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A View to a Kill (1985)
Arthritic conclusion to the Moore years
Roger Moore initially intended to walk away from the Bond franchise after finishing Octopussy, which was a not unreasonable decision, given that he was now moving into his late fifties. Cubby Broccoli, however, persuaded him to stay on to make A View to a Kill, which thus became Moore's seventh Bond film, and also his last. Sadly, AVTAK is far from being a great farewell for the man who has starred in more official Bond movies than anyone else, as it is a dull film, devoid of real inspiration and unable to rouse itself from torpor.
Funnily enough, in spite of his age Moore's performance is one of the better things about the film, as he plays it fairly straight and does not just sleepwalk his way through, as he had been guilty of in some of his earlier outings. However, by now there was no hiding the fact that Moore was simply too old to still be playing James Bond; he had got away with it in For Your Eyes Only and (just) in Octopussy, but in AVTAK you can see the wrinkles clearly, and the credibility of the film is thus undermined from the start. It does not help matters that we see him in intimate scenes with a number of (much younger) women, most distressingly in bed with the Amazonian Grace Jones, a sight that is not for the faint-hearted. A jacuzzi scene with Fiona Fullerton also gives us ample opportunity to survey Moore's ageing body, and it does leave you wishing he had quit before this film.
Many others in the cast of AVTAK are of advancing years, including Willoughby Gray as an evil German scientist, Patrick Macnee as Bond's ally Tibbett, and Lois Maxwell, making her fourteenth and final appearance as a by now distinctly matronly Moneypenny. All of them give good performances, but the preponderance of ageing stars certainly helps to rob the film of real dynamism, and little in the way of sexual frisson can be generated between a Bond and a Moneypenny who are both a short way off collecting their bus passes. At least there is good nostalgia value in seeing Moore and Macnee, the Saint and the Avenger, working together and clearly enjoying doing so, and Macnee is very enjoyable in his role.
In fairness, the age of the cast wouldn't matter so much if the film was exciting, but sadly the pace is pedestrian and the story never takes off. From a deeply unimaginative pre-title sequence, which sees OO7 involved in yet another ski chase, AVTAK is quite happy to be Bond-by-numbers, and John Glen directs with less spark than in his other Bond films. The action scenes are uninspired and, in the case of a fire engine chase through San Francisco, pretty stupid, with only the final showdown on the Golden Gate Bridge generating any real excitement. There is also some horrendous back projection, which is quite incredible for a film made in the mid-80s, and just adds to its creaky feel. The villains, sadly, don't really give a lift to proceedings, even though Christopher Walken plays the psychotic industrialist Max Zorin, Bond's main opponent. Walken tries his best with the character, certainly making him nutty and disturbed, but the limitations of the script prevent him from making Zorin a convincing villain, and it is ultimately an unsuccessful performance. Grace Jones is more effective as May Day, mainly because she is such an imposing and intimidating figure, but the effect is rather spoiled when she is finally allowed to open her mouth towards the end. Someone else who opens her mouth far too much is the irritating Tanya Roberts as Stacy Sutton, who we are supposed to believe is a geologist but does little more than scream a lot. Undoubtedly, she is one of the worst Bond girls ever.
AVTAK is without question the worst Bond film of the 80s, and certainly one of the weaker entries in the franchise. Its only real saving graces are a handful of good performances and Duran Duran's dynamic title song, the last truly classic Bond theme. It is a pity Moore had to go out in this way; he may not have been the best Bond, but he turned in some effective performances during his reign, and ensured the continuation of the series. Some new blood and a new direction were, however, now needed urgently, and thankfully they would arrive in the next chapter of the Bond saga.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Action-packed and glitzy, but utterly shallow
The huge success of GoldenEye ensured the future of the Bond franchise, and when Tomorrow Never Dies came along two years later it again did big business at the Box Office, confirming OO7's enduring popularity. Sadly, if falls a long way short of the standards set by its predecessor, sacrificing any attempts at plot or character development in favour of a non-stop succession of action sequences, flashy gadgets and hi-tech sets. The result is a film that is mildly entertaining but lacking in any real tension, threat or depth, making it one of the most forgettable and disappointing entries in the Bond franchise.
One of the big disappointments of the film is Pierce Brosnan's Bond. After his excellent debut performance in GoldenEye, which presented OO7 as a well-rounded character, Brosnan is given a script in TND which requires him to do nothing more than go through the motions. He therefore does all the usual Bond things - the fighting, the seduction, the quips - but the depth that he brought to the character in GoldenEye is totally missing, as this film is only interested in Bond as action hero. There is one particularly cringeworthy scene where Brosnan wanders around wielding a machine gun like Arnie or Sly Stallone, not exactly the behaviour you would expect from Ian Fleming's gentleman spy, but certainly what you would expect from filmmakers whose only concern is to make as many dollars as possible.
Brosnan's flat performance is matched by his co-stars. Jonathan Pryce's Elliot Carver is arguably the weakest villain ever to appear in a Bond film; he is not remotely threatening, and Pryce is so hammy in the role he just makes Carver camp and extremely irritating. As for the women, Michelle Yeoh's high-kicking Wai Lin certainly holds her own against OO7 in the fight scenes, but Yeoh is far from being either an accomplished actress or a great beauty, and Wai Lin is a forgettable and one-dimensional Bond girl. Teri Hatcher, as the doomed Paris Carver, scores over Yeoh in the looks department, but Paris is another character who lacks any real depth, and in any case she is disposed of quite rapidly. The film's lack of originality is also underscored by the appearance of yet another blonde, Red Grant-style henchman, who is about as unmemorable as you can get. The only cast members who really shine are Vincent Schiavelli as the comically evil Dr Kaufman, a classic "talking villain," and Judi Dench as M; Q is also back once more, in an all-too-brief scene, in order to give Bond his fancy remote-controlled BMW.
Rather like the characters, the plot takes second place to the action, although the premise of a media tycoon trying to engineer a war for ratings is at least contemporary, and if it had been fleshed out properly it could have been interesting. As it is, the story is just a peg on which to hang the action, and all it really does is retread the scripts of You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, albeit in glossier fashion. As far as the action sequences themselves are concerned, director Roger Spottiswoode undoubtedly pulls them off with flair, but for the most part they just feel formulaic and unexciting; indeed, there are points where TND feels more like a John Woo-style film than a Bond adventure. The look of the film is also very stylised and self-consciously "modern," so much so that it will probably seem quite dated in years to come, more so than some older Bond films. It is another element that makes the film all style and no substance.
In essence, TND is about as shallow as a Bond film can get. I did like David Arnold's Barryesque score, and Sheryl Crow's title song is quite good, but generally speaking the film is nothing more than mindless popcorn entertainment. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, but Bond films can, and should, amount to something more, and for that reason TND is one of my least favourite in the entire canon.
Not perfect, but a realistic, classic Bond
On Her Majesty's Secret Service will probably always remain the most controversial entry in the Bond series, thanks both to its unusually human and romantic story, and the notorious casting of novice actor George Lazenby as OO7. Some think these elements ruin the film, while others hail OHMSS as the best Bond ever. I wouldn't go that far in my praise, but for me this is still one of the classic Bond films, true to Ian Fleming's original vision and arguably showing OO7 in a more realistic light than any other film in the franchise.
To get the Lazenby issue out of the way first, it is certainly true to say that he lacks the charisma of the man he (temporarily) replaced, Sean Connery, and his impossibly chiselled jaw is somewhat irritating. However, he does look the part, and for a first-time actor he turns in a remarkably assured performance, particularly in the fight scenes but also in Bond's more tender moments, most notably in the highly emotional finale. If Lazenby had gone on to make more Bond films (and it was his own decision not to do so) he could well have developed into a very fine OO7, but as it is I still find his performance in OHMSS perfectly acceptable, and not damaging to the film in any way.
The film itself represented a conscious attempt to get back to Fleming after the increasingly extravagant antics of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Director Peter Hunt, who had edited the classic early Connery films, was very keen to remain faithful to Fleming's original story, and as a result OHMSS has an unusually strong emphasis on character and plot, with the gadgetry and humour found in most Bond films largely jettisoned. Rather like From Russia with Love, OHMSS feels like a real spy adventure, as Bond tracks Blofeld down and even adopts a disguise as he infiltrates his arch-enemy's Alpine hideaway, Piz Gloria. Where this film is unique, however, is in the level of emotion it invests in OO7's relationships with others. We see this early in the film when Bond quarrels with M and submits his resignation, a sequence which really brings out the affection which both M and Moneypenny have for him, but which M especially prefers to keep concealed. This affection is brought out again near the end during Bond and Tracy's wedding, when Q sheds his normal exasperation and shows us his fondness and respect for OO7.
However, it is of course the relationship between Bond and Tracy which gives the film its emotional heart. OHMSS sees Bond fall genuinely in love for the first and only time, and personally I found the film's romantic scenes both tender and touching, particularly for being so unexpected in a Bond film. The casting of Diana Rigg as Tracy helps immeasurably in making us believe in this romance, as she is a rare example of a proper actress taking on the role of a Bond girl, and her dynamic, spirited performance makes it easy to see why Bond would fall for her and marry her. It also helps the film's tragic conclusion, itself unique in the Bond franchise, pack far more of an emotional punch than might otherwise have been the case.
Of course, the film has more going for it than just an unusually human Bond.
Hunt directs with great skill, and the Alpine scenery that dominates the film looks absolutely stunning. There is no shortage of great action either, the highlights being a tense and gripping ski chase and an equally thrilling bobsleigh pursuit. Telly Savalas makes for a very effective Blofeld, understated and sinister, and his Rosa Klebb-like henchwoman Irma Bunt is played with relish by Ilse Steppat. There are also echoes of FRWL in the character of Draco, Tracy's father, who is a charismatic Bond ally in the style of Kerim Bey. Special mention should be given to John Barry, who produced his greatest Bond soundtrack for OHMSS. The opening instrumental theme, with its sombre and foreboding tone, sets the serious mood of the film, while the classic We Have All the Time in the World, sung by Louis Armstrong, is the perfect soundtrack to Bond and Tracy's doomed love.
However, while OHMSS is undoubtedly a classic Bond film, it just falls short of my personal top five for two principal reasons. The first of these is that the film is too long, primarily because the central section, where Bond infiltrates Piz Gloria in disguise, is dragged out for far longer than was necessary. Blofeld's plan to use beautiful women as carriers of a devastating eco-virus is the other main weakness, because it is totally preposterous and does not fit into the film's serious nature. I must admit also that, good as Lazenby is, I do wish Connery had agreed to make this film, because with him on board, and a little more editing, I think it could have been the best Bond ever, even beating FRWL. As it is, OHMSS is still a very strong film, its bold deviations from the Bond formula paying off handsomely. It is just a crying shame that it did not perform better at the Box Office, because this would encourage the Bond producers to shift to the high-camp, comic style that would dominate the franchise during the 1970s; sadly, it would be more than a decade before a serious, Flemingesque Bond would reappear on the big screen.
Confusing but colourful Bond caper
1983 was the year of the "Battle of the Bonds," as Roger Moore's Octopussy and Sean Connery's Never Say Never Again battled it out for Box Office supremacy. Octopussy, with all the advantages of being an official Bond film, predictably won the contest hands down. It deserved to as well, because not only is it the better film but it is also one of the most enjoyable of Moore's long reign as OO7.
After the serious approach adopted in For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy is at first a more light-hearted affair, following Bond to India as he investigates the activities of a smuggling ring headed by Indian prince Kamal Khan and a mysterious woman known only as Octopussy (subtlety is never a strong point of Bond films). As the film goes on, however, the tone becomes more urgent as Bond finds out that Kamal Khan is involved in a plot with renegade Soviet general Orlov to detonate a nuclear bomb at an American base in Germany, forcing our hero to become involved in a thrilling race against time to defuse the bomb. This is therefore another Bond film with a strong Cold War element and a good dose of espionage, like FYEO before it, and OO7's struggle to reach the bomb in time is tense and exciting. Indeed, the whole film is very well made, with director John Glen ensuring that there is plenty of incident and spectacle the whole way through, and never allowing the pace to drag too much. The scenes shot in India are colourful and atmospheric, and Glen crafts the numerous action sequences well, incorporating pretty much every traditional element of a Bond film (the car chase, the casino scene, the train fight, the plane fight and so on). This is one Bond adventure which certainly aims to cover all the bases, and another box is ticked with the return of John Barry, who provides a decent score. The title song, All Time High, is performed by Rita Coolidge and as Bond themes go isn't too bad.
As well as good action and spectacle, Octopussy also has a pretty decent cast. Roger Moore was now really starting to show his age, but he does turn in one of his better performances, and it helps that Octopussy, his main love interest in the film, is played by a more mature lady in the shape of Maud Adams. This was Adams' second turn in a Bond film after her earlier appearance in The Man with the Golden Gun, and she looks suitably mysterious and exotic. She can also act, and she and Moore work well together. As for the villains, Louis Jourdan is suitably urbane and sinister as Kamal Khan, and Kamal's huge glowering enforcer Gobinda is one of the more memorable Bond henchmen. Even tennis player Vijay Amritraj does not disgrace himself as Bond's Indian contact, and it is also good to see Q taking such an active role for a change, as he helps Bond in the field and even gets involved in the action. Indeed, he is probably more involved here than he would be in Licence to Kill.
Inevitably, however, the film has its weaknesses. Steven Berkoff, sporting a terrible Russian accent, does not convince as Orlov, while Robert Brown, in his first appearance as M, does not prove himself to be a very inspired successor to Bernard Lee. The plot is also overcomplicated, and it is never made terribly clear quite how the smuggling ring links in with Orlov's plans for attacking the West; in fact, it might have been better to leave Orlov out of the film and just have Kamal, who gets more screen time anyway, as the mastermind behind the whole scheme. There is also rather too much lame humour, particularly during the Indian sequences when Bond lets out Tarzan yells and tells a tiger to "sit;" I could also have done without OO7 struggling to defuse the bomb in a clown costume. To be fair, however, Octopussy is generally closer in feel to FYEO than Moonraker, and the comedy is toned down as the film goes on.
While not one of the very best, and more confusing than it needs to be, Octopussy is still an entertaining and accomplished piece of Bondage. It is a pity that Moore did not call it quits here, as he originally intended to do, because Octopussy would have given him a more dignified send-off from the franchise than the one he eventually got.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Fleming's Bond makes a stylish return
The Living Daylights marked the end of an era for the Bond franchise in some ways, being the last film in the series to have a Cold War theme, thanks to the imminent downfall of the Berlin Wall, and also the last to boast a score by John Barry. In other respects, however, it marked a new beginning. With the aged Roger Moore finally stepping aside, TLD saw respected Welsh actor Timothy Dalton become the fourth official James Bond, a role he had first been linked with at the time of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. After the jokiness and campness that had pervaded the Moore era, Dalton was keen to play OO7 in a much more serious manner, and as preparation for the role he read all of Ian Fleming's original novels. The result in TLD is one of the most impressive interpretations of Bond to grace the big screen, an all-too human secret agent possessing a cold ruthlessness but also real emotions. Not since the early Connery films had OO7 been presented in such a realistic light, and Dalton's performance in both his Bond films is probably the closest any actor has got to portraying Fleming's original character.
Taken as a whole, TLD matches Dalton's sombre performance by being one of the more down-to-earth Bond extravaganzas, a stylish Cold War spy thriller focusing on the defection to the West of Koskov, a leading KGB man who turns out to be in cahoots with a renegade American general-turned-arms dealer called Whitaker. There is plenty of the great action and stunning locations we expect from Bond films, most notably when OO7 and Kara Milovy sledge downhill on a cello case, and in the superbly staged fight on the plane towards the end, in which Bond does battle with yet another blonde henchman. Although not one of the prettiest Bond girls, Maryam d'Abo does have charm and a certain amount of spirit as Kara, and there are also great performances from John Rhys Davies as Pushkin and Jeroen Krabbe as the villainous but charming Koskov. As for the MI6 regulars, Desmond Llewelyn turns in his normal reliable performance as Q, while Robert Brown returns as M and Caroline Bliss takes over from the long-serving Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, although she doesn't get much of a chance to make an impression. Meanwhile Walter Gotell returns once more for a brief appearance as General Gogol (his last), and Thomas Wheatley is quite impressive as Saunders, Bond's ill-fated ally in the field.
TLD therefore has a lot going for it, but as it happens I think it falls just short of being a true Bond classic. One problem is the plot, which is too convoluted and becomes quite confusing by the time Bond and Kara reach Afghanistan. The major flaw, however, is the way the villains are underused. Koskov and Whitaker had promise as opponents for OO7, not least because for a change they are not seeking world domination, but you don't see enough of them. Joe Don Baker has fun with the role of Whitaker and his obsession with military history, but he does not get enough screen time to flesh the character out properly, and his final showdown with Bond is perfunctory. The film is also overlong, and A-ha's theme tune is pretty bad, a badly dated mess which could only have been recorded in the mid-to-late 80s.
Despite the flaws, however, TLD is still one of the better Bond efforts, not least because it puts OO7 back in touch with his roots and doesn't play things for laughs. In the final analysis, it gets Dalton's all-too-brief Bond career off to a good start, and paves the way for the gritty, hard-edged tone of the excellent Licence to Kill two years later.
Licence to Kill (1989)
Dalton bows out as Bond in dark, hard-hitting style
Licence to Kill was the second and last of Timothy Dalton's Bond films, and it saw his mission of taking OO7 back to his Fleming roots being pushed to the extreme. This is one of the toughest and darkest films in the series, certainly the most violent, and perhaps because of this it did not do that well at the Box Office. However, it is also one of the best Bonds ever made, and it deserves a much better reputation than it enjoys.
Many complain that LTK is not like a Bond film, and while to an extent this is true it actually works to the film's benefit. There are no groan-inducing one-liners here, no spectacular gadgets or cartoon villains. Instead, we have a tight, simple plot that sees Bond resign from MI6 to pursue a ruthless vendetta against evil drug baron Franz Sanchez, who has murdered the wife of Felix Leiter and fed Leiter's legs to the sharks. As he goes after Sanchez Dalton's Bond shows himself to be a complex, realistic character, both driven and determined but also capable of showing human emotion, as he notably does when he is inadvertantly reminded of his late wife. It was always Dalton's intention to make his Bond as realistic and Flemingesque as possible, and he certainly succeeds here; only his rather dodgy hairstyle lets him down.
Dalton is well supported by other cast members. Robert Davi's Sanchez is in the top league of Bond villains, a ruthless and sadistic killer who is nevertheless fiercely loyal to those who serve him. He may only be a drug baron with no plans for world domination (which helps the film's realistic tone), but he is far more menacing than some of Bond's opponents who have had such plans, and Davi captures the contrasting sides of his personality very well indeed. As well as a quality villain, LTK boasts possibly the best Bond girls since the 1960s. Talisa Soto is suitably sultry as Lupe, the girlfriend of Sanchez, and Carey Lowell is very impressive as the gun-toting Pam Bouvier, who proves herself to be just as tough as Bond and is arguably the first truly "liberated" woman to share the screen with him. Pam's self-reliance discomfits OO7, and the verbal sparring between the two is one of the film's highlights. Also in good form is David Hedison, who becomes the only actor to play Felix Leiter more than once (he first did so in Live and Let Die). LTK will probably remain the final Bond film to feature Leiter because of the injuries he suffers, and Hedison rises to the occasion with a good performance, although he does look rather more cheerful than he should be at the end, considering he has just lost his wife and his legs. The regulars from MI6 are all present and correct, with Robert Brown and Caroline Bliss making what would prove to be their final appearances as M and Moneypenny. Desmond Llewelyn returns yet again as Q, and he enjoys his biggest ever part in the series, actively helping Bond in the field. Q's role was perhaps expanded to inject some light relief into what is essentially a dark film, and Llewelyn is excellent as always, his greater screen time enabling his relationship with Bond to be explored more deeply than usual. The film also features an early performance from Benicio del Toro, who is suitably sinister as a henchman of Sanchez.
As far as the look of the film is concerned, it does perhaps stray too far into Miami Vice territory on occasion, but makes up for it with some superb action sequences, particularly the climactic truck chase. This was veteran Bond director John Glen's fifth and final entry in the franchise, and it enabled him to go out on a high note after many years distinguished service to the Bond series in a number of different capacities. LTK marked the end of an era in several other ways, being the last Bond to be produced by Albert R Broccoli and the last to be scripted by Richard Maibaum. Michael Kamen provides the music, and Gladys Knight performs a decent, if unspectacular theme song.
Overall Licence to Kill is a highlight among the Bond films, delivering plenty of thrill and spills along with an unusually serious and hard-nosed plot. Naturally, some elements of the film do not stand up to close scrutiny. Would Bond really resign to pursue an illegal vendetta? Would Q risk his own position to help him? However, it is only a film, and I don't think this really matters very much. It is just a shame that the legal wrangles which stopped another Bond film from being made for the next six years led to Dalton leaving the series, because his two turns as OO7 certainly breathed new life into the part, and remain among the best interpretations of Bond in the history of the franchise.
Brosnan gets off to a great start
It seemed for a long while in the early 1990s that we would never see a James Bond film again, as the franchise became enmeshed in endless legal wrangles and a disillusioned Timothy Dalton decided to quit as OO7. However EON productions were eventually able to begin work on the 17th official Bond film, and GoldenEye exploded onto the big screen in 1995, six years after the release of Licence to Kill. Happily the wait was worth it, because GoldenEye is one of the best Bond films, featuring a satisfying mix of great action and memorable characters. It was a huge hit, reinventing Bond for the 90s and helping to ensure that the franchise would continue into the 21st Century.
The film succeeds in part because it feels a bit like a Bond "greatest hits," with such OO7 trademarks as the Aston Martin, beautiful women and big action set-pieces all playing a prominent role. Martin Campbell proves himself to be a worthy Bond director, orchestrating the impressive action scenes with great flair, particularly a memorable tank chase through St Petersburg. However, GoldenEye (named after Ian Fleming's home in the Caribbean) also acknowledges the fact that times had changed since OO7's Cold War heyday. Bond finds himself travelling to a newly capitalist Russia, and he also has to deal for the first time with a female M, played wonderfully by Judi Dench, who makes no bones about calling OO7 a "sexist, misogynous dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War," although underneath she already has a sneaking affection for him. There is also a feisty new Miss Moneypenny for Bond to contend with, Samantha Bond replacing Caroline Bliss in the role and making it quite plain that her Moneypenny will be no pushover for OO7. Q, however, is still played by the ageing but sprightly Desmond Llewelyn, and although he is only in one short scene it is a good one, providing another link to Bond's past.
Unlike many Bond films, GoldenEye has quite a good plot. It certainly helps that the chief villain is a fellow OO agent, who was once a close friend of Bond's. This set-up adds real spice to the scenes between Bond and Trevelyan, for in OO7's eyes Trevelyan has committed the ultimate sin of betraying both his country and his friend, giving the film a serious edge. Indeed, one of the most welcome features of the film is its lack of schoolboy humour, which the producers might have been tempted to include after the dark Licence to Kill's poor Box Office showing; thankfully they resisted the temptation, and GoldenEye is much the stronger for it. Another plus is the strength of many of the principle characters. Izabella Scorupco is one of the very best Bond girls, proving herself to be a good actress as well as a beautiful one, and her character fits in well with the serious, modern tone of the film by being both quite a realistic character and a skilled computer programmer. Sean Bean is good as Trevelyan, even if his rather forced upper-class accent prevents him from being one of the great villains. Still, he is menacing and his final showdown with Bond is gripping and effective. Stealing the show is Famke Janssen, who is gloriously OTT as the sex-mad henchwoman Xenia Onatopp. Onatopp kills men by crushing them with her legs, and she makes for a classic Bond femme fatale.
Then of course there is Pierce Brosnan, who makes a strong debut as OO7. Brosnan was of course invited to become Bond a decade earlier, before his commitments to Remington Steele prevented him from taking the part. Now the Walther PPK was finally his, and he makes the most of it with a performance that nicely blends toughness with humour, and also traces of humanity. In certain scenes Brosnan does a very nice job of portraying the essential loneliness of OO7, and also his fierce loyalty to his country. In doing so he maintains the welcome seriousness that Dalton brought to the role, but he also comes across as more relaxed and humorous than Dalton, making his Bond a more rounded character in the style of Sean Connery. Arguably, it is the most impressive debut performance of any Bond actor.
Naturally, GoldenEye is not perfect. It is a bit too long, and I found Alan Cumming's Boris a rather irritating character, although his eventual comeuppance was very satisfying. Robbie Coltrane's entertaining cameo as a former KGB agent could also have been longer, and I am not a fan of Tina Turner's dreary theme song. These, however, are minor quibbles. GoldenEye is a very entertaining and action-packed film, which captures the essence of Bond and has some real substance too in its plot and characterisation. I would rank it with From Russia with Love, For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill as one of the top Bond films, and subsequent Brosnan outings have not yet bettered it.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Connery returns as Bond one last time in an entertaining Thunderball remake
After walking away from the Bond franchise following the release of Diamonds are Forever in 1971, Sean Connery vowed that he would "never again" play the role of OO7. 12 years on, however, he was persuaded to pick up the Walther PPK for a seventh and final time in this, an unofficial remake of Thunderball. At the time NSNA was badly received, and it was trounced at the Box Office by a rival official Bond film starring Roger Moore, Octopussy. However, while it is not a great film NSNA is still worth a watch, and has some definite virtues.
The first of these is Connery's return to the part that had made him famous twenty years earlier. In truth, Connery was really too old by 1983 to be playing Bond (he was in his early fifties), but in spite of his lined face and rather obvious hairpiece he does turn in a spirited and charismatic performance, and seems to be enjoying himself. What is more, the film makes a few sly jokes about Connery's advancing years early on in proceedings, and sensibly does not try to convince us that we are watching a sleek secret agent in the prime of life; this tongue-in-cheek aspect is an appealing element of the film.
Generally speaking, NSNA follows the same storyline as Thunderball, and it is actually superior to the earlier film, which I consider to be one of the weaker entries in the Bond canon. The plot is fairly simple to follow, there is some good action, and the overlong underwater sequences that plagued Thunderball are absent. The villains are much better too. Klaus Maria Brandaeur is excellent as Largo, playing the part with far more style and charisma than Adolfo Celi managed, although he could perhaps have been a little more sinister. Barbara Carrera is also entertaining, if a bit too OTT, as the vampish Fatima Blush, and she steals many of the scenes she appears in. Max von Sydow makes for an effective Blofeld, although he does not have much in common with the Blofelds of the official films. Still, this will probably remain the last film to feature Bond's arch-enemy, and it is good to have him back, even if only for a limited amount of screen time. As for Bond's allies, Bernie Casey is good value as the only black Felix Leiter, and the great Rowan Atkinson puts in a welcome, if rather incongruous, appearance as a hapless British diplomat. Ironically, of course, Atkinson has gone on recently to spoof the Bond films in Johnny English.
Despite its good points the film also has some obvious weaknesses. For one thing it lacks the production values of the official series, and looks more like a cheap TV movie than a Bond film. The unofficial nature of the film also means that it lacks the normal title sequence we all know and love, and M, Q and Moneypenny are all played by different actors, who feel like impostors. Edward Fox makes for a poor M, and Alec McCowen's cockney Q (who for some reason is called Algernon in this film), is no match for the great Desmond Llewellyn. In one of her early acting roles Kim Basinger is adequate as Domino, but makes the character too weak and uninteresting to be regarded as a great Bond girl, although she does look nice. Michel Legrand's music and Lani Hall's weak title song also drag the film down, and so does a very dated scene in which Bond and Largo are involved in an arcade game duel, which is VERY early 80s and is not the kind of thing you would expect to find in a Bond film. The final showdown between the two men is also a little bit rushed and disappointing.
In spite of these weaknesses, NSNA generally manages to be an amusing and entertaining film, if rather naff at the same time. It is not a patch on Connery's classic early Bond films, but it passes the time well enough and enables Connery to make a reasonably dignified last bow as OO7.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
OO7 returns to form in the best film of the Roger Moore era
Following the gratuitous excesses of the feeble Moonraker, Albert R Broccoli wisely decided that the next Bond film should be leaner and tougher, bringing OO7 back towards the spirit of Ian Fleming. For Your Eyes Only achieves this objective stylishly, recalling the more serious Bond films of the 60s and easily standing as the best of Roger Moore's seven outings as the secret agent.
What makes the film work so well is the simplicity and realism of its story, probably the most realistic Bond plot since the classic From Russia with Love, eighteen years earlier. Rather than attempting to save the world from yet another megalomaniac supervillain, Bond's objectives here are much more straightforward, being simply to recover a British ATAC system from a sunken submarine before the Russians can get hold of it. This film therefore has the strongest Cold War element that the Bond franchise had seen in a long time, and OO7 actually has to do some real espionage work, something he had not bothered himself with too much during the 1970s. A novel feature of FYEO is that Bond actually has to work out who his enemy is, the choice coming down to the suave Kristatos and the wily Columbo, and the film does a good job confusing us as to which of them it is, until all is revealed.
The film harks back to the early days of the Bond films in other ways, such as in the opening sequence where OO7 lays flowers on his wife's grave, and then battles with a Blofeld lookalike in a well-staged confrontation involving a helicopter over London. First-time Bond director John Glen, who would go on to make all the 80s Bond films, keeps the pacing tight and stages some excellent sequences, particularly a fabulous alpine ski chase and a memorable rock climbing scene. This is played out without any background music and is the most tense and gripping scene in a Bond film for years, as OO7 battles to keep his footing on the cliff as an enemy tries to dislodge him. We really sense that Bond is in danger in this scene, and it is nice to see OO7 look vulnerable after several films in which he appeared to be turning into an invincible superhero. For this Roger Moore deserves credit, because he tries hard here to give his Bond more depth, and make him more than just a comedian. It is probably his most serious performance in the role, and he is even prepared to show OO7's ruthless side by killing an enemy in cold blood, doing so quite effectively. It is a pity Moore didn't play Bond like this more often, because FYEO shows he had more to offer in the part than just one-liners and a raised eyebrow.
The rest of the cast is largely impressive. Julian Glover's Kristatos is a refreshingly down-to-earth villain, interested in making money rather than destroying the world, and Topol's Columbo makes for a great, charismatic ally in the style of Kerim Bey from FRWL. Carole Bouquet is not a great actress, but she still makes for the best Bond girl since the 60s, coming across as a tough and self-assured woman, well capable of looking after herself and looking good at the same time. The one false note is struck by the teenage ice-skater Bibi, who is an irritating and frankly unnecessary character. Thankfully, the visibly-ageing Moore resists her "charms;" it would not have been a pretty sight if he had succumbed to them.
FYEO does have a few other problems. Sheena Easton's title song is good, but Bill Conti's grating incidental music most certainly is not; indeed, it is probably the worst soundtrack to any Bond film. There is also still a lingering attachment to lame comedy in what is mostly a serious film, particularly in an ill-advised ending featuring lookalikes of Margaret and Denis Thatcher. Not only is this unfunny, but it spoils the tough and serious atmosphere the film had built up, and feels like a leftover from a 70s Bond. Overall however, FYEO ranks among the top Bond films, showing once again that OO7 tends to be at his best if he is put on a realistic assignment.
Bond reaches space, but the series crashes to Earth
I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time. Star Wars had just become a huge box office phenomenon, the success of The Spy Who Loved Me had just put the Bond franchise back on track, so why not make a sci-fi OO7 adventure? From a commercial perspective the decision paid off, because Moonraker became one of the biggest grossing Bond films at the cinemas, but this really has to be the worst film in the entire series. After a promising start it descends into a pit of ever-increasing silliness and self-parody, completing the transition of James Bond from suave and sophisticated superspy to a smirking cartoon character, and I would not be surprised if the whole fiasco left Ian Fleming spinning in his grave.
To give the film its due, it does start off quite well. The opening sky diving sequence is pretty spectacular, and Bond's first encounter with supervillain Hugo Drax is entertaining, featuring some witty one-liners. It is also the only point in the film that Bond's life appears genuinely in danger, when Drax's henchman tries to kill him in a space flight simulator. This scene is one of the rare occasions in the whole of Roger Moore's reign as OO7 where he actually looks scared and near death, and it proves that Moore can act when he wants to. Unfortunately, for the rest of Moonraker he is back in semi-detached eyebrow-raising mode, strolling through the film with tongue relentlessly in cheek as the story becomes more and more absurd.
It is when Bond travels to Venice that things start becoming really silly, with the gondola episode and the infamous double-taking pigeon. After that it is downhill all the way, as we are treated to such delights as Jaws becoming a good guy and falling in love with a nerdish little girl with blonde pigtails, Bond fighting a very unconvincing snake and, to cap it all, a laser fight in space! This last scene must represent the absolute nadir of the Bond series, and it hammers the final nail in the film's coffin. In his previous two Bond films director Lewis Gilbert had favoured a lavish and OTT feel, but in Moonraker he goes too far, turning Bond into a joke. The storyline is laboured and silly as well, with Drax's predictable and absurd plan to destroy the world a carbon copy of Stromberg's in The Spy Who Loved Me, and even more unconvincing. Even Shirley Bassey's theme song is dull and tired, although John Barry's eerie incidental music is quite good.
The cast is not especially memorable either. Michel Lonsdale makes quite a good Bond villain, and has the best lines, but he is hardly the most original or distinctive foe OO7 has encountered. The return of Jaws, meanwhile, is a big mistake, for the joke of his invincibility had already worn thin by the end of TSWLM, and does not feel any fresher here; as for his "love" scenes with his cartoonish girlfriend, they are just embarrassing. The film scores no higher on the Bond girl front, with the wooden and relentlessly uncharismatic Lois Chiles making Barbara Bach look like a top-class actress. Chiles is not as bad as Britt Ekland or Tanya Roberts, but she certainly comes close. The only actor who lends any real dignity to proceedings is Bernard Lee, making his final appearance as M before he succumbed to cancer. Lee remains the definitive M, and to this day the Bond series misses his crusty gravitas.
Bond films, even the toughest and grittiest ones, do have an element of fantasy about them. The very best Bonds, however, do at least have some connection to the real world and a measure of believability. Moonraker has neither, and takes OO7 way too far over the border line between fantasy and reality, cheapening the character in the process. Thankfully, no Bond film since has ever reached the same heights of absurdity or stupidity, and hopefully never will.