November 27, 2013

Top 5 Undervalued Bond Films

Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko in Quantum of Solace

One of the more exciting aspects of loving a movie franchise is watching as new people go back and discover it. I've seen all the movies, so I lack that fresh perspective that comes with taking a first look at the films. A good example is the Bond films, which continue to draw more viewers thanks to the success of the Craig outings. Interested fans are going back and checking out the original Connery pictures, which feel much different from the action-packed modern versions. Zoë at the Sporadic Adventures of a Beginner Blogger has watched all the Bond films and posted her thoughts about each one. You should definitely check out those posts and all the great material on her site. At the end of her series, Zoë recruited some Bond fans to write guest posts on various topics about the franchise. I was thrilled to get the chance to participate and put together a list of my top five undervalued Bond films. You can check out the original post on Zoë's site here.  In case you missed it originally, I've also provided it on this site for your reading enjoyment.

With the release of Skyfall in 2012, the James Bond franchise reclaimed its place among the great action series and introduced the character to new fans. Exploring the character's past can be interesting, especially given the different pace and tone of the Craig films. The conventional wisdom says to watch the early Connery films, stop briefly with Moore, skip Dalton, and check out Goldeneye for Brosnan. While Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, and The Spy Who Loved Me are a requirement for any prospective Bond fan, there's another group that deserves more credit. You may have heard that these five choices are terrible, but all have something to offer. Let's take a look back at some undervalued options that deserve more credit from the franchise's many fans.

5. Quantum of Solace (2008)
The deck was stacked against Daniel Craig’s second outing as Bond right from the start. Both mainstream audiences and diehard fans loved Casino Royale. The expectations were high for the follow-up, and a step backwards was no surprise. It has story issues and a mediocre villain, but there’s still plenty to like. The opening car chase throws us right back into the action and connects well to the end of the previous movie. Marc Forster’s more frenetic shooting style is a bit much, but it injects major energy into the opening scene. There’s also an interesting cat-and-mouse game at the gorgeous opera stage in Bregenz, Austria and impressive stunts throughout the film. Criticisms focused on the villain’s meager plans, but that isn’t really the point. The focus stays on Bond’s emotional state after Vesper’s betrayal, and we’ve never seen this type of approach in the franchise. It doesn’t totally work, and the writer’s strike definitely harmed the script. Even so, the nastiness leveled at this film is way more than it deserves. It’s well above the bottom level of Bond films. Has anyone watched Diamonds Are Forever lately?

George Lazenby and Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty's Secret Service

4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
George Lazenby’s one appearance as Bond is pretty much a straight adaptation of Ian Fleming’s source novel. It’s a rare case where the main plot (and the heartbreaking ending) wasn’t dramatically changed by the filmmakers. Admittedly, Lazenby is a bit flat compared to Connery and doesn’t exude the same physicality. Even so, he makes Bond more vulnerable and matches the story’s tone. Diana Rigg is an excellent choice to play Tracy, and Telly Savalas is easily the best Blofeld. The action scenes are inspired, particularly the climactic bobsled chase down a mountain. It’s a step above both Connery films that surround it (You Only Live Twice and Diamonds are Forever) and ends with a brutal gut punch. It would have been interesting to see if Lazenby’s reputation would have grown if he hadn’t stepped aside following this movie. He had little experience and might have done better with a second try.

3. The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton arrived with great fanfare after Roger Moore finally exited, but he only appeared in two films. Despite that limited timeframe, both are stellar entries and deserve more credit. One of the reasons they’re dismissed is the topical connection with the issues of the time. This film has Bond still dealing with Cold War issues and even helping the Afghan resistance battle the Soviets. It also has more romance and spends time building his relationship with Kara Milovy (Olivia d’Abo). Despite Joe Don Baker’s cartoonish main villain, this movie feels more like a classic spy adventure than its recent predecessors. Dalton isn’t as physically imposing as Craig, but he’s an accomplished actor who makes the character feel real. The action remains solid, particularly a high-flying airplane battle over the desert. It’s an entertaining movie that set the stage for the more daring follow-up two years later.

For Your Eyes Only

2. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Despite having some truly painful sequences (the Blofeld opening, everything with Bibi), Roger Moore’s fifth appearance is one of his best. It responds to the ridiculous excesses of Moonraker by putting Bond in a more low-key setting. It includes a rare moment when Moore gets his hands dirty, and the proper actor didn’t like it. When Bond vindictively kicks a hoodlum’s car down the hill, it’s a rare moment where this version of the character shows the rough edges of the original incarnation. It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. The major action sequence has Bond skiing down a bobsled ramp while being chased by a motorcycle. It’s a ludicrous scene that’s fun without drifting too far into camp. This film walks that line better than most and stands just behind The Spy Who Loved Me in the Moore rankings. He should have quit after this one.

Timothy Dalton and Carey Lowell in Licence to Kill

1. Licence to Kill (1989)
Dalton has plenty of fans, but the general consensus still regards his second appearance as a failure. It was a box-office disappointment but arrived during the crazy movie summer of 1989. Before Craig, this was the best example of a tougher Bond that connected to Fleming’s version of the character. Bond kills without remorse and brutally goes on a personal vendetta after Robert Davi’s vicious drug lord. Dalton sells the anger and brings some much-needed weight to the role. Who knows where he would have gone with another film? The final tanker truck chase is one of the series’ greatest action sequences and includes remarkable practical effects. By the time Bond and Sanchez face off in the end, the stakes are off the charts. While the drug lord plot puts the story firmly in 1989, it remains effective today. Davi creates one of the great Bond villains, and Dalton matches him to great effect. The result is a hugely undervalued film that deserves a lot more attention.

Which Bond films deserve more credit? I'd love to hear your picks!

4 comments:

  1. I'm a big Bond fan and have sung the praises of Roger Moore, my favorite Bond, on more than one occasion. I'm glad you've chosen these five to highlight as underrated additions to the franchise even if I have my reservations about Quantum of Solace and License To Kill.

    Certainly, as a Moore fan, I would recommend For Your Eyes Only. There are some great snow-capped action sequences and some neat gadgets even if Moore is getting a little old for the role. I agree that Bibi should have been...shot...I mean cut out...and I too like the fact it sheds the extravagance of Moonraker.

    It isn't, however, my 2nd favourite Moore outing - that would be reserved for Live and Let Die after, of course, the brilliant Spy Who Loved Me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't argue too much against Live and Let Die. It's probably my 3rd favorite Moore film and has some great aspects, especially Yaphet Kotto. I do feel that it struggles with Solitaire and veers into some shaky racial territory, though I know it's more within the era it was shot. There's plenty to like, including the extended water chase and the theme song.

      Delete
  2. I was really a fan of the Timothy Dalton Bond films. They're vastly overlooked as is On Her Majesty's Secret Service which I really enjoyed despite a few flaws in George Lazenby's performance. I really love For Your Eyes Only which is one of my favorites of the Roger Moore era as I love that opening sequence though I didn't like stuff w/ Bibi which proved that even Bond has his limits with women.

    I had a lot of issues w/ Quantum of Solace as I thought it was very uneven in tone as it was too much of an action film w/ too much fast-cutting and didn't have enough suspense. Still, it had some moments as I hope the next Bond film will have Bond face whoever is involved in Quantum... could it be... Blofeld?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really wonder if they're going to go back to Quantum. They spent so much effort setting them up in the first two movies (especially the second one) but had nothing about them in Skyfall. I expect they'll be the main villains with Blofeld, but you never know...

      Delete