Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum & John Hopkins
(based on the novel THUNDERBALL by Ian Fleming)
Starring: Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter & Bernard Lee
The fourth Bond film and seventh in my 007 retrospective, THUNDERBALL is easily the most violent of the first four Connery entries. It’s also the longest, but remains fast-paced. Sadly, it also follows a basic outline of a story that we’ve already seen before and will see plenty of times again throughout the series. Bond is going after a villain that has a nuclear weapon. That sounds like the textbook motivation for most Bond villains and actually winds up as the biggest detriment to this film. Don’t get me wrong, THUNDERBALL is great fun, but holds little in the way of surprises for 007 fans.
James Bond has confronted various SPECTRE agents through his previous adventures and finds himself face-to-face with yet another one. Emilio Largo (SPECTRE’s number two agent) has acquired two atomic bombs that he plans on selling to very bad people. Bond is tasked with taking Largo down. However, Largo is not the only SPECTRE agent he will have to contend with as another villain and a seductive villainess try to kill 007 along the way. Meanwhile, Bond also woos Domino, Largo’s mistress.
Sean Connery is James Bond. I don’t feel the need to keep repeating myself in my reviews for his outings as 007. We all know he’s charismatic, suave and delivers comedic one-liners when bad guys bite the big one. None of that changes in THUNDERBALL. What is a bit of a downer is that Domino is a beautiful, but ultimately forgettable Bond girl. She simply shows up to be the damsel-in-distress and has a couple of seductive scenes with Bond. There’s no other reason for her existence. Though she’s gorgeous, Domino is one of my least-favorite Bond girls right next to Mary Goodnight (in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) and Pam Bouvier (from LICENCE TO KILL). The three SPECTRE agents serve their purpose of supplying entertaining showdowns and quippy dialogue exchanges with Bond. My favorite of three is Fiona Volpe who serves as (in my opinion) the most skilled and deadly of the bunch. The main antagonist is the eye-patch-wearing Largo and he’s pretty bland. Complete with a pool of man-eating sharks and a secret underground lair, Largo is your generic Bond bad guy.
Much like its main villain, THUNDERBALL’s plot is generic. This feels like DR. NO with a couple of extra villains, more action, and a longer running time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, seeing that there’s still a lot of fun to be had while watching this movie. The opening scene features Bond taking out a SPECTRE agent in drag and then flying away on a jetpack. It’s a wonderful introduction to how crazy the action is this time around. Speaking of which, there are plenty of exciting and impressive sequences. One night-time scene in which Bond breaks into Largo’s base is especially well-done. My personal favorite moment comes in a deadly dance that was later spoofed in the second AUSTIN POWERS film. Finally, there’s an underwater finale that does run a bit too long (with two sets of divers fighting each other over the A-bombs), but also sports admittedly cool effects.
THUNDERBALL is a fun Bond movie. There’s not much else to say about it. In my ranking of Connery’s 007 stint, this is behind GOLDFINGER and DR. NO, but ahead of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The action is crazier this time around. The running time is longer. There are three SPECTRE villains, though that doesn’t exactly make for a better movie. THUNDERBALL is small on the plot, but big on the action. This is spy genre goodness that can still be very much enjoyed five decades after its release.