Thunderball ★★½

Bond mania is something that will never truly die, as 2012's Skyfall stands as the highest-grossing film in the franchise thanks in part to its release on Dr. No's 50th anniversary and still cements Bond as an icon of pop culture. If one adjusts for inflation, however, then the 60's was when Bond mania hit the jackpot as Thunderball, likely influenced by the love and praise that Goldfinger got (as well as a direct tease of this film's name, really hedging their bets there), stands as the 32nd highest-grossing film of all time at a rate that no Bond film will likely ever receive considering that Bond rip-offs and his presence were quite literally everywhere (Skyfall's position when adjusted for inflation? 217th). Wise folks will dutifully point out that popularity shouldn't be confused with quality, and this film ends up being a non-pleasing bore with watered down action (a pun and a critique? That's a rare combo) and meandering storyline that are an immediate downgrade from Goldfinger.

Two nuclear warheads have been stolen by SPECTRE, and their trail leads James Bond to the Bahamas to investigate. Things do start off promising, what with a rousing and creative opener of Bond depending himself from an attacker and the full plans of SPECTRE's nuclear blackmail unfolding before us, but once we get to the capital of Nassau this is where any promises are squandered. Things slow down as we get plenty of scenes that are pretty pointless, and don't really connect to each other all that well in terms of keeping things intriguing or setting things up for memorable moments, as the story is so bluntly laid out to the viewers in a by-the-numbers fashion that it doesn't become all that fun in wondering what mess Bond will find himself in and how he's gonna get out of it. That's not to say it's all a chore to watch, Bond trying to escape a chase through hiding in a Junkanoo parade is enough of a stylish sight to brag my attention, but these moments of suspense and intensity are pretty rare and any sense of entertainment is more than fleeting.

Part of this lies in what many regard as a gimmick that caused the most behind-the-scenes trouble, that being the many underwater action sequences that seem to go on forever each time we encounter them. The photography in actually pulling these complex moments are pristine and quality, it's got that going for it, but in trying to achieve grand and exotic tussles any of these moments underwater become repetitive and overlong, trouble imminent in SPECTRE covering up a submerged airplane at a meticulously slow pace all for the sake of showing off what the crew could pull off. The rest of the action almost becomes good at times, there's plenty of cars and other assorted vehicles violently exploding which is something I've grown to really look forward in these older Bond films, and the use of gadgets are varied and dispersed at a careful pace (they blew their load with the jetpack however, as ridiculous and quaint as it looks). It's just so much of the film is comprised of those underwater moments where everything feels the same that anything good almost feels like it gets washed up in the wave of mediocrity.

Mediocrity is a fair way to describe Thunderball when looking it as a whole, because my boredom never led towards contempt, but rather disappointment given the good that's present. Tom Jones singing the theme song is a great way to kick things off, whilst John Barry's score does try its best to stir up excitement even when the film falters. Bond's one-liners are considerable more witty even with a clunker here and there, and Fiona Volpe makes for a quality opponent for Bond, incorruptible in her evil ways and just as cunning as our suave hero, especially compared to the basic, flat main villain that is Emilio Largo. It's hard to actively love the film when it seems to almost separate the seriousness of the mission and its outlandish components, most prominently in an assassin's attempt to kill Bond via stretching machine, and it can never settle those two competing ideals even when it has too much time to wander about, and as a result this ranks as probably my least-favorite Bond film if only because I'll likely forget what happens in like a week (at least Diamonds Are Forever had those two weird henchmen, that's a plus in that dumb film's favor).