It's hard to break the Bond with the 7 best of 007
Spoiler alert for "No Time to Die," the James Bond movie that opens Friday: 007 will survive.
I'm making that prediction before seeing it because I've just revisited many of the 25 movies in the series, all of which conclude with some form of "Bond will return." He might not return in the form of Daniel Craig, who has donned the tux for longer than any predecessor and has claimed he's peace-outing (although he's said that before).
But some Bond will be back for a 26th round of jetting to at least three exotic locales in pursuit of an evil millionaire who wants to control the world. Come to think of it, is it just a coincidence that Amazon guru Jeff Bezos appears to be cosplaying frequent Bond adversary Ernst Blofeld?
The basics of Bond movies are so set in stone that they're not categorized by director but by star and, in fact, most Bond directors have been anonymous journeymen. The producers have tried bigger names of late, including Oscar winner Sam Mendes ("Skyfall," "Spectre"), but "Slumdog Millionaire" auteur Danny Boyle left an earlier version of "No Time" because he couldn't agree with the writers on a plan to shake things up.
Most would say original Bond Sean Connery is the best (all Bonds seem to be the same person, who changes faces but has remained a middle-aged White guy for half a century). Connery also established a learning curve for the secret agent when, for instance, the bad guy gave him a beverage in debut film "Dr. No" and he blithely drank the knock-out drops, a mistake future Bonds mostly avoid.
But, having seen all of the movies, I'd argue each Bond has something going for him.
Connery and Roger Moore are tied for most prolific, both with seven films and both benefiting from the faster pace with which movies used to be made (Connery's first five came out in a six-year span and it took Moore just 13 years to crank out seven). Connery established a template — Bond is so devil-may-care he makes saving the world look effortless — but, partly because the early 1960s were a different time in terms of how women were treated on screen, he comes off as the most brutish Bond.
George Lazenby, who did only "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," gets a bad rap because he followed the OG but his is one of the most interesting movies. Lazenby is the most athletic of the actors and the script, the only one with a Mrs. Bond, lets him express grief and regret, something that's not true of the quippier 007s. All Bond films include either a beachy paradise or a ski resort but Lazenby gets both, including a ski lodge with a stunning, 360-degree view of the Swiss Alps.
Moore was the oldest and most elegant Bond but, maybe to balance that, he dispatched bad guys with unusual savagery, especially in "For Your Eyes Only," which also features "Rocky" composer Bill Conti shaking up the classic Bond theme. Of all the Bonds, Moore has the most fun with the punny quips that follow a kill or a roll in the hay, which the movies treat like they're roughly equivalent.
Timothy Dalton must have nixed puns. There's neither much humor in his "License to Kill" and "The Living Daylights," nor much romance, probably because they were made at the height of the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. His gloomy Bond isn't a fan favorite but he brings gravity to the role; you never believe anything bad could happen with Connery but you do with Dalton.
Pierce Brosnan strikes me as a place-holder. He nails the requirements — looking great in a tux, eyebrows always ready to arch — but he only has personality when he's striking sparks with a compelling co-star, and he was not given the best co-stars, with Denise Richards' nuclear physicist in "The World Is Not Enough" a casting low point for the series.
Craig has been Bond for the longest, although he's only been the secret agent five times. He tilts toward Dalton broodiness but he's also the most active Bond, which is why he could be voted "Bond Most Likely to End Up in the Emergency Room." Or Most Likely to Be a Swimsuit Model.
We have to wait a few days to see what trouble he gets up to in "No Time to Die." In the meantime, catch up with Bond's best (many stream for free on Pluto).
The most action-packed Bond movie opens with parkour, which apparently was a thing in 2006, and it never lets up. Mads Mikkelsen, who cries tears of blood, makes for a worthy foe for Craig — at poker and treachery.
A man who can pull off wearing a baby-blue, terry cloth romper, as Connery does here, can do anything. His third outing is his best, also boasting a dynamite take on the trademark, silhouettes-of-sexy-ladies opening credits, complemented by Shirley Bassey's iconic performance of the title song. In a series not noted for cinematic brio, a shot in which Bond's face suddenly appears in a scale model of Fort Knox may be the cleverest single moment in any 007 film.
'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'
Bond in a kilt, Telly Savalas as a lip-snarling baddie, a shoot-out on bobsleds, a Louis Armstrong theme song and curling. Lazenby's lone outing as 007 has it all, and it's not his fault he looks like Connery with cheek implants and a butt chin.
Fun fact: Joe Don Baker played a bad guy opposite Dalton in "The Living Daylights" but he's a seemingly good guy in the first of two outings with Brosnan. Their bickering is the highlight, especially when he insists on calling Bond "Jimmy."
'From Russia With Love'
Bond films are always best when the villain is on point and this one has a dandy pair: Lotte Lenya as an operative of arch-enemy SPECTRE and future "Jaws" star Robert Shaw as a sleek assassin.
Like the Lazenby film, melancholy "Skyfall" deepens our understanding of Bond, whose origins are explored, including his complex relationship with Judi Dench's M.
'License to Kill'
A great visual joke caps off the dynamite intro: Bond and a friend leave a car chase via helicopter, then literally drop into a wedding. As James enters the chapel, his parachute trails behind, like a train following a bride. A very young (21!) Benicio del Toro co-stars as a very nasty henchman who meets a very gruesome end.