Today sees the release of Spectre, the 24th film in the iconic James Bond film franchise. Forever legal battles and ownership rights, it seems like everything is in order and we will finally see the official return of Spectre, the villainous organisation that rose to prominence early in the 007 movie franchise, over 50 years ago.
And what a 50 years it has been. Six men, an abundance of incredible women, fast cars, cruel villains, and adrenaline-pumping scenes of action have brought author Ian Fleming’s creation to this very point in 2015, as popular as ever and a proven box-office draw. I’m personally excited for the new film and more than ready for another 50 years of excitement, suspense, intrigue and people whining over theme songs and casting decisions.
The 007 franchise has most definitely had its peaks and troughs, some of the entries in this long-running series are fantastic, some are truly awful. It’s asking for trouble to boldly proclaim which, anyone writing as such would clearly be fishing for Internet furore. But I, as a passionate, lifelong fan still maintain the ability to be realistic about quality.
So I humbly offer up five of the best from Britain’s greatest export. Safe in the knowledge that, whatever your opinion, we’re all in agreement that Die Another Day fucking sucks.
Pay attention, 007..
Casino Royale (2006)
Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel was chosen as the story to launch Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. Fighting ridiculous and callous internet bullshit, Craig proved himself the man for the role, arguably the best man in the role, in this suspenseful tale of Bond’s first “00” assignment. Eva Green is brilliant as Vesper Lynd, one of the most important women who will ever enter Bond’s life, and the two work together in efforts to bankrupt the villainous Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson) via a high stakes poker game.
With a fantastic opening, breathtaking action and an overall high-quality standard of production, script-writing and direction like never before in the franchise, Casino Royale brought Bond into the new world with style and class.
It is not just a five-star Bond film, it’s a five-star film.
From Russia With Love (1963)
A flawless Cold-War adventure. Bond is tasked with recovering a Soviet decoding device, getting involved with a naive Russian agent (Daniela Bianchi) and a merciless assassin. Sean Connery looks great and is tightly focused on the role, probably the only time in the series he wouldn’t show signs of boredom.
We get our first proper glimpse of the SPECTRE hierarchy, as well as some hard-hitting combat, majestic location photography and tense scenes of espionage and mystery. The gypsy camp sequence is superb and Bond’s fight with Red Grant (Robert Shaw) aboard the Orient Express is easily one of the best scraps in the entire franchise.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Thrust into a starring role beyond his abilities, George Lazenby relies on his natural arrogance, suave charms and excellent physical acting skills to come out swinging (literally) One of the most important chapters in the telling of the James Bond story, Lazenby’s minor dramatic shortcomings are hidden behind razor-sharp editing, a pulse-pounding score and brutal hand-to-hand fight scenes. Diana Rigg steals the show as Tracy Di Vicenzo, who will become one of the architects of Bond’s psychological makeup. An always moving finale.
Mildly let down by its late 60’s sensibilities, OHMSS still remains an engaging and entertaining thriller. Mocked only by the fans who, frankly, don’t know what they’re talking about.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Roger Moore’s finest hour. Sandwiched between the atrocious Moonraker and Golden Gun entries, Moore gets Bond back in uniform and back to business. With an array of stunning set-pieces, globe-trotting locations and mind-blowing stunts (including the famous Union Jack parachute drop) TSWLM is one of the most luxurious, feature-filled and elegant entries.
Villain Jaws is treated with horror sensibilities, and as such is frightening and effective. The underwater Lotus Espirit is a gorgeous and fascinating device and Barbara Bach is one the franchise most glamorous leading ladies. Absolutely the most fun and excessively spectacular entry.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Where’s Goldfinger? Yeah.. I know.
Honestly, I think Goldfinger is a collection of iconic images and memories, linked by a tepid storyline. You Only Live Twice however, is the culmination of those ideas, but mixed with a sharper pace, a more active 007 and more interesting locations.
Bond in charged with investigating hijacked satellites, with the trail leading him to Japan, and the door of SPECTRE’s No.1: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) who is hiding out in a dormant volcano, planning to instigate World War 3. YOLT is a gorgeous movie, from its luscious aerial photography and graceful score to the natural beauty of 1960’s Japan that is present throughout. The film is a wondrous travelogue of the Far East, starkly punctuated by scenes of bleak violence, vehicular mayhem and traitorous allegiances, all leading to a memorable, explosive finale and a really, really grumpy cat.
Daniel Craig’s 007 is married to Sean Connery’s Bond blueprint, with excellent results. Excellent support from Naomie Harris, Javier Bardem, Berenice Marlohe and Judi Dench. Great opening and awesome Shanghai sequences.
Licence To Kill (1989)
Timothy Dalton’s Bond headbutts his way to glory in this action-packed thriller. Carey Lowell’s Pam Bouvier is one of the series best female roles.
Dr. No (1962)
An intriguing espionage thriller. Well-paced, stylishly shot, great music. Way ahead of its time and featuring now legendary moments, Dr. No is a worthy opening for the series.
Bond franchise is rescued when all doubted its future. Pierce Brosnan excels in the role he was born to play. Some of it has dated terribly, but it’s always rewatchable. Music during the Ferrari chase is the worst music ever committed to film.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Completely underrated. Brutal and well-paced. Bond gets his shit together. Olga Kurylenko is my favourite “Bond girl” to date. QoS is a streamlined rest-stop between the grandeur of the films bookmarking it.
The entire James Bond film series is available on Blu-Ray and DVD