Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be ranking the 23 official James Bond films from worst to best, because, well, I can. Just to make a real mess of the division later on, I’m going to start with five entries today. And so, without further ado…
23. The World Is Not Enough
James Bond becomes embroiled in a mission to stop a terrorist destroying an oil pipeline and Istanbul, whilst he is also protecting the mysterious oil heiress and kidnap victim, Elektra King. All is not as it seems, and James Bond soon finds himself the target of much airborne weaponry and the terror lord himself – a man with no sense(s).
This ranking is a shame, because there is some great material here. The opening sequence in a dodgy bank, followed by the boat chase on the Thames, set the scene for a taut thriller. Unfortunately, what follows instead is just, well, boring. It’s almost a betrayal of audience expectations – what this film boils down to is a string of action sequences with an extremely tedious plot and lame villain stringing them together. Doesn’t help that Michael Apted had more experience coaching children to be anti-establishment than coaching actors to give good performances.
Also, spoiler alert: It just occurred to me that Christopher Nolan stole the entire plot for The Dark Knight Rises from this movie!
Many people acclaim the acting, but aside from an amusing turn from Robbie “Hagrid” Coltrane as a Russian gangster (which is a recurring character from a Goldeneye, anyway), there’s little to write home about. Much criticism is directed at Denise Richards’ appalling turn as Dr Christmas Jones, nuclear physicist. Often this criticism is along sexist lines, as though a nuclear physicist couldn’t be young and pretty – personally, I couldn’t care less whether the character was a man or a woman, but if the producers wanted to make a point with Jones, they could have chosen an actor who could, well, act.
Redeeming points of the film include the music, aforementioned action sequences, Michael Kitchen returning for the second and last time as MI6 Chief of Staff Bill Tanner, and of course Pierce Brosnan’s generous slices of ham. But really, if you want to sleep through a James Bond film, make it this one.
22. Quantum of Solace
James Bond, in his pursuit of the organisation that turned Vesper, becomes embroiled in their next big scheme – to hold all the water in Bolivia to ransom. Old friends and new enemies abound as Bond races through fire and flames to discover the truth.
Considered separately to the rest of the canon, this isn’t actually a bad film. Its problem is that it takes the new, harder, darker James Bond too far, removing all the charm and wit which balanced the unpleasantness in Casino Royale. However, like The World Is Not Enough, QoS is the victim of producer snobbery – they chose the wrong man to provide the series with cachet. Marc Forster (director of Finding Neverland) is an art house man, and so this film feels as though he was trying to make what he “thinks” an action film is like.
This isn’t aided by the fact that, as a consequence, the film capitulates to the sickening Bourne-style shaky-cam trend, and so half the time it’s impossible to tell what’s happening on-screen. Finally, in their desire to meet a pre-set release date (doubtless motivated by a then-nearly-broke MGM), with only the first draft of the script turned in, the production team struggled on without writers during the Writers a Guild strike of 2007-08, leaving the inexperienced director and Daniel Craig in control. To his credit, Craig has since been on record acknowledging that this was a mistake.
Fortunately, this film is saved by what is probably the best music score in the series since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and a fairly satisfying conclusion to the story of Vesper. There were some great ideas, but ultimately the execution of the film as a Bond movie just fails.
21. You Only Live Twice
James Bond becomes embroiled in a plot to destroy the US and Soviet space programs and start a world war. Sent to Japan to track down missing space capsules, 007 finally comes face to face with the man pulling the strings for four our of the last five movies – head of the devious SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld himself!
I really want to like this movie. It has everything going for it – Connery, SPECTRE, exotic locale, space stuff…it has it all. And yet, every time I put it on, I’m underwhelmed.
Except for this scene on the rooftops of Kobe. This scene is awesome.
Sir Sean seems to be phoning it in – he’d had enough by this point – but here, even his toupee has gone limp. Perhaps this is because the production values are somewhat questionable, except for the admittedly amazing SPECTRE volcano lair to which I suspect the majority of the film’s budget was allocated. Indeed, the rest of the film has more of the appearance of a spy spoof of the same era – low grade film, overdone gun muzzle flashes which show as red even in the restorations, shiny sets, and most of all badly done and cheap looking blue screen. This is the Bond film where they began to look cheaply made; visually it just hasn’t aged well.
Culturally it hasn’t aged well, either – it’s also racist. The script writing for the Japanese characters can be uncomfortably stereotypical, with’ “Ah, so?” being uttered more than once. Add to this the fact that almost all the Japanese actors are dubbed because of a concern that dumb Western audiences wouldn’t be able to decipher the accents and you have a wholly disappointing experience.
The action scenes are cool, with the sequence inside the volcano being justly famous, but the rest of the film just isn’t really there. Donald Pleasance is a bit lame as Blofeld, who would be played much more convincingly by Telly Savalas in the subsequent film. So, on the whole, You Only Live Twice is the beginning of a decline which would continue more or less unchecked until 1987 and The Living Daylights.
20. Live And Let Die
James Bond, yes, you guessed it, becomes embroiled in a drug smuggling operation which takes him from Harlem to the Caribbean in pursuit of kingpin Mr Big. He must seduce a fortune teller, battle robot scarecrows, snakes, and the Voodoo God himself, Baron Samedi, before he can unravel the mysteries of the island of San Monique!
As I’ve gone on, my former hatred for the Roger Moore Bond films has mellowed into an appreciation. Indeed, one such film rates very highly in this list! But not this one.
Live And Let Die is Roger Moore’s first outing as James Bond, and it’s far from his best. It’s certainly on a much lower scale than its three predecessors; a back to basics approach which doesn’t really gel with Moore’s early, more ironic turns in the role. Clashing with this approach is also a desire to tread new ground; Bond never dons black tie in this film; nor does he drink a martini, shaken nor stirred! On top of this, Moore’s Bond is given stupid lines such as, “Meet the man who shares my hairbrush!” and “You should never go in there without a mongoose!” But enough about that.
As though the rather questionable take on Blaxploitation in this film wasn’t enough, there is also a cringeworthy Deep South sheriff thrown in for good measure – the writers in this era just didn’t know when to stop adding characters that weren’t in the books. Speaking of, so little of the original novel was used for this film that huge chunks of it would later receive proper adaptations in For Your Eyes Only and Licence To Kill.
Paul McCartney and Wings were drafted to provide the theme tune, which remains one of the most enduringly popular James Bond songs even now, over 40 years later. Assigned the compositional duties for the film, former Beatles producer George Martin provides a memorable and listenable brassy experience with a style which has never since been repeated in the series. Alas, aside from the retro appeal of James Bond’s hideous London flat, and of course the lovely Jane Seymour as Solitaire, there’s not a huge amount to love in this film.
19. Tomorrow Never Dies
After brushing up on a little Danish, James Bond is embroiled in a media tycoon’s plot to get some killer ratings by sending Britain and China to war. Will our man Bond be able to stop him, or will there be no news but bad news?
Another Brosnan film which isn’t all that! The pre-titles sequence pitches Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer against each other, which I’m sure is hilarious if you like As Time Goes By, which I don’t. Meanwhile, James Bond flies some nukes out of a Russian arms bazaar, which is cool, but again, things go downhill following the opening titles.
Using a media magnate as a super villain is somewhat far-fetched and just a fraction too obvious a caricature of Rupert Murdoch to be effective, even if Jonathan Pryce is applaudably over the top. This is reflected in the rest of the cast, too – with the material they’re given, the whole cast performs admirably! Michelle Yeoh is particularly notable as Bond’s partner from Chinese intelligence; she is very cool under pressure, and finally, a mere 35 years into the series, James Bond has a proper female equal, instead of frustratingly whiney cardboard cutouts.
However, the movie-stealing role is the late Vincent Schiavelli as Dr Kaufman, assassin and pain merchant. His performance is so full of wit and dripping with irony, it’s actually a shame that he only lasts one scene. He’d have made a good Moriarty-style villain in future instalments.
If it wasn’t for the even-more-than-usual averageness of the plot based on real-world stuff (interesting to note that real-world-issue Bond films tend to be less amazing) I could rank this film higher. The several chase scenes are excellent, the dialogue is actually very well written, and the debut-in-the-series score by David Arnold strikes all the traditional notes so adored by fans.