Rating the Bond Films

Here’s how I’d rank the James Bond films, from best to worst:

Here’s how I’d rank the James Bond films, from best to worst:

  1. Goldfinger (1964)
  2. From Russia With Love (1963)
  3. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
  4. Dr. No (1962)
  5. GoldenEye (1995)
  6. Live And Let Die (1973)
  7. Casino Royale (2006)
  8. Octopussy (1983)
  9. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
  10. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
  11. You Only Live Twice (1967)
  12. Thunderball (1965) and Never Say Never Again (1983), which are basically the same movie
  13. The World is Not Enough (1999)
  14. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
  15. Die Another Day (2002)
  16. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
  17. The Living Daylights (1987)
  18. Moonraker (1979)
  19. A View to a Kill (1985)

I haven’t seen enough of License to Kill (1989) or Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) to have an opinion of them. (Honestly, I barely remember The Living Daylights, either.)

Specific rankings might change depending on my mood. I would say that Dr. No and above are the great Bond films, The World is Not Enough and above are the good Bond films, and the rest are the bad Bond films.

The high ranking of the Connery films and low ranking of the Brosnan films are more a reflection of the scripts than the actors.

I admit it: I like The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s an incredibly cheesy, campy film, but that’s actually part of its appeal. Somehow it’s so ludicrous that it’s actually entertaining because of, rather than in spite of, its failings.

A lot of people really seem to hate Octopussy. I think it’s a decent run-of-the-mill Bond film. It’s really not much worse than – or much different from – Live and Let Die. But for my money, the best Moore film is For Your Eyes Only, which not only has the best opening sequence of the whole series, but is the one Moore film which is basically played as a straight adventure, rather than a silly piece of camp or with a completely ridiculous plot.

Casino Royale

Review of the film Casino Royale.

Movie night last night was to go see Casino Royale, the new James Bond film with Daniel Craig as the new Bond, the producers having ousted Pierce Brosnan, the Bond of the 90s.

(John Scalzi wrote a nice eulogy for Brosnan’s time as Bond. One thing he doesn’t mention – but which I recall from the late 80s – is that Brosnan wanted to be the Bond to follow Roger Moore, but his contractual commitment to Remington Steele caused the producers to choose Timothy Dalton instead – to no small fan outcry.)

Honestly, the only two Bond films I’ve seen in the theater since the Roger Moore days were The Living Daylights (1987) and The World is Not Enough (1999), but I’ve enjoyed the Bondfests on SpikeTV so much the last couple of years that I was pretty enthusiastic about seeing the new one.

Bond uncovers an ongoing plot by the investor Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson), who short-sells stocks whose companies he knows will be the target of terrorist attacks. Bond foils one such plot by one of Le Chiffre’s agents, forcing Le Chiffre to play at a $150M Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament at the Casino Royale to recoup his losses to pay back his investors (who are themselves not very nice men). Bond is accompanied by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a government accountant overseeing the funds used to enter Bond in the tournament.

Casino Royale is sort-of presented as Bond’s first mission: The film’s teaser shows him getting his first two kills to achieve double-0 status. The film is then broken into four parts: First, chasing a lone bomber in Madagascar, which leads him to a plot to destroy a prototype airplane in Miami. Then the casino sequence in Montenegro, and finally a concluding sequence in which Bond falls for Vesper in a big way. The running theme of the story is of Bond’s coldness towards others, and the emotional armor he employs to allow him to do his job.

Daniel Craig as Bond is not bad. Having seen previews of the film for weeks, he kept reminding me of someone. Finally, I realized who:


On the left, Daniel Craig. On the right, Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner: Similar heavy brows, similar shapes to their noses and mouths. On screen the resemblance is even more clear, I thought.

My main complaint about Craig’s performance is that he doesn’t have the sense of humor that previous actors have brought to the character. Many of my favorite Connery moments involve his expression of “oh dear, this is going reather badly for you, isn’t it?”, and while Roger Moore could admittedly be over-the-top, he still had a good comic sense when presented with good material. Craig really does come across as ruthless and humorless, and while it’s not true that he never smiles, it seems almost unconvincing when he does.

But maybe it’s the script’s fault: The story is brutal, almost unrelentingly so. Certainly with 40 years of history behind it, including some pretty ludicrous plot premises, there’s a lot to live up to, and Casino Royale almost self-consciously works to break with tradition. There are no gadgets, no Q, and very little witty banter. There’s plenty of action, though, and at times the film feels very much like From Russia With Love (one of my favorites).

But I think the film gets away from some of what makes Bond films fun: The series isn’t really about the glamour or the women; fundamentally, Bond is a consummate professional, but he also cares, because he’s not just a killer, his job is to protect his country and its citizens. He may keep people at arm’s length emotionally, but he’s more than just a “blunt instrument”, as M (Judi Dench) calls him at one point. I think the script tries to recreate Craig as a Bond who is less fun to watch than his predecessors.

All that said, the film is often a lot of fun, with some amazing action sequences: The pursuit of the bomber in Madagascar is fantastic, and the chase at the Miami airport is equally terrific, the latter feeling more like a Bond film than any other scene in the film. The Casino Royale sequence has many interesting elements, but kind of goes on too long, with too many twists and turns and diversions. And then the denouement is almost agonizing, because you know that any woman who Bond genuinely falls for is doomed (c.f. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The final shootout is actually not as strong as some earlier fights, although it’s not bad.

(Mean Gene writes about the film from a poker standpoint. I was pretty impressed with the level of detail of the mechanics of playing poker they worked into the film.)

The plot didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why Bond was in Madagascar to start with was unclear, and the trail leading up the chain of the conspirators was pretty thin, I thought. I didn’t see the point of going through with the whole poker tournament, either, from MI6’s standpoint. There never seemed to be much of a plan, and intent to follow up after the tournament was over. But strong motivation has not always been a big concern in the Bond films.

Overall I enjoyed the film, but I agree with Debbi who said afterwards that it didn’t feel like a Bond film. It may take another film or two for me to decide what I really think of Daniel Craig. Casino Royale was fun, but it had its flaws. I’ll be curious to see if they correct them in the next film, or if they continue to take the series in a new direction.

Cold Front

Brrr… damn it’s cold! Apparently the Bay Area has had an Alaskan cold front sitting over it for the last week, which has meant overnight lows around freezing, conditions we usually don’t see except for a few days in late January. It’s totally killed my enthusiasm for going on morning bike rides, after five consecutive days of exercise in relatively balmy weather during my time off last week.

Despite this, Subrata and I decided to go play ultimate frisbee last night, even though it’s our team’s bye week. Turnout was better than I’d expected given the conditions – usually we field 4 teams a night, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had fewer than the 28 people necessary for that. But we 35-40 people showed up during the night.

We joined another team scheduled to play that night, but more people from our regular team kept trickling in, either to play pickup, or because they didn’t realize it was our bye week and figure since we didn’t play Tuesday we must play Thursday! Eventually we had 6 of our regular team show up, and I think we outnumbered the team we joined!

One good thing about the cold weather is that my endurance – always pretty crappy – is much better when the temperature goes below about 55. I can run longer, and I recover faster. So that made the evening more enjoyable. I managed to score a couple of points, and get involved in a few other good points. We ended up staying for the whole session – we’d thought beforehand that we’d probably only stay for half of it – and had a lot of fun.

I wouldn’t mind it being a little warmer for the next few weeks, though.