I asked Dan over at Public Transportation Snob to help me out with a guest post to conclude my James Bond run, which occasion he rose to magnificently. As a blogger following this run, he is one of the few who has watched them all, and I thought that he would be very well suited to help me out. If you aren’t already following his blog, go check it out!
5. Quantum of Solace (2008)
The deck was stacked against Daniel Craig’s second outing as Bond right from the start. Both mainstream audiences and diehard fans loved Casino Royale. The expectations were high for the follow-up, and a step backwards was no surprise. It has story issues and a mediocre villain, but there’s still plenty to like. The opening car chase throws us right back into the action and connects well to the end of the previous movie. Marc Forster’s more frenetic shooting style is a bit much, but it injects major energy into the opening scene. There’s also an interesting cat-and-mouse game at the gorgeous opera stage in Bregenz, Austria and impressive stunts throughout the film. Criticisms focused on the villain’s meager plans, but that isn’t really the point. The focus stays on Bond’s emotional state after Vesper’s betrayal, and we’ve never seen this type of approach in the franchise. It doesn’t totally work, and the writer’s strike definitely harmed the script. Even so, the nastiness leveled at this film is way more than it deserves. It’s well above the bottom level of Bond films. Has anyone watched Diamonds Are Forever lately?
4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
George Lazenby’s one appearance as Bond is pretty much a straight adaptation of Ian Fleming’s source novel. It’s a rare case where the main plot (and the heartbreaking ending) wasn’t dramatically changed by the filmmakers. Admittedly, Lazenby is a bit flat compared to Connery and doesn’t exude the same physicality. Even so, he makes Bond more vulnerable and matches the story’s tone. Diana Rigg is an excellent choice to play Tracy, and Telly Savalas is easily the best Blofeld. The action scenes are inspired, particularly the climactic bobsled chase down a mountain. It’s a step above both Connery films that surround it (You Only Live Twice and Diamonds are Forever) and ends with a brutal gut punch. It would have been interesting to see if Lazenby’s reputation would have grown if he hadn’t stepped aside following this movie. He had little experience and might have done better with a second try.
3. The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton arrived with great fanfare after Roger Moore finally exited, but he only appeared in two films. Despite that limited timeframe, both are stellar entries and deserve more credit. One of the reasons they’re dismissed is the topical connection with the issues of the time. This film has Bond still dealing with Cold War issues and even helping the Afghan resistance battle the Soviets. It also has more romance and spends time building his relationship with Kara Milovy (Olivia d’Abo). Despite Joe Don Baker’s cartoonish main villain, this movie feels more like a classic spy adventure than its recent predecessors. Dalton isn’t as physically imposing as Craig, but he’s an accomplished actor who makes the character feel real. The action remains solid, particularly a high-flying airplane battle over the desert. It’s an entertaining movie that set the stage for the more daring follow-up two years later.
2. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Despite having some truly painful sequences (the Blofeld opening, everything with Bibi), Roger Moore’s fifth appearance is one of his best. It responds to the ridiculous excesses of Moonraker by putting Bond in a more low-key setting. It includes a rare moment when Moore gets his hands dirty, and the proper actor didn’t like it. When Bond vindictively kicks a hoodlum’s car down the hill, it’s a rare moment where this version of the character shows the rough edges of the original incarnation. It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. The major action sequence has Bond skiing down a bobsled ramp while being chased by a motorcycle. It’s a ludicrous scene that’s fun without drifting too far into camp. This film walks that line better than most and stands just behind The Spy Who Loved Me in the Moore rankings. He should have quit after this one.
1. Licence to Kill (1989)
Dalton has plenty of fans, but the general consensus still regards his second appearance as a failure. It was a box-office disappointment for the series but arrived during the crazy movie summer of 1989. Before Craig, this was the best example of a tougher Bond that connected to Fleming’s version of the character. Bond kills without remorse and brutally goes on a personal vendetta after Robert Davi’s vicious drug lord. Dalton sells the anger and brings some much-needed weight to the role. Who knows where he would have gone with another film? The final tanker truck chase is one of the series’ greatest action sequences and includes remarkable practical effects. By the time Bond and Sanchez face off in the end, the stakes are off the charts. While the drug lord plot puts the story firmly in 1989, it remains effective today. Davi creates one of the great Bond villains, and Dalton matches him to great effect. The result is a hugely undervalued film that deserves a lot more attention.