Wednesday, 22 February 2017

00 Zero: The Worst Bond Movies

James Bond fans all have their bete noir of the franchise. These movies are mine.

The Man With The Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton, 1974)

I know there are fans of this movie. They are insane.

This movie takes one of the best villains in the series and anchors him to a dead weight of a script and a director who is clearly checked-out.

This movie features two of the most comatose women in the Bond series -- when critics (justly) charge the series with two-dimensional female characters, this is the prime example.

The primary flaw is the script. Originally, the story was solely based around Bond's duel with Scaramanga. Perhaps fearing that this premise strayed too far from the formula, the producers demanded rewrites which forced the addition of a MacGuffin for Bond and his nemesis to fight over.

The Solex agitator, a gizmo reflecting the energy crisis of the early seventies, is singularly uninspired. More importantly, it distracts from the contest between Bond and the villain, padding out the narrative and sapping the story of any sense of momentum. Simply put, the addition of this gadget throws the movie's focus, and it winds up feeling a bit aimless.

On top of that, we also get unnecessary set pieces (the kung fu school; the car chase with Sheriff JW Pepper) which add nothing to the story.

To see the ways in which these duelling plot lines cancel each other out, take another look at the climax. We get a luncheon between hero and villain, which teases the dichotomy that was clearly the original intent of the early scripts. This is followed by the duel, which while a bit underwhelming, is totally serviceable: the trick with swapping out the wax dummy is one of the few high points of the movie.

What ruins it is that we then have to get through a second climax, so that Bond can retrieve the Solex. Since the villain has been vanquished, this is just pointless time-wasting with no sense of tension.

Lots of Bond movies have garbage scripts, but they can be saved by some flashes of style. Not here. The whole movie is let down by extremely slack direction from Guy Hamilton, who was clearly sleepwalking through the picture (considering this was his third in a row, it's easy to see why the movie feels so tired).

While not as egregious as later films in the franchise, Golden Gun is profoundly un-involving. Moore and Lee deserve better.

Moonraker (Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

Moonraker is another movie with fans. I'm guessing they use this movie to cure their insomnia, because this movie is BORING.

On top of being mind-numbingly formulaic, the film moves at a snail's pace -- you can actually hear room tone during the dialogue scenes, that's how slow this movie is. The final space battle, which is supposed to be the action highpoint, is also slow and goes on too long. When Drax's space station explodes, it seems to go on for what feels like two hours.

On top of all that, series MVP John Barry's score is far too stately and string-driven. Moonraker marks the point where Barry ditched the brass, and emphasised the strings. His latter scores suffer a bit from this change. The music is not bad (the Space March is great) but it only adds to the movie's pacing problems.

Though Michael Lonsdale offers a few sardonic one-liners, his Hugo Drax lacks personality, and just comes off as 'stock Bond villain'. That description extends to the rest of the cast. Moore and co-star Lois Chiles have no chemistry. The age gap does not help either.

I have to say Moore is singularly unlikable here. The writing is the culprit here -- Bond comes across as a gormless chauvinist with none of Moore's trademark charm or the witty repartee that made his Bond watchable. It's probably the Hamilton effect -- four movies in, Moore was probably a bit bored.

A dull, soulless re-tread of its predecessor, Moonraker is filled with stuff which should be fun, but it just lies there like an open can of sardines.

A View To Kill (John Glen, 1985)

Sorry Roger, I love ya but this one is just heinous.

This movie holds the dubious distinction of being the one I've seen the least. I watched it once when I was younger, and once again at the start of last year. And my feelings remain the same: it is terrible. A View To A Kill is the cinematic equivalent of purgatory -- it feels like nine hours of aimless wondering with no goals or points of reference.

Chris Walken and Grace Jones are often heralded as saving graces, but that's a low bar. They get nothing interesting to do, beyond the occasional bit of business. Walken appears to be checked out for most of the movie, while Jones gets scuppered by the horrifically stupid script.

In their favour, they do manage to be more sympathetic than Tanya Roberts' Stacey Sutton, a character so stupid and loathsome she rivals Kate Capshaw from Temple of Doom as one of the most regressive and annoying female leads of all time.

I'm not even going to touch Moore's age. It is what it is.

As with all these movies, the script is the real villain. It really is just a series of pointless tangents, with no sense of momentum or peril -- we spend what feels like three years at Zorin's estate where he breeds race horses, and then move on to San Francisco, where more inconsequential bullshit happens. We do get introduced to leading lady Stacey, but then spend the rest of the movie hoping Mayday or Zorin will get rid of her.

And then something about a mine blowing up. And Mayday saves the day. And Stacey doesn't hear the massive blimp behind her and gets captured. So Bond goes after them and the movie finally ends in the most un-engaging  end fight between Zorin and Bond on top of the Golden Gate bridge.

I still cannot believe that Duran Duran's theme song is associated with this movie, because its quality is directly inverse to the awesomeness of the title song.

Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002)

Lazy. That's the word that I associate with this movie. It's just a childish collection of cliches thrown together with no care or passion.

Tomorrow Never Dies is a bit formulaic, but it has a sense of fun. The World Is Not Enough is a mess, but it has ambition and ideas. This movie is just junk.

It starts with the pre-credits sequence. First is the garbage techno music over the gunbarrel, then there is the surfing into North Korea.

Then we get the hovercraft chase, a boring overlong set piece which feels like a missing scene from a Michael Bay movie. And to top it all off, it ends with that excruciating line: 'Saved by the bell!' Spoken after Bond is literally saved by a bell.

The movie is rife with terrible one-liners. They don't even rate as puns. Every character sounds like they were written by a 12 year old who wanted to write James Bond fan fiction.

The acting is appalling -- Brosnan and Halle Berry appear to be acting in different movies -- heck, they seem to be acting in different languages. Toby Stephens manages to be even more cartoonish than Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies -- and far less fun to watch.

The gadgets are pointless -- sure the invisible car is dumb, but they don't even use it in an interesting way. It just drives around an igloo for a bit, and then the invisibility cloak disappears and it turns into a regular gadget-based super-car.

The CGI is godawful and omnipresent. David Arnold's score is working overtime to try and save the movie, but it does not come off.

Director Lee Tamahori's stylistic choices (especially the speed ramping and fast cutting) don't feel Bondian at all. It feels like a substandard action movie from the early noughties. Bond movies are at their worst when they are simply cribbing from other movies, and Die Another Day is a magnificently horrible example of this strategy at its worst.

Like the other movies on this list, Die Another Day is an example of the Bond franchise reaching the end of its rope: benefit of ideas, energy and relevance, the series was in need of a break and a re-think. I guess we can be thankful for that.

Previous reviews

Diamonds Are Forever

For Your Eyes Only


The Living Daylights

Tomorrow Never Dies

The World Is Not Enough

Casino Royale

Quantum of Solace

Spectre (2015); (2016)

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