Reviewing Bond Films: From the Living Daylights to Skyfall (Movies #392-399)

James Bond – 51 years and counting!

By 14 titles you’d start to wonder if a franchise had anything left in its tank. As each sequel gets released it becomes more susceptible of being branded as cliché, derivative and formulaic. But while it tends to stray towards mediocrity sometimes, I’d say the makers of the 007 films have done a great job in keeping the quality of James Bond films high and continuously entertaining the audiences after so many outings. In fact, the last three as of today are among my favorites. Before I get there though, let’s dial it back a bit.

The first few Bond films were classic. Sean Connery was the epitome of James, with his tall stature, dashing features and endless wit. People used to think of him as 007. Six actors and 50 years later, Bond has become less of a look and more of an identity. I’ve always kept an open mind while I watched the subsequent films in the franchise, and I realized that save for George Lazenby, everyone had me convinced with their performances. The last three actors I haven’t discussed yet, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig, had very different styles and it influenced their movies greatly.

Dalton took the serious route, which surprised viewers during his time when The Living Daylights and License to Kill came out. Having replaced the tongue-in-cheek Roger Moore, his take was hugely contrasting and maybe people weren’t ready for that. Personally I found Dalton as having more charisma and drive than Moore, whose already weary look heavily affected his last movie, A View to a Kill. Despite that, Dalton’s two entries were still among the lowest-grossing out of the 23.

Meanwhile Brosnan managed to position himself as the modern representation of James in four outings: Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day. He was definitely handsome enough for the role. He could pull off the jokes, the stunts and seems more invincible than the others. The biggest problem he had was Bond’s overreliance in CGI and special effects, but even that wasn’t his fault. Most of the story was very dependent on the use of gadgets and it took away some of the realism and emotional connection as I was watching his episodes. Goldeneye was the best, though it progressively became worse after that.

But then came the 21st century with Daniel Craig replacing Brosnan in 2006. He wasn’t too well received when he got casted because he didn’t match the original profile of 007. He surely proved skeptics wrong when Casino Royale was released and he showed off a grittier, rougher, and tougher image that nobody really expected. Like Craig his films were the most different, most engaging, and most human. Backed by a strong production overall, and being  advantaged by the fact that Royale was a restart to the franchise, the last three films by Craig in my opinion are among the best James Bond films of all time.

Ranking the most recent Bond films 15 to 23:

  1. 1.    Skyfall (2012) – A-
  2. 2.    Casino Royale (2006) – A-
  3. 3.    Quantum of Solace (2008) – B+
  4. 4.    Goldeneye (1995) – B
  5. 5.    The Living Daylights (1987) – B
  6. 6.    License to Kill (1989) – B-
  7. 7.    The World Is Not Enough (1999) – C+
  8. 8.    Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – C+
  9. 9.    Die Another Day (2002) – C

Martin Campbell directed both Casino Royale and Goldeneye, two films that kickstarted an era anew. And I’m very glad the producers were able to maintain the quality of Royale until today unlike what happened a decade ago. The top three features Craig, while the last trio is Brosnan’s.

For the last time, listed below are the best in different categories:

Criterion: Story, action, bond girls, villain, theme, acting, opening credits, and overall entertainment value

Story: Casino Royale (runners-up: Skyfall, Goldeneye) – Ooh it was a close one, but I thought Casino Royale had a more cohesive and emotional story than Skyfall, which was compelling as well but is a bit scattered at times. Goldeneye had that ‘back from the dead’ factor that made things more exciting and engaging.

Action: Quantum of Solace (runners-up: Skyfall, Casino Royale) – When you end up being chased by everyone, even your own country, there’ll likely be more fighting involved. I really like the hand-to-hand combat and the locations used in the past three films. Sorry, but CGI is hardly exciting in this franchise.

Bond Girls: Casino Royale (runners-up: Skyfall, Goldeneye, Quantum of Solace) – I had to acknowledge four because it was so difficult to choose! But of course the best one would be Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). She was the only one who I sincerely believed was loved by Bond. And her character’s so mysterious and alluring and Green plays her so well. The others are Severine (Berenice Marlohe), the strong-legged Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) and Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko). Others would argue that Electra King (Sophie Macraeu) is a great bond girl. I’m not convinced.

Villain: Skyfall (runners-up: Casino Royale, Goldeneye) – Javier Bardem took villainy to cyberspace and acted like the Joker, causing a lot of chaos in Skyfall. While in Casino Royale, Mads Mikkelsen played around with bond’s naughty bits while he was naked. Meanwhile, Goldeneye had Sean Bean betraying his country alongside Onatopp. No wonder he always dies in his movies.

Theme: Casino Royale (runners-up: Skyfall, Quantum of Solace) – Craig’s films had their own niches. Royale had cards; Skyfall leaned on resurrection and memories of the past, while Quantum had everyone out on revenge.

Acting: Casino Royale (runners-up: Skyfall, Quantum of Solace) – Craig, Green, Mikkelsen, and Judi Dench had some very nice performances. In my opinion this was Craig’s best outing as bond, while it’s too close to call for Dench because of Skyfall. I really liked how the women acted the past few films.

Opening Credits: Quantum of Solace (runners-up: Skyfall, Casino Royale, Goldeneye) – for the longest time I had Skyfall as the best one, but after watching all openings once again I realized the effects were a little messy and it’s just incredibly helped by Adele’s Oscar-winning vocals. Jack White and Alicia Keys killed it in Quantum of Solace and K12, the designers, made it so beautiful from the rendering to the text effects. Casino Royale gets props for an awesome intro and a good utilization of its theme. And finally, the tune of Goldeneye is definitely one you won’t forget!

Overall Entertainment: Skyfall (runners-up: Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace) – On average, this is the best Bond era out of six, surpassing even Sean Connery’s. But among them, Skyfall is the most entertaining, with Casino Royale a close contender. The three films took entertainment to a whole new level, but what made Skyfall better was its execution. For starters, the cinematography is amazing, and I’m not one to take notice of that. Also, it reintroduced some of our favorite characters such as Q, Moneypenny, and even another M. They also finally talked about Bond and M’s past, something that was never explored and I enjoyed how they were able to use it to propel the story forward. These additional things allowed it to surpass a very good reboot (Casino Royale) and a hyper-charged installment (Quantum of Solace).

Finally, here’s my opinion of these films in a nutshell:

The Living Daylights: Dark, serious, and surprisingly refreshing

License to Kill: Breaking series conventions, Bond once again delivers with passing marks

Goldeneye: Despite some flaws, it’s a solid entry featuring great performances from the old and new

Tomorrow Never Dies: Features as many good moments as there is bad

The World Is Not Enough: Watchable but forgettable

Die Another Day: Starts out great, then gets bogged down with an overreliance of visual effects

Casino Royale: Even against 20 others before it, undoubtedly it’s one of the best

Quantum of Solace: Supercharged with action and a quest for revenge

Skyfall: Craig’s best bond film to date is also Bond’s

Reviewing Bond 8-15 (Movies #384-391)

I have to admit, the middle bond films starring Roger Moore didn’t really deliver in terms of story, but they have provided some of the more fun entries to the franchise. This was the era when everything was possible, with James performing stunts bordering on impossible. Yet with Moore’s charm and tongue-in-cheek portrayal of 007, it becomes tolerable…most of the time.

Surprisingly enough, the only film from 1973-1985 not to star Moore turned out as one of the best Bond films of the period: Never Say Never Again. With a 52-year old Sean Connery reprising James for the last time after his previous stint 12 years before, we got to see an ageing secret agent that is more intelligent and more human. The film itself wasn’t produced by Eon, meaning they had to make do without the same cast and themes. But the new opening sequence and actors accompanying the then-still charismatic Connery made things refreshing once again. It was a strong reminder that terms of performance, Sean is still the better Bond.

Much focus is still given to the characters in films 8-15. And while some of them weren’t all too necessary, there were some noteworthy performances that need to be highlighted later.

Ranking the Bond Films 8-15:

  1. 1.    The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – B
  2. 2.    Never Say Never Again (1983) – B
  3. 3.    For Your Eyes Only (1981) – B
  4. 4.    Live and Let Die (1973) – B-
  5. 5.    Moonraker (1979) – B-
  6. 6.    Octopussy (1983) – B-
  7. 7.    The Man With a Golden Gun (1974) – C-
  8. 8.    A View To A Kill (1985) – C-

Most of them were good save two subpar entries (which were absurd, poorly-conceived and badly acted), but none of them were all that great. Listed below are the best ones per category.

Criterion: Story, action, bond girls, bond villain, theme, acting, opening credits, and overall entertainment value

Story: The Spy Who Loved Me (runners-up: Never Say Never Again, Live and Let Die) – reminds me a lot of ‘From Russia with Love’ in a sense that it’s the most complete bond adventure among others, featuring a great plot where ridiculousness is restrained to a minimum.

Action: The Spy Who Loved Me (runners-up: Moonraker, Live and Let Die) – the winner had multiple settings to its advantage. Moonraker benefits from its space theme while the last one had Bond jumping crocodiles. Farfetched but entertaining nevertheless.

Bond Girls: For Your Eyes Only (runners-up: Live and Let Die, Moonraker) – Interesting enough, when Bond’s women don’t have their libidos set at max I tend to like them more. As was the case for Carole Bouquet as Havelock in FYEO, a beautiful woman out for revenge, and does it alluringly. Solitaire (Live and Let Die) and Holly Goodhead (Moonraker) deserve special mentions too.

Villain: The Spy Who Loved Me (runner-up: Never Say Never Again) – this film introduced one of the funniest villains in Bond history – JAWS! Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again features Largo, played strongly by Klaus Maria Brandauer.

Theme: Never Say Never Again (runner-up: Moonraker, Live and Let Die) – An ageing Bond struggling to fulfill his mission is compelling and intriguing. Points were given to the runners-up for their unique offerings (outer space and New Orleans).

Acting: For Your Eyes Only (runner-up: Never Say Never Again) – Roger Moore and Carole Bouquet provide strong performances and they click more than the others. While in NSNA, Connery and Brandauer were equally good at being in each other’s throats convincingly.

Opening Credits: Never Say Never Again (runners-up: Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me) – Skips the conventional credit sequence and heads straight to Bond infiltrating a base to the tune of ‘Never Say Never Again’, as equally good as The Beatles’ ‘Live and Let Die’ intro.

Overall Entertainment Value: The Spy Who Loved Me (runners-up: Never Say Never Again, For Your Eyes Only) – The three films have their own reasons why they’re solid films. The first took two spies around the world. The second banked on a fresh take on Bond. While the last had a great lady accompanying him that pretty much stole the show. But if I had to rank them, I have to put The Spy Who Loved Me on top, probably the second best film out of the first 15 next to ‘From Russia with Love’.

To conclude, here are my quick thoughts on each film:

Live and Let Die: Dark twists make this episode interesting

The Man with the Golden Gun: Sadly, the title is all there is

The Spy Who Loved Me: Reintroduces concepts from previous films to create a complete bond adventure

Moonraker: As ridiculous as it is fun, it succeeds in launch but goes slightly off course by the end

For Your Eyes Only: A solid addition to the franchise featuring one of the best bond girls yet

Never Say Never Again: Connery’s back and brings Bond back to tip-top shape

Octopussy: Craziness at an all-time high

A View to a Kill: Features absurd action amidst uninspired performances

Stay tuned for my view on the final set of bond films starring Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig!

Movie Review #383: The Wolverine

Interesting premise, poor execution

For a while I thought I was watching a superhero drama. Suddenly, yakuza thugs arrive to provide what we’re usually looking for with this type of film: mind-blowing action and visual effects. Those few fast-paced moments strangely enough did not seem to fit well in the story. In fact, the film focused more on telling a moment in Wolverine’s life that has little to do with beating up other mutants and more about the character. Rarely do blockbusters invest a considerable amount of time in a movie to explore someone’s backstory deeper. And I relish that idea even though it slows down the pace and there’s less things blowing up on screen.

Unfortunately, the interesting take on Logan is crippled by poor execution and serious pacing and tonal issues. It seemed that they were gunning for something that was meant to be an intelligent and different approach for a superhero movie, but was pressured to deliver the usual blockbuster requirements. It was awkward from the way the Japanese culture was integrated to the random shifts from drama to action. There were plenty of moments that could’ve been cut or replaced by something else. The screen time is incredibly long and I blame that on the frequent dialogues between Hugh Jackman and Tao Okamoto or Rila Fukishima, none of which was all that interesting (though I admit I’m stunned by Okamoto’s beauty). The chase scenes were unique and involving but they occur too haphazardly, and the finale ended up being formulaic and disappointing. What’s worse, the audiences were most interested when the end credits scene arrived. While I agree it was awesome, it reminded me of how disappointing The Wolverine really was. Fortunately the next outing, Days of Future Past, looks more promising. I just hope they execute it much better.

GRADE: C

Movie Review #382: Pacific Rim

Guillermo Del Toro’s childhood dream coming to life is met by a lot of setbacks

Pacific Rim delivers heart-pumping action on an epic scale, but it suffers from poor writing, overacting and ridiculous characters. Still entertaining, but the flaws spoil some of the fun.

With humans controlling giant robots fighting against colossal alien invaders, it felt like a kid playing was with his favorite toys. It’s pleasing and worthwhile to watch, but it also seemed like the script was made by a 10 year old. Some of the dialogue wasn’t well thought of, and plot developments meant to bring the story forward didn’t make any sense and could’ve been written better. In terms of execution, the visual aspect was beautifully done without a doubt. From the level of detail of the ocean to the use of major parts of the cities as a playground for destruction, you can’t help but be wowed by the amount of hardwork and effort exerted to make the effects and CGI perfect.

But you’d think they’d give the same effort for the other aspects of the movie. The casting is awful. What’s more, the characters the actors had to portray were even worse. The writers seemed very fixated on creating unrealistic, over-the-top personas and people will remember them for that and won’t even care what their names are. Idris Elba was only one who did okay, but I credit that to his loud voice more than anything.

Despite all that, I couldn’t shoot down the film completely. It’s harmless if you’re just searching for some good entertainment. You might even find pleasure looking for comedy in some unintended places in between the riveting action. It’s up to you if you’re willing to take the risk.

GRADE: C+

Reviewing the First Seven Bond Films (Movies #375-381)

From top left to bottom right: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig

I’m back and so is Bond

After having seen all six Star Wars films only this April, I was eager to try out another franchise I was particularly curious of: James Bond. My interest grew when I saw Skyfall (read my short review here) on IMAX, which was a delightful watch. It was also my #4 film of 2012 and I was among the group of people that felt it was deserving of its Academy Award wins (song and sound editing) and nomination (cinematography). But I also knew the franchise was 50 years old, which meant that 22 films stood in the way in my hope to complete the collection. So once I had copies, I just couldn’t resist checking them out immediately.

However, time is scarce and I don’t think I can commit to writing short individual reviews for each movie. And thus the reason for compiling them into sets. Nevertheless, I believe there’s still room for individual reviews in the future. As of now though, I’ll begin to explore the first seven films of 007, most of which were released in the 60’s: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever.

Poster of From Russia With Love, the second Bond film

A little bit of trivia: it’s interesting to note that Bond’s oldest escapades were released only a year apart, with Sean Connery playing the titular character back-to-back-to-back until the sixth outing, ‘Secret Service’, which was the lone movie George Lazenby starred in. Lazenby was eventually replaced by the former during ‘Diamonds’, which was the last time Connery reprised James until the arrival of the 1983 non-Eon production, Never Say Never Again. That’s a bit far from the timeline already though, so let’s head back.

Bond in the 60’s

The 1960s installments were a pleasant surprise for me. Usually I’m bothered by the outdated effects and technological constraints of older movies, but I didn’t have that sort of feeling this time. Perhaps I was distracted because I was entertained by the way they were made given the resources they had. I also enjoyed looking out for the recurring elements in Bond films: the stylish opening credits, the spotlight on bond while shooting his gun (and cueing the orchestra), the introduction of the Bond girls and villains, the close encounters of James and Miss Moneypenny, and the presentation of hi-tech gadgets by Q. All of those scenes seemed natural and witnessing how they did it the first time around caused me to smile quite a lot during my viewing experience. And they never seemed to get old, in the Connery era at least.

One of the franchise’s biggest flaws though, is its tendency to head towards implausibility. But the ridiculous aspect of Bond is something I’ve become accustomed to as time passed. Thankfully though, this problem was almost always saved by the charisma of 007 (with the exception of Lazenby, as I’m not really fond of his performance), the tongue-in-cheek dialogue and the unpredictability of how the story progresses – a positive by-product of its silliness. Sometimes the story becomes so unbelievable and stupid (You Only Live Twice), but they get away with it with the amount of entertainment they provide. Oh and of course, the women play a big part in my liking the films as well!

It’s also important to note that each film had its own theme and setting, which helps in trying to identify which stood out the most. I would personally recommend anyone to watch the old James Bond films, but you don’t necessarily have to see all of them as only a few happenings from previous entries are mentioned in the succeeding episodes.

The following is my individual ranking of the seven, based on suitable criteria I deemed appropriate, which I hope would aid you in determining which ones you should see. I’m not a big fan of spoiling a viewer’s experience, so if you’re interested to know the story, I leave it to your proficiency in using Google.

Ranking the First Seven Bond Films:

  1. 1.    From Russia With Love (1963) – B+
  2. 2.    Goldfinger (1964) – B
  3. 3.    You Only Live Twice (1967) – B
  4. 4.    Dr. No (1962) – B-
  5. 5.    Thunderball (1965) – C+
  6. 6.    On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – C
  7. 7.    Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – C

Criterion: Story, action, bond girls, bond villain, theme, acting, opening credits, and overall entertainment value

Notice how the films were ranked almost chronologically. Continue reading “Reviewing the First Seven Bond Films (Movies #375-381)”