Thunderball ★★★½

Suppose this caught me in a good mood as my opinion vastly improved on a rewatch, whereas I liked GOLDFINGER less. Over the past three years my memory of this movie essentially amounted to “half of THUNDERBALL is dull underwater sequences," when really it's more like

-a quarter of THUNDERBALL is beautifully filmed underwater sequences, which are gripping when you’re invested in the plot, or are otherwise a key part of this film’s chill vibes
-half of THUNDERBALL is Sean Connery in short shorts and espadrilles, often shirtless

Spy capers seem at their most action-packed when they’ve got a line-up of globetrotting set pieces to dazzle and distract the audience; grounding the flight, so to speak, will only draw attention to a film's runtime and pacing. I think for the Bond movies that have long stretches—if not most of the film—in one setting, the film can live or die by how much you gel with that place's energy and particularities.
THUNDERBALL is much like DR NO, in its Caribbean locale sun-drenched in "vacation vibes" and a pace to match. The film is often called monotonous and slow (including by me, three years ago), but that surface-level tranquility belies a more tense undercurrent.

If you get on the film’s wavelength, that steady stroke becomes a strength, as there can be a real pleasure in the methodical. Much like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, we are privy to the villain's plot from the start, so the audience's investment shifts from anticipating the result (the mystery's "reveal") to enjoying the process (Bond's detective work). I often prefer this approach, because meandering plot detours don't grind the film to a halt the way they would for a film with a late-game plot reveal, like GOLDFINGER.

I'm always a fan of “process” in cinema, and if I’ve got the patience for a 20 minute wordless heist in RIFIFI, I can jive with Largo’s elaborate scheme—which I can say is one of the better plots, now that I bothered to pay attention to its nuances this time round. Largo's a rather capable villain, and it's satisfying to see his competency in those heist sequences as it proves him a worthy foe for Bond. Bond gets to be rather investigative here, compared to the last entry where he spends a great deal of the film as Goldfinger's prisoner—and compared to the next one, when Connery no longer gives a fuck.

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