In my humble view the best James Bond films are the first two — Terence Young‘s Dr. No (’62) and From Russia With Love (’63). These are the only ones featuring a lean and rugged Connery without an obvious toupee and before he began to pack on a couple of pounds, and facing semi-believable combatants in a half-credible, real-world milieu. After these two a sense of technological swagger and more than a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor started to penetrate the franchise with Guy Hamilton‘s Goldfinger (’64) — the last Bond film you could accept as an occasionally semi-realistic fantasy. These are the only three I re-watch on Bluray, although I don’t like Goldfinger as much as the first two.
I have a certain affection for Lewis Gilbert‘s The Spy Who Loved Me (’77) — the beginning of a brief ’70s period when the 007 series descended into light comedy. There was an effort to use a bit less gadgetry in John Glen‘s For Your Eyes Only (’81 — the only Bond film I ever paid a visit to at Pinewood) and I didn’t mind Glen’s The Living Daylights (’87). And I was amused by the return of Connery is Irvin Kershner‘s Never Say Never Again (’83). And I admit to feeling a surge of excitement when I first saw Martin Campbell‘s Casino Royale (’06)
All the other 007s except are somewhere between glossy flotsam and aggressive popcorn. Yes, including the other Daniel Craig films. (Be honest and ask yourself why you’ve never re-watched Skyfall or Quantum of Solace.) Yes, including Goldeneye, which some have a thing for.
I tried to sit down and watch some of the more negligible Bonds a couple of years ago, and very few of them hold up. You can say this one or that one is engaging as far as it goes, but the reasonably imagined, modestly proportioned Dr. No and From Russia From Love are the only ones that aren’t terminally blasé or self-regarding. They’re selling the same kind of crap as the other Bonds, yes, but with a sense of limits and restraint. Less emphasis on high-tech gadgetry and more on character, muscular readiness, wit, resourcefulness.
If someone were to tell me that I can never watch any of the post-Goldfinger Bond films ever again, I would shrug and say “so what?” But I would shed a tear if I was told I can never again watch my mint-condition Blurays of the first two Connery flicks.
Varying degrees of slick formulaic soup: Thunderball (’65, d: Terence Young), You Only Live Twice (’67, d: Lewis Gilbert), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (’69, d: Peter R. Hunt), Diamonds Are Forever (’71, Guy Hamilton — AWFUL), Live and Let Die (’73, d: Guy Hamilton), The Man with the Golden Gun (’74, d: Guy Hamilton), Moonraker (’79, d: Lewis Gilbert); Octopussy (’83, d: John Glen), A View to a Kill (’85, John Glen), License to Kill (’87, d: John Glen), GoldenEye (’95, d: Martin Campbell); Tomorrow Never Dies (’97, d: Roger Spottiswoode), The World Is Not Enough (’99, Michael Apted), Die Another Day (’02, d: Lee Tamahori), Quantum of Solace (’08, d: Marc Forster); Skyfall (’12, d: Sam Mendes).