BOND Plan B: renew Connery, remake Thunderball6/10
MASTER PLAN: blackmail the world after stealing two nuclear warheads. Haven't we heard this plan before? Yes, in "Thunderball"(65). And, wow, two Bond films in the same year (the other was "Octopussy") - what can it mean? This is now a curiosity in the Bond film series (and not a part of the canon series), an anomaly, an oddity, a film stemming from the real-life battles between Eon Productions and their nemesis, producer McClory, who won rights to remake the earlier film. It probably would have been better if he'd succeeded earlier - say, around 1976 or so; as it is, Connery, who managed to equal Roger Moore's number of Bond portrayals with this film, is a full dozen years older since his previous Bonder "Diamonds Are Forever," and it shows. This isn't really a parody, like "Casino Royale" from 1967, though there are some too-cute moments, right up to the conclusion, a freeze-frame of Bond winking at us. There are also elements of a weird re-start, such as the first scene with Bond and M, who mentions he is new to the position, much like the Bond & female M scene in "GoldenEye." In this version, M (Fox) is still male, though he's a stuffy high-strung bureaucrat, opposed to double-0 agents, and looks a bit younger than Bond. This is a bit strange to take in, just on its own. Q is played by one of the best British actors, McCowen, so his scenes have a nice flair, though he has a silly name, Algernon.
There's no teaser sequence or fancy credits such as we're used to - in fact, the beginning is so mundane, it's as if we're watching a typically substandard seventies thriller, with a wretched song and an awful score. Many of the early scenes are perfunctory; in other words, they're presented as the stuff we're used to seeing in a Bond film (Bond shoots bad guys, Bond is eyed by the ladies, Bond is menaced by sharks), but without the style and panache of the regular film series. As in "Thunderball," Bond is sent to a health spa early in the film. In an early action scene, he's attacked by a brawny assassin/henchman in the 'Oddjob/Jaws' mold who seems unstoppable, and things appear to be picking up, until he's stopped by a silly gag. I admit I did laugh when I saw this in the theater way back when - but I don't nowadays. I also get the impression of a conspiracy by the producer to throw in some banal stuff amid the standard spy action, not helped any by what seems like in-joking involving Bond's aging hero bit, including M's comically shrill disapproval. It mirrors the problem with Moore in his last couple of Bonders, where the audience is laughing at the hero - undesirable conditions for a Bonder. Things seem to improve again in the middle half, as much of the action here is dominated by the female villain, Blush (actress Carrera in her best role). She exults in her performance as the persistent killer with some odd sexual preoccupations, anticipating the much later lethal ladies such as Onatopp in "GoldenEye."
But, the best performance is by Brandauer as the main villain, Largo - a much different Largo than the one in "Thunderball." He's almost on another, superior level from the rest of the cast, suggesting insanity better than most other Bond villains, somewhat effeminate in some of his gestures, but also magnetic when sparring with Bond, especially in their memorably electrifying video game duel, a bizarre yet entrancing confrontation. Von Sydow, always good, has a much briefer role as famous uber-villain Blofeld, staying behind the scenes for most of the movie. Basinger as Domino the Bond girl is, unfortunately, similar to many of the Bond girls of that period: nice to look at, but usually helpless and kind of an airhead, though she demonstrates fear convincingly. Connery, looking his age (early fifties), goes through the motions here, but hey, it's still Connery as Bond; he can do this kind of thing in his sleep (which he nearly does) and is always watchable, with that easy charisma. The pace is actually pretty good for awhile up until the climactic shoot-out, in spite of some cheap production values. The finale, underwater with Largo, is murky stuff, with no tension, as if the filmmakers just gave up by this point and wanted to get it over with. We kind of forget what the threat is about half-an-hour before the end. Oh, and, Atkinson is his small role is abominable, like nails on chalkboard. Connery would not return. Bond:7 Villain:9 Femme Fatales:5 Henchwoman/men:8 Leiter:6 Fights:5 Stunts/Chases:6 Gadgets:4 Auto:5 Locations:6 Pace:6 overall:6