Even a hardcore Bond nerd like myself has to admit that 007 has had his share of bad days. When a franchise lasts for 50 years, there are inevitably going to be some valleys along with the peaks — and then probably some kind of pun about how lovely the peaks look in the moonlight. With one week to go before “Skyfall” — and with lots of pieces to come celebrating the fun of Bond — it’s only fair to pause and reflect on 007’s worst moments. These five Bond films are almost as excruciating as a laser beam to the crotch.
5. Quantum of Solace (2008)
Directed by Marc Forster
With the exception of the first few Sean Connery pictures, Bond has never been a trendsetter. He’s more of a trendfollower; glomming on to whatever’s popular and riding its wake to coolness by association. When parkour became a thing, he learned parkour; when “Star Wars” was hot, Bond went to space (more on that later). In the case of “Quantum of Solace” you see the original spy franchise trying to imitate one of its spiritual offspring — the Jason Bourne series — with plenty of hand-held cinematography and chaotic editing. Sadly, the screenplay is even shakier than the camerawork; “Quantum”‘s unfinished script was rushed into production just before a writers’ strike, and it shows: the shortest film in the franchise, it mostly runs on the plot fumes of the previous installment, putting Bond in a scenario eerily reminiscent of “The Bourne Supremacy,” on the hunt for the shadowy organization that killed the woman he loved. The chase builds to the moment we’ve all been waiting for: when the ultra-muscular Daniel Craig finally squares off against the paralyzed guy from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Oh, the suspense.
4. Licence to Kill (1989)
Directed by John Glen
James Bond can do just about anything — except, apparently, make revenge entertaining. In this installment 007 hunts down the drug dealer (Robert Davi) who crippled his buddy, and the dreary results often feel more like a high concept combination of “Death Wish” and “Scarface” than a spy movie. In place of the usual cocktail of gadgets, quips and actual cocktails, there’s a Wayne Newton cameo, and a lot of Timothy Dalton sulking around South America in a Members Only jacket. Midway through Bond’s quest for vengeance, his boss M (Robert Brown) shows up to demand he stop ignoring his duties to settle a petty score. Bond is, of course, just being a loyal friend, but M kind of has a point: a guy relied upon to keep the world safe from crazy evildoers probably has more important things to do. That scene also has one of the funniest bad moments in any Bond film. When M revokes 007’s licence to kill, Bond creates a diversion and escapes to carry on his crusade. As he leaps off a balcony to make his getaway, M’s guards open fire on him. “No! Too many people!” M screams. Cut to this:
Uh, yeah. Don’t want to hit all those people in that completely empty thicket of heavy brush. Oh well; at least the theme song by Gladys Knight is fun.
3. The World is Not Enough (1999)
Directed by Michael Apted
Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond, “GoldenEye,” was a relatively stripped down reconsideration of 007 in the post-Cold War era, but by “The World is Not Enough” four years later, the series had already begun to slip back into cartoonish lunacy. There’s a mini-speedboat chase on the River Thames, a bad guy with a bullet in his head who’s impervious to pain (science!), and Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones (SCIENCE!!!). “The World is Not Enough” is no sillier than the Roger Moore Bond movies, but Moore had something Brosnan lacked: a sense of cheeky self-awareness. Brosnan was best in less outlandish adventures where he could swagger and smirk; Moore was more comfortable playing the role of ringleader at a circus of the insane — even dressing like a clown in “Octopussy” just to make it clear he was in on the joke. Brosnan’s a bit too intense for this sort of Bond, and he doesn’t look like he’s having any fun driving inside an oil pipeline or pursuing an assassin in a hot air balloon. He doesn’t even seem particularly amused when he’s ogling women at a party with x-ray specs — and neither are we. Clearly, the world actually was enough.
2. Die Another Day (2002)
Directed by Lee Tamahori
It’s a pretty good rule, if only useful in retrospect: the last movie made by each Bond actor is generally terrible. It makes sense; if that film turned out well, the star would have returned to make another one. Connery’s last Bond, “Diamonds Are Forever” was his weakest; Moore’s last, “A View to a Kill” is routinely considered one of the worst in the franchise (although I’d argue Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as two of the batshit craziest Bond villains ever elevate it from the bottom of the barrel to, I don’t know, mid-barrel). Brosnan’s last Bond, “Die Another Day,” boasts a fun and surprisingly elaborate fencing scene between 007 and the bad guy, British diamond magnate Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), but even by the standards of Bond villainy, this guy’s plan makes no sense: why go to the trouble of wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on an elaborate PR campaign in Iceland to introduce your amazing new Icarus satellite if you’re just going to immediately turn it into a death laser? Do death lasers really need their own publicity teams? Other lowlights include a car chase on a glacier, a hotel built entirely and illogically out of ice, and Bond trying his hand at Arctic windsurfing… and that’s just one scene. Not to be outdone, in the climactic fight Graves puts on this thing, which gives him the power to zap people with the dark side of the Force.
Just awful. But not as awful as…
1. Moonraker (1979)
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
The undeniable nadir of Bond’s career, wherein 007 faces his deadliest enemies: lunkheaded screenwriting and cheesy “Star Wars” knockoffs. Investigating a space shuttle hijacking (I hate it when that happens), Bond discovers a plot by evil billionaire industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) to kill all life on earth and replace it with his own master race of white people in hideous jumpsuits. All Bond movies have a bit of the absurd, but “Moonraker” is just bonkers: there are laser battles in space (on an admittedly spectacular Ken Adam set) and a love subplot for Jaws (Richard Kiel), a giant henchman with big metal teeth who never speaks. And so much for being a “secret” agent: Drax knows exactly who Bond is from the beginning of the movie, but he lets him hang around anyway because otherwise there would be no movie (“Mr. Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you!”). Not to be outdone or upstaged, 007 gives Drax a run for his money in the stupidity department, willingly taking a near-death spin in his anti-gravity centrifuge, and wandering out onto the roof of a cable car suspended hundreds of feet above the earth because, he insists, he’s “better off” dangling up there than inside. Oh, and then there was that time when a pigeon saw James Bond driving a gondola and did a double take:
Even pigeons are embarrassed by “Moonraker.”