So, having dispatched the bottom half in my last post, here is the second installment of the my rankings of the EON Bond films (i.e. the official continuity). Obviously, this is an opinion, and I welcome debate, and on that note, here we go.
10. Moonraker (1979)
I didn’t necessarily pick this one for the quality of the story, which seems hypocritical I know, but rather because, along with Goldeneye, it is the ultimate popcorn movie of the Bond franchise. It is big and epic (Bond in space!!), the locations are beautiful and sweeping, the story, although not as strong as others, is engaging (much more of a detective and mystery story than the past two films prior to it), and the visuals are quite stunning, especially the battle in space. The stunt work is quite good, including a scene that set the world record for wired performers (in a scene without gravity), and the film’s forced relocation to Paris due to tax reasons resulted in a great supporting cast of French actors. Moore’s Bond has better films, but never flies higher (metaphorically and literally) than he does in this one. The pre-titles sequence is the best in the franchise, and I’m not sure it will ever be topped.
9. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
EON returns the Bond franchise to its roots (after shooting Bond off into space in Moonraker before it), with For Your Eyes Only, which not only downplays the players (it’s not a villain against the world, it’s MI6 against the KGB), as well as the objective (not a big, almost public investigation, but a covert one to retrieve a nuclear launch pad), but increases the tension, resulting in a taut Cold War thriller more reminiscent of the Fleming books than the Bond franchise at that time. Although the gadgets come in handy, Bond often relies on his wits more in this one, and although Roger Moore may not like it, the scene where Bond kills a man in cold blood to avenge his ally, as well as his dead lover, is, in my opinion, one of his Bond’s best moments, showing that underneath that layer of humor, he was still an MI6 operative at heart.
8. Dr. No (1962)
The one that started it all. Despite the exotic setting of Jamaica, the two images I have from this film that stand out are Bond lighting a cigarette at the baccarat table formally introducing himself as “Bond. James Bond”, as well as the initial banter between himself and M regarding not only his lifestyle, but also how he conducts himself (including his being forced to transition to a PPK, his gun of choice for the majority of the series); he is much more of a detective, using simple means of reviewing the facts, and peeling away the layers of the mystery. The film is notable for establishing the Bond formula, as well as Sean Connery as Bond.
7. Goldeneye (1995)
Trying to define Pierce Brosnon’s Bond is a bit difficult; his films, though, tend to be more action and less thriller, fitting into the 90’s and early 2000’s in which they were made, and that started with Goldeneye. If you do the eyeball test, and stop there, then Goldeneye ends up way lower on this list; I personally rank it high because it is a very entertaining movie. Some Bonds can drag, and others can take their time in moving, but Goldeneye cuts straight to the chase, mixing action with a sturdy plot that moves the film along (unlike others which focus more on tension). Like Moonraker, it is more of a popcorn movie, but that’s a good thing here. It makes the film accessible to first time viewers, which was important given that there had been a six year hiatus between it and Licence to Kill, and grew the fan base by brining in a new generation of Bond fans.
6. Casino Royale (2006)
The reboot was a controversial motion, but one that was wildly successful with Casino Royale, since it not only distilled Bond to his basics, and removed the continuity that bound the franchise, but also allowed us to see a younger version of Bond, one that couldn’t get away with everything, and who M overtly threatened. As a result, things that were tried and true went out of the window, and as with all experiments, they are great when they succeed, which this one does. The only minor complaint is the long run time, even though it can be justified, but the film’s unexpected realism (i.e. everything doesn’t necessarily blow up) is a breath of fresh air after the over the top visuals of Die Another Day four years prior. Daniel Craig’s Bond, who is much more human and vulnerable, got a good start here, returning to the original source, and getting a solid first outing.
5. Licence to Kill (1989)
One Bond film that gains appreciation as time goes on, I love it because it returns Bond to his roots; he lacks formal support (Q supports him, in Desmond Llewelyn’s best outing, but is on holiday rather being ordered there by MI6), and rather than killing the villain’s henchmen, he plays off of the villain’s morals, principles, and paranoia (which Bond both creates and subtly builds up), thus clearing the field for their eventual confrontation. The topical plot (a drug lord who controls a country a la Noriega in Panama), coupled with Bond at his edgiest and roughest, in many ways makes this a true Bond thriller, far more than any other entry in the series, and that’s why I love it.
4. Octopussy (1983)
Arguably Roger Moore’s best outing as Bond, this comes complete with alliances between East and West to stop a rogue Soviet general and his allies from detonating a nuclear weapon in West Germany, as well as a proper mixture of Moore’s humor and dramatic tension. Like many mid-entry Bonds, it returns the franchise to its literary roots exploiting the Cold War backdrop, whilst exploring the warming relations between East and West at the time time. Although the villains tend to be a little over the top, their plot, and the subsequent threat, is very real, thus driving the story in proper fashion.