"Bond, James Bond." With such a simple sentence, one of the most mysterious characters in film history is introduced time and again, until there can be no one who does not yet know his name.
James Bond is intensely prolific. There are 22 films about his exploits, and for good reason. Bond often seems to be almost impartial to events that happen to, and around, him. There might be sinister plots afoot, wicked villains scheming to destroy the world, and beautiful women throwing themselves at him, but Bond remains aloof, cool and clear-headed. Get the job done is priority one: be it foiling Russian spies or corralling guerrilla terrorists, it's all done handily and in the classiest fashion.
The plots of Bond films tend to be somewhat forgettable. What remains are the memorable explosions, shaken-not-stirred Martinis, distinctive cars, and drop-dead gorgeous Bond girls. James Bond gives us a look at the good life, an exotic world where anything is possible.
Let's take a look at my personal top five:
This film took its name from the Ian Fleming novel, but oddly enough, none of the actual story. In a gesture of cinematic good will, Bond and a Russian spy are teamed up to uncover the location of nuclear subs. With sharks and underwater cars, the film also has one of the most memorable villains in Bond history, the frightening steel-toothed Jaws. The Spy Who Loved Me is made only better by the dapper Roger Moore's turn as Bond.
In the minds of many, Sean Connery is the quintessential Bond. He's roguish and charming, capable and seductive. This time, Bond acts as a diamond smuggler, and the film is replete with a campy tone and look-alike clone villains. In addition to having what may be the finest Bond theme song of all time by Shirley Bassey, this film stands out among others for the luxurious view of a Las Vegas that is no more, an almost documentary view of a city that has become a caricature of itself. This would be a problem faced by the Bond franchise several times over the years, as one-liner zingers and hokey villains threatened to bury the hero time and again.
The Cold War again provides background for this film as Bond fights to prevent a crime syndicate from utilizing a computer system to bankrupt England. Pierce Brosnan may have been the perfect Bond. It's easy to forget Timothy Dalton, and even George Lazenby were ever James Bond, but Brosnan was a delight to watch. Never too campy, not too fierce, he was the right mix of seductive charm and effective prowess. The Brosnan years brought with them a renewed emphasis on gadgets, non-stop action, and chase scenes. This film is undeniably the best of all four Brosnan films.
Playing off of Cold War fears, the locale is Istanbul, but the focus is the Soviets. The film is only the second in the series, and may be a bit too soft for many hardcore Bond enthusiasts, but as it is finding its feet, the simple elements are already in place, with cars, gadgets and lengthy chase scenes on boats, helicopters and even the Orient Express. Connery settles nicely into a role that defines him in the minds of many to this day. The gypsy-girl wrestling scene, while Bond wryly looks on, also ranks highly in finest Bond moments.
Whether he was battling terrorists or playing a high-stakes game of cards, Casino Royale gave us a harsher, young Bond -- a direct look at the origins of the man as he navigates his mission as a newly minted British operative, having just attained his license to kill. Many fans were unsure of Daniel Craig's ability to portray Bond, but the blond-haired actor brought to light a new kind of serious attitude, humorless and nearly ruthless. The very expensive Quantum of Solace has been well-anticipated from the last frame of Casino Royale to the release date of November 14, and there's even talk of a third Craig/Bond film.
Editor's Note: Daniel Craig gave us a two part interview where he discussed the future of the Bond franchise. And for the record, Quantum of Solace IS quite good.