Thunderball

Thunderball ★★½

Part 4 of the Bondathon!

This was one of the first Bond movies I bought on DVD way back when, because the local Blockbuster did't have it. For a long while, it was the only Connery Bond film that I owned, so I watched this a lot as a kid. Despite the frequency with which I viewed the film, I was never a huge fan of it, and as soon as I got some of the other Connery movies, I stopped watching this one as much. As it stands this is probably the first time I've watched this since I was in middle school. Honestly though, my initial observations were that I liked it more than I remember.

It starts with another one of those instances where they try to make us believe Bond is dead in the opening scene, by focusing on a casket with the initials "JB" written on them. Soon, we get a really good fight between Connery and his stuntman Bob Simmons, who was the man in the gunbarrel in the first three films. Here Simmons plays Jack Bouvier, a Spectre agent who Bond defeats in a brutal fight. My joy at the excitement of this scene is cut short, however, when Bond uses a jetpack to escape. Its not that its too silly, it's just how its presented. Everything about it is cheap. The rear projection looks bad, it's just sitting there on the roof, and its a lame escape for Bond. We could have had a cool rooftop chase or something, but no, someone just had to see that jetpack at a trade show or something and say "We need to get that into the next Bond movie somehow!"

The opening credits here, done once again by Maurice Binder (who will do every title scene from here until Goldeneye) set the formula for every title sequence to come. They look really good, with the women swimming around in the water, and I also really like Tom Jones' song, even if I have no idea what he's singing about. After the opening titles, we see Bond at a health clinic. Why is he here? I don't know, the movie never explains it, but while here, he haphazardly uncovers a Spectre plot entirely based on coincidence. Lucky for him I guess. That brings me to one of my major problems with Thunderball, its not a very cohesive story. The connective tissue to move the plot from one point to another is just not that strong, which makes it a little sad that so much legal trouble erupted over this, one of the weakest Bond plots. I won't go into all that very much as it is very complicated, but if your interested in getting a quick overview, one that will explain why Never Say Never Again exists, and why it took them all so long to adapt Casino Royale and to use Spectre again, this offers a good overview.

Bond's stay at the Health clinic is not entirely without fun though, as we're introduced to the best part of Thunderball, Luciana Paluzzi as Spectre agent Fiona Volpe. She's one of the best femme fatales in the whole Bond series if not the very best. She's beautiful and cunning, and she improves every scene she's in. After that, we get to see the (entierly too lengthy) Spectre heist of the atomic warheads. It has some cool moments, and at this point, the underwater stunts are still exciting, so I'm having fun. Once they have them, Bond is off to the Bahamas. This location is fun, but it feels a little too similar to the Jamaica of Dr. No, only more sanitized. The only unique thing that we see here is the Junkanoo celebration, which is pretty neat. At this point, we're introduced to the rest of the major characters, including Bond girl Domino Derval, a beautiful, but ultimately really boring character. Her relationship with her brother is also really strange and kind of borderline incestuous too. Just listen to how she talks about him, its really overly affectionate.

We also get to know Emilo Largo, the villian this time around, who we were introduced to earlier. He's also kind of boring to me, really only his eye patch is cool. He doesn't really instill much menace, or even fun camp in me. His henchmen, other than Volpe are also lackluster. There's a bald guy who doesn't drink or smoke or make love, there's a doctor guy who turns on him when he sees Largo torturing Domino, and theres a Lou Ferigno looking guy who doesn't really do much at all. Felix Leiter is also lurking around, and honestly, he's the worst one yet. Even Connery doesn't seem as into the role of Bond this time around. Sure he has his moments, but he looks a little bored to me. Although I do really love his performance in the scene where he tells Domino her brother is dead. I like how he puts on his sunglasses to hide his emotions when she starts to cry. Its a great character moment for Bond.

For all the kvetching I'm doing about this movie, I'm actually enjoying it for the first half, until Fiona Volpe dies. Not nearly as much as FRWL or Goldfinger, but maybe as much as Dr. No. The underwater scenes are still fun, and the Junkanoo chase is great, plus I love the scene where Volpe is in the bathtub and asks Bond for something to put on, and he hands her some shoes. But after she dies, the movie skids to a halt, and I get really tired of being underwater. Other than the opening scene and the Junkanoo chase, every action scene is underwater. People move very slow underwater, and Terrence Young doesn't seem to know how to direct that to make it look exciting. Only John Berry's (admittedly great) score is able to add to the excitement, but ultimately, there's only so many times you can watch someone's mask be torn off or shot by a harpoon before you start to wish it was over. That final battle in the water is especially tedious, and the fight on the bridge of the Disco Volante is not much better, even though its not in the water. The sped-up film looks really bad there, and the rear projection looks even worse.

Ultimately, while I liked this one better than I remembered, it still has many problems. This is the first Bond film I'm not crazy about. That being said, there's still many things here to admire. As with most Bond movies I don't like, there are still good things present, and with so many installments, there are plenty to look forward to, even if this one is slightly lackluster.

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