Breaking the Bonds 2: Franchise Conclusion

Well, I did it: it took me two and a half months, but I finally watched and wrote a humor recap of every single James Bond movie, including one non-canonical one. And now that I’m done, I have to say: that was a long, long series of films to get through. Over two and a half days of films in total, averaging at two hours apiece, which I wrote about while watching live. What the hell? Why did I even do this?

Well, I’m trying to keep my journalistic chops up: I’ve been out of work after being laid off as a magazine editor, and in my layoff time, I wanted to do something that was fun while also somewhat related to the skill sets I need as a journalist and editor. So, recapping a movie live while watching it and attempting to be funny at the same time, and then going back and copy-editing it while inserting pictures with captions, seemed like a good way to keep the ol’ skills sharp. I mean heck, I’ve written a book’s worth of material for this project. Not that anyone would pay for a book of these goofy, profanity-laden recaps, but still, writing’s writing.

I also really needed a form of escape during this time period. And James Bond provided me this. Now some two months and change, I’m starting to come back to life and have James Bond partially to thank for being there for me as a distraction during a difficult time.

But nobody wants to hear my wah-wah crybaby reasons why I did this project. The real answer was, because it was there. That and I’m trying to figure out what works as a blog and what doesn’t. We’ll discuss that at the end, however: let’s get to the grand review of the James Bond Franchise!

Bond Movies Ranked Best To Worst

Let’s just say I like all of the top 5 equally for different reasons, and the top 10 are all pretty stellar in general. And the rest…well, the rest are where they are.

  1. The Spy Who Loved Me – Impeccable Bond. A whiz-bang caper with memorable villains, excellent sets and locales, and most important a plot worth following. Roger Moore’s Bond matures in this film and even gives Bond some pathos, as opposed to the brash arrogance that usually defines the role. One of the liveliest films I’ve seen in the franchise and one I will return to again when I’m in the mood for Bond. Simply put: baby, you’re the best.
  2. Skyfall – Sleek, violent, fast-paced, and never boring, there’s a reason why Skyfall is the highest-grossing Bond film of all time. It’s a wild ride that doesn’t let up for a moment. Everything in the film is first-class, from the cinematography to the editing to the music to the story. A really fun flick that ranks up there as one of the best Bond films out of the gigantic library of the franchise.
  3. Dr. No – What a fun piece of escapism. What a great glimpse into a gone-away world. Glossy, classy, smart, and sophisticated. It’s something to watch to take your mind off of the dirty mess we’ve gotten ourselves into in the 21st century, back to a time when there were clear-cut heroes and villains and the Good Guys always won. Besides that, it’s a heck of a good first entry in the Bond series.
  4. Casino Royale – A great reboot and a smashing Bond film. Daniel Craig really breathes life back into the franchise. It’s a travelogue of exotic and beautiful locales; much of the action was back-to-basics hand-to-hand combat; Bond using his wits instead of firepower; and the film looks sharp, is well-written, and does a reboot the right way.
  5. From Russia With Love – A nifty spy movie set during the Cold War, it’s lively and interesting and keeps my modern short attention span throughout. As with Dr. No, and a lot of Bond movies in general, the appeal is clear: it’s wonderful escapist fantasy. It’s not trying to say something deep or important but trying to be entertaining, and is even admirable in its clear-cut good vs. bad paradigm (Hero Outsmarts Dirty Commies, and Even Worse SPECTRE; Wins Everything).
  6. License to Kill – With quick pacing, loads of completely nuts-o practical stunts, and a James Bond who was doing his dangerous work for personal reasons, which gives the plot gravitas in a way that having to save the world somehow usually doesn’t in these movies. It had action, adventure, and some cute bits for Q. Just a cracking good time.
  7. You Only Live Twice – Maybe it was because I was enchanted by the gorgeous Japanese scenery and culture on display throughout, or maybe I was just relieved that Bond wasn’t a monstrous lech to every single woman he met, but I enjoyed this Connery entry almost as much as Dr. No and From Russia With Love.
  8. Live and Let Die – With thrills, spills, and kills, Live and Let Die is as classic a Bond film as any in the series. Roger Moore is a particularly classy Bond, and while the craziness of the series starts to ramp up here, it’s a fun bit of escapist action.
  9. Spectre – Flashy, action-packed, and although a little sloppy with the plot (as it doesn’t really make much sense overall), was still another solid Bond outing and a great conclusion to the Craig-era Bond films.
  10. Goldfinger –  I enjoyed this film, but it’s squarely rooted in 1964’s social and political paradigm and makes it dated to modern eyes. Not to say that it’s bad, either: there’s a lot here to enjoy. But maybe a lot of it was more enjoyable fifty years ago. A solid Bond film, but flawed.
  11. The Living Daylights – Maybe it’s because I’m just relieved to see a Bond that’s neither an aged Roger Moore or a sleepy Sean Connery by this point, or that the franchise brought itself back into modern times with this film, but this is a pretty sleek Bond film in general. I also really enjoyed Daltry as Bond.
  12. Quantum of Solace – Maybe not as great as Casino Royale, but still pretty damn fun and slick; I liked this one a lot. The plot isn’t good.
  13. Goldeneye – I liked Pierce Brosnan as Bond, but his series of films were a little too action-oriented, and the editing was at times headache-inducing in this one. It was a lot of sound and fury signifying less than its many moving parts add up to. The story setup took a long time to get into, and much of it was kind of dead space. When the action kicked in, it was great, but again, it seemed to comfit normal action movie set pieces of the time than making the action its own signature Bond-like fights. Too much gunfire, not enough cleverness.
  14. For Your Eyes Only – Extra points for Moore being in a “good” Bond movie after a lot of bad ones, but there wasn’t a lot of flash involved in this entry. There was some great stunt work in this one, which I always appreciate, but too often it would wander off into boring sequences that didn’t really go anywhere. Middle-of-the-road Bond.
  15. Octopussy – Not the best, not the worst; not the most exciting, but it was never boring. It’s a well-balanced Bond adventure—if only it had a little higher stakes for most of its running time and that these stakes were introduced a little sooner. It was fun—not great.
  16. Tomorrow Never Dies – Right down the middle, and maybe even a little left of that. Not terrible, but not great. Not particularly memorable. Probably won’t ever watch it again. So that’s something.
  17. Die Another Day – The first 40 minutes or so were pretty enjoyable and then the film took a nosedive. I would have liked it more probably without Jinx, Halle Berry’s weak character, but if we’re playing Fantasy Bond here, this movie wouldn’t have been like this at all. Maybe he would have a talking dog as a partner. But this is why I don’t write James Bond movies: I have terrible ideas.
  18. Diamonds Are Forever – Connery-as-Bond looks tired and bored throughout this movie, and this is a sluggish entry in the franchise.
  19. The Man With The Golden Gun –  After such a strong start with Live and Let Die, Moore’s Bond era’s quality dropped precipitously. This wasn’t atrocious but it also wasn’t very good. They threw everything and the kitchen sink into this movie, leaving the film both overstuffed and shallow.
  20. Thunderball – Sluggish, lazy, and (worst of all) mostly boring. Similarly, I like it when my James Bond is a smart, witty gentleman, not a grabby, sex-crazed monster. I will never watch this movie again. Steer clear!
  21. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – This movie seems like someone wrote a speculative Bond script called Bond in Love and the producers went, “OK, but also he’s gonna sleep with dames and fight Blofeld, right?” And the writer went, “Yeah…sure. Lemme just fix that…” and inserted a short action-adventure Bond story somewhere in the middle. And that was the good part! Lazenby sucks as Bond, the “Bond in Love” story sucks, and Bond’s characterization denigrated back into the abusive womanizer that made me retch in Thunderball.
  22. A View To A Kill –  Unnecessary except for completists or Roger Moore fans (or for Christopher Walken fans, as he’s great in this). It hums and moves forward, but there’s very little action or energy to recommend it to action (or energy) fans. Moore’s last film as Bond and a dreadful note to go out on.
  23. The World Is Not Enough – If you read my recap, you can tell that I disliked this one immensely. And you’d be right! Poor show, old sport.
  24. Never Say Never Again – Not great. In fact, terrible. This movie—while not part of the canonical Bond franchise—continues the floppy tradition that Connery left off in Diamonds Are Forever, providing a lackluster final entry for Sean Connery in the role that he originated on-screen. As a farewell—just like Moore’s last outing—it’s a crummy note to go out on.
  25. Moonraker – There were two good things in this whole movie: the opening sequence, which still holds up today as an incredible action set-piece, and the design of the space station. Outside of that, zilch. There are 25 Bond films to pick from to watch; don’t pick this one.

Highlights of the Franchise

Although a firm half of the films in this franchise I did not particularly enjoy–the bottom 8 films on the above list are simply awful–there are a lot of great highlights throughout the series.

  • Sean Connery’s early Bond films, where he nails the Bond character and in fact codifies it. Say what you will about some of his later movies in the franchise: his first three movies are fantastic. They also function well as a bit of an escapist time machine to the values and perspective of the mid-20th century (for better or worse; my opening essay to this project addresses the appeal of these films to a (straight, white, middle-class) fellow like me in the early 21st century): not that I condone all of the behaviors or much of the more unpleasant aspects of the past in society, but on the same token, it was a wonderful time to be a guy like me in the Western world–and it’s a world that I will never know but for my father’s own stories of his James Bond-like life back then.
  • The stunt work throughout the series is often wildly impressive and also completely insane. I commented upon it often in the recaps, but it’s still remarkable to me that stuntmen would perform some of the more insane stunts throughout the film series.
  • Q, full stop. Desmond Llewelyn was such a fantastic Q–having played him throughout the majority of the franchise–that often he was the sole highlight of the lesser films. I loved how he would give shit right back to Bond when Bond was being Quipmaster General; I loved how his inventions got progressively more insane as the series went on; and I just kind of love Desmond Llewelyn’s performance in general. He was smart, funny, and a great counterpart to 007. Again: RIP Desmond Llewelyn. You are missed.
  • Bond Girls. Say what you will–whether they were good or bad or stupid or brilliant–but this series certainly knew how to cast unbelievably beautiful women as the Bond Girls. Sure, this is a shallow and macho thing to consider, but then again, I’m just a straight dude that likes chicks. Besides, it’s the James Bond franchise; objectification of women is kind of a big part of the whole thing.
  • The Music: both theme songs and scores, the music in Bond films are fantastic. Whether the sweeping symphonic sound of From Russia with Love, the outstanding theme songs of “Live and Let Die,” “The Spy Who Loved Me,” or “Skyfall,” or just the variations on the iconic “James Bond Theme,” it’s a hallmark of a film series that really pays attention to detail when they pay attention to the quality of the music throughout.
  • Every Bond brought something new to the table, which kept the franchise going for so long. You had Connery as The Originator; Moore as the 70’s update and a looser Bond; Dalton being the premonition of Things To Come with Craig; Brosnan as a gentlemanly Bond; and Craig as possibly the best Bond. They all recommend something (except for Lazenby, who’s History’s Ultimate Loser).
  • The sheer volume of films. Although I didn’t like many of them, the fact that there are over twenty Bond features to watch and choose from that span over 50 years, there’s something remarkable about its longevity and the variety of the series as a whole. It can be silly, violent, classy, smooth…there’s something across the Bond spectrum to offer everybody and something to recommend in most of the pictures. This is how you both build and maintain a franchise.

The Future of this Blog…and Beyond!

Now that I’ve done two full runs of humor film recaps (how humorous is subjective, but hey, I tried)–both thematically linked (the first being horror films and the second being, obviously, James Bond films)–I’m going to move away from film recaps for now.

For starters, film recaps are wildly labor-intensive efforts: I type these recaps live while watching the movie and try to come up with jokes while watching, and it’s pretty exhausting. Don’t get me wrong: I’m very happy for the traffic I’ve garnered from these recaps and I really hope that people reading them have enjoyed themselves, as was my intent and want. And these are really fun to write, as well. But this concept has served its purpose for me, which is to get me through a very difficult time in my life. Now that the fog is clearing and I’m starting to move towards bigger and better things once again, I need to strip down the blog concept a little bit to make it workable for the busier schedule that’s coming up for me.

I hope that the readers of this blog continue to follow and read my output here as I launch my new project, which is recapping old sitcoms. I’m not going to be doing entire series recaps (I haven’t been able to think of an appropriate one to do this with anyway), but I’ll be starting with a sampler of TGI Friday shows from the 1980s and 1990s, AKA my childhood. If the phrase “TGI Friday” means anything to you, then you know where I’m going with this. Besides, writing humor recaps and commentary of a half-hour sitcom is a lot less strain than writing a detailed recap with jokes of a 2+ hour film.

Anyway, for everyone that’s been reading along, I thank you immensely. I’ve gotten some very nice comments from readers and this project has garnered a fair amount of traffic, so again, thanks for reading. I hope you continue to as I pivot away from movies and enter the world of cheesy sitcoms. You know, for fun and whatnot. Whatever. Who cares. Thanks for reading!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: