Thunderball (1965)

Terrence Young takes back the director’s seat to make Thunderball. Personally, I would have called it Trainwreck, because that makes way more sense than Thuderball. So far James Bond (Sean Connery) has gone to an exotic island, Istanbul and Glen Beck’s horse ranch. This time, Bond must go to new depths for country and queen. He must venture where few humans have tread: the bottom of the ocean.

James Bond starts off minding his own business, assassinating a SPECTER agent, chilling at the local spa when he stumbles upon a nefarious plot helmed by Largo (Adolfo Celi), who’s distinguished as the villain by his conspicuous eye patch. Turns out some nukes went missing and now Bond has got to dig them up by checking the great deep for any signs of the nukes…and a few women along the way.

Put simply, Thunderball is a mess of a film. If I had to point fingers, I’d blame whoever decided it would be a good idea to make this story into a film. On the written page, Ian Flemming’s book might work by taking Bond into a novel and different location, and the badguy’s plan is quite cunning, but adapted into a film, the prospect of an underwater adventure is awkward for a multitude of reasons.

The biggest problem is that action underwater is hampered by the fact that you are underwater. In case you’ve never swam in your life, being underwater leads to a lot of floating and moving about slowly. This makes the action of the film clumsy and awkward, Captain James T. Kirk fighting the Godzilla alien awkward. Actually, that’s unfair to Star Trek. It’s like taking that fight scene, adding as many people as possible and slowing it down.

Also, you are spending a lot of time with your actors obscured by masks and stuffed in awkward equipment. Sure, those skin tight wetsuits are flattering to Connery’s form, but he’s not all that dashing behind a goofy pair of goggles. It’s the same problem superhero movies have with those crazy masks that cover up the faces of fantastic actors. Sean Connery is superb in the role of James Bond and to simply delegating him behind a mask (or use his stunt double for half the movie) is a tremendous waste of talent.

But beyond all the awkwardness that comes out of setting a film underwater, the scrip in this film is poorly paced. This is the longest Bond movie so far and it’s also the only one where I was bored when people started talking. Someone simply sucked all the wit, fun and charm out of the dialoge and instead inserted bland, serious people talk. Leave that stuff for the Oscars, this is a Bond movie. Where are the corny jokes and the witty double entendres? There is a couple, but they are far and few between.

Also, Bond isn’t as smooth as he was in the other films. Since the wit of this film is sucked out, he’s left delivering painfully obvious come on lines to the ladies. It’s so horribly obvious and tasteless that one of the women even points it out. Way to win over the ladies, Bond. It’s so bad that he actually has to extort one of his ladies to make time. O Bond, where art thou?

Equally uninspired are all the other characters. I couldn’t even remember the Bond girl’s name, let alone her face. The villain is only notable for his nefarious eye patch that may as well have “evil” painted in red on it. At least some of the old favorites pop up. Q (Desmond Llewelyn) has a bit more screen time and gives Bond another scolding, which is a bit of fun and Miss Monneypenny (Lois Maxwell) has a nice scene with, but not near, Bond.

And the film even had a great idea for a fantastic Bond girl: an enemy spy, not unlike Bond himself. She’s got the charm and the gunplay. But the film relegates her to popping up whenever the plot needs something to happen. She should have been the main Bond girl of this film. Heck, she should have been the main villain of this film. That would have been way cooler than a dude wearing a silly eye patch (no offense, Kurt Russell).

Instead, the film we get left with is a poor and lackluster feature where I’m left wondering what they were thinking . These feel like a bunch of elements hobbled together from the cutting room floor. Perhaps because of how fast they were churning, they simply had to come up with something on the fly and this was the result. It’s clear that with Goldfinger they struck lightning, leaving us with the leftover noise: thunder…ball.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing