THE FIVE MOST UNDERRATED BOND MOVIES
…in order of release:
Dr. No, at least it seems, is seen more out of necessity or curiosity nowadays rather than sheer interest. Being the first Bond movie, its immediate successors (From Russia with Love, Goldfinger) have eclipsed it in both quality and overall appeal, but Dr. No remains a relatively low-key but engaging adventure. While it contains a few elements that would come standard with most Bond films (exotic locations, pretty women, and a disfigured and bat-shit crazy villain), it’s missing many; there’s no pop singer theme song (aside from John Barry’s eternal “James Bond Theme”, of course), Q and his gadgets have yet to show up, and there’s very little action – at least in comparison to future installments. Bond is also a bit grittier here, and not yet the superhuman spy he would become (even Dr. No himself refers to him as a “stupid police man”). The plot is also fairly straightforward, and though it takes quite a while before the main villain even shows up, there are hardly any twists, subplots or throwaway characters to speak of. It’s probaby the leanest and simplest of Bond flicks, and after many needlessly complicated ones, popping this one in can be refreshing.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service tends to get immediately written off by people who see George Lazenby and wonder, “Who the fuck is that guy?” In a long line of Not Sean Connerys, Lazenby surely had it the worst; not only was he the first to step into Bond’s shoes after Connery initially left, but it was also one of his first major acting gigs. To make things worse, Connery came back for one more movie after this, making Lazenby look more like a one-time placeholder than a legitimate replacement. All things considered, he actually does a fairly good job, and overall, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the tits. Sure it runs a bit long and gets a little silly in places (don’t they all?) but it presents Bond in a light we’ve never seen before: married and in love. It helps that Diana Rigg holds her own as Tracy, a headstrong woman who’s every bit Bond’s equal, so their courtship and eventual marriage is plausible; at no point does it seem ridiculous that our cold-blooded, womanizing hero is utterly disarmed by this woman. What is ridiculous is the main plot, which involves Blofeld (played by Telly Savalas this time) trying to become Count de Douchebag (or whatever the name is), and Bond going undercover as a genealogist so he can see what Blofeld’s really up to at his cushy ski resort laboratory. And since Blofeld and Bond met face-to-face in the previous Bond movie (You Only Live Twice), why he doesn’t immediately recognize him here is a plot hole for the books. Still, Savalas’ portrayal of Blofeld is perhaps my favorite, and once things get going, there’s action out the ass; if you’ve ever wondered what one of Blofeld’s henchmen looks like when he’s chewed up and spit out by a giant snow plow, you’ve come to the right place. The ending is as tragic as they come, and it’s in the film’s final moments where you realize Lazenby’s ability. Though some claim that this could’ve been the best Bond movie if it had Connery, upon closer inspection I’m inclined to disagree. While there’s no denying Connery’s greatness, I simply don’t think his Bond could’ve conveyed the emotion and vulnerability that Lazenby brings to the role.
For Your Eyes Only followed Moonraker, and you couldn’t ask for a more severe change in tone. It brings Bond back down to Earth…way down. After the overblown special effects orgy that closed out Moonraker, this one is a stripped-down spy adventure in the vein of From Russia with Love. It simply involves Bond trying to recover a weapons system that sank along with the ship it was on, and racing to get to it before the bad guys. That would be Julian Glover (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and his henchmen, though unfortunately his rather low-key portrayal doesn’t make much of an impression. There’s plenty of action scenes we’ve seen before (skiing, car chases, underwater shit) and a few we haven’t, such as Bond being attacked by…hockey players? Anyway, the score (by Rocky‘s Bill Conti this time) is refreshingly different, though sadly there’s no scenes where Bond chugs a glass of raw eggs. All in all, this is one sleeper of a Bond flick; it’s not one that immediately springs to mind, but it’s probably the second best of the Roger Moore outings.
A View to a Kill Many have ranked this one at the bottom of the barrel, but I just don’t see it. Sure, it has plenty going against it: Roger Moore looks too damn old to be playing Bond (this was his last outing as Bond, filmed when he was 57), the microchip plot is hilariously dated, and Tanya Roberts is surely one of the worst in a long line of bad actresses to play Bond girls. However, it has too many highlights to be considered a complete dud. Christopher Walken hits the right balance between creepiness and comedy as a nutso trying to demolish Silicon Valley so he can monopolize the computer chip market, and Grace Jones makes a memorable sidekick. And despite the aging Bond, the action scenes are plentiful. There’s car chases, fire engine chases(?!), fistfights, shootouts, and a climax with Walken trying to kill Bond with an axe – on top of the Golden Gate Bridge. And as silly as it is, it’s not as silly as some of Moore’s previous outings (and even a couple of Connery’s), so I don’t know why so many people hate on this movie. Fuck ‘em.
Apparently a good amount of people consider Licence to Kill to be one of the series’ low points as well. These people are commonly referred to as retards. Timothy Dalton never got a fair shake as James Bond. Only starring in two movies, one of them rather unremarkable (The Living Daylights), and this, an unconventional Bond movie if ever there was one, he never got the opportunity to fully sink into the role (a third Dalton movie was planned for the early ’90s, but legal and financial problems on the studio’s behalf prevented that from happening). Licence to Kill was a departure of sorts for the Bond series, with an uncommonly serious tone, and a plot that had Bond quitting the secret service to seek revenge on a drug lord who attacked his friend (CIA buddy Felix Leiter) and his new bride. Given its relatively down-to-earth drug lord villain and Bond no longer being a spy, Licence to Kill tends to bear more resemblance to other ’80s action movies of the time, rather than a classic Bond adventure. Still, it fucking rules. Robert Davi is great as the level-headed but cold-blooded villain, and a young Benicio del Toro shows up as one of his crazed henchmen. Ironically, Q had his biggest role to date here even though the movie is relatively light on gadgets, and the movie’s two Bond girls are actually useful to the plot for once. The violence here is the most graphic its ever been (it’s the first PG-13 Bond, though it initially had to fight an R rating) and the tanker truck climax is one of the series’ best. Licence to Kill was considered a box office failure when it was released in the summer of ’89, in part because movies like Batman, Lethal Weapon 2 and Ghostbusters II were its competition, but also because audiences still weren’t warming to Dalton’s serious approach to the role, and the (relatively) grounded and plausible plot of Licence didn’t help. However unlike the Live and Let Dies and Moonrakers out there, this is one Bond that has aged quite well, and in the post-Daniel Craig era where Bond is suddenly hard-boiled and realistic again, maybe Licence to Kill will finally find more fans.