Saturday, November 22, 2014

You Only Live Twice

  James Bond in Japan! In this fifth 007 outing, James Bond takes on SPECTRE and gives a face to the evil cat-stroking criminal genius. The movie is certainly an improvement over Thunderball; reining in it's runtime and tightening up the editing, it's a much smoother ride and one that holds your attention a lot better. You Only Live Twice is a great James Bond movie that delights in being self-indulgent the way Thunderball wanted to be. It's the sequel you would've wanted after Goldfinger. An exotic locale, great action scenes, beautiful women, and a fantastic finale. Of course, I should stop listing things like that as far too many sub par 007 movies have all that, and more. It's more in how you mix the ingredients rather than simply having them present. Thunderball had too much on it's plate and didn't know how to juggle it all successfully, but this movie seems to have gotten the knack.

  The movie opens with Bond's death, and despite the fact we know he's not dead, it's still an effective and shocking opening. Well handled and fun, Bond's "resurrection" is just as cool. Of course, Sean Connery brings his sharp wit and suaveness back to the role, setting the bar extremely high for his successors. The plot this time involves a mysterious spacecraft stealing space shuttles in space (that's kind of a mouthful), leaving the United States blaming Russia for the mysterious disappearances, and promising war if it happens again. Obviously this is a problem. Those damn yanks, always jumping to conclusions. Anyways, British intelligence shows the mysterious spacecraft landing in Japan. Thus, Bond's headed to Japan too. It's a neat plot, nice and uncomplicated. I enjoyed this one a lot, both times I've seen it it's been a big ball of fun.

   The action is well shot and exceptionally well choreographed. It has some of the best pacing you could find in the early films, and a massive climax that takes place inside a secret SPECTRE base built inside a dormant volcano. Easily one of the coolest, biggest, and most iconic sets of the entire franchise. I'm getting a little ahead of myself though. You Only Live Twice is unfortunately without a memorable Bond girl. I can't even remember her name. Which is sad, because she was nice at least. However, since when has "nice at least" ever been enough in this franchise? I rest my case. With no standout Bond girl to speak of, it's funny that there's still plenty of women in general to go around. Bond is inundated with females. As his Japanese ally explains to him as a group of scantily clad women begin to disrobe and bathe them: "In Japan, men come first and women come second." I'll let you imagine how Bond responded to that.

  Nevertheless, if you're here for gadgets and action, this one won't disappoint. At one point, 007 sneaks into an enemy's headquarters disguised as one of them, when he's discovered, he ends up in a balls-to-bone brawl that's way more intense than it has any right to be. Like his fights with Red Grant and his opening brawl in Thunderball, this one is just as thrilling. Connery is a fighter unlike any of his successors. He quite literally throws himself into the fight, and has no reservations about wrecking everything in sight. The way he fights looks dirty, but in a way that makes it feel real. He's fantastic in the role as always and I have no complaint about him in this one. There is a point in the movie where they try to make him look Japanese with a surgery of sorts? It's really not successful. He ends up looking more like a relative of Spock from Star Trek than anything else. What's even weirder is that his disguise is only used very briefly, and then he's back to looking like his normal self. Not that I'm complaining... the wig they used was atrocious.

  The action isn't just limited to fist fights though, there's a few fun car chases, shootouts, and even an explosive aerial helicopter skirmish.  It doesn't get much better than that. Except for the climax, which is simply massive. They really opened up the scope of what's possible with these movies with that climax. It was great. It's also the first time we're formally introduced to Bond's archnemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. His presence is dynamic and he's a formidable opponent for James. He's immediately played as the smartest and most ruthless man in the room. He's even scarier when you stop and realize, he's the same cat-stroking off-screen supervillain from the previous movies. His cunning couldn't possibly be overstated. As far as memorable Bond villains go, he's number one. Moreover, You Only Live Twice was the perfect Bond vehicle in which to put a face to his name. An unforgettable face at that. Even with Blofeld having been endlessly parodied (Austin Powers' Dr.Evil of course) it doesn't take away from his villainous presence in this movie. It's great to be honest.

  As is the movie. It's a blast. It's the height of Connery with gadgets and supervillains. It's brimming with the best elements of a basic spy thriller, and all the wonderful flair of a fantastic 007 outing. You can't go wrong with this one. I will say it's not perfect, and in some ways is emblematic of some of things most wrong with 007 movies, like... being emotionally hollow, 2 dimensional, and being somewhat devoid of anything meaningful. The women are basic eye-candy, the action is ratcheted up to 11, and James Bond is a superman. Yet, with the impending Roger Moore era (which got even worse) I can't throw a damn fine spy romp like this under the bus. James Bond may be an action figure in a shallow outing like this, but he's an action figure with all the best toys. It even comes complete with the enemy's "Volcano Base HQ!" playset! How could you not have fun with this movie? It may not be as classic as Goldfinger or From Russia With Love, but it deserves it's place right alongside them. If you go in expecting something with depth (which I don't see why you would after the previous four movies) you'll likely be disappointed, but if you're just looking for a good ol' fashioned good vs. evil movie, you could do a LOT worse than this one.

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