Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rank 'Em: The Modern Bond Movies (1995-2015)

I debated with myself if it was appropriate for me to do a ranking of the Bond films, since I've only seen seventeen out of the twenty-four produced. However, such a list would have to be broken up into multiple entries anyway due to length, and I've seen all eight of the films from the Brosnan and Craig eras. There's also a very clear divide between the classic and modern Bond films with the six-year hiatus in the 1990s, that make this a sensible way to approach the series. Comparing the older and newer films becomes a dicey proposition in a hurry. Also, with the future of the James Bond films in limbo after "Spectre," it's good time to make this list. It doesn't look likely that we're going to be seeing the return of the Daniel Craig Bond soon.

So here we go. The James Bond films of the past two decades are ranked from best to worst below.

1. "Casino Royale" - I don't consider Daniel Craig the best version of James Bond, but his debut in "Casino Royale" has more than its share of franchise bests. Best pre-title sequence. Best ending line. And most importantly, best Bond girl - Eva Green's impeccable Vesper Lynd. Not to mention, this was my introduction to Mads Mikkelson, playing the villain Le Chiffre. The film and its leading man set the tone for the series going forward - no-nonsense, harder-edged, and more brutally violent.

2. "GoldenEye" - The start of the Pierce Brosnan age is still an awful lot of fun. Brosnan fits the suit very well, Judi Dench sets the post-Cold War tone as the new M, and Sean Bean is excellent in the villain role. I like this one especially for the action sequences. The tank sequence in St. Petersburg is my favorite Bond chase of all time. After all the speculation as to whether James Bond could still work in the 1990s, "GoldenEye" proved the franchise was still as resilient and relevant as ever.

3. "Skyfall" - Does so many things right, that it's easy to forgive its faults. Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, it mixes old with new, rebooting Q and Moneypenny, and taking the wraps off the Aston Martin for one last ride. I adore Javier Bardem's creepy Silva, the spectacular Roger Deakins cinematography, and everything about the opening sequence with the Adele title song. Of course much of the plotting makes very little sense, but since when did that ever slow down Bond?

4. "Tomorrow Never Dies" - I'm putting this outing so high on the list almost solely because of Michelle Yeoh as the Bond girl. She's as competent and enjoyable an action heroine as any who have ever appeared in the series. Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher on villain duty are quite ridiculous, but the action is good, the pacing is brisk, and everyone gets the job done. Still, as more than one reviewer noted, the movie was awfully formulaic and there were some considerable missteps in the execution.

5. "Spectre" - So many good pieces, so half-heartedly assembled. Christoph Waltz's Blofeld is... fine. Lea Seydoux as the Bond girl is... fine. Let's not discuss Monica Bellucci. I suspect that the biggest problem is Daniel Craig, who seems constantly distracted as Bond. It doesn't help that the script awkwardly tries to maintain continuity with the past films, and seems determined to give the series an unnecessary end point. At least the opening sequence is a delightful, self-contained adventure.

6. "Quantum of Solace" - An odd Bond film in that it's explicitly a sequel, and picks up where the last film left off. The worst thing you can say about "Quantum" is that it's unmemorable, but what sinks it for me is that it's so unmemorable across the board. Mathieu Almaric and Gemma Arterton barely make an impression. The action scenes feel more like something from a Bourne film than a Bond film. Between the writers' strike and the hostile director, this may have been doomed from the start.

7. "The World is Not Enough" - The last two Brosnan films were terrible. All you really need to know about "The World is Not Enough" is that Denise Richards somehow plays a nuclear scientist named Christmas Jones. The plot is muddled and brainless, but the film's real crime is being boring. Sophie Marceau and Robert Carlyle are dull and duller. Even Desmond Llewelyn's goodbye Is meh. The only reason why this isn't dead last on the list is because I like the title song by Garbage.

8. "Die Another Day" - This treads terribly close to "so band it's good territory." I know some Bond fans are fond of Halle Berry's Jinx and isn't the young Rosamund Pike a looker? But good grief, the CGI-aided action is terrible. The villains are terrible. The stupid invisible car is terrible. Think what you will of Madonna, but her contributions to the film are far from the worst bits. It's all too clear why the Bond franchise decided enough was enough, and moved on to the Craig era after this.


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