With Agent 007’s milestone return in No Time to Die, we look at how the character and the series have survived
By Jim Miller & Mark Fields
Hollywood recon reports indicate that No Time to Die will feature the final performance of Daniel Craig as our favorite movie spy.
But as they say…never say never.
Six actors have played the role of Bond — all doing so in their own way, for better or worse. Some have relied on physicality and fists; others more on finesse and wit. Each reflecting different eras, different attitudes.
In honor of the 25th Bond film of the blockbuster franchise that launched in 1962 with Dr. No, two lifelong fans share their shaken-not-stirred obsession.
Jim: In the film that bears his surname, Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) not only starts the trend of attempting to filet 007 with a laser beam, he also utters the best line of any villain in the series.
“Do you expect me to talk?” a shackled Bond asks as the laser creeps between his legs, closing in on his crotch. “No, Mr. Bond,” Goldfinger replies with a surprised laugh, “I expect you to die!”
Mark: Yes, Goldfinger has his fans, Jim. But, Silva (Javier Bardem) in Skyfall is great because he isn’t trying to end the world in some preposterous scheme like so many Bond villains, just get revenge on Bond’s boss, M (Judi Dench). His grounded motive makes him more genuinely threatening. Even though he appears over and over, I was never a Blofeld fan.
Mark: Jaws (Richard Kiel) in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Without saying a word, he was just menacing. It certainly didn’t hurt that the actor Kiel was seven feet tall. Despite all the pain that Bond inflicts on him, Jaws took a licking and kept on ticking.
Jim: I’m thinking more along the lines of the film Jaws — more specifically Robert Shaw, who dove headfirst into role of shark-hunter Quint in that film. Twelve years earlier in From Russia with Love, Shaw brought a similarly focused killer-intensity to the role of assassin Red Grant.
BEST THEME SONG
Mark: For years, it was “The Spy Who Loved Me” by Carly Simon, but now it’s Adele’s “Skyfall,” the perfect combination of smoky vocals and a sweeping instrumental theme. I’m still a sucker for Shirley Bassey’s voice, too, especially on “Diamonds are Forever.”
Jim: With “We Have All the Time in The World,” Louis Armstrong and composer John Barry capture the romantic allure, intrigue and bittersweetness of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s a different kind of song for a different kind of Bond.
BEST BOND QUIP
Jim: In Thunderball, Bond and bikini-clad Domino lie on the beach, while he fills her in on her boyfriend’s evil plan. When a creepy henchman approaches from behind, 007 rolls over, fires his shark-gun, and impales the goon to a nearby tree. Bond then turns to Domino and says, “I think he got the point.”
Mark: Jim, that’s a great example of the nonchalant throw-off line that Connery did so well. Too many of Bond’s quips focus on his virility, especially with Moore and Brosnan, and I found that gets tiresome after a while. I like the line from Casino Royale, after Bond is nearly fatally poisoned at the gaming table, he comes back fresh as a daisy and wryly says “that last hand nearly killed me.”
BEST BOND GIRL (GOOD)
Mark: Halle Berry as Jinx in Die Another Day. Intelligent, attractive, skilled, and fierce. She was Bond’s equal.
Jim: Diana Rigg as Tracy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Many women may have won over James Bond. But, for brief time, Tracy actually became his one true majesty.
BEST BOND GIRL (BAD)
Jim: In Thunderball, Luciana Paluzzi hits the femme-fatal trifecta as Fiona Volupe: cunning, seductive and deadly dangerous. She sets the standard.
On a rocket-launching motorcycle, she takes out a loose-end operative quickly and efficiently. Of all the baddies in the film, she seems to be the only one who can truly turn the tables on Bond.
Mark: Another old-school choice, Jim, I hear you. I got to love Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) from Goldeneye, but if we’re going old school, how do you beat Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) in From Russia with Love with that killer knife in her shoe? Lenya was 65 when she played the part, and she was the widow of composer Kurt Weill…what an amazing pedigree for a Bond girl.
Mark: I’m partial to the back-to-back scenes in Shanghai and Macau in Skyfall. They are wonderful, exotic locations that are beautifully photographed.
Jim: I agree, Mark, Skyfall is a beautiful film to simply look at. The limestone tower-like islands of Khao Phing Kan are also pretty spectacular in The Man with the Golden Gun. Definitely the Far East for the win.
BEST ACTION/CHASE SCENE
Jim: In Live and Let Die, Bond escapes being eaten alive by crocodiles, burns down a heroin lab, then takes off on a speedboat along the Louisiana Irish Bayou.
He’s then pursued over the next 12 minutes during a relentless chase that sees multiple boats speeding across water, over land, and through the air. It’s ridiculous.
Doing the shoots, filmmakers ended up wrecking 17 boats out of the 26 total used. No CGI, no green screen. Just real stunt people doing really crazy stunts.
Mark: For me, the parkour chase in Madagascar from Casino Royale. It starts at a cobra-mongoose fight, rips through a construction site and up onto a sky-high crane, and ends with mayhem at a foreign embassy. More than eight breathless minutes and captivating that whole time.
LEAST FAVORITE MOVIE
Mark: There are several that could go on this list. The implausible and racist You Only Live Twice. Boring Quantum of Solace. But my least favorite is A View to Kill. Roger Moore was showing his age, and Christopher Walken was too eccentric and only moderately menacing as the villain.
Jim: I actually loved Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill. He, Grace Jones, and the Duran Duran theme song are the best parts of what I agree is bonkers and a generally weaker movie.
However, Die Another Day is even more bonkers while being only half as enjoyable. It’s one ridiculous premise to the next. Save for Goldeneye, the Pierce Brosnan films feel painfully forced.
Mark: Skyfall, hands down. A compelling villain with a personal motivation. Terrific score and theme song. Exquisite photography and interesting locales. And a wonderful send-off for Judi Dench as M.
Jim: I agree with you, Mark, on this one for all the reasons you stated. Skyfall is a film made for Bond fans. It’s a homecoming in more than one way, and a film that focuses largely on the idea of family.
WHY WE ARE FANS
Mark: The movies are the cinematic equivalent of the perfect burger, wonderful comfort food that you know you shouldn’t eat every meal, but when they are good, they are oh so good!
At its best, the James Bond franchise is the perfect distillation of the action-adventure movie genre: innovative and well-choreographed action sequences, exotic global locations that I will likely never see in person, beautiful women (and men), tightly scripted and directed stories, a little bit of nonsense here and there, and a likable, enviable hero who can take a punch or two or three but ultimately prevail.
Pure escapism, yes, but when do we not need that as a part of our movie-going diet?
Jim: While the series’ ingredients have changed over the years, its formula has remained a constant: fast cars, attractive women, clever gadgets, dreaded heavies, perilous cliffhangers and, of course, some sort of end-of-it-all countdown scenario.
Over nearly six decades, audiences have remained faithful to the Bond formula because, for the most part, Bond has remained faithful to us. All of the formula’s appealing accoutrements aside, the films offer a noble ideal. In this “everchanging world in which we’re living,” we need to know there’s someone fighting for us. Someone incorruptible.
In this way, Bond is like a darker, sexier Superman.
Throughout all the films, the guy has seen plenty of opportunities to accept a tempting bribe, be lured astray by a silver-tongued sex goddess, or simply take the suitcase full of money and run.
Instead, he’s stayed ruthlessly loyal to his country, his friends and the concept of a free world — and that code is the secret to his success.