James Bond Retrospective: Review of THUNDERBALL

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

I don’t know what it is, but if you mention the word THUNDERBALL to me, I get excited.  Maybe its Tom Jones’ kick ass theme song (it’s legend that he passed out while belting out that epic final note), maybe it’s the thought of Bond in a jet pack, or all of that underwater action.  But something about THUNDERBALL just says, “JAMES BOND”.  I saw it a few times as a kid and it always stuck with me.  For the longest time, up until I was in my mid-twenties, I would always say thatit was my favorite Bond movie, or at least one of the best.  But something happened when I watched it again in 2008……. I didn’t like it.  It could’ve been me building it up as the best Bond for the past 20 years, but I was tremendously disappointed.  I hate it when my taste changes.  I want to love THUNDERBALL!  So when I sat down to watch it again just a few nights ago, I was hoping that the Bond lover in me would triumph over the picky film critic.

In this 4th installment, Bond is recovering from a mission at a spa where he unintentionally stumbles onto an evil plot by one of the other spa’s attendees.  As his investigation continues, he discovers that a man named Largo is behind a scheme involving stolen nuclear warheads that must be recovered from under the ocean.  Bond introduces himself to Largo, and his mistress Domino, whom of course falls for the secret agent.  Domino also wants revenge on Largo when 007 tells her that he’s behind the murder of her brother, who was an air force pilot responsible for the warheads.  With the help of Felix, James Bond must recover the warheads before Largo (who turns out to be an agent of Spectre), gets his hands on them.

The movie opens with the typical Bond pre-title sequence, with 007 attending a funeral of a man who he was supposed to kill.   Turns out that he’s not dead and a pretty sloppy hand-to-hand combat sequence ensues.  It’s poorly edited with most of the action sped up, which makes it even worse.  He then makes his way to the roof of the building and finds his jet pack, complete with helmet, ready to go.  It sounds really awesome, doesn’t it?  But it just doesn’t look all that great.  It then ends with Bond getting into his vehicle and stopping the bad guys by spraying water at them from a gadget in his car.  Sorry, but that’s really lame.  But then we’re treated with one of the best Bond songs of all time, sung by Mr. Tom Jones.

The first hour of this movie is very slow, and not a whole lot thats exciting happens.  Probably the best thing in the first half is the meeting between Blofeld and all of his cronies.  Of course we don’t see his face yet, just his hand petting his cat.  But we do see just how evil he is when he electrocutes one of his employees that embezzled money from him.  That was cool.  But the rest of this first hour is just so bland.   We get scenes at the spa of Bond misbehaving with the help and being tortured by some sort of stretching machine (that scene is poorly executed).  There is also an extended sequence of Largo’s men hijacking a jet plane, crashing it into the sea, and killing one of their own men.  It’s a key scene and needed to be in there, but it seemed to go on forever.  It easily could have been trimmed by a few minutes, but it seemed like the director was in love with his own underwater photography, which is impressive, but causes the movie to stop dead in its tracks.

We do get introduced to a couple of Bond chicks.  Domino is the main one.  She has a nice figure, but there are many scenes where she appears cross-eyed, which really isn’t my thing.  You know who was hot though?  The bad girl working for Largo named Fiona.  Holy Toledo!   I’m sure she played menacing very well, but I was so distracted by her impressively enormous bust size that I had trouble noticing.  The villain Largo, played by Adolfo Celi, isn’t bad, but is bit underwhelming coming off the heels of Goldfinger, Grant, and Dr. No.  I think the filmmakers gave him an eye patch to make him more interesting.  It almost works.  He is intimidating at times, or maybe that was just his pool of man-eating sharks.

The second half is definitely better, but still suffers from pacing problems.  Most of the big action scenes take place underwater, which could be exciting but it’s so hard to tell who’s who under the ocean that it just becomes confusing.  I did like the street chase, with Fiona and her men chasing Bond.  The end of that is pretty awesome with Connery delivering one of the movie’s best lines (won’t spoil it for ya).  The climax has some thrilling moments.  It gets pretty violent in the final underwater battle with people getting knifed and spear-gunned in the face.  But the struggle between Bond and Largo on a boat going at a ridiculously high looking speed (which was probably due to the bad projection screen work), was pretty laughable.  I do like the final moment, which is just pure Bond.  Suave and cool!  Oh yeah…. and you can’t forget the great line “I think he got the point” after Bond harpoons a bad guy.

The performances are a little less than satisfying this time.  Connery still appears to be comfortable as 007, but maybe he’s too comfortable.  At times it doesn’t appear like he’s trying all too hard, but the Bond charm is still there.  Moneypenny and M are reliable as usual.  But I was disappointed by Rik Van Nutter’s portrayal of Felix.  I love this character, but here he’s kind of a pud.  He has no charisma and delivers all of his lines with the energy of a pancake.  And I will say again that I really did like Luciana Paluzzi as the deadly Fiona.  Va va voom!!!!

As you can see, I’m pretty mixed on the film.  There are some good things in it, but the movie is far too long.  Terence Young returns to the director’s seat.  Instead of giving us a FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE-like style, this feels more like DR. NO (but not as good).  It’s very sluggish.  The opening sequence was a letdown, with features some piss-poor editing.  The ambition is evident throughout, but the execution just doesn’t have enough energy to sustain it.  It actually becomes boring during some long stretches.  Fortunately, John Barry delivers an unforgettable score.  Apparently, he saw a different film while composing, because the exceptional music doesn’t match the unexceptional movie.

This should have been the best Bond movie.  Just look at that poster!  All the ingredients are there: Jetpacks, underwater fights, busty chicks, high-speed chases, man-eating sharks, and a hotter-than-ever Sean Connery.  But something went wrong along the way from script to screen.  It’s simple enough: It’s just plain not a very good movie.  If you go by inflation, this IS the most popular Bond movie.  This was so huge back then.  It is much bigger than the first 3, but I hate to sound cliché by saying: Bigger doesn’t always mean better.  Tighter direction and more energy would’ve made this classic Bond.  But for me, THUNDERBALL will be the Bond movie that could’ve been.  Hopefully, one of these times when I re-watch it , I’ll like it again.  Cause I really want to love it.  Unfortunately, I give it…..  ★★ (out of ★★★★)

Not rated but contains some pretty strong violence (spear gun in the face!), and innuendos.  Would still get a PG13, I think.

Running time: 2hrs. 10min.

Read Jesse Hoheisel’s take on “Thunderball” by clicking here.


Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews

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