Thunderball (1965)

Untitled-1There seems to be no end to what James Bond can do. From the Bond movies I’ve seen, he can paraglide, windsurf, hang from ropes and cables, fight on airplanes, survive car crashes, and any other sort of thing that would usually kill a man instantly. But Bond does not die. He is a master of survival, and he manages to do it without disturbing a strand of hair on his head. In Thunderball, Sean Connery’s fourth outing as 007, we learn that Bond is also an excellent diver.

But of course he has to be, because the movie primarily takes place in the Caribbean, and many scenes are written specifically to have Bond underwater, either looking for evidence, or fighting off baddies. Just a note: I would love to attend the MI6 double-0 training facility. I imagine it looking like a weaponised Cirque Du Soleil show that promises to transform a pauper into a Renaissance Man. If it can produce an agent as versatile as Bond, it should be able to make something out of me. But never mind; I digress. A lot of Thunderball takes place below ground, in the water — in fact, about a quarter of the movie is underwater. This certainly presented the camera crew with some really complex movements, which, to their credit, they managed to pull off phenomenally well. The only problem is: The action that takes place in front of the camera is confusing, badly choreographed, even indistinguishable.

I am going to cite the movie’s climax here. It isn’t really a spoiler, because let’s face it, if you’ve seen one Bond movie, you’ve seen them all, plot-wise anyway. The good guys and the bad guys face off in an underwater death match. The goods are in red, and the bads are in black. In the middle somewhere is Bond. I’d say that there are about forty men in this scene, and all they’re doing is swimming towards each other and getting shot with harpoons. In essence, they are fighting, but no fighting occurs. The action is slow (obviously; they’re underwater) and the mirky water creates a visual barrier between what we see, and what’s really happening. We try to immerse ourselves in the fight, but it is a confusing thing to do, because the fight itself is confusing. I can only surmise that the battle acts like a background for Bond and the movie’s villain, Emilio Largo (SPECTRE’s Number 2, played by Adolfo Celi, dubbed over by Robert Rietty), to play cat and mouse while their respective henchmen fight to the death. The upside is, when Bond and Number 2 finally flee the flailing divers, they embark on a grand boat chase that sees an innovative ejector pod.

The fights on land don’t fare any better, though. Thunderball opens with the funeral of a SPECTRE agent. For reasons unknown, Bond is at the funeral, and he suspects that the widow of the deceased is actually the SPECTRE agent. By golly, he’s right! He follows the agent to his house, where the two engage in a brutal fist fight that made me think of Kirk fighting the lizard man in one of the Star Trek episodes. I can conclude that trying to take retro fight scenes seriously is quickly becoming one of life’s most challenging tasks. Some movies make it easy, but Thunderball doesn’t. If anything, it makes it harder.

SPECTRE is enraged by Bond’s actions. Its leader, the aptly named Number 1, decides it’s time to hold the world (Miami and London) ransom. He devises a masterful plan: Steal a couple of atomic bombs from a UN bomber and demand the exorbitant amount of 100 million Pounds in exchange for the world’s (Miami’s and London’s) safety. This, my fellow readers, is the plot. It is constructed as well as I have just described it. I suspect Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins used the exact same sentence as the synopsis for their screenplay. Halfway during the movie, I began to wonder if Bond knew that he was going through so much trouble for such a thinly written script. That Thunderball runs for two hours and ten minutes doesn’t make anything easier.

No matter, Bond is ordered to take SPECTRE down — or at least a part of SPECTRE — and so he must. Along the way, he will encounter many sexy babes who not only have no real place in the story, but who also look uncannily similar. I swear, I found it difficult telling them apart. Why the unnecessary confusion? I doubt anyone can answer that. Thunderball runs on confusion. If not for Bond’s subversive Caribbean swagger and attire — and maybe a couple of the underwater scenes — it would have suffered a harsher critique. Thunderball should come with a warning: Prepare for stormy seas.

Best Moment | Largo’s ship ejecting itself from the rest of its body. I wasn’t expecting that, and it was a pleasant surprise.

Worst Moment | The opening fight scene. Come on boys, I know it’s 1965, but that could have been way better.

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