A James Bond tournament? Like March Madness? “You must be joking.”
I never joke about my Magic Word, 007.
Indeed, given today’s encouraging news that Danny Boyle will “return” to direct Her Majesty’s favorite Double-O, coupled with this month’s classic competition, I decided to see which films could last the longest in this Scaramanga-style showdown: one on one, no Nick Nacks.
Here’s how it’ll run: From 1962 to 2015, 26 James Bond films were released. Only 24, however, are considered canon—i.e., those produced under the Broccoli family label. Those 24 are the competitors.
They’re ranked based on their Rotten Tomatoes critic scores. The one tie—the introductory “Dr. No” and its sequel “From Russia with Love,” both at 96 percent—was broken by the movie-going public, who gave the latter a 1-percent edge over the former’s 82 percent.
Because a 24-title tournament would’ve eventually resulted in an odd number of “games,” the top eight seeds received first-round byes. Only one Bond actor did not make it into the top eight—and the one who didn’t might surprise you.
Here are the current standings:
As to how the winners will be decided, well, that’s what the Magic Word is for. There will be favorites, there will be Cinderella stories—or would it be Solitaire stories? Regardless, only one will “live to die another day.” (I couldn’t resist.) Now, the Magic Word’s march through the MI6 madness:
Beyond the standard Bond staples, “You Only Live Twice” and “The World Is Not Enough” have something in common: They were Sean Connery’s and Pierce Brosnan’s second-to-last films, respectively. They also are among their least respected.
For Connery, “You Only Live Twice” ranks just above his “Diamonds Are Forever” finale, whereas Brosnan’s “World Is Not Enough” is rated (wrongly) below his last, “Die Another Day.” The films’ faults aren’t so much in their stars but in their formulaic structures—and the seeming fatigue they seem to inspire.
That Connery and Brosnan had such strong starts and sequels puts the odds for continued success outside their favor. Both needed the films that launched their predecessors’ runs. To see Connery’s Bond mourn Tracy and Brosnan’s avenge Vesper would’ve been a compelling—and quality—change of course for both actors. But, those cards were obviously cast to the letdown that was George Lazenby and the all-too-often downer that is Daniel Craig.
With what Connery and Brosnan were dealt, the former got the better hand.
On both staples and story, “You Only Live Twice” comes in first. Nancy Sinatra’s title track is melodically and elegantly memorable; “The World Is Not Enough’s” is Garbage (the band Garbage, that is; the song is quite good, just not as good as Sinatra’s). The villain, by comparison, is no contest: “You Only Live Twice” finally bares Blofeld, whereas “World’s” Renard has, literally and figuratively, no feeling—and evokes none. And although the story is a bit standard, “You Only Live Twice” at least takes Bond to a whole new world; “The World Is Not Enough” barely even tries, geographically, to be the tour that its title suggests.
Where Brosnan’s third gets the better of “Twice” is with its leading ladies. Sophie Marceau brings a somewhat unexpected shock to her role as Elektra King—and how her story concludes, by a bullet of Bond’s, is unexpectedly, and somewhat shockingly, cold for the boyishly behaving Double O. Denise Richards’s role, meanwhile, only sounds like death. She’s numbingly awful. However, her Dr. Christmas Jones character—that’s doctor, who’s a nuclear physicist, played by Denise Richards—does educe one of the best one-liner presents ever.
“The World Is Not Enough” also turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving—for writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The duo would write every Bond to follow and wrap each with the same predictable plot points and twists. Bond is betrayed (“The World Is Not Enough,” “Die Another Day,” “Casino Royale”), ally turns rogue (“Die Another Day,” “Skyfall,” “SPECTRE”), Bond goes rogue (“Die Another Day,” “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Skyfall,” “SPECTRE”).
Purvis and Wade will likely sit out Bond 25, with Danny Boyle taking on writing duties for the yet-to-be-named. And it’s because of them that “You Only Live Twice” gets to live up to—and potentially past—its name.
Winner: “You Only Live Twice”
“There’s no news like bad news,” notes Elliot Carver in “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Well, bad news for “The Living Daylights.” It won’t live to see tomorrow in this tournament.
“The Living Daylights” isn’t a bad movie necessarily. And it well outranks “Tomorrow Never Dies,” according to the critic consensus. But the critics at the time also might’ve been influenced by the laughably low bar that preceded it—see “A View to a Kill” below—a movie that would’ve scared the living daylights out of almost anyone.
“Tomorrow Never Dies,” by comparison, has the rich “GoldenEye” as its forebear. And with both in one’s sight, “Dies” is admittedly duller. But a bad Bond it is not either.
What then distinguishes the two? One man. Timothy Dalton? No. Pierce Brosnan? Please. It’s John Glen. The director, not astronaut. We’ll get to the latter come “Moonraker.”
In his five-picture run at the helm of Her Majesty’s most famous Double O, Glen brought much-needed grounding to the far-out franchise. But because a majority of his films occurred during the more fanciful Roger Moore administration, Glen might’ve also become too influenced by the late actor’s lighthearted approach.
Such mores worked with Moore. They don’t with the dourer Dalton.
And Dalton’s introduction as the new James Bond is also surprisingly dull. The first glimpse we get of just the fourth 007 is a quick flash of him watching a fellow agent fall to his death. Brosnan has a more impressive intro in his sequel. The only aha moment in “The Living Daylights” opening comes from the band, whose title track does top “Tomorrow’s.” Sorry, Sheryl.
Then there’s the bad guys. “The Living Daylights” has two, both of whom are so forgettable that one was later cast as a benevolent backer of Bond’s in “GoldenEye” and “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Elliot Carver, on the other hand, is the uncredited father of fake news—a maleficent media mogul played memorably by Jonathan Pryce. And his story is particularly prescient.
As is Michelle Yeoh’s—the first Bond Girl who proves to be more help than helpless. As Chinese agent Wai Lin, she’s really the first in the franchise to equal James in skills—and absolutely exceed him in stunts (with Yeoh performing her own).
Though it is in “The Living Daylights” where the secret agent’s stunts really soar. Having been released in 1987, it was too early for computer graphics, resulting in some of the most rousing action sequences in the series’ 24-film span. The concluding cargo plane combat scene inspires pure awe and admiration.
And it does make for a fun film. Both “The Living Daylights” and “Tomorrow Never Dies” are two of the better Bond outings. But for its more serious spirit and foresighted story, the underrated “Tomorrow Never Dies” takes the lede.
Winner: ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’
When compared with “A View to a Kill,” we don’t really need to spend time on how much better “GoldenEye” is, do we? “Oh please, James, put it away.” OK, good.
Roger Moore’s last hurrah as 007 is a beautiful disaster, with Commander Bond’s camp at its zenith. So much so that, within four minutes of “A View to a Kill’s” opening, the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” awkwardly accompanies Bond’s snowboarding escape from those sinister Soviets—or, as one YouTuber aptly called it, “The Worst James Bond Music Moment Ever.”
And in this zenith comes Zorin. Max Zorin, a Silicon Valley tycoon in cahoots with the Russians. (What is it with Silicon Valley leaders with the last name Z having their businesses be nefariously used by the Russians?)
But whereas Mark Zuckerberg got Jesse Eisenberg as his likeness, the fictional Zorin gets Christopher Walken. Like. He’s the best part of “A View to a Kill,” to be sure, as a golden-locks rip-off of Auric Goldfinger.
And “A View to a Kill” really is Moore’s version of “Goldfinger,” though much, much worse—think of it as “Bronzefinger” or, better yet, “Certificate-of-Participation-finger.” Still, there’s something enjoyable about it.
“A View to a Kill” at least continues director John Glen’s attempt to scale back the secret agent’s adventures from the ridiculous—see “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker”—to the more grounded. Glen directed Moore’s best, “For Your Eyes Only,” as well as Moore’s predecessor’s two entries—all of which are far more realistic, serious, and gritty.
Speaking of rough, Bond Girl Tanya Roberts joins the poorer pantheon of actresses whose physical talents far exceed their acting ones. A quick aside along those lines, with Pierce Brosnan’s 20th-anniversary “Die Another Day” taking elements from every previous Bond film, I’ve often wondered if casting Halle Berry was its nod to “A View to a Kill.”
But like Roberts, “A View to a Kill” is so bad it’s good. There’s something oddly welcoming about Moore’s finale. As the funny, lighthearted Bond, Moore always was the most approachable. And at 57, Moore in “A View to a Kill” has an even warmer, more welcoming feel. Indeed, at almost 30 years Roberts’ senior, their relationship seems—and probably should be—more father-daughter reconciliation than player-damsel fornication.
If there were a losers Bond Bracket, it’s highly likely “A View to a Kill” would take the prize. But, alas, there isn’t. And if any film in the Bond Bracket has a best “View to a Kill,” it’d be the “GoldenEye.”
Daniel Craig’s worst Bond outings have the same enemy: a group that foments frustration and confusion on a global scale. No, no, no, not SPECTRE, even though the terrorist organization technically was behind the events of “Quantum” and every other Craig outing. Rather, the writers.
With “Quantum,” the bare-bones script reportedly showed up two hours before the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild strike commenced. And it shows. The first Bond film to continue its predecessor’s storyline feels more like an addendum than a solid standalone. And the Bond staples—the bad guy, the Bond Girl, the theme song—are particularly forgettable. Speaking of the title track, Bond alumna Shirley Bassey offered a compelling recording, which was rejected in favor of the Alicia Keys-Jack White disast, er, duet. About the only slick element of “Quantum” was the oil-covered Strawberry Fields, an homage to the gold-plated killings by Auric Goldfinger. But even that is unlikely to evoke any lasting fondness or future flattery à la an Austin Powers baddie – “I love oooil.” Too crude? Yeah, that’s what good writers are for.
Whereas “Quantum of Solace” doesn’t really know where it wants to go, “SPECTRE” has the opposite problem: It knows exactly what it wants to do and spends far too long uncovering a mystery, which, to many, isn’t a mystery at all. With the title of “SPECTRE” and the casting of Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, only a juvenile cinephile wouldn’t know Waltz is going to play one of the most classic film villains of all time: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (or the basis for “Dr. Evil” for you younger readers). As Sam Smith sang in the worst Bond theme ever, “the writing’s on the wall.” (And as “Star Trek Into Darkness” showed two years earlier, this is the Kahn-undrum of these incessant reboots/remakes: While notes of nostalgia might create initial interest, they better be a part of an overall quality composition to elicit repeated viewings and/or broader appeal.)
Despite that and one of the worst lines in any Bond movie—“But then isn’t that what ‘M’ stands for…‘moron’?”—there are more good parts in “SPECTRE” than there are in “Quantum”: the Day of the Dead opening, the Rome car chase, Dave Bautista as Hinx, Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography, and Bond’s bold decision on the bridge. Also, like Shirley Bassey’s rejected—and better—theme for “Quantum of Solace,” “SPECTRE” had an amazing title-song entry that, too, was rejected, this time for subpar Smith’s. Radiohead released the track on Christmas Day. The buzzer beater for Bond’s latest.