For Bond, life's a beach
Thunderball is directed by Terence Young and stars Sean Connery in his fourth outing as Agent 007. The film also stars Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, and Rik Van Nutter. It is based on the novel of the same name by Ian Fleming.
James Bond has gone to just about every corner of the world, taking on villains and seducing women wherever the mission guides him. After travelling to Jamaica, Russia, and the United States, Bond this time makes his way to the Bahamas, and he's diving deep underwater to face off against SPECTRE again. If it hadn't been for a legal dispute involving Ian Fleming and his collaborators Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, Thunderball would have been the first James Bond film and not Dr. No. Seeing the way that Thunderball was presented compared to Dr. No, it was a better thing that Dr. No came first, especially because of how Dr. No had a much smaller budget.
Coming right after Goldfinger, it would have taken a superhuman effort by everyone involved with Thunderball to potentially top its predecessor, and it turns out, they were not up to the task. What Thunderball represents in terms of the Bond film history is a more drastic shift towards the picking and choosing of certain elements of the 007 formula, as opposed to the attempted maximizing of every single part of the formula in a balanced and efficient way. That's not to say that Bond films were to get progressively worse after Thunderball; it's that the Bond films would eventually start a hilly, up and down roller coaster ride that is sometimes fun and exhilarating, and other times lacking. Some later Bond films preferred emphasizing the action and thrills over the story and characterization, while others did it the opposite way. Thunderball is a Bond film that fits snugly into the category of action and thrills over story and character.
In the film, Bond confronts SPECTRE operative Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), who plans on hijacking two atomic bombs in order to hold NATO for ransom. SPECTRE threatens to destroy a major city in the United States of the United Kingdom if the ransom is not paid. Bond travels to the Bahamas and meets Domino (Claudine Auger), who becomes entangled in SPECTRE's plan when Largo takes her as his mistress.
- The best part about Thunderball is its aquatic-like setting, with many scenes taking place underwater. I appreciate the setting mostly because of how it's a nice little change-up after we've already gotten a nice dosage of Bond action with cars, guns, boats, and helicopters in the previous three Bond films. There's a neat battle between U.S. Coast Guard members and Largo's henchmen with the two sides firing harpoon guns at one another. Bond has to avoid being attacked by sharks on several occasions, and he also gets into hand-to-hand combat with several of Largo's henchmen. All of these scenes are easily comprehensible, even though there's no dialogue to be spoken.
- Oh Emilio Largo, what a disappointing villain you are. Selected right out of the stockpile that is generic movie antagonists, Largo sports absolutely no bad guy menace whatsoever, lacking any kind of evil cackle or bad guy trademark up the alley of something like, "No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!" He is simply a facilitator of SPECTRE's evil ways, with no personal motivation to speak of and providing no angle to prevent SPECTRE's scheme from falling into the pit that is weak and uninspired villain plans. The nuclear scheme simply boils down to, "threaten world with nukes and get ransom payment in return." What a shame that the underwater setting was the one stuck with a flimsy villain.
Looking at everything, Thunderball isn't a Bond classic by any stretch of the imagination, though it still remains an acceptable outing that offers one of the more intriguing settings in a Bond film. There's more reliance on the action, gadgetry, and visuals, but it's all good stuff that doesn't go to waste. Four films later, and Sean Connery still hasn't lost any of his touch for portraying Bond. It's just too bad he is given a villain that is too one-dimensional to get behind. Overall, more good than bad to be had here. Far worse things can happen to Agent 007.
Recommend? If you like the other Sean Connery Bond films enough, give it a watch.
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