Updated: Apr 29, 2022
As the newbie to the franchise, I needed some time to really contemplate the merits - or otherwise - of all 25 Bond films. To analyse in great detail the plots, characters, scripts, sets and themes. And after much consideration (around a year's worth), below are the five films that just don't cut it with me.
25. Die Another Day
Released in 2002, this was both the 20th film in, and the 40th anniversary of, the Bond franchise. This was a landmark moment in the history of the Bond films and should have been something special. And it just isn't. This film is bad mostly because of what it isn't. Although what it is, isn't great either. There are sparks of brilliance - the brutality of the North Korean regime is captured perfectly in some of the early torture scenes. There's some good power play between Pierce Brosnan's Bond and Halle Berry's Jinx, particularly towards the end. But the rest of the film feels too much like the producers have sat in a room and listed everything they've never seen in a Bond film, then crammed it in. Regardless of whether or not it should be there. Bond traveling into North Korea on a surfboard? Sure, why not - even better, let's make it a terrible CGI one. How can we make that classic element, the Bond car, better? How about…we can't see it! Or hear it, even though it's making tracks behind the henchmen while it's following them. DAD goes so hard on gimmicks that sense goes out the window. Take Madonna, whose awful club synth theme is paired inexplicably with a title sequence where Bond is having the shit beaten out of him. She's given a role as the main villain's fencing teacher. Why? So the producers can put Madonna's name in the promo material. She adds little to the film, merely setting Bond up for yet another penis based double entendre and a long and arduous sword fight with Gustav Graves.
Returning to Jinx, it's disappointing to see such poor scripting for an actor of Halle Berry's calibre. Her first meeting with Bond - after a carbon copy of Sean Connery's emergence from the sea in Dr No 40 years prior - is a confusing sexual invite wrapped up in a nonsensical bird metaphor. Upon being captured by Graves' alter ego Zao and asked who sent her, she responds: "Yo mama". Nobody involved in writing that line has ever uttered those words. And in her final showdown with Miranda Frost (who is fighting in just a bra, having previously been…dressed), she hammers home the final blow with the line "Read this, bitch!". Cringe.
This isn't just a poor film. It's a total letdown. A squandered opportunity for a celebration of the Bond franchise.
24. Diamonds are Forever
I'm going to start my review of Diamonds… by talking about On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Not a film without its problems but a solid Bond film with an iconic, unforgettable ending - spoiler alert: Bond marries Diana Rigg's Countess Tracy, who minutes later is shot dead by Blofeld's henchperson Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat). So, the next film in the series should be a gritty revenge thriller, right? Nope. What we get is a disjointed, madcap and at points farcical action comedy with Sean Connery phoning it in as a returning Bond. We're offered a vague reference to Majesty's as Connery punches some people while asking for Blofeld's whereabouts in the pre-title sequence, before the preceding plot-line is forgotten about completely. At one point Bond even stays in the bridal suite of a hotel - why would he do that immediately after his wife was killed? Again, I dislike this film mostly because of what it isn't, and because it isn't what it should have been. The only plus point that can be taken from this otherwise poor show is that Sean Connery donated his entire $1.25m fee to the Scottish International Education Trust, which to this day is helping young promising Scots from disadvantaged backgrounds.
23. The Man with the Golden Gun
Let's get this out the way - Christopher Lee is amazing. Scaramanga might be the best villain of the entire Bond series. Having a bad guy who loves Bond so much - to the point of obsession - that he wants to kill him is a masterstroke in multi-layered character complexity. Knowing this creep is stalking Bond from the pre-title sequence heightens the tension from the start. Unfortunately, that's all this film really has going for it. The silliness starts when Lulu's ultra-literal theme song kicks in. "The man with the golden gun. He'll shoot everyone". But with what? "With his gun". Ah, thanks. Double entendres abound with massive weapons, then "who will he bang?" Groan.
Britt Ekland's Mary Goodnight isn't just a poor character, she's a victim. She is wholeheartedly taken advantage of by the (entirely male, surely?) writing team, created to be the dumb blonde who is completely unbelievable as a secret agent and played for laughs at her expense. As with Miranda Frost in Die Another Day, she is dressed in a bikini during the final scenes where she and Bond are retrieving the solex agitator for what - at first glance - appears to be no conceivable reason. That ‘reason’ becomes clear when Goodnight opens an external door, revealing Scaramanga’s evil solar-power based plan, with her arse. Cue an extreme close up shot for-the-dads.
While we're on bad characters, why do we see the return of Sheriff J W Pepper? Why is the all-American cop in Thailand, shopping for a car? Clearly audiences found him so hilarious the first time around (?) that someone felt he had to return. And to hammer home that final nail, he shouldn't be anywhere near one of the best stunts of the entire franchise: Bond flipping a car 360 degrees over a river. And yet Pepper is in the passenger seat. That incredible feat is performed for real, with precision and maths, but ruined by a rare poor choice by John Barry to stick a swanny whistle over it.
22. You Only Live Twice
I've surprised myself by marking this so low, because I remember the great parts of this film fondly. The ever hospitable Tiger Tanaka and his personal underground train system. The dogfight with Bond in 'Little Nellie', the gyrocopter lovingly delivered and assembled by Q. The huge magnet swung from a helicopter to get rid of the bad guys in their car ("Arrange usual reception please"). That epic final battle in the underground volcano, with all credit to the magnificent creative mind of Ken Adams. But what those great parts do is mask the large swathes of this film that swing from just bad to completely unpalatable. Sean Connery's first line of the entire film: "Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?" in the pre-title sequence. The myriad of lazy Japanese stereotypes, falling further downhill when Bond ends up being bathed by a harem of Japanese women upon arrival at the aforementioned Mr Tanaka's house. Culminating, of course, in Bond going full 'yellow-face' to go through with an entirely unnecessary wedding reception. The film is almost saved by a beautiful John Barry score, including what's known today (by anyone over the age of 30) as the sample used on Millennium by Robbie Williams. It's a film dripping with beauty, but let down by a barrel of badly dated references.
21. The World Is Not Enough
The beginning of the end of the first incarnation of the Bond franchise, and it shows. After two solid films (Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies) we suddenly see a return to Moore-era double entendre scripting. From the very start (I've timed it, 1 minute and 22 seconds in), Brosnan and the surrounding cast cringe their way through the pre-title sequence: "Would you like to check my figures?", "I'm sure they're perfectly rounded." There is no real reason for it, no suggestion that the films were struggling without it before now.
The awful scripting is just the start of a long pre-title sequence that includes a JW Pepper-esque speedboat chase through a drab, unfiltered London, culminating in an obvious promo shot of the Millennium Dome (or O2 Arena, for anyone under 20) which will no doubt have earned the producers back a few grand. MI6's stereotypical Scottish hideout (which we see after the title sequence soundtracked by Garbage's glorious theme song) starts out promising - the portraits of previous 'M's on wall is a great Easter egg. But they lose us after a minute or so with the groan worthy bagpipe machine gun.
The scripting continues falling downhill for the rest of the film, even making one of this generation's great comic actors, John Cleese, look bad. Which is a shame, because there are some great characters. While Robert Carlisle's Renard (with his inexplicable feeling-less hands) is supposedly in charge, Electra King steals the film with her excellent double-crossing, playing Bond for her own benefit which ultimately results in him and Judy Dench's M being captured. It's among the few times we've seen a female character out for herself, not relying on other men, or worse, on Bond. As she says: "I seduced the guards, used my body, it gave me control". The storyline of taking back an empire that her dad stole from her mum is hugely refreshing.
Unfortunately, the film ends appallingly with its return to the Moore-esque 'Bond discovered by bosses mid-clinch' trope. Then to top it off, a heavily dated line from Q about the millennium bug. Very poor - but a hat doff to the beautiful, sweeping theme song by Garbage, Shirley Manson's vocals are absolutely perfect.