In December, I watched all the Sean Connery-era Bond films. In January, I watched all of those from Roger Moore. Last month I watched all of the films from the Pierce Brosnan era, which also includes Bonds Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig. This final group of films shows signs of life, then plummets the series to a new low. Fortunately the most recent Bond film is the best yet.
The Living Daylights (1987) – Timothy Dalton [6.6] – B-
The first 25 minutes of this film are baffling. The second 25 are just boring. But despite the rocky start, about midway through I became accustomed to Dalton’s style and accepted him for what he is. He’s a softie. He melds into the picture more than Roger Moore did. (Moore always stood out like polished silver in a drawer of stainless steel flatware.) The story here is very strong (continuing a trend — the last few Bond films have had stronger stories). Maryam d’Abo doesn’t fit the mold of previous Bond women. She has a different look. She’s lovely.
License to Kill (1989) – Timothy Dalton [6.4] – B+
The strongest Bond story since the 1960s, and a solid Bond film indeed. No secret agent stuff here, just pure vendetta.
GoldenEye (1995) – Pierce Brosnan [6.9] – A-
Bond seems to have finally hit its stride. A magnificent opening shot. Hell, a magnificent opening sequence. Sure the final stunt defies physics and probability, but it’s AWESOME. The cinematography is gorgeous, like nothing before seen a Bond film. (Though it reminds me of Casino Royale in many ways. (Aha! Upon compiling this roundup I learned that the director and cinematographer were the same on both films.)) A fine cast, including two X-Men and Borimir. I love the Russian dancers singing “Stand By Your Man” — best comic scene EVER in a Bond film. The only thing that really keeps this from making it to the top of the list is a lack of “tightness”. The story is fantastic, the directing is fantastic, the acting is fantastic — but things just aren’t as smooth as they should be. Two-thirds through there’s an extended chase scene with a tank that’s just tedious. Also, there are far too many explosions. A top-notch bond flick. (And, seriously, it’s just gorgeous.)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – Pierce Brosnan [6.4] – C+
This film features two great supporting players. Jonathan Pryce is Elliot Carver, a media mogul bent on causing World War III so that he can reap the rewards of increased viewers (and get an exclusive century-long deal in China). Michelle Yeoh is Wai Lin, a Chinese secret agent working alongside Bond. The script, at times, is great. But this Bond is undone by some of the worst features of the series: nonsensical action scenes (the teaser is just lame, the parking garage scene is not much better, and the motorcycle chase is the kind of thing that has made me walk out of movies in the past). There’s also a dreaded mass-combat ending, though it’s just Bond vs. the army of bad guys. This is the weakest film since the end of the Roger Moore era.
The World is Not Enough (1999) – Pierce Brosnan [6.3] – D-
Lame, idiotic opening boat chase. It’s sheer lunacy. Want to see a boat drive through the streets of London, knocking over market stalls, crashing through restaurants, making things explode that couldn’t possibly explode? This is your movie. Dumb dumb dumb. A huge step backward for the franchise. There’s yet another ski chase, but it’s dumb. There are far too many random explosions, and each of them features Chinese fireworks to “add” to the effect. We have to endure “hilarious” witticism after “hilarious” witticism. Puns are not funny when they’re stretched over the thinnest of frameworks. “He was buried with work…” Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha. So damn funny. This film’s worst sin is that it’s boring. It should have been called “20,000 Explosions are Not Enough”. There are more explosions here than in all other Bond movies combined. That is not a good thing.
Die Another Day (2002) – Pierce Brosnan [6.2] – F
James Bond meets CGI. This film is awful on nearly every level. It has three redeeming features:
- An intriguing plot.
- An effective credits sequence that also serves as exposition.
- Rosamund Pike
Casino Royale (2006) – Daniel Craig [8.0] – A
Ah: the creme de le creme. Casino Royale is far, far more violent than the Bonds that have come before. It’s a product of its day: a loud, visually exciting piece. It’s also overly long, though I’m not sure what I’d cut. But damn, it’s exciting. The opening credits sequence is the best of any Bond film. The soundtrack is a thing of beauty. (To really appreciate it, you have to have seen several of the Bond films recently, I think. It begins with a unique theme, which is close to, but not the same as, the traditional Bond theme. This is fitting since this is ostensibly the first Bond adventure. As the film progresses, this new theme gradually changes, always drifting closer to the Bond theme we know and love. But it’s only at the final scene of the theme that we finally hear what we’ve expected to hear the entire time. Nicely done.) I’ve seen this film twice now, and like it more after a second viewing (and after having viewed the entire series). I’m buying the DVD when it’s released tomorrow — the first DVD I’ve purchased in a long time. After I took Kris to see it, I asked her how she liked it. “I’d only give it a B,” she said. She paused. “But compared to the other Bond films, it stands head and shoulders above the rest. It was actually good in spots.” Many spots, if you ask me.
On average, the Connery-era Bond films received a rating of 7.1 from users of the Internet Movie Database. They received a GPA of 2.47 from me. On average, the Moore-era Bond films received a rating of 6.6 from users of the Internet Movie Database. They received a GPA of 2.09 from me. The Brosnan-era Bond films received a rating of 6.7 from IMDB. I gave them a GPA of 2.39. (Note that without Casino Royale, these scores are 6.5 and 2.12.)
Which Bond is best?
This is a tough question to answer. Each actor has his strengths. (Well, except for Lazenby.) Timothy Dalton doesn’t get a lot of credit, but I like what he did in his two films. Moore did a fine job with the glitz and glamour side of Bond, but he was inept at the action sequences. For my part, Moore and Brosnan did the best job of capturing all sides of the character. Brosnan, though, was, except for his first outing, handicapped by terrible scripts and, at times, bad direction. Daniel Craig’s turn showed much promise, and an exciting new direction for the character, but I’m withholding judgment until I’ve seen a couple more performances.
I’m glad to have watched all the Bond films in rapid succession. I don’t feel the need to ever do it again. I think that the reboot of the series in the most recent film is exactly what needed to happen. The series has, it seems, returned to its secret agent roots, ditched the comic book character villains, and decided to take itself serious. Now if they can tone the action scenes down even further, the producers may have finally found that fables lost era of Bond gold. (Because despite all of its cultural capital, the series has never been able to sustain a run of good films.) I look forward to the 22nd installment!