Almost No Time, by Bob Connally

7 Oct

We pick up where we left off in the glorious month of October 1983. It saw the release of one of my favorite films of all time, The Right Stuff, and the most recent World Series championship for my beloved Baltimore Orioles who beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4 games to 1. I wish I had been more than a month and a half old at the time. What it also saw was the not quite so glorious but still very notable return of Sean Connery to the role of James Bond.

Never Say Never Again (1983): It’s considered unofficial as far as the franchise goes as it was not produced by the Broccoli-Saltzman team. However, I’ve always looked at it as Sean Connery is playing James Bond. It counts. The legal battle between the official Bond producers and Thunderball co-writer Kevin McClory, who owned the rights to SPECTRE, and the character of Blofeld, is incredibly convoluted and there are a number of articles that cover it in detail so I won’t go diving into that here. The movie’s existence and indeed Connery’s participation in it was based primarily on McClory and Connery wanting to stick it to Broccoli and Saltzman. As for the film itself, it’s a remake of Thunderball and while it’s nothing special, in all honesty, I enjoy this take on it more than the original. I can hear a few of you booing now and while I’m not going to die on the hill of Never Say Never Again being a great or, for that matter, even very good movie, it’s mildly entertaining enough and Connery is clearly enjoying being back in the role far more than he did in You Only Live Twice or Diamonds Are Forever. This one also spends significantly less time underwater. All in all, it was the best James Bond movie of 1983 and when you’re riding high on the Orioles winning the World Series and waiting for The Right Stuff to come out next weekend, that’ll do.

A View to a Kill (1985): In recent years we have become more and more accustomed to action stars in their 50s, 60s, or even 70s and many of them are completely believable. But when it came to being convincing in an action role, Roger Moore did not age like Tom Cruise or Keanu Reeves. Or even Sean Connery. Moore was about 56 at the time of filming his final go as James Bond but he moves around like a man significantly older and there isn’t a shred of credibility to it. The plot is bizarre and nonsensical, which is pretty common for this franchise but this might be the strangest and most convoluted of them all. Even Christopher Walken as the scenery-chewing villain can’t save this as it turns out to be one of the bottom five worst of the series to this day. My favorite moment of the film is when a cowboy oilman who works for Walken’s baddie excitedly introduces himself to Bond as, “Bob Conley!” It’s spelled differently yes, but it’s as close as I’ll ever get to being in a James Bond movie. Conley is played by actor Manning Redwood, which sounds way more like a character name Ian Fleming would have come up with than Bob Conley.

The Living Daylights (1987): With Roger Moore’s exit from the role, a younger actor and a change and tone were called for. What we got was the more hard-edged Timothy Dalton, who many Bond novel enthusiasts consider the closest portrayal any actor has given to Fleming’s. The movie isn’t spectacular but it’s pretty solid and after more than a decade of campiness it’s a massive breath of fresh air. The story involves Bond teaming with the Muhjihadeen against the Soviets during the period a real-life war was unfolding between the two. Ever since 9/11, this movie has been looked at much differently of course, but it still plays pretty well. Also, keep in mind at that time, this was the best Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That’s 18 years.

License to Kill (1989): After a pretty good introduction to our new 007, this is a huge disappointment. Once again they go chasing modern trends and make a generic ’80s action-thriller that happens to have a character named James Bond in it. There’s an ugliness to this movie that just makes it deeply unpleasant so there’s no sense of fun. It goes too far in the other direction in wanting to distance itself from the Moore era and with one movie already under their belts, there was no need to anyway. It also opened up the same summer as the far superior Lethal Weapon 2 which does everything this movie tries to do significantly better. A young Benicio del Toro hamming it up as a henchman is the highlight.

Unfortunately for Dalton, this would be his final outing as Bond. Happily, though, he would do very well for himself in the future, deliciously playing villains in The Rocketeer and Hot Fuzz. I hope every one of us gets to have as much fun doing something in our lives as Timothy Dalton obviously had making Hot Fuzz.

GoldenEye (1995): Not only have six years passed since Licence to Kill but a lot has happened that directly affects the world of espionage. The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War is over (“Groovy. Smashing. Yay, capitalism.”). The question now is what place, if any, James Bond will have in the New World Order. There’s also the question of who will play Bond. As it turns out, both questions have been answered to the great satisfaction of audiences. The Russians are still very much a part of James Bond’s world and Pierce Brosnan pleased Connery fans who hadn’t taken to Lazenby, Moore, or Dalton. Director Martin Campbell delivers on the action and if the site of Bond riding a tank through the streets of St. Petersburg doesn’t put a huge smile on your face then I don’t know what will.

This movie’s a ton of fun and the first since the ’60s to rank among the best of the series. Brosnan is believable as an action star, displays the right touch with the humor, and can carry the dramatic elements wonderfully as well. This is a fantastic start to the new era of James Bond.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): Well, there are some fun sequences here. Not as good as GoldenEye, but ya know, it’s alright.

The World is Not Enough (1999): Well, there are some fun sequences here. Not as good as GoldenEye, but ya know, it’s alright. Honestly though, the cold open is one of the more thrilling in franchise history, Sophie Marceau is legitimately great as Bond girl-turned-main villain and Denise Richards (checks notes)… plays a nuclear physicist. Named Christmas Jones. The name Christmas was definitely reverse-engineered from a terrible,…terrible joke that is cringey even by James Bond pun standards. So this movie’s okay. It’s also the final appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, a fixture of the series going back to From Russia with Love. The Q scenes were a highlight even in some of the worst films in the series so it was sad to see him retiring. Tragically, Llewelyn was killed in a car accident mere weeks after the film’s release.

Die Another Day (2002): I was working at the Regal Cinemas Marysville 14 in Marysville, Washington when Die Another Day came out, which means I got to see it for free. But I still paid. With my time. For a movie I saw only once 19 years ago, it’s shocking to me how much of it I remember. Every single frame of this movie is so dreadful, so unspeakably hideous that to this day, I still can’t believe that it really happened. Excluding low-budget films made by inexperienced or hack filmmakers, this fights in my brain with Attack of the Clones (also from 2002) for the title of the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Let me emphasize again, I’m only talking about movies made by adults who should have known better and who had real money to spend on production. Quite possibly the worst movie I’ve ever seen and I’m not being hyperbolic here. Moonraker had been the low point but when James Bond is surfing on an early ’00s CG tsunami, you redefine rock bottom. I feel genuinely bad for Pierce Brosnan. This wasn’t his fault. Well, we’ll always have GoldenEye.

Still, I’m so happy that this film exists, because like Batman & Robin before it, it forced the complacent people in charge to realize something needed to change. These were movies that brought franchises crashing down and from the ashes we got Batman Begins in 2005 and then in 2006 we got…

Casino Royale: Now we’re talking. This is it. This is the movie that fights in my brain with From Russia with Love for the title of my favorite James Bond film. Director Martin Campbell returns to right the ship as the series “reboots” (a term that was relatively new in film language at that time). Daniel Craig takes the role as a young, newly minted 007 going on his first mission. He’s brash and messy. Not the polished super spy we’re used to. Based on Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale had been adapted before but not properly. Craig is absolutely fantastic, there’s a great story that isn’t completely outlandish, the action is excellent, Mads Mikkelsen is an outstanding villain, and Eva Green is the best Bond girl since Diana Rigg. Like Rigg, she gets a real character to play but she also has crackling chemistry with Craig. She’s a huge key to this movie working so well.

We’ve gone through a lot of rough waters through this series but when you get to movies like From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, or Casino Royale, you see what these are really capable of and it’s great.

Quantum of Solace (2008): Picking up just moments after the end of Casino Royale, this is really the first direct sequel in franchise history. It’s a neat idea. It also feels strange. Due at least in part to a writers strike during production, this film is sort of pieced together in something of a peculiar way. It’s one of the more controversial movies of the series amongst fans and I have something of a tug of war with myself about it. It is riddled with issues- not the least of which is its shaky-cam action sequences, which was the style at the time- and yet there’s something about it that I just kind of enjoy. Not one of my favorites by any means but a movie that ends up being more than the sum of its parts for me. Craig is terrific once more and you see his Bond start to mature which goes a long way in elevating this one.

Skyfall (2012): There is a lot to like and even love in this film and for some, this is one of the all-time great Bond movies. For me though, it’s a good film but not a great one. Craig’s still outstanding, Judi Dench’s M gets the spotlight in a way she never has before but I have a major issue with the film’s villain, Silva. Mind you, I don’t have any issues with Javier Bardem’s menacing performance or that he’s a former agent who feels betrayed by M. My issue is that once more, the Bond franchise is following trends. “He wanted to be caught!” “This was part of his plan all along!” This has been an occasionally effective trope but by 2012 it was a more than well-worn one. It is also taken to its most absurd degree in Skyfall, taking a bite out of the film’s overall effectiveness for me. This also makes its 143-minute running time feel just a bit too long. I like Skyfall but it’s no Casino Royale.

Spectre (2015): Having finally secured the rights to SPECTRE and Blofeld once again, the franchise jumps straight into using the SPECTRE organization but definitely not Blofeld. Nope. His name is John Harrison- I mean, Khan- I mean, Franz Oberhauser.

Spectre is a movie that is rightfully criticized for its dumber elements. Oberhauser having been Bond’s adopted brother. Bond not having any memory of him. Retconning every movie of the Craig era so that Oberhauser was behind it all. The offhand reveal that Oberhauser is Blofeld, which we all knew anyway and doesn’t actually have any meaning for the characters. But stupidest of all, Oberhauser’s motivation for systematically torturing James is…Daddy loved little Jimmy more. Yeah. That’s it. That’s in the movie. It’s infuriatingly dumb.

Not having watched the movie for a few years, I remember liking a lot of individual elements of Spectre but the problems are so big that they overtake what works so that all I’m left with now is the feeling that I really hope that No Time to Die sends off Craig in a way that befits the Bond of Casino Royale.

So now the table is set, my hopes are up, and I’m rooting for something great. I’ll let you know what I find.

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