007 DAYS OF JAMES BOND: From Worst to First (Part 1)

Photo: United Artists

Photo: United Artists

Chris Luckett

As a seven-part feature, I’ll be counting down the final week to Skyfall‘s release in North American theatres on Nov. 9 with seven James Bond-related articles. Day 5: From Worst to First (Part 1).


We’ve counted down the best title sequences, the best stunts, the best henchmen, and the best deaths of the 007 series, but there’s only one Bond list that people really care about. In the final days before Skyfall hits theatres, it’s time to tackle the Big One: ranking all 22 movies.

It’s been 50 years of 007, from Dr. No to Skyfall. There have been more successes than failures, but that’s not to say there haven’t been a few weak links in the chain. To begin: the weakest…

(Fair warning: major spoilers ahead)


22. MOONRAKER (1977)

Bond: Roger Moore
Villain: Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale)
Maniacal Plot: Drax plans to nuke all life on Earth from his space station, saving just a few “genetically perfect” specimens he’s selected to create a new master race.
Verdict: After the massive success of 1977’s Star Wars, everyone was going gaga for space movies. Having the British secret agent whipping on a spacesuit and flying into zero-gravity reeked of cashing in then and still does. Moonraker does have a number of fantastic set pieces, like the pre-credits skydiving sequence, a frightening cable-car attack high above the forests of Brazil, and a gorgeously filmed death sequence of Drax’s assistant. Unfortunately, the benefits can’t negate all the horrible choices, like bringing Richard Kiel’s Jaws back as a henchman and turning him into a soft romantic who falls for a woman in braided pigtails, or the sheer stupidity of some of the physics. (A hijacked space shuttle taking off from on top of an in-flight airplane?) There have been a few Bond movies almost as bad, but Moonraker is the worst of the worst.
Rating: 1.5 stars / 5


21. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH(1999)

Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Villains: Renard (Robert Carlyle) and Elektra King (Sophie Marceau)
Maniacal Plot: Renard and his brainwashed partner Elektra (who fell victim to Stockholm Syndrome when Renard kidnapped her as a young girl) plan to cause a nuclear meltdown in the Bosporus Straight, leaving oil companies with no method of transport except Elektra’s oil pipeline.
Verdict: The World is Not Enough has a convoluted plot (see above), convoluted characters (Renard grows stronger every day until death, due to a bullet in his brain), convoluted dangers (helicopters with saw blade apparatuses affixed below them?), and – most convoluted of all – Denise Richards trying to play a nuclear physicist. The movie starts off fantastically, with an intense pre-credits boat chase and one of the best Bond songs, but slowly becomes more ridiculous. By the end, the double entendres are so forced, the film almost feels more Austin Powers than James Bond.
Rating: 2 stars / 5


20. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981)

Bond: Roger Moore
Villain: Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover)
Maniacal Plot: The ATAC (Automatic Targeting and Attack Communicator) from a British spy ship is stolen by Kristatos, who plans to sell it to the KGB.
Verdict: Beginning with the lazy disposal of the wheelchair-bound Blofeld character by being dropped down a smokestack, and ending with impressionist Janet Brown playing Margaret Thatcher, For Your Eyes Only has both the worst pre-credits sequence for a Bond movie as well as the worst epilogue. Producers aimed for a more down-to-earth and gritty vibe after the excesses of Moonraker, and there are times it works (like when Bond kicks a car off a cliff, sending a henchman to his plummeting death, and the climactic scenes filmed at the stunning Meteora in Greece). Other times, 54-year-old Moore finds himself fighting off a seductive 22-year-old figure skater, in one of the creepiest scenes of 007’s film career.
Rating: 2.5 stars / 5


19. LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)

Bond: Roger Moore
Villain: Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto)
Maniacal Plot: Kananga plans to use his chain of Fillet of Soul restaurants for drug trafficking, eventually cornering the world’s heroin market.
Verdict: While Moore’s debut was criticized too harshly at the time for simply not being Sean Connery, Live and Let Die does seem to lack in areas earlier Bond films did not. Busting up a drug ring after murders in Harlem and New Orleans is more a job for the DEA than MI6. Set amidst the blaxploitation movement of the early ‘70s, the movie also skirts dangerously close to racism at times (although it evens out the stereotypes by featuring a brashly loud and irritating Louisianan sheriff played by Clifton James). It also involves voodoo and tries to shoehorn supernatural elements into 007’s universe, which never truly works. Still, it does have one of the greatest Bond themes, courtesy of Paul McCartney & Wings.
Rating: 2.5 stars / 5


18. DR. NO (1962)

Bond: Sean Connery
Villain: Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman)
Maniacal Plot: Scientist No, bitter after defecting from China and finding his skills unwanted by both Americans and Soviets, plans to foil an American space launch with a radio beam.
Verdict: This is where it all began. The music was there from the get-go, as were most of the formulas, catchphrases, and characters. Connery did an admirable job inhabiting Ian Fleming’s spy, though Fleming himself called the movie “dreadful.” Dr. No is an interesting villain, his hands lost to radiation exposure and replaced with steel ones, but Wiseman isn’t given much to work with beyond that. More important for historical significance, Dr. No was less a good movie than a good practice round before the excellent From Russia, with Love and Goldfinger.
Rating: 2.5 stars / 5


17. QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)

Bond: Daniel Craig
Villain: Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric)
Maniacal Plot: Greene plans to corner Bolivia’s water supply.
Verdict: The “J.B.” leading the charge in Quantum of Solace might just as well have been Jason Bourne, he bears so little resemblance to James Bond. Craig struggles to keep Bond a human figure, while the script seems to be written with the depth of shampoo instructions: Go to an exotic country, interrogate someone, fight them, run, repeat. Between jaunting to Bolivia, Haiti, Austria, England, Russia, and Italy, Bond barely has time to crack a smirk, let alone taste a martini. The only true sequel in the Bond canon – it picks up immediately after the end of Casino Royale – the wonderful title and the gorgeous sets ultimately aren’t enough to make up for the frantic editing, forgettable opening song, and bland plot.
Rating: 3 stars / 5


16. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)

Bond: Sean Connery
Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray)
Maniacal Plot: Blofeld has been stealing South African diamonds to create a laser satellite and plans to use it to destroy world powers’ nuclear supplies and auction global nuclear supremacy to the highest bidder.
Verdict: After George Lazenby was passed on for a return in the tux (or turned it down, depending on the story), Connery was lured back. The results are mixed. Setting the movie mostly in Las Vegas provides a number of excellent set pieces, such as Bond being buried in an underground pipeline and later thrillingly scaling the outside of a casino. There are also many unfortunate disappointments, like Connery randomly wrestling two lithe henchwomen in a pool and the way henchmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd’s implied homosexuality is treated with creepy derision and comicality. Underrated yet disappointing, Diamonds are Forever is good, but takes one step back for every step forward.
Rating: 3.5 stars / 5


15. THUNDERBALL (1965)

Bond: Sean Connery
Villain: Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi)
Maniacal Plot: Largo plans to hijack a NATO bomber, steal its warheads, and extort 100 million pounds from the British and American governments.
Verdict: Goldfinger’s success led to too much of a good thing, with Thunderball feeling bloated at 130 minutes and featuring a lot of aquatic repetition. The plot itself is one of the best of the early Bond films and Largo is a memorable villain. Too much, though, just feels reheated in new settings. Connery would prove the formula wasn’t dead with the follow-up You Only Live Twice, but it begins appearing worn out here. Iconic scenes such as the underwater spear gun battle work better in memory than they do watching them now. Thunderball is good for what it is, but feels too much like it’s trying to recreate the best attributes of the first few films.
Rating: 3.5 stars / 5


“007 DAYS OF JAMES BOND” WITH RETURN
IN
FROM WORST TO FIRST: PART 2

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