The Good, The Bad & The Badass: James Bond
As far as fanboys go, I'm a bit of an oddball. In my teen years I was as big of a fan of franchises like STAR TREK or STAR WARS as anyone, but the James Bond films were always my true obsession. At thirty-four years old, I've – in a way – let go of most of my fan obsessions. While I still enjoy the heck out genre films and all the franchises I followed as a kid, I'm no longer as fervent about any of them – with the exception of the James Bond franchise. Despite everything, I've stayed a die-hard 007 devotee. I absolutely worship the franchise, and I'm a hardcore fan to the point that a whole wall of my apartment is covered with posters for Roger Moore Bond films. I've also had the same posters of GOLDFINGER and ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE hanging in my various homes since I was fifteen, and wherever I go, they come with me.
So why is it I'm so obsessed with Bond? For one thing, there's a simple reason the Bond franchise has endured while so many others have fallen by the wayside. It's Bond's malleability. The simplicity of Ian Fleming's creation has made him a “man for all seasons” in that every generation reinvents the character to suit the times. That's why so many actors have succeeded as 007, in that he can be endlessly reinterpreted, just as long as you keep the basics – guns, gadgets and girls (and a vodka martini – shaken, not stirred). P.C? Hardly. But hey, it's been fifty plus years, so something must be working.
Each actor who's played the role has been great in some way. I've always said that all the other actors played Bond, but Sean Connery was Bond, and in a way that's true. It's his interpretation that set the mold. It helped that Connery was a legit actor who brought not only a tongue-in-cheek sense of impishness to the part, but also could stop on a dime and evoke a more ruthless side of 007 many other Bond actors have struggled with. That's the criticism most bombard Roger Moore with – who was the second major interpreter of the character. The fact is, Moore and Connery had widely different styles, and for what he did, Moore was brilliant and at seven films over twelve years, he played it longer and more often than anyone else (although if you include the rogue NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN Connery made just as many).
Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan are more divisive Bonds. While Dalton's generally considered to have been ahead of his time, during his short run as Bond, fans and critics attacked him somewhat, although both of his movies (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS & LICENCE TO KILL) have held up well over the years and are now considered minor classics of the series. The opposite is true for Pierce Brosnan, whose films were wildly popular with fans, critics and the general audience, but now are mostly considered the series' creative nadir (minus GOLDENEYE – which holds up well).
Once Brosnan's run ended, the time was right for a change, and Daniel Craig had to take his lumps with fans and the press after being announced for the part. Naturally, he wound up proving all naysayers wrong, with two of his three outings (CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL) being considered among the very best 007 films. With SPECTRE already garnering raves, Craig truly is a rough and tough man of action for our era. He brings pathos to the part, and gives the role a unique vibe that's all his. However, I have no doubt that after Craig moves on, another actor will come along and give the role a whole-new-vibe of his own, as that's just how the character works. Actors and directors come and go, but Bond (as well as the Broccoli family) is forever. As Carly Simon sang, “Nobody Does It Better.”
The franchise's oddest conundrum is that the best Bond film of them all happens to feature the least memorable Bond. After Sean Connery hung up his holster (for the first time) following YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Australian model George Lazenby was signed to play Bond. He only wound up making one movie, but it was a humdinger. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE is the undisputed Bond masterpiece, being a dazzling mixture of action, adventure, thriller, drama – and with a notable love story to boot. Everything about this movie is superb, from Peter Hunt's amazing action direction, to the gorgeous 2:35:1 scope photography to the score by John Barry (possibly his best). For his part, Lazenby isn't perfect. He was an amateur at this point, but he looked great in a tux and moved very well in the action scenes. He could have been a lot worse, and while he doesn't have the presence of Connery or the charm of Moore, he was good enough that the film doesn't really suffer from his presence. This is the most obscure film in the series, but it's also the best.
People often claim Roger Moore's finest hour as James Bond was his first outing, LIVE AND LET DIE. I've never understood why people would think this. While it's reasonably entertaining and has a kick-ass theme song (Wings!), the movie itself is highly uneven, and Moore wasn't really comfortable in the part yet. For my money, he wasn't really a great Bond until he did THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. That said, LIVE AND LET DIE is still a hell of a lot better than THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.
Speaking of Rog, I've always had a major soft spot for OCTOPUSSY. While some fans despise it because Bond (gasp) wears clown makeup at one point, I've always found it to be one of the most creative and action-packed installments of the series. Made in the wake of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, the Spielberg influence is heavy in this one, with it being a kind of “James Bond by way of Indiana Jones” style outing. I've always loved it, and it's worth noting that not only did it out-gross Sean Connery's hyped return to the part, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (which came out in the same year), but until GOLDENEYE in 1995, it was the series highest grosser. It's a gem. Still, Moore should have hung it up after this, as by the time he did A VIEW TO A KILL two years later he was way too old.
Given the franchise's half-century history, it's all-but-impossible to chose one signature James Bond moment. That's why it's rather handy that three years ago – coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the series and the release of SKYFALL – our ace video editor, Nick Bosworth – put together this amazing, thirteen minute tribute to the greatest action hero of all time.
9. LICENCE TO KILL
6. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS
5. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME
4. CASINO ROYALE
2. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
1. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE
With SPECTRE just a few days away and primed to break box office records, James Bond 007 is as big as he's ever been. While it's unknown if Daniel Craig will strap on a Walther PPK again, whether he does or not, as the closing credits always promise, “James Bond will return.”
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