James Bond has been a cultural icon for the better part of the last century, a clandestine operator born out of Cold War paranoia and hero worship, a representation of ideal masculinity bred from the mind of author Ian Fleming and guided to cinema superstardom by producer Albert Broccoli and his family. After 24 films (soon to be 25 and excluding the “Casino Royale” spoof of 1967), six actors and a worldwide gross of nearly $5 billion, it seems as though the legend of the character just continues to grow and not diminish despite the ending of the Cold War that birthed him. But inherent in the franchise is the natural evolution of action filmmaking and changing social ideas. No franchise has persisted over such a period of time and thereby the history of filmmaking from the 1960s to the present and the cultural battles of that time are present in his canon.
From “Dr. No” to “Spectre”, here is the definitive review and examination of every James Bond film.
Dr. No (1962)
Bond: Sean Connery
Girl: Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress)
Villain: Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman)
Song: “James Bond Theme” by Johnny Barry
Plot: When a fellow agent is murdered in Jamaica, agent James Bond is sent by MI6 leader M to investigate. He rendezvous with CIA ally Felix Leiter and discovers that American rocket radios are being jammed from Crab Key island, a fortress owned by Dr. No. After surviving an attack from a venomous spider, Bond investigates Crab Key, discovering the beautiful Honey Ryder on the beach before being taken prisoner after a confrontation with a flame-wielding tank. Dr. No reveals himself as a member of SPECTRE and announces his plan to disrupt the next Project Mercury space launch. Bond escapes from his holding cell and overloads No’s reactor, hurling the evil scientist into a cooling vat before the lair explodes.
Key Scene: “Bond. James Bond.”
Review: The first, and because of that, “Dr. No” is in a way its own distinct film. Here is Bond becoming Bond. So many tropes are started here. The name, the gadgets, the villain, the bombshell. For better or worse, every Bond film hereafter has followed the same structure. The film itself is a tad rickety nowadays, and “Dr. No” is far from a perfect film, but it still has a certain charm with a classic ending confrontation.
It is interesting to see how much Bond was a reaction to Cold War paranoia, with fears of nuclear weapons and spies permeating culture. In many ways, Bond is an antidote to that fear, the image of the perfect man who can handle the difficult tasks ahead because of his sophistication and inert Westernness against the corrupting forces of foreign powers. Much as women were shown the door after World War II, that theme of masculine prowess being the only thing necessary to save the day is reinstated in Bond’s character.
From Russia With Love (1963)
Bond: Sean Connery
Girl: Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi)
Villains: Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and ‘Red’ Grant (Robert Shaw)
Song: “From Russia with Love” by Matt Munro
Plot: Klebb, a SPECTRE agent, devises a plan to frame Bond for stealing the Lektor cryptographic device from the Soviets as revenge for the murder of Dr. No. She recruits Tatiana Romanova, an unknowing cipher clerk, who contacts MI6 under the guise of offering Lektor along with her defection. Klebb recruits the homicidal-paranoid Donald ‘Red’ Grant for the mission. Bond travels to Istanbul for the extraction, but foreign agents work against him, including a fight amongst a clan of gypsies. Bond connects with Tatiana and plans to steal Lektor. After planting an explosion as a distraction, Bond and Tatiana steal Lektor from the Soviet embassy. Aboard a train ride out of the country, Red corners Bond and plans to kill both Tatiana and Bond, frame it as a murder-suicide, and leave with the Lektor. Bond gets the drop on Red with a tear-gas briefcase and strangles him. After a helicopter attack, Bond and Tatiana escape the last of SPECTRE’s agents, and Klebb’s last ditch assassination attempt against Bond fails.
Key Scene: A Standard Kit
Review: The second outing for 007 feels a bit more confident and has some stronger action scenes, particularly at the end. While “Dr. No” was comically fantastic, “From Russia with Love” feels more grounded in real-world espionage with Shaw’s Red a psychopath worthy of fear. Tatiana is not a super strong character (a theme that will continue for women characters for quite some time), but Klebb is interesting as a primary villain. The Bond franchise is still heating up though towards, of course, the quintessential film.
Bond: Sean Connery
Girl: Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman)
Villain: Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe)
Song: “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey
Plot: Bond travels to Miami for a vacation where he is also assigned to investigate dealer Auric Goldfinger at the same hotel. When Bond is knocked out by Goldfinger’s assistant Oddjob, he awakens to find his fling, Jill, dead and painted in gold. He follows Goldfinger to Kent where he meets Tilly, Jill’s sister, who attempts to kill Goldfinger, but Oddjob kills her before she can. Bond is captured and nearly spliced in half with an industrial laser before talking Goldfinger out of it. On Goldfinger’s private plane, Bond meets Pussy Galore, his pilot, and escapes. He discovers that Goldfinger is planning Operation Grand Slam which will render the gold at Fort Knox useless and increase his own profit. Bond turns Pussy Galore to his side and Goldfinger’s plans to use nerve gas against Fort Knox fails. A fight between Goldfinger’s men and the federal officers ends with Oddjob electrocuted and Bond disabling the bomb. Goldfinger escapes in the guise of a military officer. He hijacks Bond’s plane to Washington, but Bond blows a hole in the plane’s window, sucking Goldfinger out before the aircraft explodes.
Key Scene: “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”
Review: The classic Bond film, “Goldfinger” is the gold (he he) standard by which all Bond films are measured. It has it all: great villains, great song, great sequences, great Bond girl and a plot original enough to be memorable. It’s held up after all these years, a testament to how the Bond formula can work well if handled with ingenuity and wit.
After this strong entry though, the ingenuity of the Bond films starts to wane for a bit as commercialization takes hold over the franchise.
Bond: Sean Connery
Girl: Domino (Claudine Auger)
Villain: Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi)
Song: “Thunderball” by Tom Jones
Plot: SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo hijacks two nuclear bombs and holds NATO hostage for $100 million or he will destroy a major city in the United States. Various evil agents double cross each other as Bond is assigned to the Bahamas to investigate. He encounters Domino while snorkeling, discovering that she is Largo’s mistress. The two engage in a game both literally and figuratively, Bond dodging Largo’s henchmen and turning Domino to his side when he reveals to her that Largo killed her brother. Bond is captured by Largo but rescued by Felix Leiter. Discovering that Largo intends to destroy Miami Beach, the US Coast Guard dive into the bay and an underwater battle ensues. Largo’s men surrender as Largo attempts to escape, but Bond boards his runaway boat. Domino shoots Largo with a harpoon gun and the plot is foiled.
Key Scene: Underwater Battle
Review: “Thunderball” is the first real kind of snoozer of the Bond franchise. It feels rather run of the numbers and what should have been an exciting conclusion, an underwater fight, is pretty mundane when all you have to connect with emotionally is slow moving masked men. Not a bad film by any stretch, but all the ingenuity and wit of “Goldfinger” is diminished.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Bond: Sean Connery
Girl: Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi)
Villain: Ernst Blofeld (Donald Pleasance)
Song: “You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra
Plot: An American rocket ship disappears in orbit, setting the world on edge. After faking his own death for greater anonymity, Bond is sent to investigate the Sea of Japan where the British believe the ship may be. He befriends the head of the Japanese secret service, Tiger Tanaka, and his assistant, Aki, and they infiltrate Osato Chemicals. Mr. Osato tries to kill Bond, but he escapes. After the Soviets lose one of their spacecraft, the world is pushed to the brink of World War 3. Bond’s investigation leads him to a secret base in an extinct volcano and a SPECTRE plot run by Blofeld. Disguising himself as a Japanese fisherman, he helps a group of ninjas into Blofeld’s lair and a fight ensues. Blofeld kills Osato as a message to Bond and leaves when he sets the lair to explode. Bond and the surviving ninjas escape as the Americans withdraw their attack on the Soviets when they realize they’ve been tricked.
Key Scene: Helicopter Dogfight
Review: Fun to a point and silly beyond comprehension, “You Only Live Twice” is a devil may care kind of adventure. A midfilm helicopter action scene and a climactic shootout against a volcanic background make for fun action. However, and it is a big however, it may be the most insensitive Bond film with Bond impersonating an Asian man to gain cover. Fun, yes, but it’s sensibilities haven’t aged well.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Bond: George Lazenby
Girl: Tracy (Diana Rigg)
Villain: Ernst Blofeld (Telly Savalas)
Song: “We Have all the Time in the World” by Louis Armstrong
Plot: Bond woos a mob boss’s daughter, Tracy, and goes undercover. His journey takes him to Switzerland where he must pose as Sir Hilary Bray to find out Blofeld’s secret plan. Bond discovers that Blofeld intends to hypnotize beautiful women to poison the world unless the globe recognizes him as a count of Switzerland and pardons him of his previous crimes. Falling in love, he proposes to Tracy before she is kidnapped by SPECTRE. Bond goes rogue as the British government refuses to intervene, and he must partner with the mob to stop Blofeld and save his fiance. When it appears that Bond has won and Blofeld’s plot is foiled, Bond marries Tracy and they drive away on their honeymoon, but Blofeld shoots Tracy dead, leaving Bond a widower.
Key Scene: “We have all the time in the world.”
Review: The first and only foray of George Lazenby as Bond, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is markedly different than the Connery films preceding it. Featuring dynamic snow chases through the mountains, the action scenes are dramatic. The plot of using beautiful women and mind control is the kind of trippy 1960s drug-sequence that’s insane and weird enough to be fun. And the ending, a heartbreaker, is a classic moment in Bond history, the most touching sequence for a franchise that had avoided them up to now. Perhaps it is the admonition of the war in Vietnam that allowed the filmmakers to realize that not all Cold War stories are going to have a happy ending and great loss is in fact a facet of the world at this time. All in all, one of the more memorable films of the Bond franchise.
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Bond: Sean Connery
Girl: Tiffany Case (Jill St. John)
Villain: Ernst Blofeld (Charles Gray)
Song: “Diamonds are Forever” by Shirley Bassey
Plot: Eager to extract vengeance for the murder of his wife, Bond searches for the whereabouts of Blofeld, supposedly drowning him in a vat of mud. He then investigates a diamond smuggling plot, adopting the identity of Peter Franks and meeting up with his CIA contact Tiffany Case. They infiltrate the diamond trade, running into cartoonish assassins Wint and Kidd and dodging an assassination by cremation attempt. Bond and Case travel to the Whyte House, a casino in Vegas where they discover a still-alive Blofeld. Bond runs afoul of the Vegas police and a car chase ensues, but he escapes. He discovers that Blofeld has hatched a nefarious plot to use the diamonds to create a laser weapon. After discovering that Blofeld has set up a base of operations on an oil rig, Bond infiltrates the base and Leiter’s helicopter attack stops his plan. Wint and Kidd are killed after a last-ditch assassination attempt on Bond and Tiffany.
Key Scene: “He certainly left with his tail between his legs.”
Review: “Diamonds are Forever” has not aged well. Weighed down by the neon jungle of 1970s Las Vegas and hilarious special effects, it comes across as a relic of an era. It does have a charming B-movie quality to it with a couple of hilarious henchmen and an oil rig fight that feels like an old studio soundstage. That is itself both a good and a bad thing. The sexism is especially atrocious as Tiffany Case is objectified and belittled throughout the film. All in all, a fun jaunt, but not one that makes you eager to revisit.
As the old studio system was starting to die off, Bond’s films begin to change as well. Gone are lavish Hollywood productions where stars were beholden to studios and films were produced with a tight schedule and a strong production hand. The collapse of the studio system and the arrival of auteur filmmaking is seen as Connery disappears, the plots of Bond films become sillier and lack direction and the characteristics of the 1970s (black power, drugs, corruption) begin to emerge.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Bond: Roger Moore
Girl: Solitaire (Jane Seymour)
Villain: Kanaga (Yaphet Kotto)
Song: “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings
Plot: Three British agents have been murdered while investigating the dictator of San Monique, Dr. Kanaga. Bond ventures to New York to investigate, meeting the nefarious Mr. Big as well as Kanaga’s henchman with a claw for a hand, Tee Hee, and the beautiful and lucky tarot card reader, Solitaire. Investigating further, Bond discovers that Mr. Big is actually Kanaga, and he has been harvesting a huge crop of heroin to flood the market and drown out his competition. After dodging killer alligators and surviving a speedboat chase involving Southern sheriff J. W. Pepper, Bond must travel to San Monique and save Solitaire from a voodoo sacrifice under the guidance of Baron Samedi. He throws Samedi into a coffin of poisonous snakes and shoves a compressed gas pellet in Kanaga’s mouth, exploding him. Tee Hee attempts to kill Bond on his train out of town, but Bond throws him out.
Key Scene: “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself.”
Review: “Live and Let Die” sure is fun in a silly kind of way: Bond battling a villain with a hook for a hand, leaping across a stream of crocodiles, sleeping with a virgin tarot card reader, fighting against the backdrop of a Mardi Gras parade, exploding a man. It is pure glorious nonsense. But that is also a detraction as the film is not very deep emotionally and also slightly racist in today’s light. The black world that Bond ventures into is so stereotypical that’s it hard to watch with a straight face.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Bond: Roger Moore
Girl: Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland)
Villain: Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee)
Song: “The Man with the Golden Gun” by Lulu
Plot: Scaramanga is a hit-man who charges a million dollars per job and uses a distinctive golden bullet on his targets. MI6 discovers a golden bullet labeled 007, hinting that Scaramanga’s next target is Bond. Investigating the recent death of 002 and the production of Scaramanga’s golden bullets leads Bond to Hong Kong and a new assistant in Mary Goodnight. He is set up by Scaramanga in the murder of a solar energy expert and has to flee. Arriving in Bangkok, he runs into old friend, Sheriff Pepper, on vacation and then a series of events leads him to Scaramenga’s private island and his assistant, Nick Nack, where he discovers that Scaramanga has harnessed solar power into a laser, planning to sell it to the highest bidder. He engages Bond in a one-on-one duel, Bond using Scaramanga’s room of mirrors to get the slip on him and shoot him. Bond retrieves the Solex unit powering Scaramanga’s laser before it overpowers and destroys the island. Nick Nack attempts to kill Bond on his escape vessel with Goodnight, but Bond perseveres.
Key Scene: Dueling Wits
Review: “Golden Gun” gets a lot more right than it does wrong. Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga is a great villain, similar in many ways to Bond, giving him something a little deeper than the normal cookie cutter foe. He has a real danger quality about him, not an over-the-top cliche as so many other Bond villains. Mary Goodnight is such a clutz that she can’t help but be endearing and Nick Nack throwing wine bottles at Bond at the film’s conclusion is so ridiculous to be endearing. All in all, a fun outing.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Bond: Roger Moore
Girl: Maj. Ama Amasova (Barbara Bach)
Villain: Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens)
Song: “Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon
Plot: British and Soviet nuclear submarines disappear at the same time, resulting in MI6 calling in Bond and the Soviets calling in their best agent, Major Anya Amasova. Orchestrating events behind the scenes is the genius architect, Carl Stromberg, designer of an undersea city called Atlantis. A race between Bond and Stromberg’s assassin, Jaws, in Egypt leads to the discovery of a microfilm of the submarines and an uneasy alliance between Amasova and Bond. Amasova plans to kill Bond however for the past murder of her lover. Stromberg’s plan to ignite a nuclear war and destroy the land-based world is revealed as Bond and Amasova are captured. Bond escapes and releases the captured crews of the British and Soviet submarines, a battle erupting on Stromberg’s ship. He reprograms the warheads to fire at each other and stops Stromberg’s plan. After escaping Jaws, Bond rescues Amasova, who decides not to murder him but sleeps with him instead.
Key Scene: Jaws vs. Shark
Review: Jaws is great, one of the most iconic of the Bond villains. Stromberg… not so much. Having an opposing spy in Anya does add an interesting dynamic missing from other Bond films though, a woman who can actually match Bond spy for spy. When it is revealed that Bond killed her lover, her quest for revenge against him gives her something to do other than just be a pretty face. The plot is pretty unoriginal, but those differentiations are enough to at least make the film memorable.
Bond: Roger Moore
Girl: Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles)
Villain: Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale)
Song: “Moonraker” by Shirley Bassey
Plot: A space shuttle, the Moonraker, is stolen while in-flight, and Bond is enlisted to investigate. After surviving another encounter with the deadly Jaws, Bond goes to Drax Corporations where the shuttle was built. He meets scientist Dr. Holly Goodhead and discovers a trail that leads him to Venice, where he is engaged in a gondola chase from spies sent to kill him. He discovers that Goodhead is a CIA agent and finds another clue that leads him to Rio de Janeiro. Bond and Goodhead discover a plot by Drax to poison the world’s population using an orchid gas and then repopulate the globe with a race of his design with couples brought aboard his spaceship. Bond gets Jaws to switch allegiances because of his newfound love, Dolly, laced with shiny braces. A laser battle leaves Drax defeated and the plan foiled.
Key Scene: “Enjoy your flight.”
Review: In terms of silliness, “Moonraker” is at the top of James Bond’s list. Eradication of everyone on Earth to create a stronger civilization? Adventures in California, Venice and Rio? A mission in space involving laser guns? Jaws falling for a girl with braces? Pure silliness, but not in a good way.
As the silliness of the 1970s gives way to the pragmatic 1980s, Bond will again change as drugs and violence become the main issues of the day. Even for James Bond, getting your hands dirty is necessary sometimes.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Bond: Roger Moore
Girl: Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet)
Villain: Kristatos (Julian Glover)
Song: “For Your Eyes Only” by Sheena Easton
Plot: After throwing Blofeld down an industrial chimney, Bond is sent to recover a communication device, known as an ATAC, which went down with a British spy ship. It’s a race against the Soviets however to recover the device. On his travels, he meets Melina Havelock, looking to avenge the murder of her parents who were killed in connection with ATAC. Bond’s investigation leads him to Greece and then to an alliance with the White Dove group led by Columbo. They discover the mysterious Kristias has taken the ATAC and intends to sell it to the Soviets. Bond, along with Melina, Columbo and his men, storm St. Cyril’s, an abandoned mountaintop monastery and Kristias’ hideout. Bond stops Melina from killing Kristias out of revenge, but Columbo stabs him when Kristias nearly breaks free. Bond destroys ATAC as the mission ends.
Key Scene: “Oh, you want to get off?”
Review: Compared to some of the other Roger Moore Bond films, “For Your Eyes Only” is relatively tame. With a simple plot of capturing a device before someone else does and featuring no off-the-wall characters, it is a somewhat solid, slightly forgettable Bond entry. A plot involving Havelock seeking revenge and Bond trying to convince her not to doesn’t really go anywhere. It could have served as the crux of the story, but it isn’t. Bond throwing Blofeld down a giant chimney though is pretty awesome.
Bond: Roger Moore
Girl: Octopussy (Maud Adams)
Villain: Kamal (Louis Jourdan)
Song: “All Time High” by Rita Coolidge
Plot: After a British agent dressed as a clown is found murdered holding a Faberge egg, Bond must discover the secret of the circus. The mysterious Kamal Kahn buys the egg at an auction, unaware that it is a fake, and Bond tracks him to India. After Kahn kidnaps Bond and obtains the real egg, he attempts to torture him, but Bond escapes, leading to a hunt through the jungle. He finds himself in a mysterious floating palace where he meets the Octopus Cult, a group of female assassins led by the beautiful Octopussy, who have infiltrated the circus as spies. After Kahn attempts to kill Bond there, all parties race to West Berlin, where Bond discovers that the Faberge eggs are being used as payment in a scheme to acquire a nuclear bomb and explode it at the circus as an excuse for General Orlov of the Soviets to invade Germany. Bond disguises himself as a gorilla and races to disarm the bomb before it explodes, teaming with Octopussy at the circus. After stopping Kahn’s plot, the Octopus Cult invades his fortress and destroys his network.
Key Scene: Hot Air Balloon Assault
Review: For years up to this point, feminism has been lacking in the Bond cannon as a whole. Women are objectified, belittled and treasured as sexual objects more than actual people. As the era of 1970s sexual revolution emerges, the awakening of strong femininity pushes through into Bond’s world. “Octopussy” features a somewhat pro-feminist slant with Octopussy’s band of female fighters. I say somewhat, of course, because the group’s leader is named Octopussy, and her assassins are still objectified despite being strong-willed characters. The filmmakers mistake the sexual revolution as some sort of hyper-feminine power struggle, ignoring the need to develop full fledged characters and pandering to the lowest common denominator. It’ll still be years before women are given their full share in Bond films, and even now, we’re not all the way there. The plot is largely forgettable in “Octopussy”, not as wild and crazy as other Moore films, but the circus/female assassin/India angle makes it fun. But after a string of ham-fisted, tongue-in-cheek adventure films, Moore’s Bond is definitely starting to feel stale as audiences yearn for more realistic, urban stories.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Bond: Sean Connery
Girl: Domino Petachi (Kim Basinger)
Villain: Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer)
Song: “Never Say Never Again” by Lani Hall
Plot: A decidedly older Bond embarks on a mission against SPECTRE, who has just stolen two nuclear weapons in an operation called “The Tears of Allah.” Masterminded by Blofeld, financed by the millionaire Largo and spearheaded by the beautiful but deadly Fatima Blush, SPECTRE demands money or it’ll be the destruction of some mysterious target. Bond tracks a lead to the Bahamas and then to southern France, dabbling in a high stakes video game of Domination before killing Fatima with an exploding pen dart. He is captured by Largo and hooks up with Domino, the sister of Petachi, a rube in SPECTRE’s plans who was murdered by Fatima. After journeying to Northern Africa to retrieve the warheads, Largo ties Bond in a fortress and tries to have Domino auctioned off, but they escape. A mission to stop Largo ensues in a militarized cave where Bond faces Largo in scuba combat with the bomb up for grabs before Domino shoots Largo with a harpoon. Bond says he’s done being a spy, saying he’ll “never” do it again before giving the audience a wink.
Key Scene: “Not perfected yet.”
Review: Sean Connery returns for one last go-around as Bond, but his body isn’t quite there with him. Nor his heart. So much of this film feels pedestrian. Fatima Blush is slightly interesting as a femme fatale, but feels less than her contemporaries. Largo is a snore, the action is second rate and nothing ever seems too thrilling or investing. A quick buck of a hack job.
A View to a Kill (1985)
Bond: Roger Moore
Girl: Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts)
Villain: Max Zorin (Christopher Walken)
Song: “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran
Plot: Bond returns from the USSR with a computer chip capable of withstanding a nuclear electromagnetic pulse. Created by Zorin Industries, Bond infiltrates the company and meets its CEO, Max Zorin, and his personal bodyguard, May Day. His disguise as St. John Smythe leads him to Chantilly, France where he works to investigate the prowess of Zorin’s race-winning horses, which he discovers are equipped with the same computer chips that produce a steroid effect on them. Zorin is revealed as a KGB agent under the employ of General Gogol. He plans to destroy Silicon Valley to corner the microchip market. Bond travels to San Francisco and meets Stacey Sutton, learning that her grandfather’s oil company has been overtaken by Zorin. They team up, but Zorin frames Bond for the murder of the mayor. Dodging the police, Bond and Sutton infiltrate Zorin’s mine, discovering a plan to set off explosions and generate an earthquake. After Bond escapes from Zorin flooding the mine, May Day turns against him and sacrifices herself with the bomb to save the city. A fight over the Golden Gate Bridge ends with Zorin falling to his death.
Key Scene: “There’s never a cab when you want one.”
Review: A dud. The fight at the end in San Francisco salvages the film a bit, but the previous two hours are dull. Sutton is among the lowest of the Bond girls, instantly forgettable and Walken’s Zorin just fails miserably. May Day is the film’s only other bright spot, an assassin turned hero. But the Bond franchise at this point is in desperate need of a rehaul.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Bond: Timothy Dalton
Girl: Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo)
Villain: General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé)
Song: “The Living Daylights” by a-ha
Plot: James Bond’s mission is to carry out the defection of a top Soviet general, Koskov. He chooses not to kill the female assassin set to kill Koskov and instead shoots the rifle out of her hands and uses the Trans-Siberian pipeline to smuggle Koskov to Austria and then Great Britain. The new head of the KGB, General Pushkin, has reinstalled the death to spies rule. When the general is re-captured, Bond travels to Bratislava and befriends cellist Kara Milovy, discovering that she she is Koskov’s girlfriend and that Koskov’s defection was staged. Koskov engages in a side deal with arms dealer Brad Whitaker as Bond discovers that Pushkin never gave the death to spies rule. Bond fakes Pushin’s assassination, hoping to lead Koskov and Whitaker into the open, but he and Kara are captured and flown to Afghanistan. They escape however, with the help of Kamran Shah, leader of the local Mujahadeen. Bond discovers that Koskov intends to buy opium and use the profits to extract arms from Whitaker. Bond plants a bomb on the plane carrying opium as the Mujahideen fight the Soviet soldiers. After victory in the desert, Bond kills Whitaker and Pushkin arrests Koskov.
Key Scene: “He got the boot.”
Review: “The Living Daylights” is surprisingly hefty for a Bond film of this era, incorporating the Mujahadeen and their fight against the Communists in Afghanistan into its narrative. In difference to the lighter, kookier Roger Moore films preceding it, Dalton’s Bond is grittier and suffers moral doubts. Boasting strong action and memorable sequences, “Living Daylights” is a strong part of the Bond legacy if little remembered.
License to Kill (1989)
Bond: Timothy Dalton
Girl: Pamela Bouvier (Carey Lowell)
Villain: Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi)
Song: “License to Kill” by Michael Kamen
Plot: Bond embarks on a quest for revenge after his friend, Felix Leiter, and his new fiance are attacked by the diabolical drug kingpin, Franz Sanchez. Disavowed by MI6, Bond acts as a rogue agent, interrogating Sanchez’s girl, Lupe Lamora, and one of Leiter’s contacts, pilot Pamela Bouvier. Bond and Bouvier travel to Isthmus City and infiltrate Sanchez’s inner circle, where he discovers Sanchez’s dangerous henchmen, Dario, Perez and Braun. Q absconds to the city to help Bond as a Hong Kong DEA plot goes awry, and Bond’s attempted assassination fails. He sleeps with Lupe to gain her trust, throwing his potential relationship with Bouvier into turmoil. Digging deeper into Sanchez’s confidence, Bond’s cover is blown and a fight ensues in the distribution center, a growing fire spreading throughout the building. Bond escapes and chases Sanchez in a high-speed chase involving trucks and oil tankers. Bouvier assists in her helicopter as Bond and Sanchez face off, Sanchez swinging a machete at Bond before 007 lights him on fire with Felix’s engraved lighter, Sanchez exploding along with the last oil tanker. MI6 forgives Bond for his indiscretions, and Bond chooses Bouvier over Lupe.
Key Scene: Tilted Tanker
Review: The darkest turn yet for the Bond franchise, there are definite elements of “Scarface” and “Rambo” in “License to Kill.” Felix getting his leg chewed off by a shark is a particularly gruesome sequence. The darker 1980s tone works pretty well for a Bond franchise looking to stretch out its muscles and break out of formula a little bit. Bond has a deeper motivation with the assault on his friend, and the action scenes in general are pretty strong and thrilling. But it also feels a bit like Bond is lost in the action genre, losing a bit of his identity as action films saturate the marketplace.
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Girl: Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco)
Villain: Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean)
Song: “Goldeneye” by Tina Turner
Plot: In 1986, British agents James Bond and Alec Trevelyan infiltrate a Soviet chemical plant. Only Bond escapes alive. In the present day, a deadly satellite weapon system, “Goldeneye”, falls into the hands of the Janus terrorist syndicate after it is stolen from a Siberian technology bunker, Natalya Simonov, a computer analyst, the only survivor. Bond investigates the attack, overpowering the assassin Xenia Onatopp in Moscow, who leads him to Janus. The leader of the terrorist group is Trevelyan, who faked his death years ago, and is bent on destroying Britain. Bond and Natalya escape a helicopter explosion before another encounter with Janus leads to Bond driving a tank through the streets to retrieve a kidnapped Natalya. Trevelyan’s next plan to kill Bond and Natalya through a train explosion fails. Their journey takes them to Cuba where Onatopp is killed in a fight in the jungle. Bond is captured as Trevelyan reveals a plan to use Goldeneye to rob the Bank of England. An exploding pen from Q helps Bond escape and thwart Trevelyan’s plan. He is thrown off the Goldeneye antenna and then is cratered by its exploding remains.
Key Scene: “Just be a good boy and die.”
Review: “Goldeneye” is such a relic of the 1990s with its slick black hues, overt Americanism despite Bond being, you know, a British agent, and its videogame logic. That doesn’t make it any less fun, if a tad cartoonish. Xenia’s deadly sex appeal alone makes it memorable and Trevelyan at least has some personal connection to Bond that rises above so many other Bond villains even if he if over the top. The first foray of Pierce Brosnan brings Bond into full blown action star territory as the Cold War mentality changes to a world of terrorist networks and heightened awareness of the power of computers.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Girl: Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh)
Villain: Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce)
Song: “Tomorrow Never Dies” by Sheryl Crow
Plot: Media mogul Elliot Carver plans to use an encoder obtained at a terrorist bazaar to provoke a war between China and the UK. His henchman Henry Gupta organizes a set of military disasters between the two countries to achieve that end, prompting M to send Bond to investigate Carver after his news organization releases new of the attacks before they happened. In Hamburg, Bond meets Carver’s wife, Paris, who happens to be his ex-lover. After disrupting Carver’s new broadcast and stealing the encoder, Carver orders Bond and Paris killed. Bond is unable to save Paris, but escapes with the encoder still in his possession. Near the South China Sea, Bond meets Chinese agent Wai Lin, and they decide to work together to stop Carver. They discover that Carver’s plan to start a war is to gain China’s exclusive media broadcasting rights. Wai Lin is captured in the mission to stop him, but Bond breaks her out and uses a sea drill to kill Carter. His enterprise explodes and war is averted.
Key Scene: “I hope it holds.”
Review: This movie thrives on explosions. Submarines, cars, satellites, buildings… Boom! Bond gets to travel to some interesting places such as Saigon and the tech aspects are fun, but Jonathan Pryce’s villain is steroetypical and cartoony. It is interesting to note how Bond’s villains have changed as the Cold War ended. The threats arise much more from the inside than from the outside; the outside powers of the world seem so much more docile without the threat of Communism, with the dangers of technology and the power of corporations taking precedence until 9/11 changes the perspective of what to fear. Michelle Yeoh is interesting as a sort of equal to Bond, but we’ve already seen that plot device in “The Spy who Loved Me.” Paris Carver is a lost opportunity to add some depth, a love of Bond married to the villain. She’s killed far too early in the plot to have any sort of impact emotionally. On the whole, meh.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Girl: Christmas Jones (Denise Richards)
Villain: Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), Renard (Robert Carlyle)
Song: “The World is Not Enough” by Garbage
Plot: After a wealthy businessman, Robert King, is murdered, Bond engages on a mission to discover why, hunting a suspect named Renard who has a bullet slowly digging into his skull from a previous 00’s gun, removing his senses one by one. He believes that Renard will attempt to kill King’s daughter, Elektra, out of revenge for her escaping from him. His personal protection of her leads to romance and then suspicion. He impersonates a nuclear scientist and discovers Renard stealing a radioactive warhead. With the help of Dr. Christmas Jones, he escapes. M is captured by Elektra, who reveals that she killed her father and plans to use the nuclear bombs in a scheme to gain control of all oil distribution. Bond tries to rescue M and stop Elektra and Renard, but is captured. He breaks free and shoots Elektra before racing to a submarine and stopping Renard, impaling him with a nuclear rod.
Key Scene: “I never miss.”
Review: There are several things to like about “The World is Not Enough”: there are some interesting action sequences involving boats and hot air balloons, a diabolical reversal that tests Bond’s character and a villain so bizarre it’s humorous. There’s also a rehashed nuclear plot, confusing character motivations and an absolutely wooden performance from Denise Richards. But the fun of it all keeps the film afloat.
Die Another Day (2002)
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Girl: Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry)
Villain: Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens)
Song: “Die Another Day” by Madonna
Plot: Bond is captured in North Korea on an assignment to stop the trading of blood diamonds for weapons. After 14 months of torture, he is exchanged for Zao (Rick Yune), the man he had been hunting, presumed dead. Convinced that there is a mole in the British intelligence agency, he embarks on a quest to kill Zao, a quest that leads him to Cuba and American agent, Jinx. He discovers Gustav Graves, a man who doesn’t sleep and runs a diamond empire, somehow tied to Zao. At Graves’ side is undercover MI6 agent, Miranda Frost, who has infiltrated his confidence. Graves invites Bond to Iceland to witness a demonstration after a sword fight. He unveils the “Icarus”, an orbital mirror satellite capable of focusing solar energy. Bond discovers that Graves is the result of gene therapy technology and is actually presumed dead North Korean General Moon. After Frost reveals herself to be the traitor in their midst, Jinx and Bond are nearly killed, and Zao is killed in the ensuing chase. They all race to the DMZ where Graves reveals his plan to use the Icarus to blast into the DMZ and allow the North Korean troops to take the South by force. Jinx and Bond fight Graves and Frost aboard his plane, killing both and escaping with Graves’ diamonds.
Key Scene: “Let’s do this the old-fashioned way.”
Review: “Die Another Day” suffers from a severe case of been there, done that. It really seems to be just going through the motions of a standard plot, content to not really try and be anything different. The special effects are hokey even for 2002, the water skiing scene a true calamity. Halle Berry as a Bond girl should have been a slam dunk, but her character is flat and uninteresting and her performance matches the writing. There are a few fun moments to be had, especially an opening firefight and a good old-fashioned midpoint swordfight, but at a time when the world was reeling from 9/11, the old fun of Bond needed to be reformatted for a new age. As Brosnan leaves the role, Craig’s Bond, the grittiest, most morally challenged version of the character yet, emerges.
Casino Royale (2006)
Bond: Daniel Craig
Girl: Vesper Lynd (Eva Green)
Villain: Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen)
Song: “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell
Plot: James Bond earns his license to kill after dispatching of traitorous MI6 section chief Dryden and his contact, Fisher. The mysterious terrorist financier Le Chiffre invests a large sum of money for a client, warlord Steven Obanno, a transaction organized by Mr. White. M admonishes Bond after he goes rogue and breaks international law on a case in Madagascar. Bond’s next mission leads him to the Bahamas and Miami, where he stops the destruction of a Skyfleet airliner, stifling Le Chiffre’s investment. Desperate to recoup his money, Le Chiffre sets up a high stakes card game in Montenegro. Bond joins in the tournament, hoping to bankrupt Le Chiffre so he’ll seek asylum with the British government and turn over a treasure trove of terrorist networks. He is partnered with Vesper Lynd, a guarantor of the UK’s $10 million investment in the game. Bond initially loses his investment and nearly decides to kill Le Chiffre rather than let him get away, but CIA operative Felix Leiter, on the same mission, gives Bond money in exchange for the promise that Bond will turn him over to the CIA. Bond is poisoned at the game, but Vesper uses a defibrillator to save his life. He returns and wins all of Le Chiffre’s money. After sharing a romantic evening with Vesper, she is kidnapped by Le Chiffre, and Bond is captured trying to get her back. Le Chiffre tortures him to get the money back, but Le Chiffre is shot dead by Mr. White as Bond is rescued. Bond decides to resign from MI6 to be with Vesper, but he discovers that Vesper has stolen the money for Mr. White. A shootout transpires between Bond and Mr. White’s men, bringing down an entire building in Venice. Vesper voluntarily drowns despite Bond’s attempts to save her. Later, M informs Bond that Vesper’s lover had been captured by Le Chiffre, the impetus for her being a double agent, and that she negotiated during his torture for his release. She left him a text telling him of Mr. White and his phone number. Bond shoots him as he returns to MI6.
Key Scene: “I’m sorry, James.”
Review: A reset of sorts on the Bond franchise, Daniel Craig takes over the role in an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel, portraying a younger, brasher Bond. Hard-edged and intimate, “Casino Royale” takes the vestiges of Bond and adapts it to a 21st century world. The campiness, and in some cases quaintness, of so many previous outings is replaced with a decidedly darker tone. Terrorism is a real threat and the joyous victory of the Western world over the Cold War has been replaced with paranoia of a new type of fear. The past hopes of the strong masculine male coming to save the day are tempered by the knowledge of war, PTSD and an expanding view of what constitutes a hero. Craig’s Bond suffers real pain and doubt. Here is not wish fulfillment, but wish reconciliation; spies and agents will still try to save us, but as 9/11 has shown, sometimes they fail, because we are all human at our core. Depending on your preference of Bonds, this is either a good or a bad thing, but in terms of pure storytelling, “Casino Royale” shows us how Bond becomes Bond, and in so doing, gives us one of the best portrayals of the character.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Bond: Daniel Craig
Girl: Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko)
Villain: Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric)
Song: “Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys
Plot: Bond delivers Mr. White to M, who is questioned regarding his organization, Quantum. M’s bodyguard, Craig Mitchell, reveals himself as a double agent and helps Mr. White escape, but Bond kills Mitchell in the process. Tracking Mitchell’s past leads Bond to environmentalist entrepreneur, Dominic Greene, who is helping exiled Bolivian General Medrano overthrow his government for a barren piece of desert. After rescuing Camille Montes from the hitman Edmund Slate, Bond follows Greene to an opera in Austria, where he infiltrates Quantum’s meeting and a gunfight ensues. Bond travels to Bolivia where he attends a fundraising event of Greene and is almost killed by Medrano’s men. Bond and Camille visit Greene’s promised desert land and their helicopter is shot down. They discover that Greene is damming Bolivia’s water supply to create a monopoly. Bond breaks into Greene’s eco hotel while Camille kills Medrano, avenging her family’s murder. The hotel is destroyed by a fire, and Greene is captured. Bond leaves him to starve in the desert with only a can of oil to drink. Later, Bond finds Vesper Lynd’s ex-lover who indirectly got her killed. He helps MI6 arrest him and gets back to work.
Key Scene: “Goodbye, Mr. Greene.”
Review: “Quantum of Solace” is a whole lot of meh. Meh villain. Meh action. Meh plot. We’ve seen it all before and done better. Craig continues to evolve into the role, really turning himself into a new Bond for a new generation, but the film feels like a step back from “Casino Royale” and more into the territory of other Bond stories. It’s not a terrible film, but after “Casino Royale”, a real let down.
Bond: Daniel Craig
Girl: M (Judi Dench)
Villain: Silva (Javier Bardem)
Song: “Skyfall” by Adele
Plot: Bond and agent Eve Moneypenny pursue mercenary Patrice who has absconded with a hard drive of undercover agent information. Moneypenny accidentally shoots Bond in the melee, and he falls off a moving train into a river, presumed dead. Three months later, M is under pressure to resign. MI6 is hacked and then its headquarters destroyed. Bond, living in paradise, returns to London when he learns of the attack. M approves his return to the field despite him failing his psychological test. He follows Patrice to Shanghai where he dies before he can carry out his next assassination. Bond next approaches accomplice Sévérine at a casino in Macau, who agrees to lead him to her boss if he agrees to kill him. They are apprehended as they approach a deserted island by men working for Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent who is responsible for the attack on the headquarters. Sévérine is killed, but Silva is captured. Silva, knowing MI6’s tendencies, engineers an escape and organizes an operation to kill M, whom he blames for abandoning him on a mission. Bond chases him through the London Underground and is able to save M, whom he absconds with. They hide out at Skyfall, Bond’s familial home long abandoned except for gamekeeper Kincaid. Bond instructs Q to leave a digital trail for Silva to follow them, and they set up a series of traps for Silva when he and his men arrive. The house is destroyed in the carnage, and the battle moves to the nearby chapel where M is fatally wounded. Bond stabs Silva and kills him before M dies in his arms.
Key Scene: “Two survivors.”
Review: “Skyfall” is the best Bond film. A bold statement to be sure, but so many elements work so well together. It’s both innovative and an homage to the past, sorrowful and fun. Having M as a Bond girl is a stroke of genius. The action scenes, filmed by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, are breathtaking. And in direct contrast to so many Bond films, the story has emotional weight: Bond’s past haunts him, M’s past haunts her and the idea of her as a surrogate mother to two raging brother mice gives Bond a fully fledged character. “Skyfall” is the pinnacle of Bond as a character.
Bond: Daniel Craig
Girl: Madeleine (Léa Seydoux)
Villain: Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz)
Song: “Writing’s on the Wall” by Sam Smith
Plot: A cryptic message from the old M leads Bond to Mexico City to stop a terrorist bombing during el Dia de los Muertos. He sees one of the terrorists, Marco Sciarra, with an emblazoned octopus ring. Returning to London, he discovers the new Director-General Max Denbigh (C) of the Joint Intelligence Service merging MI5 and MI6 and shutting down the 00 division, instead creating a new global surveillance system called Nine Eyes. Bond disregards his new orders and goes to Rome to attend Sciarra’s funeral, where he woos his widow and learns that Sciarra was a member of a secret organization of businessmen and terrorists. He infiltrates the organization’s meeting and learns of its leader, Franz Oberhauser, who intends to have Mr. White, Bond’s old foe, murdered, but Bond is forced to flee when he is discovered, hunted by Oberhauser’s personal assassin, Mr. Hinx. Bond finds Mr. White who is dying of thallium poisoning. Mr. White pleads for Bond to protect his daughter, Madeline Swann, who will take him to L’Américain, a hotel in Tangier. He kills himself. Bond saves Swann from Mr. Hinx and reunites with Q who informs them that the secret organization is named Spectre and that Le Chiffre, Greene and Silva were all members of it. Arriving at L’Américain, Bond and Madeline discover a trail left for them by Mr. White to Oberhauser’s base in the Sahara Desert. After defeating Mr. Hinx on a train ride, Bond and Madeline are captured by Spectre’s men where they learn that the Joint Special Intelligence is funded by him and has been carrying out terrorist attacks around the world, creating a need for the Nine Eyes intelligence program. Bond is tortured as Oberhauser explains how Bond supplanted him as a son when they were boys, Bond adopted after the death of his parents. Oberhauser took the name Ernst Blofeld after killing his father and staging his own death. Bond and Madeline escape, leaving Blofeld. They return to London to arrest C and stop Nine Eyes from going into operation. A struggle ends with Q stopping the surveillance system and C falling to his death. Blofeld returns and plants bombs in the old MI6 headquarters, but Bond and Madeline survive, leaving Blofeld alive to be taken into custody.
Key Scene: Helicopter Fight
Review: “Spectre” feels terribly ordinary for a Bond film. The opening action scene in Mexico is engaging, and Madeleine is a fine counterpart to Bond, but whereas the previous film went deep into Bond’s character, “Spectre” just skims the surface, which is a shame considering how Blofeld could have connected to Bond on a personal level. The whole adoptive storyline just doesn’t work and feels tacked on.”Spectre” is great fun, but weightless.
The sheer number of Bond films and their consistent releases ever since their inception are a testament to the Broccoli family’s persistence and dedication. Despite stumbles along the way in terms of budget, quality and acting, the train has kept moving, a remarkable accomplishment.
That success belongs in large part to the Bond formula, a universally appreciated set of story points and characters that has proven itself adaptable from the 1960s to the present. However, as is obvious with many of the films above, having an unchangeable checklist of items to include in your story can also breed repetition and laziness. So many of the Bond girls and villains are interchangeable if not a lot of creative endeavor is put into them. The results can be boring, formulaic films for the average viewer. For many movies, it is the strength of their action sequences, not their plots, that captivates viewers. For the best Bond films, the limitations of the formula breed creativity, not stagnation. “Goldfinger” is so inventive in its use of dynamic action and plot twists. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” builds a strong character relationship with its hero and girl and delivers a memorable climax. “Casino Royale” uses the tropes of Bond girl and villain interchangeably to build a satisfying level of suspense. These character moments create the strongest films, not their actions.
Bond as a modern spy is entirely a creation of the Cold War. As that initial inspiration has given wane to other national security concerns, the character has almost been prescient over new threats with terrorism, financial inequality and cyberhacking becoming dominant storylines. In a way, he serves as a foil for our fears, a hero to confront the threats that keep us awake at night. Our understanding of national security fears has influenced the character as the goofiness of past outings has been replaced with a hardened edge. Even with its darker tone however, Bond as a character provides some measure of relief.
Socially however, the films are often lagging behind the issues of the modern day, reinforcing old stereotypes that are more antiquated now than ever before.
A measure of misogyny is inherent in every Bond film. Bond is the epitome of male wish fulfillment. He is dashing, suave, intelligent and strong. Women have a magnetic attraction to him. Bond, for the most part, abuses these women, seeing them only as objects of desire to be had and tossed away. Part of his male wish fulfillment is his inability to emotionally attach to women. Women are meant to be bedded and controlled. They are often unable to control the whims of their emotions and need James. And anyone not physically attractive (i.e. Moneypenny) is discarded by Bond, not worth his time.
The villains are also exclusively male. They lack Bond’s inherent charisma yet desire women. In a way, this can be construed to suggest that their evil plots, and indeed the actions of the entire Cold War, are an extension of their inability to tame women. They value power over loyalty, their fatal flaw, and this desire against queen and country implies a lack of belief in their own masculinity. The Western man is strong and charismatic. The foreigner is decidedly unmasculine.
And then there are the secondary female villains. Female assassins such as MayDay and Onatopp are more complete characters than the disposable cutout girls so often attracted to Bond. It’s almost as if the forceful woman, with desires and skills, is worth less than the obedient woman who will simply swoon for the ideal man.
Even Daniel Craig has called out the film’s inherent anti-feminism as he grows tired of the character. “Let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Craig said. “A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.”
Now, slowly but surely, stronger female characters have begun to be incorporated into the series. The conservative 1950s mentality gives way to burgeoning feminism in the 1970s and then the transformation of the new modern woman from the 1980s to the present. The average Bond girl of the latter films is more independently willed, usually has an agenda and can hack the difficult work just as well as Bond can.
But Bond will need to adapt again if he hopes to survive further. In this era of #MeToo, Bond is a prime example of male abuse. He’s weathered the general storm up to now, but as more and more people become knowledgable about these issues, the franchise will need to adapt. There’s been calls for a Jane Bond, a change that would completely upend the basic mythology of the character. Or even a black James Bond as racial equality has often been MIA throughout the series. It’d be a welcome change to a franchise that often confronts social dynamics with a general shrug.
The question is how far Bond can continue to go. And the realistic answer is… forever. There seems to be no end in sight for a franchise that continues to generate millions of dollars and has a built-in fanbase. The formula provides a blueprint that is generally foolproof to changing times as long as it is handled with care.
And as long as the world is in danger, there will always be a need for James Bond.