“The greatest!" "The biggest!" "The most visionary!"
For all the superlatives Hollywood loves to deploy, the James Bond franchise – the latest entry of which, “No Time To Die,” arrives in U.S. theaters Friday – is almost certainly the most enduring. Twenty-five movies have been pumped out over the nearly 60 years since Sean Connery’s dashing, daring spy planted the franchise flag on Dr. No’s exploding Jamaica lair.
Through the good, the bad and the Sheriff J.W. Pepper, the MI6 agent with a preference for shaken martinis and penchant for foiling supervillains’ plans with inches to spare has managed to remain a significant force in pop culture—even when it becomes a parody of itself.
As anticipation mounts for 007’s 25th mission – the last of the Daniel Craig era – it’s as good a time as ever to revisit every entry in the series and stack them up against each other. There’s been an Eon-produced Bond movie for every hour of the day, but we took the title of the upcoming entry as a challenge. No time to rewatch the whole series? We’ve done just that, and ranked them all.
25. “Live and Let Die” (dir. Guy Hamilton)
It’s a funny thing to consider that one of the best Bond songs intros the worst Bond movie. “Live and Let Die,” which takes Roger Moore’s bored-looking spy to New Orleans, traffics in racial stereotypes and fetishistic depictions and forgets to justify it with any sense of self-knowing fun.
It isn’t a problem if the series wants to dip its toes into self-parody in the name of escapism; some of its best entries further down this list do just that. But aside from one incredible moment of death via overinflation, Guy Hamilton has an awkwardly limp handle on what he’s mocking, despite having already directed one of the franchise’s best installments. “Live and Let Die” is a movie that crosses the pond to go for the easy bait, and ends up chomping on its own tail.
24. “For Your Eyes Only” (dir. John Glen)
One of those Roger Moore Bond outings with such a shamelessly flimsy plot you almost have to respect how much it exists solely to provide an avenue for the action, and setup for the one-liners. Is it ironic or fateful – or both – that the most exhilarating sequence is a cold open which sees Blofeld casually being dumped into literal obscurity when his ambush attempt goes awry? There’s nothing particularly wrong about “For Your Eyes Only,” but when you’re sandwiched between such instantly recognizable and infinitely more entertaining titles as “Moonraker” and “Octopussy,” it’s easy to be forgotten.
23. “The Man with the Golden Gun” (dir. Guy Hamilton)
Not many tangential characters pop up in multiple James Bond movies. There’s Blofeld, of course. There’s Felix Leiter, naturally. And there’s...J.W. Pepper the racist sheriff?
“The Man with the Golden Gun” is in every way more entertaining than Roger Moore’s first outing as 007, and also a bit of an odder one. Odd tends to be a good thing when it comes to the Moore era and its symbols – a gold-plated weapon made up of spare office parts, for example – which is what makes it sobering to observe this movie’s undercurrents about legacy and the different motivations for putting fingers to triggers.
To call a Bond movie atonal isn’t always a valid complaint, but it’s hard not to suspect there isn’t a more substantive entry hidden under the surface pleasantries of Guy Hamilton’s final round in the director’s chair. Here those include a spectacular (if carnivalistic) driving stunt and a climactic game of hide and seek that’s a good bit of fun. But there’s also something off about the movie’s calculations that results in Christopher Lee’s slippery Scaramanga being less memorable than the pint-sized Nick Nack.
22. “Die Another Day” (dir. Lee Tamahori)
It’s difficult to reconcile the two sides of Pierce Brosnan’s final outing, which opens with him being tortured as a Korean prisoner and ends with him surfing down the massive CGI waves of a melting glacier. The problem isn’t the character’s resurrection; it’s that “Die Another Day” doesn’t know how to channel the implications of a defeated and bruised Bond (frankly, neither does Brosnan). Collaborating on just the second of seven (and counting) Bond screenplays, Robert Wade and Neal Purvis are clearly invested in picking apart the iconic spy, but it would take some refinement and another actor to bring those ideas to vivid life.
What “Die Another Day” leaves us with, then, is an iconic Halle Berry shot, a hilariously destructive fencing bout and a marquee case of a blockbuster refusing to keep its destructive-solar-laser urges in check. Nearly two decades later, you could make the case the ugliness of some of the effects gives “Die Another Day” a certain charm. But reflective of the marvelously imaginative and practical sets of, say, “Moonraker,” this is not.
Audiences welcomed that by making “Die Another Day” the highest-grossing entry in the series so far. But while fans enjoyed the taste of a Brosnan finale that attempts to have it both shaken and stirred, the series wised up by sobering up with its most audacious entry four years later.
21. “Diamonds Are Forever” (dir. Guy Hamilton)
Is it possible for even a James Bond movie to have a plot with too many holes? A strong case is made in the form of “Diamonds Are Forever,” a fairly bland Bond mission elevated by the fact it was Connery’s last go-round in the Eon-produced films. Perhaps that’s why we’re apt to focus on just how silky-smooth he was in the role, the way so few embodied such a perfect combination of classic and contemporary like he did. “Diamonds Are Forever” may need a caffeine injection, but at least it’s got multiple Blofelds to assure us we need not try to keep up with the confusing story to enjoy Connery’s curtain call.
20. “A View to a Kill” (dir. John Glen)
In Bond movie No. 14, some shamelessly fun set pieces on the streets of Paris and in the air over San Francisco bookend a sluggishly paced middle act which spends too much time trying to locate the thrills of espionage in the world of horse-racing. Granted, the movie deploys some high-wattage starpower in the form of Christopher Walken and Grace Jones, but even they struggle to provide consistent fireworks for Roger Moore’s final 007 outing until the movie’s second half, when they scheme up a storm with the planned destruction of Silicon Valley.
And though we may forgive the screenwriters for taking a lengthy detour to provide Moore’s aging Bond with a literal final round of applause as he escapes a burning California city hall, it’s harder to give them the benefit of the doubt when that sequence bares its white knuckles more thrillingly than Max Zorin’s final comeuppance. Walken deserves better than the mostly muted space he’s given to play around in as the villain, but Moore finds some last charges of spunk even as he approaches 60. "A View To Kill" sees him off after seven films the only way the franchise could...in the arms of a woman.
19. “Spectre” (dir. Sam Mendes)
Weary and slow-moving, “Spectre” is the modern Bond installment that gets around to what was perhaps inevitable: Resurrecting the shadowy titular organization for the first time since the Sean Connery days. And there’s an undeniable, gothic grandeur to the conspiratorial nature of it all; Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s imagery grasps the mood of our hero sinking into something far bigger than he’s expecting, while Christoph Waltz makes too much sense as a new villain to lead the way.
Only he isn’t a new villain, and the movie is kidding itself if it thought it was convincing us otherwise. The Daniel Craig run up to this point had been defined by redefining the character, but the exploration of Bond begins to feel strained with "Spectre's" unsatisfying reveals. Even without the biggest explosion ever manufactured for a Hollywood movie, there’s no getting around the suspicion that Sam Mendes’s disappointing follow-up to his own spectacular “Skyfall” is overcompensating for something. Perhaps the writing was on the wall?
18. “The World Is Not Enough” (dir. Michael Apted)
Spy story meets soap opera in “The World Is Not Enough” and its twisty plot about family legacies and pipelines and Stockholm Syndrome and stolen warheads. By now Pierce Brosnan has embraced his natural ability to turn 007’s one-liners into a spectacle in their own right, piercing right through the messy melodrama of a plot hinging on personal stakes, ignited by a shocking attack on MI6 via the agency’s home turf. “The World Is Not Enough” is occasionally nice and novel, all things considered, ensuring the longevity of the series as it prepared to enter the new millennium.
17. “Thunderball” (dir. Terence Young)
Director Terence Young returns to fulfill the promise of Guy Hamilton’s hammy “Goldfinger,” cementing the series’s present and future in a place of entertaining cartoonishness. But they wouldn't all hit the bulls-eye, and “Thunderball” is an adventure that trades in its predecessor’s high-octane energy and tightly-scripted story for a convoluted Bahamas-set thriller struggling to compromise between humble franchise origins and a series teetering on self-mockery just four films in.
We can confidently say this about “Thunderball,” however: Its underwater heists and harpoon battles give it a distinct identity, as well as plenty of opportunity to marvel at the impressive aquatic stunts they managed to pull off in the ‘60s (even if they don’t come across as spectacularly as they surely did in the ‘60s). There may be more sharks than surprises in “Thunderball,” but sometimes that and a couple of stolen nukes are all you need for a just-engaging-enough Bond movie. As the double-oh himself says, “Vanity has its dangers.” “Thunderball” knows its limits, and manages to mostly reside within them.
16. “Moonraker” (dir. Lewis Gilbert)
Two years after Luke Skywalker blasted off into the stars, so did James Bond, and the spectacle of space battles and laser rifles in “Moonraker’s” climax remains high among the franchise’s unwaveringly goofy and fetishistically maximalist moments.
But “Moonraker” is lower-mid-tier Bond because of the bloated movie set up to get there, one that’s seemingly more invested in a character arc for Jaws than a compelling plot. Roger Moore is a wooden presence in his fourth Bond outing, one that goes out of its way far too often for the requisite set piece at the expense of a coherent story. Ken Adams’s set design work endures as it always does, but “Moonraker’s” journey to space does little to ignite our imagination until the final act.
15. “Octopussy” (dir. John Glen)
Twenty-five years before Shia LaBeouf infamously swung along some jungle vines, Roger Moore unleashed his own inner Tarzan in another John Glen-directed outing which rather wonderfully balanced the serious (interglobal nuclear conflict) with the silly (deadly yo-yo saws). Regardless of its perspective about all-female smuggling operations which Bond obviously finds himself right at home in, “Octopussy” feels like a decisively more committed Bond production; Louis Jordan’s slippery Kamal Khan plays like an inspiration for Le Chiffre, Glen gives a potent air of conspiratorial suspense to a plot with one or two too many moving parts, and special-effects advances give newfound finesse to the third-act set piece that finds Moore running on top of a speeding train. You feel Moore’s age in “Octopussy," but the world-weariness comes to feel like a new reflection for the spy who’s been through it all and then some.
14. “No Time To Die” (dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga)
Redundant and bloated, the finale to the most narratively ambitious James Bond run is an action-drama that serves up solid action but fairly unengaging drama. It’s an ambitious entry in its own right, placing the iconic spy deeper into territory of irrelevance than he’s ever been, but Cary Joji Fukunaga and his fellow screenwriters’ attempt at payoff, while operatic in scale, sees them stumbling into the lowest common denominator of recent blockbuster-saga trends.
Craig is as dynamic and marvelously world-weary as ever, however, and “No Time To Die” has deeper ideas about the roles of women in this world of contemporary espionage than both entries on either side of this spot put together. The ambition and atmosphere of certain sequences, and there mere implication of a Bond may be enough for "No Time To Die" to age gracefully.
13. “You Only Live Twice” (dir. Lewis Gilbert)
Listen, there’s only so low you can rank a Bond movie in which the villain’s lair is revealed to be a volcano. 007 doesn’t venture to the stars (yet) in his fifth adventure, but Space Race tensions between the U.S. and Russia lead him to Japan in “You Only Live Twice.” In what was thought at the time to be his final turn as James Bond, Sean Connery shoots down enemy helicopters, fashions himself a ninja, uncovers that massive lair and *checks notes* comes back to life after a fake-out prologue that sees the agent gunned down to trick his foes.
Lewis Gilbert’s movie, working off a screenplay from Roald Dahl – yes, that Roald Dahl – set a new standard for the series’s willingness to embrace how preposterous it can be, for better and for worse. It also pulls the curtain back on the mysterious “Number One” at the head of SPECTRE’s villainous schemes through these early movies. At long last, we meet the cat-loving Ernst Blofeld in the flesh—the scarred face is an iconic image, but Donald Pleasence’s brief, robotic performance as the main Bond baddie leaves us underwhelmed decades later.
12. “Tomorrow Never Dies” (dir. Roger Spottiswoode)
At first, Director Roger Spottiswoode’s lone Bond effort seems as though it’s honoring 007 adventures past, opening with the deployment of a stealth seafaring lair recalling “The Spy Who Loved Me’s” crab-like Atlantis. But, true to its title, “Tomorrow Never Dies” soon places its stakes squarely in contemporary shoes in the form of an antagonistic media mogul (played by a dry but welcome Jonathan Pryce) relying on fake news to start World War III.
The concept of devious misinformation has aged well over the last 24 years, even if the logistics of Elliot Carver’s plan haven’t. “Tomorrow Never Dies” meekly echoes the attitude of the Brosnan era in that it indulges whimsy with its world-ending schemes while paving the road to the fine-tuned action of the future Daniel Craig films; a third-act chase between motorcycle and helicopter in Saigon retains some awe-inspiring power. Much of that can be chalked up to the presence of Michelle Yeoh, here igniting her Hollywood career with a striking presence smoothly transcending the Bond Girl trope. “Tomorrow Never Dies” may still end with her in Bond’s embrace, but she comes closest to giving the movie what it can hope for in terms of a legacy as it sparks her own among Western audiences.
11. “GoldenEye” (dir. Martin Campbell)
The first time Pierce Brosnan gets our blood pumping, it’s with a balletic dive off a massive dam. But it isn’t until he pops into a tank and cruises down Moscow’s streets that he truly announces himself as the daredevil spy, and when the franchise announces itself as returning to more playful and smooth-handed territory after a pair of grittier entries anchored by Timothy Dalton.
Whether the franchise’s overseers considered “GoldenEye” a necessary recalculation of Bondian tropes or merely an inevitable one might best be answered by the Greek-tragedy sweep of Sean Bean’s double-oh-turned-antagonist Alec, or perhaps by Famke Janseen’s henchwoman who gets off on strangling her would-be lovers and leaving the pleasure one-sided. Brosnan’s first 007 adventure whips up enough kookiness to suffice, and deserves a bit more enthusiastic praise for introducing Judi Dench as a steelier, irrefutable and definitive modern-day M.
10. “Quantum of Solace” (dir. Marc Forster)
As a standalone James Bond joint, “Quantum of Solace” underwhelms with its jaggedly edited action, confusing story and Mathieu Amalric’s anonymous villain. As the second part of a diptych started by “Casino Royale,” it’s an interesting gunfire-burst of a character study continuing to pick apart a cinematic archetype.
All those holographic displays projecting innocuous exposition is tedious to bear in a movie that deeply misses Martin Campbell’s directorial finesse, but if his reboot featured a novice double-oh shaken by the violence simmering inside him, Marc Forster's “Quantum of Solace” is about the beast shaking the shackles and unleashing all manner of collateral damage. There’s no forgiving the sensation of “That’s it?” that arrives at the end of the final set piece, but more than ever before the closing frames leave us with the impression that James Bond is an actual character on an actual journey.
9. “Licence to Kill” (dir. John Glen)
On his own, his license to kill revoked, maneuvering the strings from behind enemy lines...James Bond had never been as much of a solo operator as his 1989 outing depicted him to be, and it’s no small percentage of the movie’s thrill that he’s so over his head in it. Capping off a five-movie tenure directing Bond flicks, John Glen punt-fakes the audience by opening with an ostensibly sheepish drug-runner takedown disguised as a gun-toting bachelor party for CIA ally Felix Leiter, only to leave our newlyweds attacked and Bond enraged. “Licence to Kill’s” plot mechanics don't quite sing, but in just two movies Dalton proved himself the prototype for a reckless new caliber of Bond, and the epic desert-highway chase that closes the movie is one of the very first times we could call a 007 set piece “tactile” upon a rewatch without biting our lower lip.
8. “The Spy Who Loved Me” (dir. Lewis Gilbert)
The Roger Moore era peaked with “The Spy Who Loved Me,” a hugely entertaining romp that starts with Bond skiing off the edge of a cliff toward certain doom and only growing more enthralling from there. As our hero races to find who is behind disappearing nuclear submarines – holding off a terrifying metal-jawed adversary in the meantime – “The Spy Who Loved Me” manages to be the rare 007 entry from the ‘70s that skillfully blends era-accurate indulgence with style. The moment that white Lotus Esprit S1 sprouts fins underwater is both perfectly in the spirit of the series so far and proof it could still be imaginative 10 movies in.
A troubled production resulted in the first three-year wait between Bond movies, and the script was tinkered with amid legal disputes and a desire to appease Russian distributors. “The Spy Who Loved Me” turns improvisation into subversion by making the Bond Girl, Barbara Bach’s Major Amasova, a competing agent with the KGB—and someone with her own agenda. 007 himself would be proud of the way foiled plans were spun into triumph. As for audiences, the tenth Bond movie is still pure time-wasting fun all these years later. We might not have the even more outrageous “Moonraker” without it.
7. “Dr. No” (dir. Terence Young)
The tropes are tropes for a reason. But even now, 59 years later, the confident swagger with which Sean Connery introduced Ian Fleming’s spy – as a card-playing, cigarette-lighting chap casually looking for a bind to hop into just to say he hopped right out of it – remains as disarmingly charming as ever.
In some respects “Dr. No” is a low-key 007 mission relative to what would come before too long (the lair is merely underground, not in a volcano or beyond the atmosphere), but no one will finish the movie wondering when the series skipped into SPECTRE or casual objectification of women or down-to-the-millisecond plot-foiling.
That may or may not confirm the movie is as valuable an artifact as a dramatic super-detective story to be taken on its own terms, but the enduring allure of “Dr. No” is that it’s impossible to know for certain two dozen Bond outings later. What we can say with a bit more confidence is that Terence Young and Co. struck gold early with certain foundational elements which now feel almost metaphysically important to the action-filmmaking genre: the iconic guitar riff anchoring Monty Norman’s score, the appealing goofiness skirmishing against artfully depicted mystique, the power of pure charisma. Tropes are tropes for a reason, yes, but it’s formula that’s forever...something Connery seems to know from the start when he speaks with strange melancholy while murmuring, “World domination...same old dream.”
6. “The Living Daylights” (dir. John Glen)
The first impression of Timothy Dalton is of a younger, more versatile, slightly more reckless James Bond—an MI6 spy whose brutish unpredictability is, in a new move for the franchise, emphasized more than his suave charm.
The same can be said for the movie surrounding him. “The Living Daylights” is an underrated entry in the Bond canon, as well as the closest thing this series of movies has had to a reboot up to this point. That the plot is an intimidating jumble of deceptive political scheming feels like mainstay writers Richard Maibaum and Michael Wilson nudging us to consider the man wielding the Walther PPK for the first time, and in Dalton’s shoes Bond is an engrossing livewire act who dares to act outside jurisdiction. Moore would never. Neither, for that matter, would Connery.
Unlike most prior Bonds, watching “The Living Daylights” makes us feel like we’re entering into a world of established tensions and histories, and it’s a thrilling thing. That extends to one of the series’s best Bond Girls in Kara Milovy, who’s given the privilege of embarking on her own narrative arc as someone first residing under Bond’s dubiously watchful eye before trotting off toward a small private army to enable his rescue. And Dalton’s willingness to get down and dirty sets the tone for it all. There’s a strong case to be made that this first post-Moore Bond adventure represents the dawn of the series’s contemporary phase, one driven by a deeper consideration of character and action that bites rather than glides.
5. “Goldfinger” (dir. Guy Hamilton)
There are two camps of Bond fans: Those who prefer the relatively grounded, stirring suspense of “From Russia With Love” and those who prefer the shaken escapism of its follow-up, “Goldfinger.” You might even migrate between the two every once in a while, as the movies themselves have done, although it’s the spirit of the franchise's third entry – with its top hat-throwing villains and aesthetic dynamism and tonal tomfoolery – which represents the closest thing the franchise has to a true north.
Just listen to Shirley Bassey’s wails in that opening song, which establishes a bombastic tone for a series going in a more bombastic direction without losing its cool. No matter that “Goldfinger” comes with lethal lasers and Aston Martins equipped with ejector seats; the first of director Guy Hamilton’s four James Bond efforts just managed to skirt the edges of self-parody. Or at least that’s what it feels like watching “Goldfinger” after seeing the increasingly fantastical entries which would follow. When you’ve seen Bond crash a party on the moon, watching him interrupt an invasion at Fort Knox is pretty low-key stuff, though no less thrilling. It also subtly explored the potential downsides of a hero who so often ogles after women at the expense of his mission (“Discipline, 007, discipline,” Sean Connery whispers to himself at one point). It’s a welcome signal that the indefatigable spy is more vulnerable than we may think.
Then there’s Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger, who makes for a cheerily great villain, one just as confident as Bond, and who shows it too. It’s money and excess facing off against style and swagger. The script creates an almost disarming amount of space for one-on-one time between its equally charismatic foes, and Connery and Frobe pay it off with some fantastic banter. “Goldfinger” could have only worked with a personality like Goldfinger—both movie and character are sly, blunt, a bit pompous and totally irresistible. In tandem, they make the case that these wilder entries function as necessary chasers for whenever the series decides to strike a more solemn note.
4. “Skyfall” (dir. Sam Mendes)
Past and present collide at multiple junctures in “Skyfall,” which makes the franchise’s best case for narrative clarity despite the outlandishness of 007 plots being part of the reason we’ve returned to them for decades. Does everything have to make utmost sense in a James Bond movie from this point on? Of course not. But “Skyfall'' proves how even the most familiar of franchises can find thrills anew when the script is as tight as a fitted tux. This is a movie of marvelous action, yet among the movie’s most delicious set pieces is the unforgettably menacing introduction of Javier Bardem's Silva, and the standoff that ensues in the coldly funny dialogue catapulted between Bond and Ben Wishaw’s pitch-perfect Q upon their introduction. Old and new colliding, indeed.
If nothing else, “Skyfall” might be the most purely artistic entry in the Bond franchise, thanks to the impressive pedigree of more than 30 Oscar nominations garnered by its various collaborators, including cinematography royalty Roger Deakins. It shouldn’t be a surprise “Skyfall” ended up being the most Oscar-nominated Bond entry in its own right (five nominations, two wins), but that doesn’t diminish the contemplative tone the movie retains as it skillfully pulls the lens back from Bond to examine MI6’s role in an increasingly hackable world. “Skyfall” is a sensationally constructed movie, like many a Bond movie before it. Unlike very many Bond movies before it, it’s also poetic.
3. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (dir. Peter R. Hunt)
How to follow up the great Sean Connery in a popcorn franchise which shaped itself to his charisma over the better part of the previous decade? By recognizing it won’t be as easy as plugging a new actor in and crossing your fingers. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is cheeky about the tall task in George Lazenby’s hands, even going as far as to show Diana Rigg’s damsel in distress evading the spy to conclude the opening scene when we’re used to seeing them jump into his arms. “This never happened with the other fella,” Lazenby’s Bond remarks. True enough.
That self-awareness is baked into every element of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." There’s the cold open which practically challenges Lazenby to take up the seat Connery left behind, and there’s the references to a series moving on when the spy briefly resigns his post. There’s Bond presenting himself as a genealogist in a series where Bond actors form their own kind of cinematic ancestry, and there’s the most satisfying moment when that familiar guitar riff roars into the theme where John Barry had briefly replaced it with a tinny sound, representing a new Bond finally coming into his own. It only helps that Rigg established herself as a quintessential Bond Girl, and Telly Savalas as the quintessential Blofeld.
The action in “On Her Majesty's Secret Service” isn’t the most spectacular in the series, nor is its suspense the most potent or its iconography the most, well, iconic. What the movie accomplished in earnest was to take the first steps in exploring a space to dissect a character audiences may have previously thought could only be considered and played one way. That’s about as revolutionary as any John Barry score of Ken Adams-designed lair, and set a vital early precedent for some of the most substantially interesting Bond movies to come.
2. “From Russia With Love” (dir. Terence Young)
Watching “From Russia With Love” in 2021 is a humbling experience. So often do we recall the playfulness of the classic Bond adventures – the volcanic lairs, exploding watches and submersible cars – that we tend to forget how the franchise primed itself by understating itself.
Beginning with SPECTRE seeking payback from Bond, the movie disguises a vendetta as a bonafide episode of international espionage, in the process representing an ambitious leap in style and scope from the franchise’s debut. The drama is potent, keeping “From Russia With Love’s” feet planted on the ground while providing stellar action on trains, over the water, in the air. As a Bond Girl, Romanova does more than just be someone to ogle at. And the story is ambitiously layered, with foes that scheme from the shadows and an intrigue that keeps the story one step ahead of the audience.
Of course, the movie’s best asset is Sean Connery continuing to settle into the role he was born for. Much of what makes him such a memorable Bond – to many still the template Bond – is on display here: The subtle bite of the lip when he reaches a right conclusion, the ability to let our realizations be as satisfying as his own, the expectation that his charm is all the bulletproof armor he needs. There's no getting tired of watching him save the world.
1. “Casino Royale” (dir. Martin Campbell)
Out with the tanks rolling through Moscow streets, in with the monochrome noir-style prologue showcasing a novice spy’s killer origins. No other 007 movie arrived with a bigger chip on its blood-stained shoulder than “Casino Royale.”
Then again, Director Martin Campbell’s most triumphant return to the franchise is like no other 007 movie before it. As thrilling a franchise reimagining as “Batman Begins” or “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Casino Royale” finally made good on the brooding iteration of Bond first teased by Anthony Dalton by asking whether ego disguises the cold-blooded operative inside every double-oh or reveals it. There’s impressive, tactile panache in every set piece – that parkour chase! That stairwell fight! – and the story’s layered conspiracies unfold with a certain musicality to balance out the cold humor peppering the dialogue (“Christ, I miss the Cold War,” is only one of M’s wonderful lines which shines within both narrative and metatextual confines).
Bond movies are always assured in their own way, but that doesn’t mean the producers of “Casino Royale” didn't make a huge bet with Daniel Craig, whose debut is a performance so superbly internalized there were likely some moviegoers in 2006 who initially wondered if they’d wandered into the wrong screening. He makes the best case for viewing “Casino Royale” as a tragedy of blockbuster proportions, caught between love and duty to such a degree that it launches the series outside its own conventions. This isn’t the first time the series dipped its Oxfords into the waters of melodrama, but it is the first to make us consider why we view our action heroes the way we do, and Eva Green more than capably shoulders the burden of convincing us how she and her deception would burn herself into Bond’s psyche for all the missions to come.
Who says our action heroes’ stories don’t need to feel personal, their stakes rooted in identity? Fifteen years on, it’s hard not to fall for the bold red herring of Bond’s deceptively sunny retirement with Vesper, and even harder not to appreciate how it grounds the movie’s vast tonal range. “Casino Royale” convincingly, astoundingly shows us James Bond’s heart before crushing it with the weight of a sinking Venetian building, and freezing it over completely with one hell of a cliffhanger ending.