Openly liking James Bond at this moment in our culture can be seen as a sign that you also like living in a time/world that, well, devalues women. And elevates male chauvinism. And likes tons of drinking on the job. And likes stunts but not stunts done by the actor himself because Tom Cruise is pushing it too far. And dislikes women, again.
I DO really like the James Bond franchise though I recognize its flaws. To reduce it to a tour de force for male chauvinism is the equivalent to saying football is just some men running into each other or being an academic is reading and talking to a few people about things all day. Bond movies, in particular, offer a window into new places, imagined realities of a more realistic super hero, witty dialog, silly villains, and — when done well- are a good use of two hours. The newest Bond novel, Anthony Horowitz’s Forever and a Day, rekindled my enjoyment of the books and how they open up a world that can exist with strong women and a fun story.
But what do I like the most about this world? And how do I figure that out? Well, I watched all 24 movies and picked out my favorite scene by actor. Something fairly obvious emerges after this exercise but I’ll walk you through it.
Connery’s Bond is easily the most brutal to watch given the times and the closeness to the books. That starts to fade with You Only Live Twice and when he returned for Diamonds Are Forever but he is the archetype Bond. He isn’t my favorite Bond but his contribution to the craft are without question. This scene from Thunderball is outstanding because the movie is solid until they spend four thousand minutes underwater going VERY slowly. This scene captures who Bond is: helping a woman, meeting a villain, pool of sharks. What appeals to me is Bond and Largo both knowing who the other is but maintaining the veil of a friendly outing. It’s a thin veil with the pointing of the rifle, Bond suggesting he knows about women and not guns, and the boldness of shooting with such ease. It is pure absurdity in a serious manner.
The man with one movie, a great movie, ruined by the fact that he was a model and not an actor. That said, this is my favorite scene because it allows him to embrace the character within the extravagance of the role. He is breaking into an office with a safe cracker and copy machine being transferred via a shame construction company. Props to Lazenby for passing the time with some good use of that strong chin and then a Playboy — very on brand.
My favorite Bond — which says something that I like the movies of a pacifist (and the person that played in them way too long). Roger Moore’s gift is his delivery of one liners and a different type of charm. Where Connery is ruthless and Lazenby is a looker, Moore is always the definition of wit. He baits people in, pushes their buttons, and upends plans with a pseudo-innocence of a child who has done something bad but responds with “Is there something I did wrong?” The no look double sixes, all in the wrist, and the “I prefer cash” is a trifecta that always makes me smile.
Underrated Bond with two, very unbalanced movies that were way ahead of their time. The Living Daylights is an absolute top ten movie. Dalton brings Bond away from the silliness of Moore and back in line with the books. It is dark, he does things his way, and always has a back up plan. More than anything else, there aren’t many one-liners but there is a healthy dose of menace that comes out in License to Kill. Here though we have a good ol’ defection and it is a winner: snipers, tubes, dismissing a by the books field agent, and the passing line about thanking M if he fires him. The entire movie isn’t this dark but this escape is who Dalton’s Bond is which rewards readers of the novels and stunned movie goers at the end of the 1980s.
My second favorite scene on this list. Brosnan corrected course for Bond by ushering it out of the Cold War while keeping many of the familiar tropes people love/hate about the movies. Still, in the 1990s, movie makers had to accept the world is changing. This scene does a good job addressing the dated nature of who Bond is and is more than a nudge in a new direction. You can judge how much things actually changed but having a movie franchise built on sexism address that within the movie is extraordinary.
This is the real deal, people. On this train. Right here. Craig’s Bond does not speak much throughout his tenure so this scene in his first movie is a treat. It’s as much driven by Craig as it is Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, a rare treat where Bond is met his equal in so many ways. Why this seen attracts me is the level of transitions between two characters who are simply talking to each other. There is Bond being surprised, playing up his nature (“…or so stylishly.”), flirting, and when pushed by Lynd, providing a cutting interpretation of Lynd that is right and bruising. Never the lesser partner, Lynd receives this analysis and returns with her own. She stuns Bond, knows it, and leaves deliberately but with the same stunning awe as her arrival. Masterful.
What I realized was my enjoyment of Bond is in the charm of it all. It may look different in each but it is there and it is always makes me happy to watch it whether its before a big poker game or after a Russian auction. Be sure to share your favorites with me. Or don’t — I’ll be ok without them.
 If you want a great time, watch “Becoming Bond” — a Hulu documentary on how Lazenby actually came into the role. It’s outstanding!