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