Top 10: The Best Of Bond

From 1962 to 2012, viewers have enjoyed fifty years of the James Bond film franchise, watching numerous actors fill the shoes of the devilishly debonair superspy also known by MI6’s secretive moniker, 007. This past weekend, the series’ newest entry, the Sam Mendes-directed Skyfall, destroyed the box office with $87.8 million, setting a new record for the franchise with outstanding reviews nearly across the board (read my own review here). As a celebration for the excellent new Bond entry, Reel Reaction concludes its James Bond coverage with my Top 10 James Bond Films list. Did your favorite Bond film make the list? Which ones did I forget? How closely do my favorites match yours?

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10. The Living Daylights (1987)

The Basics: Directed by John Glen, The Living Daylights marks Timothy Dalton’s debut as James Bond, facing off against General Georgi Koskov, a supposedly defective KGB agent who turns out to still be working for the Soviets and a treasonous American arms dealer and war-obsessed military exile, Brad Whitaker. The scheme, involving dangerous weapons exchanges and the opium drug trade with detrimental global effects, leads Bond to Afghanistan, with the gorgeous, mysterious, and talented assassin/cellist, Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), where he accompanies a helpful group of freedom fighters to stop the Russians and eventually puts a crushing end to Whitaker’s life.

Pros: After Roger Moore’s departure from the franchise, following a seven-film reign, the youthful looking Timothy Dalton inherited the role and presented a drastically different kind of Bond than Moore ever attempted to portray. Dalton’s straight-faced, brooding Bond wasn’t concerned with the light-hearted playfulness that was so prevalent in the Moore installments; Bond was a more frightening and relentless figure void of humor and traditional wit. Dalton proved he could not only play Bond but had the potential to change Bond, and that desire to return to the Fleming roots of Bond resonates through his excellent performance. Regarding d’Abo, her Kara is a great physical representation of a Bond girl, she’s undeniably cute and has a sensitive sexiness about her, and she’s one of the most prominent Bond girls being introduced in the film’s first few minutes and remaining present throughout, her and Bond even get locked in a jail together for a short while. The end of the 80’s brought cultural changes, like the Soviet-Afghani conflict, and Timothy Dalton’s first outing as 007 absorbs a lot of those current events into its plotline culminating with Bond riding into battle with Mujahedeen…

Cons: The above plot development is a key reason why this film is terribly dated. Twenty-five years ago, it would be the more desirable scenario to see Bond fighting alongside the Afghani freedom fighters than, say, the Soviets, but in today’s world it would be franchise killing to have Bond sympathizing with the Taliban or al Qaeda. Of course, the film is representative of the time, but the changes that the world has gone through since 1987 have not allowed The Living Daylights to stand the test of time too well. Back to d’Abo’s Kara, her pervasive presence would be a greater strength if she was far more useful and less helpless. In hero opening moments, she has a sniper scope set on Koskov and Bond decides to simply injure her with a bullet to the arm as opposed to taking her out completely. After this interesting expositional plot point, she kind of just walks around with Bond looking pretty. Also, they don’t face strong opposition from the weak and whiny Koskov or the underdeveloped Whitaker; the lack of villainous strength in The Living Daylights prohibits the strong film from being even stronger.

Top 3 Moments: The attack on an MI6 safehouse by Koskov’s henchman, Necros, using grenades concealed in glass bottles of milk; Bond and Kara use the case for Kara’s cello to sled down a snow-covered hill avoiding bullets from Russian goons (the cello isn’t as lucky, taking a few shots intended for the duo), Bond’s sky-high fight against Necros while they cling to a cargo net containing bags of opium that is dangling out of the cargo hold of a flying airplane – oh yea, one of those opium bags contains a ticking bomb. One of the series’ most nerve-racking action scenes, talk about intense!

Rating: B, it’s got some glaring problems but Dalton’s forcefulness embedded within his demeanor and super seriousness performance make for a whole new generation of Bond and seeped into later performers, Pierce Brosnan and, especially, Daniel Craig. The action is explosive and brutal, including a phenomenal pre-credits scene, but there’s not too much at stake due to poorly constructed and utilized villains. Nonetheless, it’s definitely a strong intro to the short-lived era of Timothy Dalton as James Bond.

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9. Live and Let Die (1973)

The Basics: Introducing Roger Moore as the third actor to portray Ian Fleming’s MI6 agent, James Bond, we follow 007 to Harlem in search of a notorious street thug who has placed highly addictive heroin into the food distributed by his fast food chains. His search leads him to the fictional island of San Monique, where he encounters Mr. Big, the secret identity of the evil, UN representative, Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), and his two henchmen: the claw-armed Tee Hee Johnson and the supernatural Baron Samedi. Here, Bond also encounters Kananga’s fortune-teller, an insightful virgin named Solitaire (Jane Seymour) who joins forces with Bond to stop Kananga drug-centered scheme.

Pros: Live and Let Die is the perfect example of sheer Bond entertainment. It’s cheesy, it’s innuendo-filled, it places itself far away from realism, and it incorporates a number of elements from the popular subgenre of the early 1970’s, Blaxploitation. From beginning to end, despite its obvious problems, it’s smiling, bubbly fun even though the original character of Bond is anything but smiling and bulbbly. Moore, already at age 45, provides a solid introduction to his ever lasting reign as 007, plus his co-star, Jane Seymour, is absolutely stunning. There’s also a fantastic boat chase sequence and Yaphet Kotto is a star at scene-chewing. And I’m sure you’ve all heard Paul McCartney’s title track, which is the best opening theme song to any Bond film ever.

Cons: The Connery era had ended and Bond the Playboy had arrived. Live and Let Die set a precedent for the next twelve years of Bond and they are not fondly recollected upon. As good as Kotto is on screen, Dr. Kananga isn’t the most memorable of villains and his plot is annoyingly weak (a variation of this plot runs through the satirical Black Dynamite) and his death scene is so unrealistically pathetic (he inflates and pops, literally, like a balloon). Finally, why is Sheriff J.W. Pepper involved in this movie at all? The personification of comic relief just comes off as tasteless and unnecessary.

Top 3 Moments: The unsettling reveal that Mr. Big is just Dr. Kananga wearing a prosthetic mask; the thrilling boat chase; the epitome of the Roger Moore Bond, he uses a conveniently placed path of crocodile heads as a bridge to escape the sandbar in Kananga’s swamp where Kananga & Co. believe he will be eaten alive by crocodiles. When will the villains learn?

Rating:B, the tongue is placed firmly in cheek on this one with subgenre borrowings to spare. Live and Let Die is silly and brought viewers into an era of silliness, but it showed that Bond films could be entertainment no matter how each of them were drawn. We can blame Live and Let Die for Moonraker, but we can also thank it for The Spy Who Loved Me and the most memorable song by Paul McCartney & Wings ever.

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8.  From Russia With Love (1963)

The Basics: Directed by Terrence Young, this second James Bond feature – transitively, the second performance by Sean Connery as Bond – has ultra-terrorism group SPECTRE concocting a vengeful plan to eliminate 007 after his involvement in the failure of Dr. No’s plan and the murder of Dr. No himself. Taking place during the Cold War, SPECTRE’s Number 3, Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), plans on publicly exposing the British agents romantic encounters with Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), a cypher clerk employed by the Russian consulate in Istanbul, causing a crippling ripple through both national powers. To finish, Klebb has hired a specialized assassin, Red Grant (Robert Shaw), to take out Bond once and for all. Unfortunately, Bond and Romanova team up to destroy SPECTRE’s revenge plot by eliminating Grant, the team of henchmen sent after them in patrol boats, and Klebb herself instigating the foil-istic connection between James Bond and the head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Pros: Connery proves his casting as Bond is pitch-perfect. For a long time, From Russia With Love was overshadowed by the original Bond flick, Dr. No, and by its own follow-up, Goldfinger, widely considered the most classic Bond film. However, Connery’s performance in From Russia With Love is of a different caliber than any of his later performances. He’s tough and gritty and unafraid of getting his hands dirty. This is a representation of the Bond character of Fleming’s novel, as opposed to what Roger Moore or even Pierce Brosnan did to the character, and is comparable to what Timothy Dalton was looking to do in the late 80’s and what Daniel Craig does even more successfully in the contemporary films. The intelligence behind this film is also notable, as it much more plot-based and demonstrates a better sense of realism than the films that followed, plus it’s void of the eventual excessive gadgetry and hokey, upbeat tone thus riding on Connery’s charm and the meticulous direction and plot progression, based on Fleming’s book of the same name – the novel that President John F. Kennedy claimed was the best book he ever read and provoked Fleming to continue writing Bond novels (originally, he intended From Russia With Love to be the final written Bond adventure).

Cons: From Russia With Love is gruelingly slow. It truthfully moves along like molasses and because of its serious and concise storyline, it works far better as a Bond thriller than a Bond adventure. This factor was what made it far less memorable than Dr. No or Goldfinger (though now its highly regarded). Even today, this could be considered a turnoff for some viewers, but I, like some critics, believe it to be a film that gets better with age. As a result, From Russia With Love is not a film that is instantly lovable or overly watchable, its directed toward a certain audience who desire a specific atmosphere of Bond.

Top 3 Moments:Any moment with Robert Shaw’s silent assassin, Red Grant, is a fine moment but the best, obviously, is his fight with Bond aboard the Orient Express (a perfectly directed and fantastically edited sequence) concluding in Grant’s death at the hands of Bond via Grant’s own garrote wire. While the film does inch along, the third act contains three great action sequences: Bond being chased by a helicopter, which descends so close to him in the scene that actor Sean Connery was almost killed during filming, an entertaining and explosive boat chase involving gas barrels and a flare gun, and the treacherous final showdown between Bond and Rosa Klebb where Klebb comes at Bond with a poisoned knife attached the tip of her shoe. Finally, the secretive introduction to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, for now only being seen holding a white cat in his lap and speaking from a stereotypical ‘villain’s chair,’ marks the first appearance of the franchise’s most reoccurring villain.

Rating: B+, like good liquor this film enhances in quality and reception over time. From Russia With Love is a unique Bond flick, finding more in common with Licence to Kill and Casino Royale than films of its own era. The tone of Bond has evolved over the past fifty years and From Russia With Love has finally caught up with the precedent it set back in 1963. Bottom line: From Russia With Love was very ahead of its time.

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7. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The Basics: From director Lewis Gilbert comes the disco-centric The Spy Who Loved Me, starring Roger Moore in his third portrayal as the MI6 agent opposing the mad billionaire, Karl Stromberg, whose looking to begin World War III between the United States and Russia (the Cold War was still in effect when this film was released) so that he can establish a new society on the attenuated Earth within the depths of the ocean. With the help of KGB Major Anya Amasova, MI6 and the KGB agree to unite in an effort to vanquish their common enemy. However, Major Amasova makes it clear to 007 that when the mission is complete she is going to take his life since it was Bond who murdered her lover during a mission in Austria.

Pros: The epic scope. Gilbert directed three Bond flicks each with the largest, most lavish set pieces of the series (the other two are You Only Live Twice and Moonraker) and The Spy Who Loved Me explores great exotic locations and massive set pieces, like Stromberg’s supertanker, the Liparus, and Stromberg’s secretive ocean lair, Atlantis, which both house some well-crafted climactic action sequences. Though The Spy Who Loved Me features a disco-heavy score and mid 70’s vibe and is very much a Moore Bond film (skin-tight outfits, judo chops, cringe-worthy double entendres), it’s far and away the best Bond film of the Moore era. The beautiful Barbara Bach makes for a lustful, yet strong, Bond woman and her promise to kill him once the mission is complete creates a very intriguing dynamic within their romance. The Spy Who Loved Me is also our first introduction to henchman, Jaws.

Cons: It’s still a Moore Bond film, and as good as he is at being this feel good Bond and performing in this individual film, the Moore films have not aged well, currently remembered as bonafide examples of campy action cinema. Even with all of its explosions and mayhem, moments like Bond punching Jaws’ metal jaw and doubling over in pain from his injured hand can only get so many chuckles for so long. Time doesn’t benefit many of the villains from Moore’s films either, as they are set on destroying the entire world only to create and rule a new one. But, Stromberg’s is particularly illogical because he intends on recreating humanity underwater, too bad we are never given any logistics surrounding his plan to make it sound a little more promising. Actor Curt Jürgens is good, but Stromberg’s plan instills little fear, must be the reason why he gets a weak death scene: Four shots from Bond’s Walter PPK through a cylindrical tube underneath his own dinner table. Poor, poor planning.

Top 3 Moments: The Union Jack parachute that Bond uses after he skis off a cliff is classic; the close-up on Jaws and he smiles for the first time and we get glimpse of his platinum chompers; during a fight with one of the Stromberg’s henchmen, he grabs on to Bond’s tie when he is slipping from the edge of a building, when he provides the information that Bond needs, Bond disposes of the minion by smacking the tie out of his hands and watching him plummet to the ground.

Rating:B+, great production design and solid chemistry between leads Moore and Bach make for a strong entry in the Bond franchise, and even with all the Moore-isms, The Spy Who Loved Me is the pinnacle of Roger Moore-James Bond entertainment.

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6. Licence to Kill (1989)

The Basics: Following the daring capture of drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) by Bond, Felix Leiter and the DEA, Sanchez, escapes from prison and has his men capture Leiter and murder his new wife. They lower Leiter into a shark tank, in which he loses his leg, and they leave him for Bond to find. Driven by revenge, Bond goes AWOL and unofficially leaves MI6 in order to carry out a mission on his own and find the ones who nearly murdered his close friend. He joins forces with a strong willed pilot, and ex-C.I.A. agent, American Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) to take down Sanchez and destroy his lucrative drug empire. Licence to Kill was directed by John Glen and featured Timothy Dalton in his second, and final, performance as James Bond.

Pros: Again, Dalton’s performance as Bond is the spine of the film. His interpretation of the Fleming character was not very respected during the time of his two films’ releases, but in time they have become much more well-regarded and considered one of the better cinematic portrayals of Bond. Davi gets high marks for playing the villainous Sanchez, one of the more grounded and realistic villains by this point in the series for he was looking to increase profits from drug sales as opposed to destroying the world and creating a new super race of people, as so many of Moore’s antagonists desired. Licence to Kill resonates with me as one of the most fiercely violent films in the franchise. Dalton already showed that he was a far more brutal Bond than Moore but the films presented that violence in a harsher way than the Connery films could. In this installment, specifically, the action is gritty and the deaths are graphic. This point has been recognized by critics both in 1989 and today becoming a dividing line for those who appreciate and dislike this final Dalton-starrer.

Cons: Other than this being the final time Dalton would play Bond, Licence to Kill is very, very solid. There is a tangential plot development involving Asian operatives who are looking to stop Sanchez but instead capture Bond and when Sanchez and his men kill the operatives they come very close to killing Bond in the process. After repeated viewings, this is a subplot that never felt clearly explained, correctly executed, or entirely vital to the overall film.

Top 3 Moments: The initial capture of Sanchez during the pre-credits sequence involving a plane stunt that was copied by Christopher Nolan in this past summer’s blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises; the scene-stealing moments by Sanchez’s psychotic henchman, Dario, played by a very young Benicio Del Toro showing strong talent at a very early career stage; the climactic chase in the petrol tankers featuring top-notch stunt work and pyrotechnics as well as a surprisingly grisly death for the film’s antagonist.

Rating: B+, on the precipice of being granted on Top 5 spot, Licence to Kill is evidence supporting the Timothy Dalton Bond. The Living Daylights is undoubtedly a strong franchise entry, but Licence to Kill shows that the actor was really finding his rhythm as the iconic character and it still kills me that Dalton never got, at the very least, a third chance to embody the character. The action is edgy and the criminal stuff involving drug distribution still resonates with the world today. This is a highly underrated Bond entry that was unfairly over-criticized upon its release in the very late 1980’s.

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5. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

The Basics: Franchise editor Peter R. Hunt moves to a helming position behind the camera for this one-of-a-kind Bond film starring George Lazenby in his only appearance as Bond. With assistance from Marc-Ange Draco and his daughter, Tracy di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg), Bond poses as genealogist Sir Hilary Bray and encounters his arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), and his beautiful, brainwashed women, ‘Angels of Death,’ in his fortress atop Piz Gloria in the Swiss Alps. Blofeld intends on using the ‘Angels of Death’ to cripple the agricultural supply and hold the world at ransom in order for his crimes to be erased and his title of Cound de Bleuchamp to be recognized.

Pros: Some thrilling action sequences and a heartbreaking ending make OHMSS arguably the most tragic Bond film (possibly only second to Casino Royale). Savalas makes an entertaining villain and an acceptable replacement for Donald Pleasance who played the villain in the previous film, You Only Live Twice. OHMSS contains the very first Bond ski chase sequence, definitely a high point, and Diana Rigg is one of the best Bond girls hands down. The Moog synthesizer’s involvement in the score marks Bond’s entrance into the upcoming 1970’s. Lazenby acts well, but…

Cons: …he’s simply not Connery. Lazenby had a fragile relationship with producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli and it slowly but surely broke down, finally crumbling when Lazenby sported a shaggy beard to the film’s premiere and look very ‘un-Bond-like.’ Lazenby didn’t return to the role following OHMSS, producers looked to original Bond, Sean Connery, to reprise the role in the next film, which resulted in the terribly campy, but enjoyable nonetheless, Diamonds Are Forever.

Top 3 Moments: The aforementioned ski chase is an adrenaline fueled wonder and director Hunt, who understands the fluidity of action sequences from having edited a number of previous Bond films, crafts a brilliant downhill chase. The pre-credits sequence with Bond saving Tracy from a suicide attempt finishing the scene with the wonderful quip, ‘This never happened to the other fellow.’ The final scene where Blofeld’s henchwoman, Irma Bunt, attempts to kill 007 but puts a bullet in Tracy’s head by accident. Bond cradles her in his arms and lightly cries as the final shot is a selective focus of the bullet hole in the car windshield.

Rating: A-, like From Russia With Love, OHMSS is a Bond film that has grown and matured with age and Lazenby’s embodiment of Bond has become far more respected. This is my personal favorite film with Blofeld as the villain and the climactic fight between Bond and Blofeld on the bobsleds is a stunner. Finally, Tracy di Vicenzo, and for a few minutes her name is Tracy Bond, is a fiercely sensual and doomed Bond provocatrix.

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4. GoldenEye (1995)

The Basics: This Martin Campbell-directed Bond starred Pierce Brosnan in his primary Bond film, fresh off of Remington Steele. Bond duels with a former good friend, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) – a former MI6 agent 006 who Bond believed to have died – now working with the Janus crime syndicate to use the GoldenEye soundtrack to create a global economic meltdown. Computer analyst Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) finds a common enemy in Trevelyan and her henchwoman, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), after they massacre her co-workers at a bunker in Severnaya.

Pros: Brilliant action sequences, namely the destructive tank sequence in St. Petersburg. An extended pre-credits sequence containing Trevelyan’s ‘death’ scene is still one of the series’ best and Tina Turner’s opening theme song is a great, mid-90’s interpretation of the Shirley Bassey precedent that was set in the early 1960’s. Great villain excellently played by Sean Bean with one of the coolest and most shocking demises in the entire franchise. Alan Cumming and Robbie Coltrane provide some scene-stealing support…

Cons: But they, like some of the other supporting cast members, are slightly underdeveloped and come off as one-note. Cumming’s Boris is hilariously crazy, but he has little development outside of pen-flipping skill and his eventual demise. Simonova is sexy, for sure, but Scorupco’s skills as a performer are in need of some polishing. Also, Éric Serra’s score is a combination of cold, metallic pangs and doesn’t really match the traditional soundtracks of previous Bonds.

Top 3 Moments: The tank chase is easily the film’s peak (fun fact: It’s my father’s favorite Bond moment of all time). The jungle-set fight sequence between Bond and Xenia Onatopp is fantastically choreographed. Trevelayn’s demise: ‘For England, James?’ ‘No, for me,’ is nearly perfect.

Rating: A-, the first Bond film I ever saw still ranks with me as one of the very best. The first Bond film with Pierce Brosnan and Judi Dench as M is an explosive thrill ride featuring one of the franchise’s best villains and coolest action sequences. Campbell would return to the franchise in 2006 with even better results but his skills are solidly planted here in 1995.

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3. Goldfinger (1964)

The Basics: Guy Hamilton replaces previous director Terrence Young for the third Bond film of the series starring the original James Bond, Sean Connery. Co-starring Gert Fröbe as the villainous Goldfinger, who is investigated by Bond due to gold smuggling but 007 soon uncovers the billionaire’s plot to infiltrate the United States’ gold supply at Fort Knox and make it worthless thus making him the ultimate auric power worldwide. Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) defects from her employer and assists Bond in thwarting Goldfinger’s plot.

Pros: Everything about this film is classic and as the franchise has reached fifty years of age, with the film itself just under fifty years old, Goldfinger has held up better than any Bond installment. Key elements of the franchise are introduced in this episode: The Aston Martin DB5, the extensive yet wholly unrelated pre-credits sequence, the fun gadgetry from Q Branch, etc. were all introduced here making it more memorable and more favorable than the first two films. Connery’s best performance as Bond is in this film. And, like The Spy Who Loved Me introduced the fan favorite henchman of Jaws, Goldfinger has Oddjob, the silent destructive force who dresses handsomely but dons a razor-edged bowler hat with the power of decapitation.

Cons: Honestly, close to nothing. It’s slightly dated by filmmaking standards, but that doesn’t hinder the film one bit. Goldfinger is practically perfect…though I find two other Bond features to excel a little higher.

Top 3 Moments: Bond discovers the ‘Golden Girl,’ the iconic image of Jill Masterson covered in gold paint, a sadistic form of execution called epidermal suffocation. A prolonged car chase utilizing many of the Aston Martin DB5’s gadgeted features (the ejector seat, smoke screen, machine gun headlights) that also shows the violent powers of Oddjob’s bowler hat on the unfortunate Tilly Masterson’s (Jill’s sister). The entire Operation Grand Slam sequence is killer, as is the final encounter between Bond and Goldfinger onboard Pussy Galore’s private jet. Therefore, the entire third act is a fine moment in this film and highly notable of the entire series.

Rating: A, many would claim this to be the best Bond film and I believe it’s very, very close. It’s quintessential, for sure, as it solidifies some series staples and regularities, and Connery has never been better. Also, Goldfinger is probably the franchise’s best villain. I think, contemporarily, the franchise has showed some huge maturation, but there has never been more class on screen than when Goldfinger debuted back in 1964.

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2. Casino Royale (2006)

The Basics: GoldenEye director Martin Campbell returns to direct Daniel Craig is his debut as James Bond in a franchise reboot following the shockingly bad Die Another Day. Having just earned his 00-status, Bond stops a terrorist plot at an airport, which cripples a terrorist financer’s connections with his contacts. The financer, a shady and slightly deformed man named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), holds a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro with hopes of recouping the lost investments and Bond, the best poker player at MI6, is commissioned to face Le Chiffre at the poker table and stop him from winning. In Montenegro, Bond falls for the stunning Vesper Lynd (Eva Green).

Pros: Besides the fact that Casino Royale became a surprising critical and audience success, the skeptics who denounced Daniel Craig’s casting as James Bond following Pierce Brosnan’s exit were stopped in their tracks. Craig’s debut as Bond is remarkable, the emotional depth added to the character (thanks to scribe Paul Haggis) and the decision to plant the characters in the Fleming roots proved effective. Plus, the epic progression of the story leading into the tragic third act, which mirrors On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Also, it’s open-ended finale shows the slow sprinklings of classic Bond-isms that will seep their way into the rebooted franchise. The end to the cheesy and gadget-heavy era had finally arrived with Casino Royale.

Cons: Other than the opening title song – ‘You Know My Name’ by Chris Cornell –that doesn’t abide by any nostalgic formula for the James Bond franchise, and doesn’t truly fit with this phenomenal Bond film and the absence of the film’s villain from the entire third act, Casino Royale is pretty perfect. I was blown away on my first viewing and have struggled to find any faults during repeated viewings over the past six years. Honestly, I still think it barely has any flaws.

Top 3 Moments: Though it does have a really interesting black and white pre-credits sequence, the sequence immediately following the credits is much more in keeping with traditional pre-credits Bond: A frenetic parkour chase through Madagascar that culminates in the Nambutu embassy is brilliantly choreographed and edited. A prolonged action sequence at an airport is one of the best set pieces in the franchise. The chunk of the film that takes place in Montenegro with the poker game at the forefront is more intense and intricately constructed that any action scene ever could be.

Rating: A+, Casino Royale returned Bond in to realism and the past by casting the fantastic Daniel Craig and putting a capable helmer (Campbell) and a talented writer (Haggis) behind the scenes. It firmly put Bond on a more progressive path and made him feel fresh as opposed to formulaic, which is what he had become by the later half of the Brosnan days.

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1. Skyfall (2012)

The Basics: The Academy-award winning director of American Beauty, Sam Mendes, helms this Briton-dominated James Bond production with technical wonders Roger Deakins and Thomas Newman doing cinematography and the score with John Logan (Hugo, Rango) scribing. A brush with death instigates a temporary leave of absence, with no phone call or postcard to let England know that he is actually still alive, but Bond rejoins MI6 after it has come under attack by a cyber-terrorist (Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent, played by Javier Bardem) who has a particular fascination with M.

Pros: Quantum of Solace was a disappointing Casino Royale followup, but Skyfall is the best of the three. It solidifies Daniel Craig as Bond for those who still weren’t sold by his engaging performances in the last two installments, but for me Craig officially is the best actor to portray Bond. Yes, he’s even better than the almighty Sean Connery. Javier Bardem brings alive one of the series’ best, and most mentally and physically disfigured, villains and Judi Dench’s performance as M is award-worthy, with her being far more integral to the plot than the character of M ever has been before. Roger Deakins gorgeously photographs action set pieces in Shanghai and Macau and the Mendes-Logan team is a match made in heaven, with an absolutely flawless third act. The film’s final five minutes are the stuff that fangasms are made of with a similar geek love infused into it reminiscent of The Dark Knight Rises.

Cons: Nothing. If you want to get nitpicky, I’m sure many will find the film slightly overlong (it’s nearly two and a half hours) and maybe Javier Bardem could have had a few extra minutes of screentime, but again, that’s me being very nitpicky.

Top 3 Moments: Like I said, the last 30-40 minutes are brilliant. A riveting pre-credits sequence staged in Istanbul that involves cars, motorcycles, and a train rivals that parkour madness from Casino Royale that I was so very fond of. The first interaction between Bond and the franchise’s new presentation of the beloved Q character, who will be portrayed by young actor Ben Whishaw from here on out.

Rating: A+, Skyfall is a daring new entry in the Bond franchise that, one and for all, restores class and nostalgia to the Bond pantheon and removes all fluff and formula. Bond is smarter and more deserving of our sympathy, as an emotionally unstable and physically brooding force with the capability of getting old and growing facial hair, and Skyfall boldly goes to unexpected places. Skyfall ends a trilogy of wonderful buildup to a grand new Bond era with the unstoppable Craig leading the way; Bond’s future looks to be shining bright.

Article by Mike Murphy

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