Sunday, November 15, 2015

James Bond Rankings

With our discussion of Spectre now out in the open, I've taken the liberty of definitively ranking every James Bond movie from worst to best.

24. Skyfall: 1.5 Stars. Skyfall made a billion dollars, and it’s everyone’s favorite Bond movie. Not mine. Skyfall isn’t bad on its own terms, but it reinvents Bond as Batman complete with orphan backstory, stately manner, and Alfred style butler. Skyfall is beautiful, stylish, and well-acted, but Skyfall, ultimately, is a rejection of everything James Bond is. The script even says so: “We don’t really go in for that sort of thing anymore.”

23. Diamonds are Forever: 1.5 Stars. Diamonds are Forever borders on the unwatchable. After the fan rejection of George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the producers convinced Sean Connery to return to his most famous role. Unfortunately, he seems visibly disinterested, which given the poor script and slapdash direction is absolutely justified. The one bright spot in this picture? Shirley Bassey’s return to the Bond franchise delivering her second stellar Bond theme. Just turn off the movie after the opening credits role.

22. Quantum of Solace: 1.5 Stars. Daniel Craig’s sophomore outing as Bond was a setback for the franchise. Unable to use SPECTRE, the producers created a substitute SPECTRE and set Bond up uncovering the organization in order to get revenge for the murder of his one true love (not Theresa, Vesper). Unfortunately, this involves some kind of convoluted plot about missing money, oil and water futures in the always critical country of … Bolivia. In the end, Quantum of Solace is notable only for a great scene at an opera house, but it isn’t worth watching the whole movie for. Unfortunately, I think you have to watch it now, because Spectre spends a lot of its run time retroactively insisting on Quantum of Solace’s importance.

21. Spectre: 2 Stars. Building on the complex narrative scaffolding of Quantum of Solace, the emotional trauma of the conclusion of Casino Royale, and the James Bond is Batman thematic shading of Skyfall, Spectre is the James Bondiest of Daniel Craig’s outings in the role. Unfortunately, it’s bloated, overlong, and way too connected to the confusing and almost unwatchable Quantum of Solace. It also takes a page out of Star Trek Into Darkness by attaching great importance to a character’s name that would be meaningless to the other characters in the movie and a separate page out of Return of the Jedi by revealing a sibling relationship between two characters that is meant to provide emotional stakes and closure, but just ends up being silly.

20. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: 2 Stars. There’s a school of thought that says you can grade a James Bond movie based on its villain. Anyone who actually believes that hasn’t watched On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. George Lazenby’s only outing in the role proves that it doesn’t matter if the rest of the movie is good. Bond won’t work without a charming and charismatic actor in the title role.

19. Die Another Day: 2 Stars. The 20th James Bond film is not as bad as people remember. In many ways it’s a loving tribute to the franchise’s history, and many of its scenes are direct homages to the previous entries in the franchise. In the end, Die Another Day fell into the same trap that many films in its era did: they tried to CGI their way into a bigger and better movie when CGI just wasn’t up to snuff. Notable for the appearance of a pre-Gone Girl Rosamund Pike who plays one of the film’s most interesting characters in retrospect.

18. You Only Live Twice: 2.5 Stars. You Only Live Twice is a pretty average Bond movie. It’s not easy to watch from a modern perspective because Sean Connery dresses up in yellow face, but You Only Live Twice shouldn’t be dismissed. It features the first full fledge confrontation between Bond and the head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

17. Live and Let Die: 2.5 Stars. Live and Let Die is another film that plays uncomfortably to a modern audience. The action is good. The settings are intriguing. The music is phenomenal. Unfortunately, the film cozies up to the Blaxploitation films of the era. However, Live and Let Die remains notable as the only time James Bond has faced off against a supernatural villain. Meaning that in the world of James Bond, Voodoo is real, and it can kill you.

16. License to Kill: 2.5 Stars. James Bond abandons his country and his license to kill in order to seek revenge for the attack on his friend Felix Leiter. It’s not a bad movie. License to Kill strips down Bond, low on gadgets and high on emotional stakes and driving stunt work. Unfortunately, License to Kill plays more like a Rambo sequel than a Bond movie.

15. The Living Daylights: 3 Stars. The Living Daylights is the most Cold War Bond movie of the whole lot. Bond assists in the defection of a high level Soviet operative who blows the lid off a terrifying Soviet plot that might lead to the destabilization and destruction of the world. Not the greatest Bond film, but far from the worst, The Living Daylights is a fairly good movie to end the Cold War era of cinema’s greatest superspy.

14. Moonraker: 3 Stars. Moonraker is unfairly maligned. The James Bond franchise had indulged in all kinds of nonsense over the previous decade: Jet packs, helicopters in suitcases, razor sharp hat brims, lasers that cut you in half starting at the genitals, yellow-face, dragon tanks, and metal claw hands. Then Roger Moore went to space and everyone FREAKED OUT. There’s absolutely nothing in Moonraker that is objectively sillier than the Connery pictures. So everyone needs to shut up and enjoy this better than average Bond feature. Movies aren’t better just cause they are serious. I’d watch Moonraker twenty times before I’d watch Quantum of Solace again.

13. A View to a Kill: 3 Stars. Computers, apparently, were taking over everyone’s lives in the 1980s. So, James Bond had to stop a mad man bent on the destruction of our nascent technological infrastructure. Also, Supersoldiers. A View to a Kill is a half an hour too long and Roger Moore is a full decade too old, but other than that, A View to a Kill is not a bad movie.

12. Thunderball: 3.5 Stars. SPECTRE has stolen some nuclear weapons. Only James Bond can save us now. This is a great, over the top, spy caper, and features a stunning underwater battle scene.

11. For Your Eyes Only: 3.5 Stars. Like The Living Daylights, For Your Eyes Only is a Cold War picture. A British ship goes down with a key piece of technology on board. Bond must race the Soviets to reacquire the device so that it doesn’t fall into enemy hands. A reaction against Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only is notably more violent and realistic than any of the previous Bond films in the franchise.

10. Dr. No: 3.5 Stars. The one that started it all. Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the murders of a British Agent and his secretary. Bond’s investigation would lead him into his first confrontation with SPECTRE.

9. Tomorrow Never Dies: 4 Stars. Brosnan gets a bad rap. His films come closer to capturing the tone of the Connery era films: that special mixture of serious action and whimsical jocularity that sets Bond apart from the rest of the action spy genre. Tomorrow Never Dies even goes old school, forcing Bond to team up with a Chinese agent in order to fight a common enemy. Tomorrow Never Dies proves that there is no need to worry about the end of the Cold War. There will always be crazy megalomaniacs for Bond to thwart.

8. Octopussy: 4 Stars. Forgers, Smugglers, Circuses, and a Russian plot to force an American withdrawal from her bases in Western Europe. Octopussy is another of the few episodes where Bond goes up against a Soviet antagonist. It also features a female lead of remarkable agency. Octopussy came out the same year that Connery returned to the role of James Bond in the non-Eon Never Say Never Again. Octopussy was the higher earner proving that while Connery originated the role, he didn’t own it in perpetuity.

7. Casino Royale: 4 Stars. A slick update of Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale is a deadly serious entry in the franchise. I think that’s the wrong direction for Bond, but Casino Royale is so well done that even I have to respect it. Casino Royale also purported to be the beginning of Bond’s story, which raised the hope that we would see how Bond evolved into the James Bond I knew and loved. Unfortunately, over the course of the Daniel Craig era, he just evolved into Batman.

6. The World is not Enough: 4.5 Stars. Another Bond film that is unfairly reviled. Most of the vitriol aimed at this movie centers on Denise Richards’ unbelievable portrayal of a nuclear physicist. Of course, Bond has a proud tradition of dubious casting decisions among its female cast. That said, the rest of the film is fun and tightly plotted with seemingly minor lines of dialogue revealing deeper meaning in the film’s final reel.

5. The Man with the Golden Gun: 4.5 Stars. Golden Gun features a plot that could only be from a James Bond movie. A world class assassin catches the assignment to kill James Bond; his weapon of choice: a golden gun and a golden bullet. However, the assassin knows he can’t be an assassin forever and makes a bid for a new energy source/weapon – the Solex Agitator that will solve the energy crisis. The film is effectively a showdown between Roger Moore’s Bond and Christoper Lee’s anti-Bond. Its tongue may sometimes be in its cheek, but Golden Gun still satisifies.

4. GoldenEye: 4.5 Stars. The first Bond film to visit Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bond must deal with a defunct Soviet space based weapons platform that has fallen into the hands of rogue and mercenary forces out for revenge against the West. GoldenEye was a confident debut for Pierce Brosnan in the role, and it pointed the franchise in a solid direction – facing off against an array of non-state actors who would come to dominate the post Cold War world.

3. The Spy Who Loved Me: 5 Stars. The Spy Who Loved Me features a plot that mixes the best bits of Thunderball and For Your Eyes Only. Two nuclear missiles go missing (stolen by the actual villain) prompting the Brits and the Soviets to send their best agents to find out what happened. The best of Roger Moore’s tenure and in many people’s minds, the best in the franchise, The Spy Who Loved Me is at once a Cold War thriller and a throwback to the style of Bond films made in the Connery era where East and West were pitted against each other by a villainous third party.

2. Goldfinger: 5 Stars. A great film. Iconic. Goldfinger’s elements fire on all thrusters. Bond. Gadgets. Spycars. Over the top villainous plots. And of course, Jill Mastersons death scene. If you imagine James Bond, it’s probably Goldfinger that comes to mind.


1. From Russia With Love: 5 Stars. The Wrath of Kahn of the James Bond franchise. Bond squares off against the deadly SPECTRE agency that wants vengeance against him after he killed Dr. No. It even features the debut of Desmond Llewelyn as Q.

From Out in the Void,

Steven

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