After over a year of COVID-related delays, the newest installment in the Bond franchise (and the final in Daniel Craig’s 15-year run portraying the character) arrives on October 8th. Controversy is once again swirling over who will be next to don the 007 mantle, spurred on by Craig’s recent headline-grabbing remarks when he responded to an interview question about the gender identity of the next Bond actor by stating:
“The answer to that is very simple,” he said. “There should simply be better parts for women and actors of color. Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?” —RadioTimes
Whether you choose to read his comments as a misguided justification of an antiquatedly rigid character design, or an insightful plea to the film industry to make more substantive progress in its representation rather than simply slotting in diverse actors into previously existing roles, one thing is certain: it has always been a complicated proposition to love James Bond.
Across the next few weeks at MMH, we’ll be examining the Walt-Whitman-esque multitude-containing series from a variety of different angles, highlighting both the spy-action hijinx, crafty gadgetry, and startlingly classy drink orders that we love, and the cavalier displays of toxic masculinity that tarnish the franchise.
While Cody Tannen-Barrup will be delving deep into the latter in an upcoming article (stay tuned for that, and check out his similarly-themed piece on the Indiana Jones franchise in the meantime), today five MMH contributors will be celebrating the high points of the franchise (and unpacking a few of the lowest) by talking about one favorite Bond movie apiece. Kicking things off chronologically:
An Anthem From Russia With Love
When we were choosing which Bond titles to write about, I had to go with From Russia With Love. It is not the best James Bond film, but it is my secret favorite (not exactly a secret, I guess, as I’m broadcasting it to the world via the internet).
Still, I recognize that Skyfall is better made, Casino Royale is more gripping, Dr. No is the OG, and Goldfinger is more famous. What From Russia With Love does have, however, is simplicity, charisma, and a kick-ass fight scene.
The story is surprisingly close to the book, which also happens to be one of my favorites, and is a classic tale of SPECTRE pitting Russia and England against one another over a code-breaking machine (movies were quaint). By this second film in the series, I feel like Sean Connery had really settled into being Bond. He was good in Dr. No, but there was a comfort in FRWL that beamed out from screen to audience. He truly was the living incarnation of Fleming’s character.
The climax of the movie involves a close-quarters fight scene between Bond and SPECTRE’s Bond doppelganger, Red Grant, in a train compartment. Grant is an enthralling character, at times equally charming and menacing. The fight is brutal, with none of the grace of a Shang-Chi bus sequence. It is two guys trying to kill each other by simply scrapping. The scene, and the rest of the film, still entertain 60 years later.
From Russia With Love is the comfort food of Bond films for me.
An Ode to Thunderball
Thunderball, released in 1965 as the fourth film in the series, is easily my favorite Bond film. There may be “better” Bond movies, but Thunderball is unquestionably the most fun of all the James Bonds. It’s the Bond so nice, they made it twice (as it was remade, poorly, as Never Say Never Again).
As I said, there may be installments of this series that are of an objectively higher filmmaking quality, there may be movies that are funnier, sexier, or more action-packed, but I will die on the hill that just as Rick C-137 is the Rick-est Rick, so too is Thunderball the most James Bond of all James Bond flicks.
Thunderball has everything you want from a Bond movie. From the moment the slinky title song, sung by a 25-year old Tom Jones, begins, you know you’re in for a good time. It only gets better from there.
The plot of Thunderball is pure Bond pulp. SPECTRE steals a pair of nukes, and it’s up to none other than 007 to drink, and flirt, and globetrot his way into getting them back. From the gorgeous Caribbean setting to the incredibly shot underwater scenes–including swimming with sharks and some ridiculous and amazing underwater fights—it is among the most visually stimulating of the entire franchise.
Thunderball has all the gadgets and gizmos we’ve come to expect, as well, with machine gun-equipped cars, hidden trackers, and jetpacks. Hell, there’s a luxury yacht that transforms into a half-battleship, half-getaway speedboat!
Truly setting the bar, though, is Claudine Auger as Domino. With her cool name, sex appeal, and actual character arc, Domino is easily the best Bond girl.
The only real criticism you might aim at the film is its languid pace, but that’s just the Caribbean, baby. Besides, when the movie is having this much fun, when it feels this joyous, why would you be in any kind of hurry?
A Dirge for Diamonds Are Forever
I watched Diamonds Are Forever at a very formative point in my life. I’m not sure that I followed the global extortion plot at six years old, but the combination of sound, music, and visuals struck a chord with me that I didn’t know was possible. The film was on a constant rotation with the two other DVDs we had at my house (X2: X-Men United and The Emperor’s New Groove) and it was always the one I looked forward to the most. I had just never seen anything that looked and felt like it did to me.
Years later, I revisited the classic only to grow to love it more. Suddenly, I found a whole new wave of content from the film to resonate with. Between the ever-diabolical Blofeld, the early 70s camp of Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, a killer title song, and prime Sean Connery doing prime Sean Connery things, this movie is iconic from top to bottom. Diamonds are forever, and so is this film.
A Hymn for GoldenEye
“We’re the middle children of history, man.” —Tyler Durden
GoldenEye is a movie between time. It was released in 1995, in the midst of one final societal cocaine-colored gasp, when we still believed the world was a small place. A place where we thought the emissions from our cars in Milwaukee had no effect on water levels in Siberia. A place where we thought the only demographic not represented in an all-white cast was was a nerdy sidekick with glasses.
It was also a moment teetering on the precipice of a cliff. The internet, extremism, climate change wrapping its deadly claws around us were all just over the edge.
This was the world that GoldenEye was born out of. Rewatching today, the movie comes across as naive and antiquated, but also curious and self-aware of a rapidly changing universe.
GoldenEye is inflated, boxy, and campy. In the opening, Bond jumps off a cliff and catches up with a crashing plane—gravity?—which he then pilots away from an exploding base. Later, 007 drives a tank onto a railroad track to stop a train… There are four distinct times Trevelyan could have killed Bond, but instead leaves him at the mercy of Connery-era elaborate death traps (which 007 invariably escapes).
At the same time, the movie grapples with ideas and attitudes that are present today. The plot hinges around hacking the internet to create global chaos pertaining to identity security. Does that sound familiar?
Despite playing into cringeworthy helpless-female tropes throughout, the Natalya character flashes signs of being a peer, rather than a sidekick, to Bond. The film confirms she is better at programming than 007 and she is at the center of their strategy to defeat the big bad. I also noticed on this rewatch that it is Natalya distracting Trevelyan during the end-of-Empire-Strikes-Back-esque satellite duel that allows Bond to ultimately defeat him.
“For England, James?”
“No. For me.”
GoldenEye was the first bond film in six years, following 1989s, License to Kill (starring Timothy Dalton). It was also the first franchise installment that was not derived from an Ian Fleming story. Pierce Brosnan, the second choice for the role after Liam Neeson (who declined), certainly brought a softer complexion to the character than Dalton’s dark portrayal. In some ways, Brosnan helped usher in the metrosexual energy that would follow in the new millennium.
This film has both nonsensical action and hilarious practical humor (the airbag inflating on the guy in the telephone booth in Q’s office being a standout). It also includes Famke Janssen killing people with her thighs during sex—and maybe climaxing from it? And it features truly compelling performances from both Brosnan and his antagonistic mirror, Sean Bean—who is just impossible not to see grasping for the ring or getting his head chopped off.
Ultimately, what is this movie? For a 33-year-old like myself, it’s everything. It came out when I was 8-years-old. I didn’t know Bond before GoldenEye, and no Bond will ever be “the Bond” to me in the way Brosnan is.
Before I go, I would be remiss not to speak to the game. For everyone my age, if you utter the holy word “GoldenEye,” we assume you’re talking about the accompanying Nintendo-64 adaptation. With every scene in the film, I saw the corresponding level in the game. There was a time when phrases like “pistols in the Stack” or “launchers in the Archives” were scripture. To this day, my best friends and I joke about “The Tickler” (our colloquial name for the semi-automatic Klobb-weapon, whose impact was disappointingly flaccid).
I would love to be as enthralled in anything as I was with three friends and a Friday night of GoldenEye on the 64 in ’96. But for now, I am just happy to have memories of a time when I did so without checking my phone or carrying the burdens of our planet.
A Song For Skyfall
Though my first Bond love will always be GoldenEye (“Booooorrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis”) and Goldfinger likely remains the apex of the franchise in its purest form, Skyfall stole my heart the moment I first saw it. From its guiding thematic principle of “maybe 40 years as an alcoholic, womanizing thrill junky takes a toll on your body,” to its M-centric plot (Dame Judi Dench absolutely going for 42 on 60/50/90 shooting), to the absolutely electrifying Javier Bardem performance as Bond’s menacingly coquettish counterpart Silva (top tier Bond villain, please @ me), the Sam Mendes directed Skyfall was the perfect culmination of the Craig-era’s subversive, gritty take on 007 (and should have been a perfect exit ramp for that actor’s iteration of the character, but oh well).
That’s not to say it’s a perfect film. Overrated theme notwithstanding (“Skyfall”/“Crumble”/“Stand tall”/“Face it all”/“Skyfall” somehow simultaneously tops the lists of most lazy and most try-hard rhymes in the Bond theme cannon, no matter how great Adele sounds when she sings them), the true failure of the film is the decision to play a sequence of Bond sneaking into the shower of a woman who has just confessed a history of sexual trauma to him for…romance? Comfort? Emotional catharsis? It’s a tonally off-kilter moment, one that reads as even more problematic given the franchises’ deliberate attempts to have this modern iteration of Bond at least more conscious of the damage his unrepentant dick-swinging does to the people around him; as though they truly did not recognize the weight of this specific transgression.
If the 007 franchise is to continue forwards successfully, this is where the real work lies. By empowering a more diverse community of creators with creative control (absolutely ecstatic to see Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s contributions to the No Time To Die screenplay), by continuing to diversify its cast in meaningful ways, by prioritizing storytelling that appeals to the fantasies (spy, sexual, or otherwise) of a broader audience, and most essentially, by demonstrating a clearer understanding of the difference between casual sex and abuse, we can continue to love the best parts of Bond without having to compartmentalize the worst.
No Time To Die will be released in theaters on October 8th. Stay tuned for more Bond-centric coverage of that movie and the franchise writ large on MMH!