Re-watching James Bond

Posted on August 14, 2023 by Richard Goulter

I’ve been watching through the James Bond films with my wife. I’d seen the films many years ago, whereas this is my wife’s first watch through.

Overall I’m getting a similar sense to what I got when I watched through Columbo with my wife: The lingering taste and cultural impact of these shows is the formula of these at their best.
With Columbo, the formula involved this bumbling-detective increasingly annoying the bad guy until a ‘gotcha’, but I felt the show never quite manages to settle on a perfect execution. Each kindof meanders and experiments, not quite sure how to best fill its runtime.
With Bond, it seems like most of the formula is settled after a few tries.

At the time of writing, it feels like James Bond hasn’t had such a good run these last couple of decades. With three new films in the fourteen years since 2009 (or four films in fifteen years, I guess) feels infrequent. – Albeit, Mission Impossible is a similarly slow pace; there are too many Fast and the Furious movies. John Wick did a good job getting its four films out from in the nine years from 2014 to 2023, although was probably too rushed by the end.

I think one thing which seems striking about James Bond is that the character seems defined by his actor, where it’s always the same character in the present day. I find it difficult to think of other media which have quite the same scheme. Superhero movies have the same-character-different-actor.

Dr No

In this one, James Bond goes to Jamaica to investigate why MI6 has lost contact with its agents there. Tracking down clues leads him to a nearby off-limits island, where he is captured and brought into the villain’s lair. Then he escapes and saves the day.

This one’s relatively straightforward, but its still easy to see how many of the films elements get picked up into this stereotype of suave playboy secret agent.
You still get action scenes involving fist fighting, gunfights, car chases; the location is exotic; the villain has a dastardly plan, a fantastic secret lair, and works for an evil secret organisation; there are fancy clothes, and beautiful women.

In this, somewhat more than the others, James Bond is a total babe magnet. Like catnip for beautiful women. (Charming a woman at the casino, who then sneaks into his hotel room; charming a professor’s secretary, who tries to lure him into a trap (which he defeats, and then sleeps with her); and of course, with the famous Ryder woman by the end of the movie).
I think in later movies, Bond’s screwing around is rearranged to only at the start and at the end. Probably helps keep the story flow along better that way.

One thing which strikes me (perhaps as underdeveloped?) from this movie is the local guide mentions there’s a dragon on the island. When they visit the island, Ryder confirms she’s heard of the dragon too, somehow. Then they venture further into the island, they see the dragon, and quickly see that it’s just an armoured vehice with flame throwers. – I feel there wasn’t much tension built up by this; and what tension there was gets collapsed pretty quickly once it’s revealed the dragon is just a tank. I mean, the scene where they see the tank would feel pretty much the same if there’d been no previous mention of a dragon.

From Russia with Love

This time, to Turkey. The evil organisation have a plan to lure Bond into a trap to kill him, by way of a beautiful defecting Russian clerk. So the adventure involves Bond going to Turkey and escaping the trap.

This movie introduces fantasy covert gadgets and the badass henchman to the formula; and we get to see more of this evil organisation.

Despite the fancy gadgetry and the stronger-than-bond henchman, this movie lacks a save-the-world urgency. There’s no supervillain with an underground lair that Bond has to infiltrate to thwart. – It essentially feels relatively grounded.


It seems clear that there must have been many clones and imitations of James Bond following Dr No. – Because in Goldfinger, much of the story “subverts expectations”. Bond hardly even saves the day in this one!

But, damn, I feel this is distinctive than the other ones.

I did remember the gist of the plot. The Goldfinger villain wanted to make his gold worth much more by nuking the US gold supply in Fort Knox.

What I didn’t remember was that Bond spends the majority of the film captured. (He manages to escape once or twice, but is captured again).
Though we do get the very famous “no, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” from Goldfinger, this inevitably leads to the trope of “villain keeps hero alive (for no good reason)”.

Bonds main tangible contribution to saving the world in this is that he manages to defeat the terrifying henchman Oddjob.

Bond not saving the world himself (and all his plans failing) does very much ‘subvert my expectations’.
I gotta wonder why it works here, and doesn’t work so well for media these days.
I think part of it is that there are a couple of prominent cases where this ‘subverting expectations’ ends up making fun of the legacy characters. Although Bond rarely succeeds in Goldfinger, he’s not the butt of jokes.
Another part is the focus seems to be on the Goldfinger villain being a compelling villain. Our expectations are subverted here, too. We significantly expect he plans to steal the gold from Fort Knox.

The majority of the world-saving is done by the henchwoman with a really stupid name. (Austin Powers parodies it as “Alotta Vagina”).
She’s just as tough as Bond, and can hold her own in a fight with him.
– She changes her mind and decides to save America, due to the power of James Bond’s penis, after he forces himself on her. … Ehhhh.

On the other hand, Bond’s disregard for other people is shown in a scene at the start where, as he’s kissing a woman he’s ambushed by some bad guy; Bond quickly spins around and uses this lover as a human shield to take most of the blow! Ooof. I thought it was pretty funny.

All that aside, this one is a lot of fun.


This time, Bond travels to Nassau. The bad guys have managed to steal two nuclear bombs, and they threaten to use them. Bond figures out who the bad guy is, tracks down the bombs, and guides the paratrooping divers to the right place in order to stop the bombs.

It’s laaaaaaame.
So, so lame.

The big pre-climactic fight takes place underwater.
But no one thinks Aquaman is as cool as Batman or Superman.

A couple of lines of dialogue explain James Bonds sexuality in the movie a bit more.
I tend to think most commentary which says anything like “those were different times” is part of the “no fun allowed” camp, which would rather remove things than add things.
Still, in this movie at the start, Bond is sexually harassing the nurse who is treating him. She rebukes him with the same tone of voice you’d use when someone’s trying to eat their dessert before they’ve eaten their vegetables. Later, Bond has sex with a villainess. When she betrays him, she mocks the idea that having sex with him was supposed to convert her to his side. (Which, I guess has been part of the plot of one or two of the previous movies). And after Bond has sex with the Bond girl and he asks something of her, she sighs and says “oh, you only wanted to have sex with me because you want me to do something”.
– So… while I think the sex scenes would be improved if the non-consent was replaced with more explicit consent, James Bond’s penis is still otherwise treated as superhuman catnip.

You Only Live Twice

Japan! Secret evil villain lair in a volcano! Stopping a war between the US and the USSR!

I vaguely remember watching parts of this. I remember that Bond wondered whether the secret agent he contacts is actually an enemy secret agent.

Perhaps the other movies had a foot in the door with regards to being grounded. This one’s firmly over the top.
The starting sequence has Bond killed (again betrayed while with a lover… this just keeps happening to him, huh); there’s a funeral, his body is dumped into the ocean; but this is shown to be a ruse as he’s brought aboard a submarine.
Later in Japan, he’s given a bath, where he’s bathed by several scantily clad beautiful women.
Bond goes to investigate the forbidden-to-visit island with his conveniently-dressed-in-a-bikini side kick. The latter is eventually able to send for reinforcements, and so we get an iconic battle between a bunch of Japanese ninjas and an army of evil henchmen in a secret volcano lair.

Evaluating These Ones So Far

I’d say Thunderball lacks the most.
Or, rather, what Goldfinger has that the others (mostly) lack is an escalating tension where you feel something bad will happen if Bond doesn’t save the day in time.
In Goldfinger, we see quite clearly what Goldfinger will do and when.
Whereas, in the others, there’s a sense that maybe something bad could happen at some point, but the tension isn’t made clear. This might make thematic sense in terms of the looming threat of nuclear war as part of the cold war; or how espionage is a game of hidden information… but, story-wise, it’s hard to feel tension if the threat is not known.

So, I’d say Goldfinger is the best so far.

They’re all pretty good films. But, again, it still doesn’t feel like the full James Bond formula has been settled on by this point; so it feels like each has its share of good parts, but also a share of uninteresting fluff.

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