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The Spectacular Spider-Man
The Living Daylights (1987)
One of the best of the series
TLD has one of the best opening sequences in the series; it perfectly introduces the new 007 in the middle of a deadly situation, then throws him into a startling action scene, before falling into the arms of an exotic beauty and stating, 'Bond. James Bond." Then bang!, straight into the credits and one of the coolest and most exciting theme tunes of the series.
Daylights is perhaps the quintessential Bond movie, as it contains elements of everything; the serious, Cold War espionage thrills of the 60's movies; the silliness and comedic set-pieces of the 70's movies; the John Glen-ness of the 80's obviously; the larger-than-usual emphasis on romance and romantic atmosphere of On Her Majesty's Secret Service; and the beginnings of the fleshing out of Bond's character which continued into the Brosnan and Craig movies.
And it executes all of this with hardly a misstep. Dalton hasn't the way with witticisms Moore provided, but the suggestion that he is merely a miserable, broody Bond is misplaced. His Bond does glower and seethe with resentment at times, he also displays happiness and every other emotion. Dalton's Bond also smiles more than any other Bond. And most of the other actors simply smiled ironically at suggestion of a sexual conquest, Dalton's Bond is far more genuine with his emotion.
The movie does very little wrong, but although very story-based, lacks a strong forward momentum. It's quite leisurely, even the final act feels like, "Well, where shall we go next?" The film also lacks the strong sense of danger that the best entries do. Henchman Necros is more believable than your Jaws or Oddjob, but completely lacks the threat they provided. It also doesn't help that he is set up as a super-assassin in the first fifteen minutes, then does nothing until his fight with Bond in the finale.
As for the other bad guys, though they have been criticised as weak and forgettable, I quite like them on this viewing. They are smart, scheming criminals, independent of any country or criminal organisation, it makes them quite unique. Brad Whitaker with his plan, ultimately, is most comparable to Auric Goldinger. His obsession with war is a Fleming-worthy character trait, and the waxworks of himself as major historical warriors was clever suggestion of an unbalanced mental state. Also great is the way he rips the legs off his lobster with a complete lack of self-awareness or grace. He's a greedy, childish brat in a man's body. Koskov is annoying, a semi-comedic foil who one senses at the end was intended to appear in the series again.
Bond girl Kara is perhaps a little lightweight in the sexy stakes, but she is a more rounded character than usual, and Maryam d'Abo comes across very sweet and genuine. Unfortunately some old-fashioned, "this girl is useless at everything," humour of the early 70's Bond movies creeps in, but it's forgivable. Her swift rise from being a member of the orchestra to having a world tour is somewhat naive and unnecessary, especially as there seems to be no reason for it. Nevertheless, one of the better Bond girls.
TLD has some of the best action of the series, including a perfectly executed opening sequence on a jeep, the gadget-laden Aston Martin chase, the battle hanging out of the aeroplane (which is still jaw-dropping), and the final shoot-out with Whitaker. Glen's action direction has less punch than in his first effort, For Your Eyes Only, but his skill with tension and sudden shocks (the monkey, the dove, Bond almost getting shot after killing Whitaker) is evident as always.
Mention must also go to one of John Barry's most evocative scores, and the cinematography which really captures the exotic feel of the numerous locations involved. TLD feels like one of the most globe-trotting and global Bond movies, especially compared to the following movie, which was centred in the Americas.
As Licence to Kill took a different turn for the series, The Living Daylights feels like the last 'classic' Bond movie (partly due to the fact that John Barry did not contribute again). At least until Casino Royale. It's certainly one of the best of the series, with one of the best and most rounded performances in the role of Bond himself.
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
...but it is such a perfect place to start, my love
As a reaction to the complaints about Tomorrow Never Dies (too much action, not enough plot), EON hired respected director Michael Apted to add more characterisation and drama. He absolutely does that. The central Bond/Elektra dynamic make this far more of a personal story than the usual 007 flick. Unfortunately, Apted's complete lack of experience with action makes this movie as lopsided as Tomorrow Never Dies, just in the opposite way.
Action scenes are generally very weak, slowly paced, badly choreographed and lacking geography. The battle in the missile silo and the opening boat chase are the only decent set-pieces. The buzz-saw helicopter attack on Zukovsky's factory is really rather poor, and the final fist fight with Renard is pathetic. This came out in 1999, the year we saw the Jedi fighting Darth Maul, and The Matrix. In that context it's awful.
But with regards to the storyline, Apted adds a lot. The central story of Elektra, the victim being the ultimate villain, is well-played and surprising. Sophie Marceau is a standout, as is Robert Carlyle as Renard. The latter really engages the audiences sympathy as a man who has lost the ability to feel anything. Bond becomes more involved with the storyline and becomes more vulnerable, and this is perhaps Brosnan's best performance in the role. Look for his reaction when Elektra asks him how he survives.
The movie is full of the awful double-entendres that plagued the Brosnan years. The cinematography is bland, the locations are rarely attractive. I'd also question the costume design (Brosnan's outfit during the climax is horrible). A scene where Zukovsky flees from CGI rotor blades and lands in a pool of caviar matches the worst excesses of Lucas Jar-Jar Binks slapstick. Denise Richards is a ludicrous nuclear physicist but is perfectly passable as a Bond movie nuclear physicist. It's laughable that almost every shot of her during the finale are at chest level.
Though the action is weak, the movie is dramatic and exciting, especially from the half way point onwards. Two of the greatest villains in the series, and one of the best plots, ultimately make this a winner, albeit a qualified one.
Effortless cool, Bond was never greater
Now, we're talking.
What Goldfinger does, that so many subsequent Bond movies forget, is not overdo things. It underplays everything. This is a movie of such effortless cool and style that it's sweeps the viewer along with charm. Many Bond movies also jar between action and non-action scenes (The World is Not Enough, for instance). Goldfinger moves through the gears with aplomb.
Goldfinger is so stylish that even the pre-credit sequence contains more cool than the entirety of most 007 films. You have the iconic wetsuit/tuxedo scene; Bond lighting a cigarette just as an explosion goes off; the unflinchingly brutality of Bond electrocuting a man then just turning away to make a quip; and finally him slamming the door - even than leads perfectly into the Shirley Bassey theme.
Everything is pitch perfect. Goldfinger himself is the ideal combo of vulgar greed and gentlemanly host. A perfect foe for for Bond. Pussy Galore combines the voluptuousness of 60's Bond girls with the spirit of the more modern ones. Connery himself is the epitome of Bond; charismatic, tough, ultra-suave.
There are plenty of standout scenes; the laser-beam table is unmatched in the series for sheer, pure tension; the aston martin chase is again one of the best in the series and shows up similar scenes in the likes of Die Another Day as merely visual showcases - this one is genuinely exciting. Bond's fight with Oddjob set the template for numerous, 'How do I stop this guy?' cat-and-mouse fight scenes, especially in Spielberg movies.
You might argue than Goldfinger could do with at least one more action set-piece, as it does slow down before the climax whilst Bond is Goldfinger's guest. But it wouldn't really fit into the story. As a Bond film, Goldfinger is practically perfect. Connery even has the best wig.
Great action, great villains, classic Bond
I've never been fond of GoldenEye. However, I now realise that I didn't enjoy it previously because I wasn't looking at it in context. Coming off the Dalton and Moore films, I was expecting something similar and was disappointed. It was only watching it this time, after Goldfinger, that I realised GoldenEye is trying for the style of the classic 60's Bonds, not the Moore era.
Literally, when I watched the scene of Brosnan dispose of a henchman with a towel, then dab his face, it clicked. That was a deliberate attempt to mimic the sophisticated, witty style of Terence Young and Guy Hamilton. Obviously, GoldenEye has to update this for the 90's, and that's the movie's other bullseye. GoldenEye feels more realistic than before, a world of genuine consequences. Subsequent Brosnan movies clearly lost this, and it's alarming to compare the almost cartoonish figure of 007 from Die Another Day with the believable government killer of GoldenEye. Did I say The World is Not Enough is Brosnan's best performance? It isn't, it's GoldenEye. He's lucky that the script was written for Dalton's more volatile portrayal, and he not only gets to play Bond's genuine hurt at his friend's betrayal, but also open up to Natalia about what makes him what he is. In some corners it is suggested Brosnan didn't live up to his potential as Bond, and this is more the fault of the scripts than the actor. They just didn't build on what was achieved in GoldenEye.
The movie has great villains; an evil Bond in Alex Trevelyan's 006, perfectly played by Sean Bean (who is always great). Famke Janssen takes the classic Bond bad girl and makes her into a ferocious femme fetale. A beautiful woman who gets aroused by killing people? Is there anything more Bond than that? And the Russians are always worthy villains for Bond.
One thing Campbell can do as good as any other Bond director, is action. There is a scene where Bond and Natalya escape from a Russian cell, only seconds, but really poetry in motion as far as action goes. Fast, powerful, unflinching. I'd even say GoldenEye needs more action. Some people think a good action movie simply depends on the budget. To them, I would suggest watching GoldenEye, and then The World is Not Enough or Die Another Day. Campbell is a master of the action scene, those who followed where not. Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies) is good enough, but his set-pieces lack the precision of Campbell's.
As for the nagative details; the locations lack the glamour of Bond. Campbell is not one for attractive visuals. Alan Cumming's character Boris is just annoying. Bond gets a bit too much criticism for being un-PC, the audience is beaten over the head with it, almost. Judi Dench's M is basically just there for that speech. The music isn't very Bond-esquire, but it is exciting enough.
So to sum up; the combo of the classic Bond style, with the more real world feel, and great bad guys and action, really elevate this to one of the best of the series. There are two absolutely fantastic Bond moments in the pre-credit sequence - the bungee jump and the freefall into a falling plane - that the series has not been able to match since.
So I'm now a fan of GoldenEye, and it only took thirteen years.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Overly Americanised, action-free camp-fest
DAF is one of the weakest, laziest movies in the franchise.
For a start, where is the action? Apart from a good close quarters punch up in a lift, there is hardly any. What remains is lacking in energy and played mainly for laughs. 007 beaten up by two acrobatic women - until he just holds them underwater in a swimming pool. An awful slapstick car-trashing chase in Vegas. And the big finale is anything but. We have a few of Blofled's henchmen fighting a few helicopters. Bond does almost nothing except swing Blofeld's escape pod around with a crane.
Which brings us to another point - this is without doubt the least serious Bond movie ever. It is borderline comedy throughout, clearly influenced by the likes of The Man from UNCLE and the Batman TV show. Blofeld dresses in drag at one stage. Most of the supporting characters are comic relief. The sinister henchmen, Wint and Kidd, would stand out in any other movie due to their extreme black humour, but here they are just wasted. Jill St John's Tiffany Case is amongst the worst Bond girls, silly and helpless.
We even see Q - in Vegas - cheating on a slot machine.
At least Connery is back right? Wrong. He's clearly on set, but equally clearly thinking about his next round of golf. Even his delivery of 'Bond, James Bond' is awful. He isn't helped by some awful costume decisions, including a brown tweed suit, and a pink (!) tie. Connery's huge payout for this film means everything else looks cheaper than before; by the climax you have embarrassing helicopter explosions, clearly animated, that would have been superbly detailed model shots in previous (and later) movies.
There is virtually nothing good to say about Diamonds. The film is so lacking in energy or excitement that only the plot manages to pull it along. It's a series of weird and comedic scenes that hardly feel like a Bond movie in any way, and it's hard to believe this came after On Her Majesty's Sceret Service. The film scrimps so much on the action that you are left watching a bizarre, parallel universe version of Bond where nothing remotely Bond-ish seems to happen. It feels almost like a live-action version of a Saturday morning Bond cartoon, watered down for the kids (Bond never even uses his gun).
Two plus points; Shirey Bassey's theme tune is superbly atmospheric and mysterious. Jill St John is very sexy. That's it. Connery came back, the director of Goldfinger came back, and the result was this farce.
Classic Bond mixed with an overdose of silliness
Though it lacks the sheer style and class of the earlier Connery efforts, Octopussy is in many ways a quintessential Bond movie. The film retains the more serious approach of For Your Eyes Only, and combines it with a somewhat more complex plot than usual. The film has Russians, nuclear weapons, the threat of World War III - it all adds to an epic, dramatic, Cold War feel. The film combines a real sense of danger from the outset - the superbly Fleming-esquire scene of knife-throwers chasing a clown - and a very exotic atmosphere, mainly from the Indian locations. There are also more beautful women here than in any Bond movie (almost every woman in the movie), even Moneypenny has a beautiful young assistant.
Again, the best Bond films have the best villains, and Octopussy has a real wealth of them. Kamal Khan makes for a wonderfully suave master villain. Gobinda and the knife-throwing twins are effective, and believable, henchmen. General Orlov, though prone to over-the-top ranting, works as a lunatic threatening the fragile stability of the world (back in 1983). Octopussy herself, though a somewhat light character, makes a good romantic interest for the older Moore.
The downsides to the movie; Moore gets away with it age-wise, but his magnetic appeal to just about every woman in the film is more of a joke than anything else. Speaking of jokes, there is a clear attempt to add more humour than there was in For Your Eyes Only; some of it is great ("No, ma'am, I'm with the economy tour") and a lot of it isn't, mainly the endless tennis jokes, Bond's schoolboy hijinks with Q, and a lot of the double entendres.
And the crocodile submarine.
And the Tarzan yell.
And 007 dressed as a gorilla.
And the union jack hot air balloon.
Octopussy has some of the best action scenes in the series. The pre-credit aerostar chase is well-crafted and the shots of Moore in the cockpit are convincing. The jungle chase is clearly Raiders of the Lost Ark-derived, but it's exciting nonetheless. Bond doesn't escape this without a hair out of place, he shows genuine fear as he scrambles desperately through the underbrush, and emerges shaken and relieved. Then we have the series of action scenes in, around and on top of the train, including a shootout, a punch-up on the roof, finally Bond's showdown with one of the knife-throwers. To cap it off, one of the most overlooked stunts in the series - Bond hanging onto the roof of a plane. Upside down. I've read reviews of the movie saying it's too ridiculous, no-one could ever do that. It's a real stunt! Someone is doing that. Again, like many scenes in the movie, Bond is really up against it and only gets through it by inches. Compare this to the likes of The Spy Who Loved Me, where Bond very rarely feels in any danger. The fact that even the villains are very wary of the bomb adds to the more realistic, tense feel.
Khan and Gobinda's reaction to their car not starting at first is perfect demonstration of this. It's darkly amusing, and shows this isn't the perfect world. Even something as mundane as this can happen to the characters. Bond himself has to desperately hitch a lift, and only ends up with a cool car because he steals it. Desperation, drama, no time for Bond to be classy.
The best scene isn't action per se, it's pure tension. And it works as pure irony as well. Bond, Moore, dressed as a clown, has to convince a crowd that that he's being serious about an atomic bomb about to explode. This is one of the most dramatic, edge-of-the-seat scenes in the entire series, helped by the normally-unrufled Moore's genuine panic. Also adding to the dramatic feel is that Bond is wearing the same clown outfit as his fellow agent died in at the start of the movie.
Octopussy would be a classic if it didn't jar so much between tense thriller and cartoonish silliness. I love the style John Glen bought to the series (at Khan's fireball death, 007 doesn't have a quip to make as his enemies' spectacular demise - he just lies down, completely exhausted), but it was severely weakened here by some of the most ridiculous moments of the series (minutes later we have 'in, out, in, out"). However, Octopussy is still one of the most entertaining Bond movies and deserved to be Moore's swansong.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
"You only live twice, Mr Bond."
It's hard to take this film seriously now, and not think of Dr Evil and Mini-Me performing Just the Two of Us. But it shows just how much effect this particular Bond movie has on popular culture. YOLT is virtually the template for how the general public see Bond, for better or for worse.
Of course, it's also hard to take the movie seriously when the main Bond girl is not even named. Where the fifteen minutes before the climax are Bond doing nothing in a Japanese village.
The first mis-step of the Bond series, this. YOLT ticks all the boxes necesary for a Bond film, but does so mechanically, without the flow of Goldfinger or the excitement of Thunderball. Lewis Gilbert, who essentially directed the same Bond movie three times, is competent but uninspired. His main man Connery is oh-so-clearly bored, as he has so little to do.
This movie came along when the spy mania of the 60s was at a peak, and with numerous films and TV shows (Mission Impossible, Man from UNCLE) all chasing Bond's territory, the Bond team felt they had to simply be bigger than everyone. You Only Live Twice is so big that it dwarfs Connery, he is almost as much a spectator as the audience.
It's a film that bores me. The opening 'Bond gets shot!" is effective, but from then on (the sea-burial/he's alive really gag is where Bond started to become very self-consciously silly/camp) it's just autopilot. Whereas previous movies had efficient and strong spy/espionage plots, YOLT barely has a plot, it's just an excuse to string together a series of set-pieces. At times, with Connery running around after nameless Japanese women, you wonder if the director knew what was going on.
One of the central concepts of Bond, and it's an effective one, is that the films move so fast, and are so entertaining, the audience doesn't have time to realise any flaws in logic or plotting. Most Bond films get away with this, YOLT draws attention to it. YOLT virtually says to the audience, "No, we don't have a plot or substance for you, but look at this car being dropped into the sea by a helicopter." It's weak...I mean, it's acceptable in that it's a Bond film of the classic era, there is spectacle and some great music. But it is just a collection of scenes, not a proper narrative. It's thankfully no Diamonds are Forever, but it's very, very average compared to the four movies that came before it.
The Three Musketeers (1948)
The Three Musketeers is such a terrific adventure story, and one the great Hero Journey stories, that it's very hard to mess up. The Musketeers themselves are hugely appealing characters, drinking, brawling, romancing much of the time but fiercely loyal and devoting their lives to their king.
This 1948 is perhaps the best version, and there are many versions. The 1993 Disney version with Charlie Sheen and Keifer Sutherland and the 1973 version with Oliver Reed and Michael York both entertain, but this version has the spirit of fun and wonder that only golden age Hollywood can supply.
The actors don't just act, the entertain. Gene Kelly shines. The action is dynamic, spectacular and outshines every other musketeer movie. The visuals are bold and colourful. The script is witty captures the slightly whimsical, boisterous approach of Dumas without the slapstick of the Lester movies.
Simply, one of the most entertaining movies you will ever see.
Absurd and alarmist Daily Mail-esquire shock treatment
This is a real TV show shown in the UK (BBC 1 tonite, actually). And it's hysterically alarmist.
The set-up is simple. Two parents are taken into a big room where the show's presenter, some psychologist woman, tells them their kids are too fat/lazy/unhealthy, and eat/smoke/watch TV too much. Then she shows them a CGI animation of their kids - and what they will look like when they are 40. Which, as you'd expect, is hideous, and even their expressions are angry and sad.
The psychologist lady then says, "You're KILLING your kids." At which point, the mother usually brakes down in tears.
Seriously, this is a real show.
The kids then come in, AFTER the scary future pics of them are gone, and the family are given instructions as to what to do over the next three weeks to SAVE THEIR FUTURE.
The parents come back after three weeks of following the show's instructions, and get to see a new version of their kids at 40 - looking ridiculously healthy and cheerful.
It's my favourite TV show, it's laugh out loud funny and ridiculous. It's also quite disturbing though. Not only does it show just how lame UK parents are these days, but it's got a real 'Do as we say or your kids will die' tone.
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Doesn't even attempt to suggest a hint of a plot
The original JP at least had the plot of capitalists abusing mother nature and the resultant chaos teaching a Frankenstein message. It had a theme park out of control, Alan Grant learning to be a father-figure (you should put that in all your films, Steven - oh, you already have), greedy traitor Dennis Nedry attempting to cash-in on the park's secrets, and Malcolm's whole chaos theory stuff.....
The Lost World was much darker, bitter Spielberg, about how evil capitalism is. The now very-sober, brooding Malcolm's ominous gaze is very much Spielberg's own when regarding the merciless strip mining of nature itself. Technically, it had twice as much story as JP3 - it had people running from dinosaurs, but it also had the fight against the poachers that ended up Godzilla style in NY.
What's the plot of JP3? Kid gets lost on island. People go to rescue him. Dinosaurs on island are smarter than previously thought. That's it.
Only weeks before JP3 went into production, the script was changed, and the producers were all praising the new version, saying they'd gone for a stronger story at the last minute.
I shudder to think at what the previous script must have contained. Is it possible to have less story than JP3? JP3's story is just an explanation as to why everyone is on Isla Sorna, and then into the mayhem. And I saw it THREE DAMN TIMES at the cinema.