ᴊᴏᴇ ᴍᴄᴋᴇᴏᴡɴ’s review published on Letterboxd:
The first film in the franchise to fail in pushing the series forward, Thunderball is the point at which everything begins to settle into the formula set by the previous three films. That in itself isn't a bad thing though - those films are invariably brilliant.
On the plus side, it's nice that SPECTRE is now fully established. What was alluded to in Dr. No was certainly further explored in From Russia With Love, but whereas Goldfinger's story didn't require the shady corporation to work, Thunderball finally shows us exactly what this criminal enterprise is about.
The early scene with Number One sat at the head of the table works on a number (excuse the pun) of levels. It sets up the story, works as an entertaining set piece in itself, and provides the platform for SPECTRE to become the key foe in Bond's world for all the years to come. It's not a surprise that Thunderball was going to be the first film in the series had there not been copyright disputes.
Terence Young is back in the director's chair for his final outing, and in a way, you can see why it was the end. Compared with his own entries, Thunderball is certainly the weakest, but more significantly, when held up against the vital energy of Goldfinger, it really does pale.
There's still plenty to love though. The story itself is another classic Bond plot, with SPECTRE operative Emilio Largo's plan to hold NATO ransom by stealing two atomic bombs from the RAF. Of course, this can only be achieved through ridiculously convoluted plans that involve murder, hijacking and.... plastic surgery!
Bond being Bond, he is the man in the right place at the wrong time, and catches wind of what may be going on, which sets him on his way to the Bahamas in search of the missing missiles.
Despite all of the outlandish gadgets and set pieces in the film, Thunderball fails to be as much fun as the previous films. It seems to be trying a little too hard. When a series increasingly improves, there will come a tipping point, and in fairness to Thunderball, it's more than good enough to soften any blow of disappointment, but it can be an odd film at times.
There's definitely something lacking in the cinematography this time round. It was the first film in the series to be shot on Panavision widescreen, which isn't necessarily a cause for concern, but maybe it was just a case of Ted Moore becoming acquainted with the technology - it just looks less appealing than the previous films to me.
It's also the first 007 movie to run over two hours long. I don't think that's a problem in general but there are entire sections in this film - especially early on - that needn't be there, and that never felt the way with Dr. No, From Russia With Love or Goldfinger. Those films hurtle along, but Thunderball seems to move at a steady pace - we're still moving fast compared to other films of the time, but we're definitely at a mild jog compared to the usual 007 sprint.
One thing Thunderball really does have going for it is some of the technical achievements throughout the film. It's notable for featuring a high number of underwater shots and these are probably the best looking scenes in the movie. You have to credit the risks taken, because if those scenes don't work, the entire movie falls down in the final act. It's just another demonstration that behind this hugely popular series was a real team of artists.
On the whole, it's another solid entry that only compares unfavourably to the brilliance that went before it. If you're in the mood to pick out a Bond movie at random, you can do a lot worse than Thunderball.