It wasn’t long before Sean Connery grew tired of his role as James Bond. The disenfranchised actor became bored with the role, began to fear the potential typecasting that would occur, and felt overworked by all the promotional work he had to do in conjunction with the films. Broccoli and Saltzman convinced Connery to stick around for another film, but began their search for a replacement in the meantime.
None of this would stop the James Bond engine from rolling along, as the film grossed over $111 million worldwide. Bond Mania had spread across the world, including Japan, where You Only Live Twice was filmed. Fans had swarmed the locations where filming was taking place, making work difficult for the actors and the film crew.
You Only Live Twice is the first Bond film directed by Lewis Gilbert, who would go on to direct two more Bond films—1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker.
The film starts off in outer space, where an American spacecraft and a Soviet spacecraft are captured by another spacecraft of unknown origins. Both governments blame the other, but the British government suspects that something else is going on.
Before they send 007 in, he fakes his own death in Hong Kong in order to gain “more elbow room,” as M puts it. I’m not so sure it really contributes to the plot of the movie and did more to confuse me than anything else.
The rest of the movie is essentially a rehash of From Russia with Love except that it takes place almost exclusively in Japan. Unfortunately, the film has none of the charm found in From Russia with Love. Connery is clearly bored with the role, and his performance in this film shows it. He’s a bit awkward and comes across as clumsy and unintelligent. Hardly befitting of James Bond.
Thunderball stretches the plausibility of the Bond universe (as if the universe wasn’t already implausible enough). The film was entirely too playful and foolish to be enjoyable, and the plot was too confusing to follow. I really wanted to enjoy this film as it finally formally introduced us to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of SPECTRE (and who was formerly known to audiences only as “Number 1”).
I don’t have a whole lot of positive stuff to say about this movie. Bond was less than convincing as a character. The Bond girls were terrifically unbelievable, and none of them stood out as terribly beautiful or even well written as a character. The plot was weak and confusing, and it did little more than rehash the same basic story found in From Russia with Love. SPECTRE does something to upset two governments and tries to pit them against each other. Except this time it’s between the United States and Russia instead of between the United Kingdom and Russia.
There was an awful lot of racism thrown throughout the movie. While I am half Japanese, which could make me hypersensitive to a lot of the racial stereotyping that takes place in this movie particularly, I found much of it to be less offensive than simply stupid. From Tanaka’s ninja training school to the Japanese bathhouse, there was an abundance of terribly executed stereotypes that made me feel bad for the filmmakers. They look like idiots for the way they portray the Japanese culture. If there’s one thing positive about this film, it’s that they cast Japanese actors to play Japanese characters. Not as common a practice as one might hope. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Koreans or even Chinese playing characters in film and TV who are supposed to be Japanese.
Another thing that plagued this film was the overabundance of gadgetry. Bond uses some newfangled gadget in nearly every scene. And the focus of the film seems to be on all his cool toys. On more than one occasion I found myself daydreaming through significant chunks of the film. It failed to reel me in, and I grew weary of the films constant tomfoolery. It felt like one misstep after another.
The production as a whole was a bit sloppy. There were half a dozen miscuts throughout the film. The screenplay was pretty weak. Characters were too one-dimensional to be believable. There are no standout Bond girls worth mentioning (Helga Brandt, played by Karin Dor, was intriguing, but I wonder if that’s because she was the only girl in this movie who wasn’t Japanese). Blofeld’s reveal is a dud, which is disappointing because his appearance has been teased since From Russia with Love (and Dr. No if you consider the mention of SPECTRE as a lead into the potential reveal of the man in charge of it all).
All in all, this is perhaps the weakest Bond film so far. Until now, the Bond films have ranged from mildly enjoyable (Thunderball) to adventurous and exciting (Goldfinger). This is the first time I’ve felt a Bond film was almost completely inept.
The one enjoyable aspect of this film was Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny. This was perhaps her finest appearance as the character, but it was muddied by a terrible film overall.
It’s unfortunate that Connery’s final outing as Bond (the first of three “final outings”) was such a fizzle. But by the time this film was finished, I felt like I was finished with Connery as Bond, which is sad because all four of his previous performances were spot on. But now it’s clearly time for a change…