Dr. No is a 1962 film directed by Terence Young and based off of Ian Fleming's novel of the same name. It is the first film to feature James Bond, the world's most famous secret agent. This alone has earned it a spot in history as the start of one of the longest running and most significant film franchises ever made. At the time of my writing this, there are 25 films spanning 58 years, with a 26th to be released in three months. For this reason, Dr. No will always hold a special place in the hearts of many fans, from many generations. As a latecomer to the series, I do not share this nostalgia, but the film still holds up very well.
Watching it today, one of the most notable things about Dr. No is the overabundance of tropes. It checks every box you would come to expect from a James Bond film, and come to resent from their many copycats. Nonetheless, it is a film that is absolutely oozing with style. Sean Connery pulls of the lead roll with seemingly effortless sophistication and charisma, and I would give him a large part of the credit for this film's success, and by extension the success of the franchise.
The story that Dr. No tells is simple and straightforward, but I generally feel that this works in its favor. We are thrown right into the action, and we are shown with great efficiency and effectiveness exactly the type of character that Bond is. This is not a film that wastes your time. The first 80 minutes of Dr. No are everything you want from a Bond film, but near the end I sadly feel that it falters somewhat.
Though it still far from terrible and retains every ounce of the style that makes this film so great, the storytelling in the final act is simply not as good. I do feel that a lot of this may be due to it not necessarily aging the best. Dr. No is an incredibly clichéd villain, and although it should certainly be noted that this film is largely responsible for most of the tropes it presents, it can still feel somewhat tiresome. Dr. No is a ridiculously overdramatic villain, and between his private island and his robotic hands he fits the mold for a 'Bond villain' perfectly. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes to the final act a villain that is supposed to be very menacing and incredibly intelligent ends up coming across as incompetent. This leads to an ending that feels quite abrupt, and even a little anticlimactic.
The Bond franchise is also notorious for its 'Bond girls,' female leads who are usually throwaway characters, included entirely for sex appeal. Dr. No is no exception. The character of Honey Ryder in this film has no real bearing on the story, and everything could have played out in exactly the same way without her inclusion. Bond always has, and always will be a womanizer, a character trait with which I have no problem, but this often comes at the expense of the female leads. For this reason, I am glad that, while certainly very present, these aspects of Bond's character are less extreme than they are in some of the later films. Honey Ryder is an unfortunately irrelevant character, but she is also a very small one. The film doesn't spend too much time on these parts of the story.
Dr. No is not the best Bond film, but it is the first, and for that it deserves recognition. It does an excellent job of establishing Bond's character, and it is gripping from start to finish. If you want to watch a Bond movie, then Dr. No will give you everything you expect to see, and very little else. It is far from a masterpiece, but it established all of the tropes you expect to see from a Bond film, good and bad, and that at the very least is laudable.