Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thunderball


  It's not hard to see why the makers of Thunderball thought it would be the best Bond yet. Afterall it has all the basic fundamental elements of a fantastic old school 007 outing. The tropical setting, the nefarious villain, his dastardly plot (bonus points for it involving stolen atomic bombs), gadgets, and beautiful women. Yet there is something about Thunderball that keeps it from being great. Certainly far from being the best, it is at the very least still fun escapist fantasy. I had seen it prior to this viewing, (as I have all the 007 movies) but I didn't remember it well. What I did end up remembering was how this movie never really held my attention. A problem I faced this time as well. I feel bad for that too, because once you get past a lot of it's flaws, Thunderball is still pretty good. As far as these sort of things go.

  It's the fourth movie in the ever-growing franchise and they pulled out all the stops. It opens with a bang as we join Bond hunting down an adversary who tries to evade capture by sneaking around in drag. Of course Bond sees right through his disguise, and gets into a rather gritty brawl with the skirt-clad man. Bond finishes the job and escapes via Rocketbelt no less, and then straight into his Aston Martin DB5 to make his final getaway. It's a great opening, if not a little weird and overdone. It just plain old fun. It's the kind of stuff you'd never catch Daniel Craig doing, yet Sean Connery pulls it off and can still walk away with his trademark swagger and be taken seriously. Mostly. Far be it from me to throw him under the bus now, despite how utterly off Thunderball is, Connery is a constant. He was great in the previous three, and he's certainly a highlight of this one.

  It would be ignorantly dismissive of me to call Thunderball a stinker, but it doesn't have the same flow as it's predecessors. It's more than a bit overlong as well, clocking in at just over a very full two hours. When honestly, the movie needed nothing more than 90 minutes. I think I liked it more this time than the first time I saw it though, and I think it made a bigger impact on me this time around. I feel it qualifies as a guilty pleasure. I know a lot of retrospective praise gets heaped on it, but it's really sort of dull at times. A very drawn out dullness that not even the wittiest wisecracks from our stalwart protagonist was able to alleviate. It's not a persistent dullness though. It's broken up by some rather fun scenes here and there. However you quickly realize that the movie is just taking way too long to simply get going.

  Once it does though, it's very enjoyable in a strange sort of way. As if in direct response though, to Bond's 'roll in the hay' with Pussy Galore in the previous movie, turning her 'good', Bond's efforts to do the same thing this time... completely fail. The femme fatale in this movie doesn't fall victim to Bond's... "charm". Her character is all the more engaging for it and she has several great moments with Bond. I don't know exactly why the Bond girl in this one, Domino, is a much more fun character than Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love, but she is. Despite her being little more than a damsel in distress primed to fall in love with Bond, she manages to hold her own. In point of fact, Bond invites her to dinner and she outright refuses him with a simple and to-the-point "No." She's gorgeous and a little naive, but she's not a wimpy rag doll, and she's not about to swoon for Bond. Something which I felt Tatiana did just about every eleven seconds. "Oh James!"

  Thunderball explores the secret criminal organization of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. a little closer in this movie. Opening up their scale considerably showing us an intimidatingly big board room in which it looks only fit to discuss plans for taking over the world. Not to mention the entrance to this room is a secret sliding door. Of course. Which brings me to the villain of the movie. Emilio Largo. Sporting an eye patch, Largo looks the sinister part. A part he wholeheartedly lives up to, feeding his enemies to sharks that he keeps in a pool on his property, stealing a whole bomber plane and the two atomic bombs on board, and leveraging them for ransom. (If I remember correctly that is) Thunderball is the type of movie that introduces elements that become so iconic, they can and have become cliche. Any plot where a villain steals bombs, has pet sharks, and/or wears an eye patch isn't ripping off Thunderball, (maybe it is a little, but-) it's just being maddeningly cliche.

  Largo isn't a bad villain, he just isn't a memorable one. Same goes for the movie itself. It isn't necessarily a bad movie, and I can't say it isn't memorable, but it's devoid of that cracking energy that made the previous three so great. There's a lot to love about Thunderball and I believe that it is underrated, but with it's lethargic pacing in the first half, simplistic story, and semi-forgettable villain, it'll never be one of the greats. However... however, as it is, it's still a really fun action movie. The underwater climax is as thrilling as it breathtaking. It escalates to almost unbelievable levels, turning into a full fledged underwater war. The sequence goes on and on, some criticize it for being too long- but I disagree. I think it more than makes up for the lethargy that had occasionally plagued the first couple acts. Bond literally drops in and manages to 'turn the tide' of the battle. With cracking style and flair nonetheless. He's finally the fantastic man of action we all know and love, and he gets quite the moment to shine in the climax.

  Nevertheless, it's definitely a mixed bag as these movies go, and it's also highly subjective. Your enjoyment of it will depend on what about the 007 movies you like. If it's gadgets, palm trees, and explosions, you're in luck. Yet mileage may vary still. I think Thunderball has less of a pacing issue and more of a momentum issue, as it's start-and-stop methods get old rather fast. For some, this movie might be a total drag, and I understand that. I can see how they might feel that way. I halfway agree, myself. However! Bond's heroics have never been more in-style and his one liners are as witty as ever. If you want some good ol' back-to-basics spy thrills, you could do a lot worse than Thunderball. God knows there are worse Bond movies, and I myself don't rank this one amongst them. I think most fans owe it a second, if not third look.

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