Welcome to Part 002 of Ranking the Bond movies, and in this installment, we’ll look at the bottom five.
Also for our VIPs: Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 001 (The Bonds, James Bonds)
For a 60-year-old movie franchise of 26 movies, it was actually pretty easy limiting the worst-of-the-worst to just five flicks. It’s true that the franchise has been uneven over the decades, but there have been only five genuine stinkers.
You know, the ones that really Blofeld.
Here they are — caution, there will be spoilers.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Apparently, there are quite a few Bond purists who think that the worst Bond movie is actually the best Bond movie.
But I am willing to concede that it could have been the best.
The plot is tight, the gadgets are kept to a minimum, and the action is incredibly well-shot and very forward-looking for 1969.
Visually, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the most striking of the Cold War-era flicks.
From there, things get even better… or should have.
With Tracy Draco (played by the smart and scrumptious Diana Rigg), Bond (George Lazenby) finally has a Bond girl who is more than just a plaything — Tracy is Bond’s equal in every way.
Naturally, they fall in love. Seemingly unnaturally for James Bond, they get married. Inevitably, she’s murdered by mistake by Blofeld (played without enough archvillain heft by Telly Savalas) in a last-ditch effort to kill Bond.
Tracy dies in his arms as he tells her, “We have all the time in the world.”
That should have been powerful, moving stuff, but Lazenby’s delivery lacks the appropriate sorrow or sense of loss. He was just not a very good actor in a scene that required one.
Earlier, there’s a fight scene involving a hotel suite and a room service cart with Bond’s beloved Beluga caviar and vodka martinis. An assassin breaks in and there’s an impressive fistfight. The assassin knocked out cold, Bond casually grabs a bite of caviar on his way out to meet Tracy in her room.
Lazenby, or director Peter Hunt, should have understood that the point of the scene for a character like Bond isn’t the fight — it’s the caviar, the cocktails, and the girl. The assassin is nothing more than a minor obstacle on the way to a pleasant evening of seducing Tracy with fine food and drink.
Bond just strolling out and then showing up at her room empty-handed? That’s not Bond.
Another is in the pre-credits action sequence when Tracy spurns Bond and leaves him literally in the dust. Lazenby mutters, “This never happened to the other fella,” referring of course to Sean Connery, and then he looks right into the camera.
Boom, the fourth wall is broken — in two ways! — and you’re taken right out of the movie. The line also serves to remind us, completely unnecessarily, that Lazenby is no Connery. He isn’t even Bond.
Worst part: Bond’s wardrobe. Bond was always stylish, not fashionable. Lazenby spends the movie often decked out in some of the worst fashion trends of the late ’60s, including at least one leisure suit. Let’s not forget frilly shirt cuffs and frillier tux shirts, even though I would really like to.
This would have been a great Bond movie, if only it had James Bond in it.
A View to a Kill (1985)
Poor Lois Maxwell. She’d spent the last 23 years applying her endless class and charm to Moneypenny, M’s secretary and the one girl who could never quite catch Bond.
In Moore’s final outing as Bond, at a horse race sequence early in the movie, director John Glen had the 58-year-old actress dressed up like an eight-year-old girl’s birthday cake.
It was a needlessly savage end for a beloved character. Honestly, it’s easier watching Tracy die than seeing Moneypenny in that outfit.
The plot is over the top, even for a Moore-era movie. The bad guy (Christopher Walken as Max Zorin) plans to sink Silicon Valley into the ocean with a man-made earthquake and corner the market on computer chips. IIRC.
Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor could not be reached for comment.
Grace Jones was a nice, modern ’80s touch as henchman May Day.
Moore looked old and tired. The script was old and tired. And M and Q looked seriously old and tired.
The only reason this isn’t the worst Bond movie is that after the six previous films, unlike Lazenby, we’d at least come to accept Moore as Bond.
Worst part: Walken is one of the most interesting actors of all time but Zorin is given nothing of interest to do or say. Walken as a generic bad guy — what a waste!
2012’s Skyfall had been such a success that I went into the fourth Daniel Craig movie with high hopes, and the opening action sequence set in Mexico City didn’t disappoint.
Then everything went to hell.
The rest of the movie was bloated, boring, and obvious.
Most annoying was the sheer laziness on the part of the screenwriters. They leaned on the threadbare trope of making archnemesis Blofeld (played this time by Christoph Waltz) Bond’s evil twin.
Seriously. In this soap-opera version of Blofeld, it turns out that the family of young Franz Oberhauser took on young Bond after his mother and father died. But Franz holds a grudge against James because daddy loved James more. So Franz turns to evil, kills his dad, changes his name to Blofeld, starts an evil empire, yadda-yadda-yadda. It’s a backstory unworthy of General Hospital.
EDIT: I’d conflated who adopted whom, originally.
The only missing trope was Bond getting amnesia by getting hit on the head with a rock, then getting his memories back just in time after getting hit on the head with another rock.
Worst part: While it was nice in theory to see age-appropriate Monica Bellucci as a Bond girl, she was given a role both dull and laughable. Unforgivable to do that to her.
It’s 1979 and Roger Moore’s Bond jumps on the Star Wars bandwagon with a stolen space shuttle, a cheesy space station set, and laser battles in orbit.
In the last act, Bond isn’t given much to do until the laser-toting Space Marines or whatever fly in deus ex machina to save the day. All Moore does for 20 minutes is give stern looks while wearing a low-budget spacesuit that was seemingly repurposed from a Roger Corman production.
It’s a shame, too. I rather liked Michael Lonsdale as the genocidal Hugo Drax, and Corinne Cléry and Lois Chiles were two of the most tempting Bond girls ever.
No small feat, right?
Sadly, after almost 20 years, the endlessly charming Lois Maxwell was, at age 52, no longer right as the flirtatious office girl. Moore was starting to look a little long in the tooth, too.
Worst part: Seeing Richard Kiel’s menacing, steel-toothed Jaws character reduced to comic relief.
Octopussy was on track to be Moore’s second-best turn as Bond, close on the heels of the excellent The Spy Who Loved Me.
Then the last act happened, but I’ll get to that shortly.
The 1983 flick has a timely Reagan-era Cold War plot. An evil Soviet general named Orlov (played by dependable screen heavy Steven Berkoff) plans to shatter NATO by detonating a smuggled nuclear bomb on a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany. The U.S. would take the blame and West Germany would leave NATO, wrecking the Western alliance.
There’s so much else going for this one, including a very Bond-y sub-plot involving stolen Faberge eggs and the luscious Maud Adams as the mysterious and possibly dangerous Octopussy.
But then the third act comes. Bond, I swear to you, spends the final action scene dressed up as an actual clown.
What is this movie trying to tell us? That the people trying to save the West from nuclear aggression are clowns? That James Bond should wear giant shoes and a squirting flower on his lapel?
It’s one thing to go undercover. It’s quite another to dress up the world’s most sophisticated super-assassin in clown makeup.
Worst part: How excellent Octopussy could and should have been.
Also for our VIPs: 60 Years of James Bond Theme Songs: Part 001 of 007
That’s it for Part 002.
In Part 003 — coming next week — I’ll take you on a tour of another five Bond flicks, this time the ones that didn’t stink… but didn’t quite make the grade, either.