007 DAYS OF JAMES BOND: From Worst to First (Part 3)

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 7: From Worst to First (Part 3).


Some critics bash action movies too much. While movies like Transformers and Wanted do give the genre a bad name, there’s a fine art to crafting a really good action movie. The best ones supersede their preposterousness (or, sometimes, winkingly embrace it) and create an exciting experience with every cinematic piston firing in just the right rhythm.

The Bond series was one of the first to perfect the formula, and the best ones work so well, there’s no question why 007 has become one of the most beloved characters in cinema. The seven best examples:

(Fair warning: major spoilers ahead)


7. FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE (1963)

Bond: Sean Connery
Villain: Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya)
Maniacal Plot: To get revenge on 007 for foiling Dr. No’s plan, Klebb plans to use a Lektor device and a fake Russian defector to lure Bond to his death.
Verdict: Where Dr. No faltered, From Russia, with Love soars. The second entry in the series is the first to truly show how exciting a story a James Bond adventure can be. Connery feels more at home in the role the second time around, accepting the role as his own. Aided by a script so perfectly structured, it set the template for most of the other Bond movies that came after, From Russia, with Love is a tense thriller of narrow escapes and double-crosses.
Rating: 4.5 stars / 5


6. LICENCE TO KILL (1989)

Bond: Timothy Dalton
Villain: Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi)
Maniacal Plot: There isn’t one. In a radical change, Licence to Kill is a pure revenge thriller, with Bond going rogue from MI6 and seeking his own justice.
Verdict: Licence to Kill has immensely improved upon time and retrospect. At the time of its release in 1989, it was disliked by many and labelled as too dark and too violent. When you adjust all the Bond movies’ box office numbers for inflation, in fact, Licence to Kill ends up proving to be the lowest-grossing of any 007 picture. The biggest problem was that its brutality and relentless action were too ahead of their time in the late ‘80s. It was a very different toned movie compared to the Roger Moore 007 movies, or even to The Living Daylights, but it’s a spiritual older brother to the Daniel Craig ones. The concept of a villain being hunted by a vendetta-minded James Bond is excellent fodder for a sleek thriller, and Licence to Kill ends up one of the most thrilling of the series.
Rating: 4.5 stars / 5


5. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

Bond: George Lazenby
Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas)
Maniacal Plot: Blofeld plans to sterilize the world’s agriculture and food supplies unless he is given international amnesty from his previous criminal plots.
Verdict: It’s easy to think of George Lazenby as the Ringo of Bonds, but his short tenure in 007’s tux is no reflection of his skill in the role, nor of the quality of the movie itself. Lazenby is the equal to early Roger Moore in performance, and has an enjoyable time in the role while still giving it the gravitas it requires – especially in the shocking ending, where Bond experiences true loss and utter despair unexpected in a Bond movie. Telly Savalas gives a vivacious performance as Blofeld, having a blast and letting the character’s arrogance bleed into charm. Delivering great action sequences, fantastic performances, and concluding with the most powerful ending of any Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is essential viewing.


4. GOLDFINGER (1964)

Bond: Sean Connery
Villain: Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe)
Maniacal Plot: Goldfinger plans to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox – save for what he will steal first – thereby driving the price of his own gold up.
Verdict: Goldfinger is undoubtedly the barometer against which any Bond movie is inevitably measured. In a way, that’s understandable, considering it set so many early benchmarks and hallmarks for the series. Not many Bond movies come close to Goldfinger, and although a few have even surpassed it, it’s still considered by a large number to be the best. So many memorable characters (with clever names like Oddjob or Pussy Galore) and quotable lines (“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”) add up to a near-perfect movie. It may not still deserve the title of Best Bond Picture after time has treated some parts of it pretty unkindly (“That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs,” scoffs Bond at one point), but it’s still… well, the gold standard.
Rating: 4.5 stars / 5


3. CASINO ROYALE (2006)

Bond: Daniel Craig
Villain: Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen)
Maniacal Plot: Le Chiffre, a mathematical genius and banker for terrorists who gambles and unexpectedly loses his clients’ money, plans to win a high-stakes poker game to pay them back and save his life.
Verdict: As beloved as it’s already become, it’s easy to forget that audiences greeted Casino Royale with fangs bared. The casting of the blond Daniel Craig was considered blasphemous by many and some, who had been displeased with the prior Die Another Day, felt they had no need for or interest in James Bond anymore. By taking the series back to its roots, however – and by re-hiring GoldenEye director Martin Campbell to deliver his alchemical formula for action again – the reboot became a massive success and re-invigorated the character in a more drastic way than any previous Bond recasting had managed. Doing away with the tongue-in-cheek winks, the double entendres, the clever names, and even the humourous concept of Q, Casino Royale does feel more heartless and mechanical at times than previous Bond movies – a symptomatic result of its heavy influence by The Bourne Supremacy. By the end, though, the third act’s gut-punch makes Craig’s 007 feel more human
Rating: 4.5 stars / 5


2. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)

Bond: Roger Moore
Villain: Carl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens)
Maniacal Plot: Having built an underwater lair, Stromberg plans to start a nuclear war and let the world destroy itself, while he creates the perfect society underwater.
Verdict: Any Roger Moore defenders always bring up The Spy who Loved Me, and with fair reason: It is a rare perfect Bond movie. From start to finish it is flawless, using every successful Goldfinger facet, but often slightly improving them. Carl Stromberg, while having a less memorable name than Auric Goldfinger, proves far more dastardly and wicked, with a megalomania that surpasses Blofeld’s. His henchman, Jaws, instantly become one of the most menacing and memorable characters in the whole series. Jetting from Austria to Egypt to Russia and Sardinia and even under the ocean, The Spy who Loved Me is a wild ride that doesn’t let up and has only been topped by one other Bond movie…
Rating: 5 stars / 5


1. GOLDENEYE (1995)

Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Villain: Alec Trevelyan/006 (Sean Bean)
Maniacal Plot: Trevelyan, a former 00-agent for MI6, plots to take his revenge by firing an electromagnetic pulse at England’s computers, financial records, banks, and credit card companies, thereby sending the country into chaos and anarchy.
Verdict: James Bond, as a concept, as a character, as a film series, has never been better than in 1995’s GoldenEye. After a six-year absence from screens after 1989’s Licence to Kill and the end of the Cold War, a growing consensus was that James Bond wouldn’t work anymore. Pierce Brosnan’s pitch-perfect balance of Sean Connery’s suave masculinity and Roger Moore’s tongue-in-cheek smirk created a new 007 for a new generation’s sensibility. The movie had fun toying aloud with the theory of Bond outliving his usefulness, from the now-female M calling him a misogynist dinosaur to Trevelyan’s cutting comments to a captive Bond. (“Oh please, James, spare me the Freud! I might as well ask you if all the vodka martinis ever silence the screams of the men you’ve killed. Of if you find forgiveness in the arms of those willing women, for all the dead ones you failed to protect.”) Sean Bean finds the perfect tone for Trevelyan, not pushing the character into maniac territory but instead showing him as the flip side of the coin to James Bond. Indeed, some of the tensest moments of the film result from 006 knowing 007 well enough to anticipate his nearly every move. A wonderful examination of one of the most popular characters of cinema through battling his mirror opposite, GoldenEye reinvented a decades-old formula and remodelled the character and the series for the new millennium. (Plus, you know, a tank smashes up a bunch of stuff!)
Rating: 5 stars / 5

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