Alongside Darth Vader, the Tramp and Indiana Jones, James Bond is one of cinema's most iconic characters. His one-liners, devilish (and often chauvinistic) charm, ridiculous gadgets and impeccable style have inspired dreams of exotic travels and women – with maybe a dash of danger on the side.
Over the course of 22 films, he's survived diabolical laser weapons, evil sharks, numerous actor changes and MGM's recent financial woes. With the much-ballyhooed "Skyfall" hitting theaters this week, what better time to take a look at the five best of Britain's most famous agent.
"On Her Majesty's Secret Service"
Poor George Lazenby. He plays the famous character for just one Bond movie to make his mark, and afterward, everyone forgets he was ever involved in the series. Sean Connery is remembered for being the best. Moore is the goofy one. Dalton is the bland one. Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig are the modern ones. But Lazenby? He's just remembered for not being Connery.
It's too bad because he makes for a decent 007, and his lone film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," is a top-notch adventure. The plot, a peculiar concoction of women, allergies and food poisoning, is about average ridiculousness for a Bond villain scheme. However, it features some great supporting roles, including one of the series' best Bond girls in the form of the complex, smartly seductive Diana Rigg (who came well-equipped for the role thanks to her time as Emma Peel on "The Avengers"). Plus, the tragic ending is about as close as the franchise got to serious, complicated emotions until Craig slipped into Bond's tux.
When I was kid, "GoldenEye" meant one thing: a sweet video game. Yes, many hours of my childhood were lost meandering around virtual facilities with three friends, looking for ammo, armor or the Golden Gun. Imagine my surprise, then, when I not only found out there was a movie called "GoldenEye" but that it's actually a really solid action movie.
In his first outing, Pierce Brosnan is pure slick, sexy, lethal charisma and each of his goofy zingers have an alluring bite to them. Most importantly, though, director Martin Campbell pulls the franchise out of its ever-increasing silliness (for the most part. Ahem, Xenia Onatopp) and makes Bond cool again, creating a tight, tense and visually impressive action adventure. It's a lot of fun even without a N64 controller.
"Goldfinger" – from 1964 – is one of the most lauded and respected of all of Bond's 22 adventures, and it deserves the recognition. It's an exciting blend of tense action and entertaining silliness, and it features some of the franchise's most iconic characters and images. Oddjob, Pussy Galore and the gold-suffocated Jill Masterson all make their memorable on-screen appearances in "Goldfinger," and they're all fascinating – especially the title character himself. He may not have the infamous physical appearance of other Bond villains, but he matches them easily with his sinister wit and a surprisingly ingenious evil plot.
Sure, it's got some silliness, but the third Bond film would mark one of the last times the series would find a happy balance between serious spy escapades and ridiculous espionage antics. A few would get close, but "Goldfinger," well, struck gold.
After 50 years of techno-advanced spy gadgets and over-the-top hijinks, watching "Dr. No" is like watching a completely different film series. The biggest gadget Bond uses in the entire film is a new gun; otherwise, he's using fingerprint powder and a human hair like some commoner.
Even without the techno-babble, the character has never been as intriguing, slick, sexy and smart as he was in his first adventure. You can vaguely see the series' future flaws – a touch of the silliness, a plot that seems like a side note – but his signature elements are perhaps unmatched. Ursula Andress makes for a compelling and alluring Bond girl, and Dr. No is a riveting villain. In fact, his conversation over dinner with 007 is one of my favorite scenes in the franchise – no explosions needed. No's hinting at Bond having the potential for SPECTRE seems to have informed Craig's newer, darker entries.
And while we're on the topic ...
Leave it to Martin Campbell to save the franchise yet again. Saying that "Casino Royale" merely resurrected James Bond after the tour-de-ridiculousness that was "Die Another Day" is a massive understatement. Bond wasn't just returning to the form of his predecessors; he was bypassing them.
In "Casino Royale," the character as portrayed by Daniel Craig feels fresh and modern; he's got grit, he falls in love and he has a surprising amount of emotional depth. At the same time, though, he still feels like smooth, classic Bond. He can switch between a frenzied parkour-infused chase through a construction yard to suavely hitting the poker table with the world on the line (somehow, Campbell makes both sequences equally suspenseful). He's brooding and cold but also charming and funny. In other words, he's everything you'd want from 007.
Combine the reworked character with an exceptional Bond girl (Eva Green), a memorable villain (Mads Mikkelsen), a respectable story – an upgrade from most Bond plots – and some stupendous action sequences, and you have not only a great Bond film, but a great stand alone movie.
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