The Bond franchise has had its ups and downs, and before I do the big list, which is forth coming I assure you, I wanted to review my favorites on smaller aspects of the films. These are in no particular order.
Best Music – Orchestral
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The blending of the Alps setting, Bond’s love affair, and John Barry’s brilliance musical aptitude made the score for this film one of the more epic and sweeping ones, and certainly one of the most memorable. Relying on a unique sound that was never duplicated (it was intended to be George Lazenby’s but he only did the one film), the score augmented the film in shape and scope, making it better all around.
Worst Music – Orchestral
Eric Serra obviously put a lot of effort into his score, and it hates me to say it, but his score, with its electronic influences, is not entirely fit for a Bond film, even though he makes the effort to use strings in appropriate moments. David Arnold, who defends Serra’s score in an interview, intentionally avoided using anything overly electronic, if only to distance his scores from that.
Best Theme Song
Shirley Bassey had previously done Goldfinger (which she was, and remains, more famous for) and Diamonds Are Forever, but her more subtle and haunting vocal performance, matched with John Barry’s brilliant composition, perfectly matches the film itself, not too much, but not too little, just the perfect harmony that drives you into the film.
Worst Theme Song
The Man With the Golden Gun
Talk about bad; the desire to include the film’s name led to some horrific lyrics, and unfortunately even John Barry cannot salvage it. The only redeeming factor is that Barry managed to incorporate the theme into his score, and although not his best, used it far more beautifully there than in the actual song.
Best Action Sequence
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service -Bond vs. Blofeld
There have been other epic fights, but Bond going mano-a-mano against the villainous head of SPECTRE on a bobsled still ranks as my personal favorite. Considering the personal implications between them (Blofeld kidnapped the woman Bond later marries), as well as the more epic battle of good versus evil, makes it stand out.
Worst Action Sequence
The Man With the Golden Gun – the girls fight off the bad guys… in front of Bond
Arguably the most ludicrous fight/action scene in the franchise, this fight made Bond look impotent, since the set up was bad, the follow-up was bad, and the fight overall just didn’t make any sense with regard to the plot itself.
Best Chase Sequence
Tomorrow Never Dies – Bond vs. heavies in a parking garage
Okay, forget that Bond is in the back seat, and is using one of the best Q cars in the franchise, that’s just icing on the cake; unlike most Bond chase sequences, there is a very serious physical limitation on where Bond and the bad guys can go. The use, not just of the Q gadgets in the car, but of the devices the heavies use to try to stop him, standard fare for guys working in a parking garage, makes this one of the more innovative chases.
Worst Chase Sequence
The Man With the Golden Gun – Bond vs. the flying car
Bond is in a car with a racist sheriff, J.W. Pepper, chasing a car driven by the heavy, who unknowingly has the heroine in his trunk, which includes a brilliant stunt ruined by a bad sound effect. Did I mention Bond steals the car from a dealership in Thailand, with an American inexplicably looking buying a car? It’s just a un-Bond chase.
Best Pre-Credits Sequence
Bond gets thrown out of a plane without a parachute, catches up with the bad guy pilot, rips the ‘chute off him, then deploys it to escape Jaws; what more can you ask for? It sets up the main plot, is thoroughly entertaining, and its nonstop action whets our appetite for more. I know a lot of people will say Goldfinger, and justly so, but I prefer this one, which was one of the first Bonds to kick off the main plot in the pre-title sequence, giving us an angle on Bond’s first entrance.
Worst Pre-Credits Sequence
The Living Daylights
It’s a bit long, it doesn’t make total sense to me, plus I don’t like how it integrates into the rest of the film. It seems extraneous and a bit over-grand in a film that is inherently small scale and more personal.
Licence to Kill – Franz Sanchez
I know a lot of Bond purists would prefer either Francisco Scaramanga from The Man With the Golden Gun, or possibly Blofeld from one his pictures, but I prefer Sanchez. Sanchez is a true man of honor, who rewards loyalty, brutally punishes betrayal, and in another life, could have been a James Bond-type figure. Robert Davi’s understated performance allows for the character to be likeable, a strong accomplishment when you realize what he does to people who cross him. It proves to be his hubris as well, as Bond plays off of it to get Sanchez to dispose of many of his henchmen, saving Bond the task. Honorable mention to Benicio del Toro in the same movie, playing probably the first truly competent henchmen in the franchise’s history, and who delivers a genuinely creepy performance. Notably, both characters are intelligent, making them worthy villains to go up against Bond.
The Spy Who Loved me – Stromberg
Villains need to do something and be truly threatening. Stromberg sits around, pushes buttons, and is (with all due respect to the actor) too fat to be truly threatening. It’s hard to imagine a lot of his officers remaining loyal to him for too much longer after he’s killed everybody. As if to reinforce this motion, his death is surprisingly dull: Bond shoots him, without a set up, or a witty line to accompany it.
Best Leading Lady
Draw: Casino Royale (2005) – Vesper Lynd / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Tracy Bond
The two women in Bond’s life who truly changed him, and with Casino Royale being a reboot, both accomplish the same thing: showing why Bond is so cold towards the women he encounters.
Tracy Bond is one of the first Bond ladies to have real character development, as we see her grow from being a suicidal, selfish young woman, to someone warm, compassionate, intelligent, and able to defend herself (which was a real first for a Bond girl). It only adds to her character that her father is a notorious and quite successful crime boss, who is warm towards Bond and even M, and who is quite charismatic on his own. Her marriage (yes, marriage) to Bond and subsequent death are amongst the most jarring scenes in the franchise, but the sad ending allowed the Bond franchise to mature past being all about gadgets.
Vesper Lynd is the first Bond girl since Pam Bouvier in Licence to Kill who really stands out. Unlike Pam, though, Vesper challenges Bond on all levels, including bringing out his more compassionate side. Her betrayal of him, albeit a forced one, is deeply saddening, and her suicide only builds on it; her impact is seen in Quantum of Solace, as Bond only truly becomes Bond, James Bond after he finds revenge in capturing the man who forced her to turn traitor, and forgives her. Of note, the classic Bond martini, seen in the novel Casino Royale, is named the Vesper.
Worst Leading Lady
The Man With the Golden Gun – Mary Goodnight
Give me the Bond girl who was raised on the streets, has no tact for diplomacy, and has street smarts over Ms. Goodnight, who for her stumbling, idiocy, and near total incompetence somehow became an MI6 agent. Her scenes are bad, and I can’t fault the actress, since the script is uninspired, and the direction is horrible, but the character just lacks, well, everything you need in a movie character.
Draw: Kerim Bay – From Russia With Love / Columbo – For Your Eyes Only
Kerim Bay, if a character in a modern Bond, would be the man for all seasons, second only to Bond; given that From Russia With Love was made in 1963, and the way films were made back then, the character is about as animated as he can be, and boy, does Pedro Armendariz play him as far as he can. Kerim Bay is fully supportive of Bond, completely honest with him, and a real man’s man; you would think the two of them were related.
Columbo, from For Your Eyes Only, on the other hand, is a cultured man; he is also a smuggler, businessman, and although a private citizen, has a large organization he makes available to Bond to fulfill his mission. As is the case with many of Bond’s allies, their collaboration is for mutual benefit: in this case, Bond gets the ATAC (his mission objective) and Columbo takes out his rival. The two of them, though, become fast friends, and share a mutual respect for one another’s talents, thus allowing them to work together without distrust.
Lt. Hip – The Man With the Golden Gun
Considering that Lt. Hip doesn’t really help Bond in any way, and oh yeah, he brings his nieces along during a run in what is supposed to be a covert operation, he just doesn’t seem to get what his actual job is. He is more of a hinderance really, and while it helps to make Bond look better (which is not the worst thing considering how bad The Man with the Golden Gun is), it reflects negatively on MI6 that they would assign Bond such an incompetent ally.