Sketchley's Translations Main Index
By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com) Ver 1.24 2021.08.13

James Bond Film Reviews


Dr. No

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger

Thunderball

Casion Royale (1967)

You Only Live Twice
On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

Live And Let Die
The Man With The Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me

Moonraker

For Your Eyes Only

Octopussy

Never Say Never Again

A View To A Kill

The Living Daylights

Licence To Kill

GoldenEye

Tomorrow Never Dies

The World Is Not Enough

Die Another Day

Casino Royale (2006)

Quantum Of Solace

Skyfall

Spectre

Dr. No

2.5 stars

Release date: 1962
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Directed by: Terence Young
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2020.07.14
The first Bond film, and a strong entry in the series. The film is essentially a detective movie: Bond goes to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a station chief and his secretary, and uncovers an operation by an agent of SPECTRE to "topple" American rockets as they're being launched. The movie has aged well—aside from a very short list of things—and has a kind of timelessness.

I really liked the seriousness of the acting, with very few—if any—actors hamming it up, or going over the top. Most of the characters we encounter could be real people.

I also liked the portrayal of Dr. No. Specifically how he "wins" when he is intellectual and emotionally detached, and "loses" when he panics and lets his emotions take control. His hands are especially noteworthy, as they are quite... creepy. Not to mention the hands being presented as a great strength earlier in the film turning into his greatest weakness at the end!

The only negative point is Bond's treatment of Quarrel. Initially the relationship is presented as two men teaming up to fight a common enemy as more-or-less equals and partners, then it shifts to something like a master-servant relationship. And the way the movie callously gets rid of Quarrel also feels... unsatisfying.

On the other hand, unlike later Bond movies, I got a faint but real sense of the British class differences in the performances. The tone of Bond's social interactions and language feels different from the upper class Brits that he meets. I wouldn't quite describe Bond as generally having a disdain for the upper class (as is pointed out by Vesper in 2006's "Casino Royale"), but it does come across that Bond has made a conscious choice to retain his origins and not ape the upper class mannerisms and language.

Lastly, I really liked M. He absolutely does not miss a beat, despite apparently multitasking and being absorbed in thought. Note how Bond stealthily takes his favoured Beretta sidearm back from M's desk, and M immediately asking Bond to leave it without even batting an eye—all this just after M basically chews Bond out and warns him that he'll be busted back to riding a desk if he doesn't play ball by switching to the Walter PPK!

Oh, if you enjoy the Austin Powers series, Dr. No is a treasure trove of the things that were parodied in that film series, especially after the film moves inside Dr. No's secret base. On the one hand, it makes the Austin Powers films funnier—having understood the reference—but it also makes Dr. No more enjoyable as one recalls the spoof version of the iconic scenes!

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From Russia With Love

3 stars

Release date: 1963
Written by: Richard Maibaum
Directed by: Terence Young
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2020.07.22
The film has all the hallmarks of Bond—a pre-credits sequence, gadgets from Q, a helicopter chase—but it doesn't feel like a Bond film. On the one hand, the pace is noticeably slower than the one set by "Dr. No". On the other hand, just like "Dr. No", the film is like a detective movie, with clues leading to complications and unexpected twists. Perhaps most striking is how realistic the characters are played. We feel like we're looking at real people, not the larger-than-life characters that appear in later Bond movies.

Another unique aspect is the friendship and dynamic between Bond and Ali Kerim Bey—the head of the MI6 station in Turkey. The friendship was well developed, and it was interesting seeing Bond performing espionage with someone at his level and on his wavelength. It's a shame that the character had to expire during this film.

I really like Daniela Bianchi's performance of Tatiana Romanova. In some ways she plays it as the opposite and equal of Bond—knowing what's really going on and at stake, but not letting on to her opposite that she knows. It makes for an interesting dynamic in the earlier scenes when she's interacting with No. 3 or when she's first getting to know Bond.

Speaking of No. 3, Lotte Lenya's performance as Rosa Klebb is also stellar. Her "job interview" of Bond's foil Donald Grant is simply jaw-droppingly shocking. One can appreciate why Mike Myers adopted her into Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers film series.

Robert Shaw is also outstanding as Grant. One gets a subtle but real sense of the animosity he holds toward Bond in their interactions on the Orient Express. However, on this viewing, I was really struck by how much Shaw's performance of Grant resembles Daniel Craig's portrayal of Bond in the latest films. It's readily understandable to hear that Daniel Craig consider this film his favourite.

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Goldfinger

3 stars

Release date: 1964
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2010.10.18 (revised 2020.08.05)
In my initial review, I considered this film the best of the first 3, and From Russia With Love as the one that dragged at times. Funny (in that not hilarious way) how perceptions change as we get older. Where From Russia With Love is nuanced and subtle, Goldfinger is big, bold, and over the top.

That's not to say that Goldfinger is a bad film. It is, after all, the one where they perfected the Bond formula. I really enjoyed the first third (set overseas in Switzerland, England, and Latin America), and the last third (set in Fort Knox). However, it is the middle part—with extensive scenes set along the strips along American highways in mid-60's American cars—that gets a bit repetative at times. Perhaps I've seen one too many shows on Discovery Channel that presented such roadworks or cars in more dynamic ways? (The car crusher in action on Monster Garage, for example.) Nevertheless, Goldfinger kept my interest from start to finish. It has good pacing, gives both the protagonists and antagonists good motivations, and has a smart, quick-witted bad guy ("You expect me to talk?" "I expect you to die.")

The film also gets the right balance with going over the top, but not going way too far over it that it's rediculous. The film is a bit cartoonish at times, but that largely adds to the fun. However—perhaps related to the big and bold style of the film—the way Bond treats women (especially the resisting Pussy Galore) is more than a bit off putting. Perhaps it's best to view those things, and the film in general, as a historian: that's the way things were then, isn't it great that things are better now?

Highlights are Harold Sakata's performance as Odd Job: he doesn't say much—if anything—but he expresses so much! The other recurring highlight is Bond using his brains and instincts to outsmart the bad guys. Note how he succeeds when he uses those, but fails when he relies on force or gadgets. I also really liked the bomb defusal being presented as beyond Bond's knowledge, neatly increasing the tension while keeping the character grounded in realism.

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Thunderball

2 stars

Release date: 1965
Written by: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins
Directed by: Terence Young
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2020.08.19
Agents of Spectre steal nuclear bombs—specifically steal a plane carrying the bombs—and use them to hold the world ransom. It's up to Bond to foil Spectre's plans and save the world. Sound familiar? It is, because the plot of many Bond movies is partially or wholly based on it.

Aside from that, Thunderball is a decent movie. It's good, but is dragged down by scenes that overstay their welcome. Perhaps most damning of all is the lacklustre villain: Adolfo Celi does a respectable job as Emilio Largo, however the writing doesn't give the character very many quirks or other interesting idiosyncrasies. There are times when Largo comes across more as a businessman than as a megalomaniac aiming at world domination.

Largo's henchmen aren't developed either. And with Largo's frequent tendency to send them to kill Bond and then locking them up along with Bond in an inescapable situation... one wonders why none of the henchmen ever wise up and ignore Largo's orders to get Bond!

Aside from that, the film is very well made. It has aged much better than Goldfinger, and the stunts and action scenes—especially the underwater ones—still stand up well 55 years later. Take, for instance, Bond and Domino's rescue using the Skyhook System at the very end of the film: that's a real person getting lifted off the raft by an aircraft outfitted with a real working Skyhook System! Incidentally, we don't see the Skyhook System in film again until The Dark Knight in 2008, and even then, what we see isn't a real person being lifted up in a single continuous shot!

Alas, the trend of Bond treating women badly continues. In the first two films, they are presented as willing participants in their own seduction. However, in Goldfinger and this film—where he blackmails a woman into sex—it is distasteful enough to disrupt my suspension of disbelief and knock me out of the movie.

Nevertheless, this film is worth it just to see where many of the Bond references in Austin Powers come from. However, it works both ways: after the card game scene I was scratching my head wondering why "No. 2" hadn't used the x-ray vision in his eye patch to read the cards!

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Casino Royale (1967)

stars

Release date: 1967
Written by: Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, Michael Sayers
Directed by: Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, Richard Talmadge (uncredited)
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on:
Coming Soon!
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You Only Live Twice

1.5 stars

Release date: 1967
Written by: Roald Dahl
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2010.09.30 (revised: 2020.09.15)
Bond heads to Japan to stop a Spectre plot to start a war between the USA and USSR by hijacking the space capsules of the two superpowers—while they're in space!

I have mixed thoughts about this film. On the one hand, the film tends to drag and scenes go on for too long in the middle and end parts. On the other hand, I find the cultural differences between then and now most interesting. Seeing a Mercury rocket launch and the Mercury capsule (model or otherwise) in action is a highlight. However, some of the depictions of Japanese culture are—at best—laughably bad.

The movie is at its best when it is showing Japan—the real Japan— of the 1960's. It highlights how some things are downright timeless: yukata, the shinto wedding ceremony, the samurai. Setting the "ninja" training base in Himeji Castle is a bit of a mind bender. I kept thinking: wow, I've walked where James Bond has walked, landed in a helicopter, and did "ninja" training!

However, there were a lot of things that the movie gets wrong about Japan—the ninja school being the biggest. It came across more as a karate and swordsmanship school, then actual ninja schooling per se. In fact, the only characters that I felt who acurately portrayed the ninja were the two assassins sent against Mr. Bond: the one in the training school with the concealed blade in his staff, and the one who used the wire to drip poison onto his victims.

Complementing the stunning cinematography of Japan's castles, volcanoes, and islands are the movie sets. They are simply fantastic, and in a scale that they just don't do anymore. Looking closely, one can even see a working monorail inside the base! On top of that, we get the best depiction of Blofeld—not only does he have really good makeup, he's a real bada$$!

While watching the movie I was surprised by how much Japan has changed, how parts of Japanese culture are timeless, and how some Western fads don't age well. I was also disappointed by how wrong some of the depictions of Japanese culture were. Nevertheless, if you're a fan of the Austin Powers series, this film is a must see to fully appreciate just what they're satirizing in the Bond films.

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On Her Majesty's Secret Service

2.5 stars

Release date: 1969
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Simon Raven
Directed by: Peter R. Hunt
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2010.10.18 (revised: 2020.10.13)
James Bond is on the trail of Ernst Blofeld. He has no luck until he meets Tracy di Vicenzo—who he has to rescue a couple of times before he can pursue a relationship—the daughter of Marc-Ange Draco. It is through Draco that Bond not only finds out where Blofeld is hiding, but also a way to get into Blofeld's hideout undetected. Along the way, he falls deeper and deeper in love with Tracy.

While the outcome of Bond's mission isn't in any doubt, his relationship with Tracy is completely unexpected. The twists and turns in their story and Bond's character growth are a welcome addition. Especially as parts of Bond's infiltration into Blofeld's hideout are just campy (why is he wearing a kilt?), and the escape down the side of the mountain on skis has been revisited in later Bond films so many times that the sequences in OHMSS overstay their welcome—just like the underwater scenes in Thunderball.

While any scene with Diana Rigg (Tracy di Vicenzo) is a joy to watch, everything else in this film is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I liked the reset to a smaller scale compared to the larger than life interpretation of the preceding 3 or 4 films. However, George Lazenby just doesn't seem comfortable in the Bond role most of the time. Nevertheless, I liked the vulnerability in his portrayal, and if Lazenby had a bit more acting experience at the time of filming, this film would have been among the very best of the Bonds.

Telly Savalas portrayal of Blofeld was also too jocular and buddy-buddy for my tastes. It didn't jive with the previous versions of Blofeld (What happened to his cold demeanour? Treating his cat better than his henchmen?) When he sends henchmen to their doom in this film, it just doesn't seem natural for the character at that point.

The music and the stunts are the highlights of the film. Some of the stunts and spy sequences have a genuine, palpable tension, and a large part of the credit for that goes to Lazenby's vulnerable performance.

The best part of the movie would have to be Bond's love relationship. There's genuine affection and emotion shown, and when the twist end comes around, there's some real emotional power in it.

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Diamonds Are Forever

2.5 stars

Release date: 1971
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2010.10.18 (revised 2020.10.27)
Bond defeats Bloefeld in the pre-credits sequence. He is then assigned to investigate the significant quantities of diamonds that are going missing at the source—something that has the potential of destabilizing not just the diamond markets, but the economies of the developed nations.

Concurrently, the organization that's covertly taking the diamonds are shutting down their smuggling pipeline, by eliminating all the people involved in it. They smugglers are being dispatched by the assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd—who are at times ruthlessly efficient and a breath of fresh air to the franchise, and at other times overstay their welcome in scenes that run too long as the film plays up their campiness.

Following the diamonds, Bond lands in Las Vegas. While there are some exciting car chases and scenes that come across as parodies of the excessive lifestyles of the nouveau riche, the setting ultimately isn't very exotic and offers Bond few opportunities to show off his great taste. Nevertheless, it provides a decent cover and suitable pantheon of henchmen for Bloefeld to enact his latest scheme.

I found the film great fun, with great pacing, and goofy humour. In a word, it's campy. The only problem stemming from that, though, is that the silliness doesn't know when to stop and intrudes even into the final climactic battle. Aside from that, the film is quite enthralling.

The film is also a great reminder of Sean Connery's screen presence, and his interpretation of the Bond role. Although the material in this film may not be believable, Connery still plays it like he believes in it.

Is this film the best Bond film? Hardly—it has its weaknesses. Is it a fun ride? Yes.

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Live And Let Die

1.5 stars

Release date: 1973
Written by: Tom Mankiewicz
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2010.11.21 (revised 2020.11.12)
Three British agents are killed while monitoring the operations of Dr. Kanaga, the dictator of San Monique. Bond is sent to New York—the current location of Dr. Kanaga—to investigate, and is attacked while being driven from the airport to meet his CIA contact Felix Leiter. Bond is soon sucked into a mission to uncover the covert operations of Dr. Kanaga and his alter ego Mr Big. It takes him from the Bronx, to New Orleans, and finally San Monique in the Caribbean Islands. He meets with some wildly unique henchmen, and the beautiful tarot reader Solitaire.

Overall, despite the funkiness of the film, Roger Moore's first foray as Bond comes up a bit weak. Perhaps they removed too much of what makes a Bond a Bond in adapting it to Moore? Or perhaps it's the step back from megalomaniacs bent on world domination to the relatively small scale of an international drug lord with sights set on cornering the US opium market?

Nevertheless, the film has quite a few of the landmark Bond scenes and sequences. Despite being few and far between, there was also good use of the Bond Gadgets™—and some well earned humour when they don't work as expected! The film also made me wonder if every African-American in the Bronx and (especially) New Orleans works for the villain!

This is also the only Bond film that dabbles in the supernatural and occult. While Mr. Big's henchman Baron Samedi gives us some fun double-takes in a playfully wicked way, it's Solitaire's tarot card reading that is so well written and acted that it is borderline skin-crawlingly creepy!

Ultimately, there are more than a few missed opportunities for greatness. Could we ascribe it to the tradition of Bond films that attempt to cash in on the successes of other films ultimately being poorer for the effort?

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The Man With The Golden Gun

2.5 stars

Release date: 1974
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2010.11.21 (revised 2020.11.25)
MI6 receives a golden bullet—the hallmark of the titular character—with Bond's 007 code on it. He is immediately taken off of his current assignment due to the great risk to the mission's success now that he is the target of Scaramanga, a skilled assassin. Bond is given the unofficial assignment of hunting Scaramanga down. He picks up Scaramanga's trail in Macao, and follows the leads through Hong Kong and Thailand, before finding his target.

Roger Moore hits his stride as Bond with this film. I was particularly surprised by the actual investigative work that Bond did in it. I don't think we've seen Bond do this much actual investigation since "From Russia with Love". The assistance received by Q branch throughout the film is especially noteworthy—it is actually quite informative and helpful, and much, much better than the usual goofy scenes of receiving gadgets and joke inducing mayhem.

Arguably, the single most fascinating thing about this film is that it still holds up. The clothes might be a little dated, but everything else is relevant. The technology is still something that scientists are actively pursuing, and the motivations for seeking that technology are still the same—if not more pressing.

Scaramanga's and Bond's motivations are also timeless. I'd go so far as to say that Scaramanga is one of the better Bond film villains—perhaps from his "honour among thieves"? Bond is also surprisingly ruthless in this movie. I'm not talking about how he deals with or dispatches his opponents, but the scene where he locks up the girl he was about to bed in the wardrobe, so that he can bed another girl!

Scaramanga's henchman Nick Nack steals the show. From the opening scene of him hiring assassins so he can get at Scaramanga's money—and Scaramanga enjoying the challenge—to diving on the bed with a pen knife clenched in his teeth. I don't think any Bond movie before or since has invested so much in the development and depiction of a henchman!

For a long time, I considered this to be my favourite Bond movie. I still consider it one of the better ones. Why did I like it originally? The exotic locations, especially the cliff-sided island hideout of Scaramanga—places you want to retire to just don't get better than that, now do they?

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The Spy Who Loved Me

3.5 stars

Release date: 1977
Written by: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2010.11.29 (revised 2020.12.09)
Someone is stealing nuclear missile-carrying submarines from the Brits and the Russians. Bond is teamed up with a female KGB agent—who wants to kill him because he killed her lover—to stop the sub-stealing bad guys before the clock runs out and nuclear armageddon starts!

Wow. There's a definite, palpable change from all the Bonds that have gone before, and it is reminiscent of the Bonds that come in the 90's. The film has great exotic locales (I'd like to give more points, but after the scenes in Egypt, all other on-location shots pale!) Bond is on top of his game. There's a henchmen who is more memorable then the main villain—he even ends up stealing the show! The music is '70's kitsch; on the side of "cool" much more so than the "eye rolling". Arguably the highlight of the film is the chase sequence that just keeps starting up again, notching things up to even greater extremes, just when you think it's winding down!

The only real complaint I have about the movie is that the main villain waits for the two scientists to fly away in a helicopter before blowing them up—then telling his assistant to "stop the money transfer". Jeez. If he was so worried about money, why blow up an expensive helicopter?! And a henchmen pilot, too?! And what was the point of showing how he deals with a secret-sharing secretary in front of the scientists just to blow them up minutes later? (Well, aside from villainizing him, and showing just how far off his rocker he is.) Other than that, the film recovers, or the scenery chewing became interesting enough to overlook anything other inconsistencies.

Another highlight of the film is the cinematography. While some shots don't hold up as well decades later (the water used in the miniature shots did not scale well), a lot of the shots are either awe inspiring (pretty much all the shots set in the desert and the Egyptian ruins), or simply iconic (the parachute after skiing off the side of a mountain)—and despite some scenes having absolutely no dialogue, there is a palpable tension running through all them.

This film kept me riveted to the screen from start to finish. One of the best.

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Moonraker

2 stars

Release date: 1979
Written by: Christopher Wood
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.01.08 (revised 2020.12.22)
Someone steals a recently-built Moonraker (AKA Space Shuttle) mid-transport from the US to the UK, and Bond is dispatched to find out who did it in order to smooth over international relations. Bond starts his investigation at Drax Industries—the place where the Moonrakers are manufactured—and survives one assassination attempt after another. Bond's investigation takes him to Venice, where he learns of Hugo Drax's true plans: the elimination of the human race with toxic nerve gas!

The film held my attention for most of its running time. Only the final climactic battle in the space station lost my attention—mostly because it has been done so often (and much better!) in other movies and TV shows. The Moonraker loaded with fuel being transported on a 747 at the very beginning, and the apparent lack of response by the Cold War powers at the launch of so many Moonrakers at one time broke my suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, the movie is so fast paced and has such goofy fun that it held my attention strongly enough that the plot holes and goofy attempts at humour weren't really noticed.

Oh, there was one other scene that partially jolted me out of the movie: after flying off of the boat that plunges down the Iguazu Falls—on the border between Argentina and Brazil—Bond lands, spots a woman in white, and follows her. There's a shot with Bond with the waterfall in the background, and then cuts to the girl walking past a pyramid in Tikal, Guatemala! At that point, I was struck by both how historically inaccurate the film is, and also how extensive the film's globe-trotting was.

I should also add that despite the cheesy Laser Sound Effects™, the battle between astronauts in space was quite well done. It's probably the most realistically portrayed space battle, too (no real chance to dodge, near instant death when hit, and spinning out of control as the space suit depressurizes). I also like the foreshadowing of how the lasers work in an earlier scene set in the Q labs (more 'melting' than 'penetrating'.)

The movie isn't the best, it has its fair share of cheese, but it has plenty of eye candy and is an entertaining ride as long as it holds your attention—which is most of the movie.

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For Your Eyes Only

1 star

Release date: 1981
Written by: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum
Directed by: John Glen
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.01.29 (revised 2021.01.03)
A British spy boat carrying the ATAC system—a device that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) uses to communicate with its fleet of Polaris submarines—is sunk. As the sinking happened in Greek waters, the MoD arranges for a local contact to covertly salvage the device. However, the KGB also dispatch their own agents, who hire an assassin to kill the MoD's local contact. Bond is dispatched by the MoD and MI6 to retrieve the device before it falls into KGB hands. While following up on the assassin, he meets the daughter of the MoD contact, who is out to get revenge on the people who killed her parents!

What follows is a story that returns to Bond's roots in the 60's films. It is a surprisingly low scale film that—while implying that it has the potential to have Britain-destroying consequences—it is really only about the retrieval of what amounts to a special keyboard. In short: the plot is barely a clothesline to hang the action scenes on.

I consider this to be the worst films in the Bond series, simply because it is an utterly forgettable film. And that's despite the fact that it is very well made—the downhill skiing chase and underwater battles are really, really well done. The biggest flaw with the film is that I hardly ever cared about the outcome of a scene, sequence, or the entire movie! Another problem is the villain and his henchmen. Sure, it's interesting to keep the main villain hidden from the audience for as long as possible, but it's not a good combination with cardboard cutout henchmen and bland lieutenants.

What I did like about the movie is James Bond using his mind more than his gadgets, the scene where the ruthless Bond emerges (kicking the car with the defeated henchman off a cliff), and the submarine battle (admittedly I was thinking 'so that's where James Cameron got his idea for the sub battle in "the Abyss" from!')

Moonraker was over the top, yet fun in a silly, campy way. For Your Eyes Only was a return to 'serious Bond', but it didn't work. A decade and a half later, Die Another Die is way over the top, and rotten. Yet Casino Royale, the return to 'serious Bond' is pure awesomeness. Odd, isn't it?

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Octopussy

2 stars

Release date: 1983
Written by: George MacDonald Fraser, Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum
Directed by: John Glen
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.02.13 (revised 2021.01.27)
Bond is tasked with investigating the source of rare Russian jewels being sold at auction as MI6 suspects it is a Soviet operation to acquire hard currency to cover overseas operations. The leads he follows takes him to India, where he encounters Kamal Khan—a supplier of rare valuables to the European auction houses—his bodyguard Gobinda, and Khan's boss, the mysterious Octopussy. However, Khan is secretly working with rogue Soviet General Orlov to sneak a nuclear bomb into a US airbase in West Germany with plans to detonate it!

I have mixed feelings about the movie. The earlier passages move along at a good clip and are interesting, the middle passage is a bit of a mess that's somewhat without focus, and the end has an action sequence on a train which is way above the notch set by the preceding Bond movies. In the end, I think the movie tries to be too many things, and suffers for it.

Humour has been applied haphazardly in the film—some of it works, a lot of it doesn't. On the other hand, the film has some of the best, original action scenes for the Bond series in general. The scenes with the jet, train, and airplane are quite dynamic, and even 40 years later, they are riveting sequences that I can't recall having been replicated since.

Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is Desmond Llewelyn. He has some of the best lines in the movie, and just watching his scenes is a treat.

The villains are also excellent. Kamal Khan is a worthy adversary, who keeps his cool and his hands clean. Gobinda is a memorable, smart henchman. General Orlov is also good, but his big scene-chewing sequence with the Soviet bigwigs is probably the low point of the film. Sure, the movie is set during the Cold War—just like all of the preceding Bond movies—but there's something a little bit stinky with the producers' motives for inserting that scene (E.g.: it's for more than just to establish Orlov's motives).

Although it's not one of the better Bonds, it's not the worst either. Even if it's memorable for some of the wrong reasons, it's still a memorable Bond outing. The film is a mixed bag, and is hit and miss. However, its redeeming quality is that there is actually a lot of spy work in the movie—and that's what we go and see this superspy for, isn't it?

PS Almost 40 years on, doesn't the title still sound dirty?

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Never Say Never Again

3.5 stars

Release date: 1983
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.02.03 (revised 2021.02.09)
Bond is ordered to an exclusive health clinic by M, who is dismissive about the 00 operatives and has basically sidelined them. In the clinic, Bond stumbles upon a plot by SPECTRE to steal 2 nuclear warheads from a nearby US Air Force base—an operation that they succeed in completing. Bond is subsequently reactivated and assigned the task of finding the missing bombs. His initial lead takes him to the Bahamas where he meets Largo, SPECTRE's top agent, and his lover, Domino.

If this sounds familiar, it's because the film is a remake of 1965's Thunderball. However, unlike the 1965 version, this one is directed by Irvin Kershner, whose steady hand keeps the film focused on the characters and moving along at a good clip. While one or two things haven't aged very well (the room full of '80's arcade machines comes to mind), the majority of the film has a timeless quality and is more focused on the human side than on the spectacle of the original. While Klaus Maria Brandauer's portrayal of Largo is much more unhinged compared to Adolfo Celi's, he is far less callously sociopathic and is genuinely wounded when his lover Domino betrays him.

Before the release of 2006's Casino Royale, this film had arguably become my number 1 James Bond film. Not because of an original plot (it is a remake after all), but because it has originality with how it uses the traditional elements, along with quite a few unexpected plot twists. Probably the most interesting revised Bond traditions are an older Bond thinking about retiring, M not wanting to use Bond and locking him away in a rather traumatic healthcare center, and a budget strapped Q whose gadgets don't always work as expected—adding unexpected tension in a key scene.

The main flaw in Never Say Never Again is that it doesn't clearly explain why Largo was taking the second bomb underground. There was dialogue about oilfields being next to the underground river he took the bomb into, but the film never really addresses why such a location would have world-changing effects if the bomb is detonated there.

The highlight of the film is its fully developed characters. It also has a villain (Largo) who isn't over the top, but is excellently subtle coupled with a villainess who is way, way far over the top—the unforgettable Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush. This is all in addition to a smooth talking Bond who doesn't look like he's embarrassed by the material (as Roger Moore occasionally appears to be), always draws the eyes of all the ladies, and can either outsmart or outfight any opponent in his path. Recommended.

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A View To A Kill

2 stars

Release date: 1985
Written by: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum
Directed by: John Glen
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.02.23 (revised 2021.02.16)
Bond recovers a microchip from the frozen remains of another British spy in the Siberian arctic. Back at MI6, we learn that Silicon Valley is producing a new breed of hardened microchips that are EMP-proof, and the chip Bond recovered indicates that the exact same chips are being provided to the Soviet Union. Bond is dispatched to investigate the manufacturer Max Zorin—an entrepreneur with dubious origins from behind the Iron Current in East Germany.

This film is Roger Moore's Bond at his most fantastical. Sidestepping the debate about whether Moore should have retired before filming movie or the ridiculousness of Bond hanging off of a fire truck's extended ladder as it races around San Francisco, the film was much more interesting than I thought it would be. It has a story that keeps trucking along, with enough interesting things on screen that any one scene doesn't lose the viewer's interest. Sure, it may be a bit kooky at times (an explosion induced earthquake to wipe out Silicon Valley?!?), but it gets plenty of points for originality—not to mention a large set-piece in the final act that actually makes sense for once (that would be the mine interior).

The only weak point is Q's reconnaissance robot—it smacks of all the elegance of the marketing for a post-movie toy purchase. At least the electronic bug-detector in an electric razor was a cool gadget. Which reminds me, I like how this movie had Bond relying more on his whits than on gadgets. Nevertheless, if you need a reason to see the movie, two words: Christopher Walken.

This movie is also endowed with a memorable henchwoman: May Day. Grace Jones's portrayal is downright creepy at times, and then there's the big twist in her character at the film's end. On top of that, both Bond and Zorin get memorable, well developed allies (Sir Godfrey and Chuck Lee, Scarpine and Dr. Mortner)—all of whom are unique. The movie gets high points for spending the time to develop unique supporting characters (both good and bad), and making them memorable enough that by the closing curtain, we never forgot who they are and who they're allied with.

In the end, even though the film may be a rehash of Goldfinger, it was done so well with so much originality that the Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again begins to pale in comparison. This film is a classy end to the Roger Moore Bond era.

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The Living Daylights

3 stars

Release date: 1987
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Directed by: John Glen
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.03.09 (revised 2021.03.02)
Bond heads to the former Czechoslovakia to help General Koskov escape from his KGB minders and defect to the West. The escape occurs during a concert, in which Bond notices a beautiful cellist. That same cellist turns out to be the sniper assigned to prevent Koskov's escape—but Bond ascertains that she's not a professional, and spares her life by shooting the rifle out of her hands.

Koskov is secretly taken out of the country, and successfully defects to the West. During his debriefing in England, Koskov tells MI6 about an operation by General Pushkin, the new head of the KGB, to kill all foreign spies—which will drastically increase tensions between the USSR and the West. However, a KGB agent infiltrates the safe house, and abducts Koskov. Bond is ordered to track down and kill Pushkin. Suspecting that something is out of place, he heads back to Czechoslovakia to track down the cellist, and learns from her that Koskov's defection isn't what it initially appeared to be.

Compared to the preceding Bond films, this one is a world apart. It's quite serious; almost too serious, given that Timothy Dalton opted for a Bond closer to the gritty realism of the novels and removed a lot of Bond's humour. On the other hand, there's a great build-up toward the climax—even if the climax itself is a bit of a let down. The best part of the film is the Cold War, Iron Curtain, spy and counterspy stuff. Arguably the worst parts are the arms dealer villain and his "Sergeant" henchman, as they're being played like they belong in one of the sillier Moore-era Bonds.

The pacing of the film is excellent, and there are plenty of well-done action scenes—so well done, in fact, that I've invariably compared the car action in all subsequent Bonds to the bar set by this film. Timothy Dalton's interpretation of Bond is also quite a break from the preceding actors. Perhaps due to that different interpretation or his experiences working in theatre, he emotes and gives us emotions that we haven't seen in a Bond film to date. Andreas Wisniewski's Necros is also quite effective, and is a memorable bad guy's assassin henchmen en par with Robert Shaw's Red Grant in From Russia With Love.

As this was one of the first Bond films I saw, watching it invokes a lot of nostalgia—who I was with, how old I was, things like that. As with all good movies, my appreciation of the film has evolved as I've grown older and gained experience. It's been interesting spotting things that I either didn't noticed or didn't pay attention to before, as well as reinterpreting or better understanding the significance of interactions, camera shots, and so on. In other words, this is one of the better Bond films.

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Licence To Kill

3.5 stars

Release date: 1989
Written by: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum
Directed by: John Glen
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.03.09 (revised 2021.03.16)
Bond car pools with Felix Leiter to Felix's wedding in the Florida Keys. En route, Felix is called away by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to help capture drugs lord Franz Sanchez—Bond tags along. They succeed in capturing Sanchez, and arrive back at the chapel in time for the wedding. However, Sanchez bribes a DEA agent, and makes his escape. Before he returns to safety in the 'Republic of Isthmus', Sanchez interrupts Felix's honeymoon, and extracts his revenge.

Hearing about Sanchez's escape, Bond races to Felix's house, only to discover that Felix is horribly maimed, and his bride is dead. Bond then sets out on a personal vendetta to get Sanchez—even going so far as to resign from MI6 when he is given a new assignment. His investigation takes him deep into Sanchez-controlled territory, where Bond has nothing but the allies he picks up along the way and the $5 million he steals from one of Sanchez's main accomplices early in the film.

This film blew away my expectations, and was actually quite enjoyable. Timothy Dalton has given us a tough, opportunistic Bond who relies on his skills and quick wits. The film has a lot of plot—much more than in the preceding couple of Bond films—and it is well intertwined with great action scenes. There's the right balance of humour, drama, tension and a truly "bad" villain, with a bad-ass Benicio Del Toro, too! This film did quite well by having the humour coming from a bunch of different angles, and not just from Bond's one-liners (Bond makes a few, but most of the humour comes from situation gags, and Desmond Llewelyn and Carey Lowell's reactions.)

The drawback to this Bond film is that the villains do some pretty nasty stuff that I felt didn't match the spirit of Bond when I first saw the film. Now, having seen all the Bond films up to this one consecutively, I can say that even though the nasty stuff isn't new, the difference is that they actually show all the blood and gore this time. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, as it vilifies the bad guys—and it's the villain that generally makes or breaks these kinds of movies—just that Bond has traditionally been more about suggested violence than the gory depiction of it.

Nevertheless, this film is heartily recommended. It's a great story that shows Bond relying more on his wits and skills than on gadgets to get things done. And in the end, we can't help but cheer when Bond not only gets Sanchez to destroy his empire from within, but outwits him in the final showdown.

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GoldenEye

4 stars

Release date: 1995
Written by: Jeffrey Caine, Bruce Feirstein (Uncredited: Michael France, Kevin Wade)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.03.22 (revised 2021.03.30)
Bond is in Monte Carlo undergoing an assessment when he stumbles upon a plot by the Janus crime syndicate to steal a Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter. He is soon assigned the case when that same helicopter is spotted in Severnaya, Russia, moments before an EMP blast knocks the facility—and British Intelligence's satellites over the area—out of service. He follows the trail to Saint Petersburg, where he comes face to face with a ghost from his past.

There are oodles of good reasons to see this movie: the plot and pacing are solid (some say that the film lags somewhat in the middle, but I say that it builds character), and the motivations of the bad guys are readily understandable and, dare I say, realistic. Pierce Brosnan brings some things back to the role that have been missing in the last few actors to portray Bond—he may not be as ruthless or opportunistic as Sean Connery's Bond, but there's a definite coldness and world-weariness to his Bond.

The highlight of this film (and what generally makes or breaks these kinds of movies) is, of course, the bad guys. The leader is genuinely ruthless, and there are a lot of unspoken daggers-fired-from-the-eyes between Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) and Bond. His underlings take the cake—each one is well developed, and they are invested with an assortment of memorable characteristics. Of course, the ending that focuses in on the final duel between Alec and James has a lot of unexpected emotion in the showdown, and its one of the better finales for a Bond film. The fact that it takes place in the breathtaking heights of the Arecibo Observatory adds considerably to the tension, and sets the bar extremely high.

Eric Serra's soundtrack is also a striking departure from what's gone before, and come since. Some have lamented it, but I like it in its own right. In the context of watching the Bond series back-to-back, it's refreshingly unique, and is a great way to underline that this Bond is different from the preceding Bonds.

Highly recommended. My 3rd favourite Bond film as of 2021.

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Tomorrow Never Dies

1.5 stars

Release date: 1997
Written by: Bruce Feirstein
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.03.29 (revised 2021.04.13)
On the eve of the launch of media baron Elliot Carver's new 24-hour news channel, he hijacks a GPS satellite transmission to send the HMS Devonshire off-course deep into Chinese territorial waters. When the Chinese intercept the warship with fighter jets, Carver's stealth ship attacks and sinks the warship and shoots down one of the fighters. It makes for great headlines, and puts the British and the Chinese militaries on a collision course with each other. M suspects that Carver is behind it—as the wayward GPS transmission was tracked to one of his satellites—and dispatches Bond to investigate, as she (and apparently everyone else in MI6) know that he had a romantic relationship with Carver's wife at some time in the past.

By rights, this movie should have been great. It has all the right elements and the right tone for a Bond movie, but there's something off about it. In short: it never builds up tension, and there's hardly a scene where one cares what happens. Apparently there were a lot of script troubles with this film, and basically the script was rushed to be completed by the start of (and even during!) filming. That's always a bad sign. However, it at least explains the sloppiness in the plot, the weakly developed characters, and the overall lack of concern for the outcome. The film also does not have a realistic megalomaniac (maybe an unrealistic one). As the bad guys truly make or break these kinds of movies...

The highlight of the film is Vincent Schiavelli as Dr. Kaufman. His is a most original character, the most unique character in the film, and the character most in-line with the tone of the preceding Bond films. He's also the assassin that has come the closest to killing Bond—if only it weren't for his incompetent employers!

It was also a real treat to watch Dame Judi Dench (M) verbally sparring with Geoffrey Palmer , her cast-mate from As Time Goes By—an interesting twist, as they are lovers in that sit-com. Dare I say that there was more than meets the eye going on during their time on-screen together? She and costar Samantha Bond (Moneypenny) also get some of the best lines (or at least the most Bond-like double entendres!) The mobile phone-controlled car and Michelle Yeoh's secret hideouts are neat. Michelle Yeoh's butt-kicking martial arts is awesome as always.

If you like decent action sequences (they are all well constructed—the parkade car chase in particular) with a weak plot stringing them together, this is the movie for you.

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The World Is Not Enough

2.5 stars

Release date: 1999
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Bruce Feirstein
Directed by: Michael Apted
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.04.17 (revised 2021.05.21)
Bond retrieves money for Sir Robert King from a Swiss banker. However, the banker is killed before Bond can finish interrogating him. Back at MI6, Bond notices that the money is laced with explosives, and before he can stop it, the money explodes, killing King who has come to collect it. The recovered money is traced back to Renard—the terrorist who had abducted and held King's daughter Elektra for ransom—and Bond is dispatched to protect Elektra from him. However, as Elektra has taken over King's business empire and is overseeing the construction of a new oil pipeline, she's turns out to be much more than the damsel in distress that she is initially presented to be.

This film has all the right elements in all the right places, is an interesting and thought provoking ride from start to finish, and has a number of unexpected plot twists. In the end, the two best things about the movie are that it stays grounded in realism, and the excellent acting by Sophie Marceau. Marceau portrays Elektra at a level where it is next to impossible to guess her true or ultimate goals until she decides to reveal them. It appears that Marceau's acting inspired the other main actors, Pierce Brosnan and Judi Dench, among others—all excellent actors in their own rights—to portray their characters with even more subtleties than in the standard Bond movie, which makes this film all the more rewarding. Regrettably, Denise Richards is miscast as a nuclear physicist.

One of the films more memorable scenes is the introduction of Robert Carlyle's character, Renard. Isn't this the way that all Bond villains are supposed to be done? Also, during the final passages of the film, Carlyle refrains from going over the top, and gives us a villain who looks like he's experiencing genuine emotional pain. Another acting highlight is Robbie Coltrane—he is exceedingly fun to watch, and adds greatly to the thrill in a key scene. We are also treated to Desmond Llewelyn's final appearance as Q, and he bows out in style. This film is great fun, a wild ride, and one of the better Brosnan Bonds.

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Die Another Day

0.5 stars

Release date: 2002
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Directed by: Lee Tamahori
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.04.21 (revised 2021.06.08)
Bond infiltrates North Korea to assassinate rogue Colonel Tan-sun Moon, who is trading weapons for conflict diamonds. Bond completes the mission, however, he is captured and imprisoned and tortured for 14 months. Bond is released in a prisoner exchange for Zao—Moon's right-hand man—and is effectively imprisoned by MI6 out of concern that he has revealed state secrets and has become a double agent. Bond escapes MI6 and sets out to hunt down Zao, who he learns is in Cuba. Upon arrival, Bond meets NSA agent "Jinx" Johnson, and they separately infiltrate an exclusive island clinic where Zao is undergoing "gene therapy" to alter his appearance. In the ensuing melee, Zao escapes but leaves behind a pendant full of diamonds. Diamonds that bear the mark of British businessman Gustav Graves. Bond follows the trail back to England, were MI6 more-or-less puts him back into active duty, as Graves is much more than he lets on, and has direct ties back to Colonel Moon and the conflict diamonds that he was trading weapons for.

I completely disliked this film when I first saw it. There are way too many cringe-worthy moments. The first and second acts (after the opening credits) are a whirlwind of fun and energy, and despite being set on warp-speed, they breezily pass by with a lot of the classic Bond moments and energy. However, the entire third act is tonally different from the rest, and although there are some good points, it just drags on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on. For example, in the ice-hotel sequence, there are a number of completely unnecessary helicopter establishing shots during the car chase. Yeah, they look great, but not only do they bloat the sequence, they're distracting and destroy whatever tension the chase has been building up.

That space laser weapon... at first I shook my head at it as it was one too many giant-laser-guns-in-space appearing in films for me at the time. Now, I can see the allusion to the space laser in Diamonds are Forever. Nevertheless, in retrospect it's the invisible car that's cringe-worthy: there's no basis for the technology in the Bond universe, it isn't used effectively (Bond ends up relying on it instead of his wits during infiltration or escape from the enemy's base), and is merely a gimmick to trick viewers into filling movie seats. The highlight of the film are the two really awesome sword fights—they are the only times in the movie where I felt genuine tension and concern that the heroes could get seriously mangled!

Nevertheless, is it any surprise that this film's director's next project was the Triple X sequel? If you liked those films, you'll probably enjoy Die Another Day. Otherwise... it's hard to believe that the same writers did the subsequent Casion Royale, isn't it?

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Casino Royale (2006)

4 stars

Release date: 2006
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2011.05.28 (revised 2021.06.22)
Bond acquires his 00 agent status and is assigned to capture a bomb maker in Madagascar. Things go awry, and Bond ends up killing the target and blowing up the "Nambutu" embassy that the bomb maker had fled to. Bond follows clues left on the bomb maker's phone to a corrupt Greek official in the Bahamas, where he unearths a plot by Le Chiffre—a private banker who finances terrorism—to blow up a prototype airliner at the Miami International Airport.

From the opening moments, this film grabs your attention, and doesn't let go. The action scenes are some of the most riveting and exciting in the past few Bond movies—possibly because they are kept in the realm of plausibility. If Sébastien Foucan can free-run through an under-construction building, than Bond can certainly survive a car that flips enough times to get a Guinness World Record! However, it's the dialogue scenes that really make this film. Bond truly meets his match in verbal sparing with Vesper Lynd.

This movie goes back to the roots of Bond in more than one sense—both the first novel in the series, and the origins of the character. Bond may not be as polished in this movie, but it's exhilarating not only getting to see how he became what he is, but also seeing *actual* character growth. Daniel Craig's Bond is a wonder to behold. Above all the usual Bond traits, his performance is as ruthlessness, if not more so, than Connery's. On the flip side, he shows us Bond's sensitive and vulnerable sides at a level deeper than that of any other actor who has portrayed Bond.

Villains tend to make or break this kind of film. Casino Royale is blessed with not one, but two: Le Chiffre, a ruthless and creepy master gambler who puts Bond into the worst, repeat worst situation he's ever been in—one that will have any man in the audience grimacing in sympathy—and Mr White, a ruthlessly cold man whose stoic expression and impacting dialogue gives him an intriguing air of mystery. Another interesting aspect of the film is that the bad guy's henchmen—despite having little to no lines—still make an impression. Credit falls to the director, Martin Campbell, for spending the time exploring and rounding out the corners of the Bond universe in this film.

Aside from a few modern things such as cars, smartphones and so on, there are hardly any spy gadgets in this film. Which is a good thing, as it not only takes us back to the days when Bond had to rely on his wits (which invariably results in a superior Bond movie), it also gives the movie a timeless feel.

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Quantum Of Solace

1 stars

Release date: 2008
Written by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Directed by: Marc Forster
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.10.27 (revised 2021.07.14)
Bond has captured Mr. White and is evading pursuers as he drives to a rendezvous with M. Problem is, MI6 knows nothing about Mr. White's organization. They are taken completely by surprise when Mr. White cryptically says that they have people everywhere, and one of M's bodyguards starts shooting at the other MI6 agents. Mr. White escapes while Bond chases after and eliminates the rogue MI6 agent. Bond travels to Haiti to find the rogue agent's contact, and stumbles onto a plot by environmental entrepreneur Dominic Greene to have his lover Camille Montes killed. Camille is only with Dominic to get revenge on exiled Bolivian General Medrano, who Dominic is helping to restore to power.

This is the not-Bond Bond-movie. Yes, Daniel Craig is a great actor, and he gives another exhilarating performance in this movie. To the point that we feel that he really has been beat up, chewed up, and spit out by the bad guys at the end of the movie. BUT... where is the set up? The foreplay? James Bond is a fantasy. It's why there has been more than 25 Bond films. This movie is sorely lacking in those traditional Bond fantasy elements. Ordinarily that's not necessarily a bad thing. However, this movie strips out everything else—including character development—until we're left with an action-centric, plot handicapped, hyper-kinetically edited Bourne rip-off.

The movie isn't entirely bad. Judi Dench IS the highlight of the movie, especially her grumblings to Bond. Jeffrey Wright's Felix Leiter is also great—mostly because his character is the only one that truly gets any development. I'd like to recommend this movie just for the conclusion to the character arc established in Casino Royale, but as this movie doesn't involve itself in the character aftereffects and only stays focused on the action results, I can't recommend it for even that... even the third Bourne movie put the second film's inexplicable final scene in context. Why couldn't this movie have done something similar?

Addendum: aside from being produced as a Bourne clone (Bond films copying popular trends isn't a new thing), it has been acknowledged that this film was negatively effected by the 2007–2008 writer's strike; with the director and Daniel Craig writing some sections themselves. I'm not saying that's a bad thing per se (script rewrites and ad libbing is part of the movie-making process), I'm just pointing out that some of the films 'irregularities' may have been because they didn't have a writer on hand to keep their work in line with the overall story and character development.

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Skyfall

4 stars

Release date: 2012
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.07.25
Bond and Moneypenny are in hot pursuit of Patrice, who has stolen a hard drive with details on the undercover agents of the UK and its allies. As Bond and Patrice are fighting on the roof of a speeding train, M orders Moneypenny to shoot Patrice. However, she inadvertently hits Bond, who falls off a high bridge and disappears in the river far below. Months later, M is pressured into retiring due to the loss of the hard drive. As she makes her way back to MI6, she is stopped after receiving a taunting e-mail moments before her offices in the MI6 building explode. Bond—who survived and has been living in retirement—learns of the attack and returns to London to give help. He is ordered to find Patrice's employer, and terminate him.

Skyfall is a return to form for the Daniel Craig Bond. Here we once more have a Bond who is battling to outsmart his opponents just as much, if not more often, then when he fights them. While the sharp dialogue isn't as sustained as it was between Bond and Vesper in Casino Royale, there are still echoes of it between Bond and the villain de jour: Raoul Silva—an ex-MI6 operative turned cyberterrorist who is hard on getting revenge on M, whom he holds a personal grudge against. Javier Bardem's turn as the villain is the highlight of the film.

In addition to focusing on Bond's wits, there is a distinct lack of Bond gadgets. He is sent off to Shanghai with literally nothing more than a gun and a radio transmitter. I interpret that as M thinking strategically: if their target is an ace hacker, it makes sense that Bond go low tech, to disadvantage their opponent. That said, we are reunited with Bond's Austin Martin DB5—however, if it is the same one that he won in a card game in Casino Royale, the film never addresses why it now has an ejector seat built into it. Nevertheless, Skyfall is more than satisfying as the 50th anniversary of the film franchise, and it even fills in new details on Bond's origins as well as underscoring just how deep his relationship with M was.

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Spectre

3 stars

Release date: 2015
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.12.21 (revised 2021.08.13)
Bond is in Mexico City to foil a terrorist bombing. In the process of killing his target, Marco Sciarra, he takes the man's octopus emblazoned ring. Back in London, Bond is removed from active duty by M for undertaking what amounts to be an unauthorized mission. Meanwhile, M is in a power struggle with Max Denbigh, the leader of the Joint Intelligence Service formed by the merger of MI5 and MI6. Problem is that the agency is privately backed, and Max has used his influence to close down the '00' section. Bond disobeys orders to stay in the U.K., and heads to Rome to attend Sciarra's funeral. Bond learns that Sciarra was a member of Spectre, a rather large organization with criminal and terrorist branches. The leader, Franz Oberhauser, is straight out of Bond's past. Bond has no choice but to flee and try to reach the "Pale King" to extract information from him about Franz before Spectre's assassin catches up with them.

Spectre is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is one of, if not the best looking of the Bond films—Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography is downright breathtaking at times! On the other hand, the plot is even more convoluted than usual, with disparate plot threads that never seem to join together, and a villain that comes up lacking on the scales of immediate danger. While they attempted to build in an emotional backbone to the rivalry between Bond and Franz, overall the film never really builds on that to create any urgency in the plot.

It felt that Christoph Waltz was underused—I was hoping for another over-the-top performance like the one he gave in Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained. Nevertheless, I've grown to like his quieter interpretation of Blofeld. However, Blofeld's claim that he's the mastermind behind Bond's suffering is a bit much. I interpret as just a claim to further antagonize Bond and not necessarily what has really happened. Otherwise, it gets too weird with Spectre being the bigger and more secret organization behind the big and secret Quantum organization (here's a thought: Quantum became Spectre when Blofeld took over!)

I really liked that the film didn't telegraph the plot or some of Bond's bigger emotional moments (note the writing on the VHS tape), instead trusting on the intelligence of the viewers to put things together based on subtle clues that paint an interesting subtext. Another thing I really liked is that it has a memory of the preceding films. That said, it's probably better to consider this to be a film more about the origins of Blofeld that is setting up subsequent films more than anything else. Ultimately, it doesn't match the dramatic and emotional developments in Casino Royale and Skyfall. Nevertheless, it's a treat to get another dose of Sam Mendes take on Bond. And that four minute sequence at the very beginning of the film so seamlessly cut together that it looks like it was done in one take—wow!

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