At some point last year, I began a slow and intermittent marathon of the entire James Bond franchise in the lead-up to the release of Spectre. Because I’m a good little trainspotter, I started ranking the Bond films from best to worst on a note saved onto my computer. I wasn’t planning on doing anything with this list; it was never intended to be anything but a trifling time-waster. But Mike Staub’s excellent series of articles on his 100 Favorite Video Games inspired me to open up my Bond rankings and elaborate on my reasoning.
As always, when you’re making a list of this nature, it’s important to establish a few ground rules. Here are mine:
THIS LIST ONLY INCLUDES BOND FILMS MADE BY EON PRODUCTIONS: Technically, one could argue that there have been twenty-six James Bond films over the years–twenty-seven if you include the 1950s TV movie of Casino Royale starring Barry Nelson as an American spy called “Jimmy Bond.” But when most people hear the phrase “James Bond film,” they’re thinking of the pictures released by Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s EON Productions, which retains the rights to the Ian Fleming novels throughout the globe. Thus any and all non-EON Bond films have been disqualified from my list, including the not-bad-at-all Never Say Never Again and the execrable Casino Royale spoof from the 1960s, which yielded one of my favorite jokes from The Thick of It.
THIS LIST WILL ONLY CONSIDER BOND FILMS IN TERMS OF THE FILMMAKING: I realize it’s fashionable today to review decades-old films in terms of their “problematic” politics. Well, expect none of that shit here. Now, there is a small handful of egregious exceptions to this rule that I’m going to have to address when the time comes. But it’s unreasonable, arrogant, and ahistorical to hold a film released in 1963 to a dogmatic set of contemporary socio-political standards. If it’s going to bother you that I’m not even remotely interested in condescending to and sneering at the social justice shortcomings of The Man With The Golden Fucking Gun, then stop reading right now and jump over to Cracked. These articles will only consider the films in terms of the filmmaking.
THIS LIST IS SUBJECTIVE, SO DON’T BITCH: Look, everybody has different opinions on what makes a great James Bond movie. Some Bond fans prefer the sillier end of the spectrum represented by Roger Moore whereas others prefer the grittier Timothy Dalton approach. Both viewpoints are equally valid, and I have no doubt that your list is completely different from mine. That’s OK. There’s no reason to act like a petulant child just because you like GoldenEye better than I do. If my rankings upset you, make your own damn list. Failing that, check yourself into a mental health facility because you shouldn’t be getting angry about some arrogant snob’s opinions on a series of dopey spy movies. No whinging fanboys, please; Aint It Cool News is the site you’re looking for.
How does that sound, boys and girls? Without further ado, let’s kick off on a positive note with my four least favorite James Bond movies:
24. Die Another Day (2002, Dir. Lee Tamahori)
Die Another Day is the Batman & Robin of James Bond, and 007 parasailing through an iceberg tsunami in order to track down a shapeshifting North Korean is the Bat credit card. Die Another Day represents the nadir of the most cynical era of the Bond franchise, where the abundance of supermodels and stupid gadgets took precedence over telling a coherent story. They say your favorite Bond is the one you grew up with, but even as a kid, I knew Pierce Brosnan was an empty shell. It’s not his fault: Brosnan is a good actor and he did his best with the garbage material they gave him. Moreover, it always felt like producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were determined to prevent Brosnan from inventing his own unique take on the character. As a result, he’s the Saturday morning cartoon Bond: He looks the part but there’s no real character to speak of.
This problem is exacerbated in Die Another Day when you realize the filmmakers are much more interested in Halle Berry’s Jinx, even though we paid to see a James Bond movie. Berry and Brosnan have no chemistry whatsoever, and she delivers every line with a sour sense of self-satisfaction. Like all of Brosnan’s Bond films, Die Another Day sets up an promising premise but quickly backslides into yet another showcase for overblown CGI setpieces. But whereas the other Brosnan entries can still rest comfortably on the shoulders of their visual effects departments, Die Another Day’s lazy and hackneyed effects are already more dated than the graphics of the GoldenEye video game–and that predated Die Another Day by five years! Only Rosamund Pike walks away with any dignity, and the sword fight scene is a breath of fresh air in a heavy stew of drab, digital cartoons. The one positive thing you can say about Die Another Day is that its abject horror forced the EON team to take stock, realize the errors of their ways, and bring Bond back to basics with the excellent Casino Royale…but more on that later.
23. Quantum of Solace (2008, Dir. Marc Forster)
I know, I know; you love it. You see it as another License to Kill: an overlooked and complex left-wing action movie that subverts the James Bond tropes in favor of a wounded hero stripped of his armor in the face of an appalling global conspiracy. It might even be your favorite Daniel Craig Bond: better than Skyfall, you bravely insist. Believe me, if you’re one of those people who can embrace Quantum of Solace, then I envy you because I honestly can’t stand it.
What’s the greatest crime a Bond movie can commit? The crime of boredom. I can forgive a Bond film for stupidity as long as the film itself is entertaining. But a Bond film should never put a viewer to sleep. Some have suggested that Quantum of Solace needs to be viewed immediately after Casino Royale, which is exactly what I did when I revisited this film. If anything, watching Quantum of Solace directly after Casino Royale made me like Daniel Craig’s sophomore effort even less. Admittedly, placing Bond in a third-world environment trying to expose a tragically believable plot to monopolize the Bolivian water supply could have made for a genuinely subversive Bond adventure. The problem is that the idea is never properly developed or explored. The effects of Quantum’s conspiracy are constantly discussed but rarely felt. Instead, Bond stampedes from one nation to the next, punching as many people in the face as he can en route before occasionally slowing down to mope in the desert for a bit. I love Craig’s reckless and brutal characterization of Bond, but even I just wanted him to knock back a few martinis and get his rocks off by the end. Now in fairness to everyone involved, Quantum of Solace was a victim of the 2007-2008 writers strike. They were forced to go into production with an unfinished screenplay, and both Craig and director Marc Forster were doing as many rewrites as they could onset in an attempt to salvage this dreary mess.
The other films mentioned in this article are dogshit but you expect them to be terrible. It’s the sense of crushing disappointment that makes Quantum of Solace feel like such a letdown. And at least the other movies are easy to laugh at. The opera scene aside, Quantum of Solace never once feels like a James Bond film, which wouldn’t be a problem if the film were satisfying on any level. It’s a Jason Statham movie without any jokes.
22. A View to a Kill (1985, Dir. John Glen)
Is it cool to hate Roger Moore all of a sudden? Because I certainly don’t. If you go into Roger Moore expecting Daniel Craig then you have nobody to blame but yourself. He’s the comedy Bond, and as long as you don’t take his movies seriously, most of them will give you a great time at the movies. After all, Bond isn’t Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s pure, unadulterated entertainment.
Having said that, there’s no two ways around it: Roger Moore overstayed his welcome. He was already 46 when he first played 007 in Live & Let Die; in other words, Moore was older when he started than Sean Connery was when he finished. Moore’s age first becomes a transparent problem in Moonraker, but by the time we get to A View to a Kill, he’s only a couple years away from his second colonoscopy. And it’s not just Moore either. Everyone in A View to a Kill is old. It’s like watching Roger Moore’s retirement party. I wouldn’t mind watching a film about an older James Bond; the problem is that A View to a Kill doesn’t think you notice. And when it doesn’t feel old, A View to a Kill most certainly feels cheap. Octopussy, the preceding Bond, was a much more extravagant entry, making you wonder if EON literally didn’t have enough money to do the next film properly. The action crawls along at a snail’s pace, the production design is nonexistent, the story takes a billion years to kick into gear, and some of the performances are excruciating to watch. Tanya Roberts is by far the worst Bond girl: her character does nothing, and the fact that Roger Moore was old enough to be her father leaves a bitter taste in absolutely everyone’s mouth. Even Christopher Walken is lousy, and you’d think that casting him as a Bond villain would be a no-brainer. We recently learned that the late great David Bowie was considered for the villain, but sadly, I don’t think even Bowie could have saved this unwatchable embarrassment.
21. Diamonds are Forever (1971, Dir. Guy Hamilton)
In theory, A View to a Kill should work on the “so-bad-it’s-good” level. Personally, I think Diamonds are Forever is a more apt title for this category. Okay, maybe good is overstating it, but the one bad film in the Sean Connery era still has its moments. Remember: I don’t require Bond films to be good. By conventional cinematic standards, many Bond films are, in fact, shit. Each movie stands or falls according to its adherence to the Bond formula. One of the failings of A View to a Kill is that it takes far too long to clue the audience into what Christopher Walken is up to. Diamonds are Forever, meanwhile, is much easier to follow: Bond is trying to infiltrate a diamond-smuggling operation and stop Ernest Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) from building an Austin Powers laser. But when you watch Diamonds are Forever, you quickly realize that the plot doesn’t actually matter because you’re watching a “fuck-off” movie.
At this pont, the Bond franchise was in trouble. Connery had been vocal about his disdain for playing James Bond and, in particular, his disdain for working with producers Broccoli and Saltzman. His replacement, George Lazenby, made only one film before quitting the franchise entirely, plunging Bond’s future into a tailspin. But they had already teed up Diamonds are Forever as the next Bond picture, and they needed to get moving with or without Lazenby. As a result, United Artists begged Connery to come back for one more movie, going as far as to greenlight any two pictures Connery wanted to make (including Sidney Lumet’s excellent police procedural The Offence, which contains arguably Connery’s best performance.) Connery’s 007 is always fun to watch, but as with You Only Live Twice, his contempt for Bond is obvious here. There isn’t a single scene in which he doesn’t look he’d rather be literally anywhere else–like making Zardoz, probably. Everything in Diamonds are Forever is played for cheap laughs, but unlike the arch silliness you find in the Roger Moore movies, these laughs mostly feel crude and mean-spirited. I’ve never cared for Jill St. John’s abrasive acting and her performance as Tiffany Case — hey, it’s better than Plenty O’Toole — is especially grating. Charles Gray is a serviceable Blofeld but nothing more. Your enjoyment of the comic interludes involving Blofeld’s camp henchmen Wint and Kidd is going to depend on your tolerance for utter shit. On the other hand, their final scene is a laugh riot. Diamonds are Forever is a slightly more watchable film than the aforesaid three, but you might be better off looking up the best scenes on YouTube as opposed to watching the whole thing from beginning to end.
Stay tuned for #20-16!