wife getting killed, and the only (to date) downbeat ending. If Lazenby didn’t get spooked by the prospect of being typecast as Bond, he could have a much more distinguished action movie career today.
5. The Living Daylights (1987): When I first saw this when I was a kid, I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t get it and I wasn’t all that enthused with Timothy Dalton as Bond (I grew to like him as Bond more in his second flick, Licence to Kill). I rented it two years ago and fell in love with it. Dalton’s “more serious” Bond was a big change from Moore’s goofy (but still interesting anyway) portrayal, and as a result Bond is “more grown up” here. All in all, it’s a great, kick butt action movie with some very cool action scenes, including the fight in the back of the plane over Afghanistan (after getting rid of the henchman and losing his boot in the process, Bond tells Maryam d’Abo, after she asks him what happened to the henchman, “I gave him the boot.” Classic) and the great winter car chase scene. This movie features one of the cooler Bond cars. And the opening sequence was pretty neat. And Jo Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbe have never been scumbaggier.
4. Never Say Never Again (1983): The last time Sean Connery played Agent 007, and the only unofficial James Bond flick, put out by Warner Bros and directed by Irvin Kershner (I’m not including the Casino Royale spoof movie with David Niven because, well, I’m not). It’s also a remake of Thunderball. It’s Connery playing an older Bond, reluctantly brought back into service after spending time being a teacher and then getting attacked at Shrublands. Bond has to find two NATO nuclear missiles, stolen by Blofeld (played here by Max von Sydow) and the bad guys at SPECTRE. Bond goes to Jamaica, meets Rowan Atkinson, hangs out with Felix Leiter (played by the great Bernie freaking Casey), plays a videogame against Klaus Maria Brandauer (as Largo), rescues a very hot Kim Basinger, has a pretty nifty motorcycle chase, and gets to repeat the “ripping the mask off under water, putting it back on and not getting water in his eyes” gag from Thunderball. The movie doesn’t have the familiar gun barrel opening, or the usual James Bond music. It’s different. Dare I say it’s “classy.”
3. Die Another Day (2002): The final Pierce Brosnan flick, and one of the more maligned of the Bonds for some reason. People think it’s the most ridiculous of the series (apparently no one watched any of the Moore movies) and it features the most CGI stuff, which is a big turn off for some reason. Me? I love this flick. Brosnan was never better, getting his butt kicked in North Korea for a few years, getting out, going to Cuba, meeting the luscious Halle Berry, chasing down the bad guy with the diamonds embedded in his face, fencing in London with that scumbag Gustav Graves, meeting Madonna, banging Miranda Frost on a big piece of ice, hanging out with John Cleese, and just a whole bunch more stuff. It’s a whole bunch of fun. The other reason I like it so much is it’s the movie that basically stuffed it in the face of all of those XXX yahoos who were yammering that the era of James Bond in his tuxedo was over (and I think Lee Tamahori, the director of DAD and of XXX 2 knows now which was the better series. XXX has nothing on Bond. Nothing). XXX sucks.
2. Licence to Kill (1989): Timothy Dalton, in his last turn as Bond, out for revenge for the brutal muder of Felix Leiter’s new wife and the butt kicking of Leiter himself. This is just Bond kicking butt and taking names, working on his own after MI6 revokes his licence to kill so he won’t go after the nasty butt drug dealer scumbag Sanchez (the awesome Robert Davi), the man who attacked Bond’s friends. This movie just has so much, besides Davi as the awesome bad guy. You’ve got Wayne Newton as some kind of weird beard televangelist, Carrie Lowell as a hot American agent, Davi killing a guy in a vacumn room (watch that guy’s head explode), maggots, Bond throwing a guy into a drawer full of maggots, Everett “Major Malcolm Powers, Annapolis, ’71” McGill as the piece of crap DEA/FBI turncoat who gets thrown to the sharks, Benicio Del Toro as a young Davi hoodlum who gets thrown into a drug grinder, and the great Anthony Starke as the nerdy Davi accountant. And, of course, the final tanker truck battle on the winding mountain roads, and the setting on fire of Davi, end this awesome Bond flick. It’s too bad Dalton didn’t come back at least one more time.
1. Goldfinger (1964): The third Bond flick, and Connery’s best performance as Agent 007. It’s the movie that set up the “formula,” with a great bad guy Auric Goldfinger, the great henchman Odd Job (the killer with the killer derby hat), the Chinese Army running around Fort Knox, Pussy Galore, the famous “I want you to die” torture scene, and the list could go on and on. It is simply the best of the bunch.
Honourable mentions go out to Diamonds Are Forever for using a big laser and getting away without making it too campy. Plus it gave Mike Myers plenty of ammo for Bond related gags when making Austin Powers movies. Also featured two openly gay bad guys in Mr Wint & Mr Kidd. Great characters as well. The bad guy was Blofeld and the girl was Plenty O’Toole. Winner. The other honourable mention is Tomorrow Never Dies, which is brilliant apart from the ending. The whole thing of Carver being on the boat really irked me. It seemed stupid. But it does have so much else going for it. Like the bike v helicopter chase scene, complete with Bond being handcuffed to sexy Chinese agent. Speaking of her, Michelle Yeoh, awesome Bond girl. Kicking every ass in sight but still coming up that little bit short as to not show Bond up. And the remote control car was pretty kickass.
#5 Spy Who Loved Me – It’s odd that most people disliked Roger Moore’s run as Bond when you consider how many excellent films were contained within it. He hits my list three times making him the most successful Bond in terms of making films I really dig. So what was so good about SWLM? How about the underwater car? Or the ski chase? Or the fact that this is the film debut of Jaws? Of course they ruined him in Moonraker, but in SWLM he was a great henchman. Up there with the all time greats. And back to the ski chase – Union Jack parachute! That has to be one of my favourite moments in any Bond film and a divining moment in the history of the character. His sheer style mixed in with his patriotism. It’s loaded with action and the only thing that really holds it back is that Barbara Bach is quite bland as Anya Amasova, Bond’s Soviet love interest.
#4 Man With the Golden Gun – The bad guy is Christopher Lee. What’s not to love? His character Scaramanga also has a fondness for weird hunts in his own home using a room filled with mirrors. He’s suave and sophisticated. Almost an evil version of Bond himself. Thus making the challenge of battling Bond a personal achievement rather than any other form of gain. The Bond girl is Britt Ekland. It almost doesn’t come sexier than that. Not only that she has the prerequisite stupid name in Mary Goodnight. Also, in great henchmen terms, Man with the Golden Gun draws up another gem in Nik Nak, a midget. Although this is one of the slower Bond movies, which allows for good character building, it also contains the absolute best Bond stunt, ever. The looping jump over the river. Absolutely sick stunt and pulled off in the real world with no CGI. Add in the Southern Sheriff as Bond’s comedy relief and you have every aspect of a classic Bond film.
#3 Goldeneye – The only truly great film from Pierce Brosnan’s Bond. While Tomorrow Never Dies was a more traditional Bond film with great action sequences, Goldeneye was a total redefining of the character and compared to the previous more serious Tim Dalton movies it was a breath of fresh air. Bond was more self aware in Goldeneye and not everything he did in the past worked here as it was established that this Bond lived in a real world. Then they added in a fantastic cast headed up by Sean Bean in excellent scene stealing form as the diabolical Alec Trevelyan. Famke Jansen got her big break in Goldeneye to play one of the better bad ass females in Bond history complete with standard silly name. Xenia Onatop’s preferred method of murder was crushing her victims with her thighs. Sometimes, but not always, during sexual congress. Add in Judi Dench (in her Bond debut), Robbie Coltrane, Tcheky Karyo and a seriously on form Alan Cummings and you probably have the best cast a Bond film has ever assembled. At the time I called it the best Bond film ever made. I’ve scaled that back to #3 but it’s certainly one of the best.
#2 Live and Let Die – A personal favourite although it’s not always a film that people like. It tends to go away from the more traditional Bond values and go exploring other weird and wonderful avenues. Like the whole fortune telling angle courtesy of Solitaire, played by Jane Seymour. There are also major voodoo overtones. Going into the 70’s had created a problem for Bond. The movies needed to be brought up to date. Although in a way this dates Live and Let Die as a distinctly 70’s film it also makes it feel different to the Connery Bond films, thus giving it a vibe all of its own. The new era of Bond included a black bad guy (Yaphet Kotto) who frequently descended into stereotype. This gave Bond something new to play off. Roger Moore’s droll and witty retorts to Kotto’s ebonic verbal attacks was a thing of beauty. A true clash of cultures. It was Bond meets Blaxploitation. The film covers so much and tries to draw of so many influences it’s a miracle it all comes together at all. The phenomenal speedboat chase is on hand for all the action junkies plus they take the top off a double decker bus for kicks. Of course Live and Let Die also has the best theme music of any Bond film. Bar none. Thank you, Paul McCartney.
#1 Goldfinger – While my favourite three Bond films are all pretty much interchangeable in terms of how much I like them there’s no doubting that Goldfinger is the one Bond film that everyone must see. All the necessary pieces are in place: Sean Connery at the peak of his Bond powers, a diabolical scheme to rob Fort Knox, an awesome villain in Auric Goldfinger, a silly named Bond girl (Pussy Galore – possibly the silliest of all silly named Bond girls only kept a game by the likes of Christmas Jones and Holly Goodhead) and the best henchman in the history of Bond. Oddjob. Great name, great gimmick of throwing a sharpened hat (“Who throws a shoe?”) and fantastic look. Plus, seeing as this is a wrestling website, he’s a former pro. Plus, we get the greatest scene in all of Bond history. The laser table with the whole “do you expect me to talk?”, “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die” dialogue. Everything really clicked for the first time in Goldfinger. They got the mix that was so nearly perfect in From Russia With Love and just tweaked it a little bit. Shirley Bassey’s theme music is possibly my second favourite behind Live and Let Die. It’s a complete package. If all Bond films were this good then my 20 film DVD Bond collection would be worth a great deal more than I paid for it. Of course there are those that don’t make the grade but that’s for another time.
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And there you have it: every single Bond actor made it on someone’s list at least once. So there you go, Daniel; you don’t have to worry too much. It turns out that that, like anything else, Bond fans have different tastes, too.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re not willing to tear to shreads what doesn’t work in the series. Which is why next we’ll look at the Top 5 Worst Bond Films. See you then.