Rewatched Jun 24, 2012
Tony Black’s review:
On the one hand, You Only Live Twice is perhaps one of the more mercilessly satirised James Bond movies (the Austin Powers trilogy, in particular, apes wholesale from it), yet it might also be one of the least remembered in terms of the Sean Connery movies to some extent; I know I had forgotten plenty about the nuts and bolts of this one in the many years since I watched it. And while that's understandable given its propensity to lose focus at certain points, as well as not quite knowing what it wants to be, it might also be one of Connery's better films in the role - grandiose, with a genuine sense of exotic travelogue, and one of the most 'Bondian' narratives in the series' history.
It has to be said, though, there's a feeling Connery is going through the motions in this one; he seems to have aged suddenly since Thunderball, too, and while he's perfectly charming and capable, he's much less quippy, isn't quite as quick to brawl, and doesn't get the chance to display as much louche scenery chewing as in his last few movies; you can see the beginnings of him ready to give up the role, a shame as the next one he missed out on could have been his best, plus he's well serviced here by a more than decent script (which most people forget came from the pen of Roald Dahl, yes THAT Roald Dahl) that gives Bond the chance to enmesh far more into a sense of culture than he normally gets the opportunity to. First-time Bond director Lewis Gilbert keeps the location firmly squared on the Far East, eschewing the globe-trotting and allowing Bond to really (forgive the pun) bond with Tiger Tanaka, Aki and Kissy Suzuki (even if Bond's relationships with the women here are far too thinly defined), and that gives the whole thing a greater element of depth. Granted, the whole thing meanders at times (does Bond really need to get married to Kissy) and it takes way too long for SPECTRE to properly come into the picture, but it feels much more like a genuine investigation for Bond, harping back a little to Dr. No's template in revealing the villain properly only in the last third (only doing it much better). It's an exotic, romantic piece, Gilbert and the producers clearly in love with the Japanese surroundings; yet it becomes a different picture in that last third, as we uncover space satellites, hollowed-out volcanoes and Donald Pleasance's iconic super villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (hard to take seriously anymore in these Dr. Evil days, but it's a real shame Pleasance didn't reprise the role - he's delightfully camp and unhinged all at once). It's a blistering climax which leaves you absolutely riveted, directed strongly by Gilbert using sets and production design that still impress 45 years on given how truly epic they are in scope - yet it almost feels a different tone to what we've established earlier at times, Dahl's script not quite meshing Little Nellie helicopter battles with the quieter, investigative immersion Bond takes into Japanese culture; and arguably the end ultimately feels all a bit too quick and easy for the build up.
Altogether though, You Only Live Twice should stand out as a Bond movie that is well remembered - John Barry's ever-beautiful score accompanies a tale that does its best to tinker with formula (see the pre-credits cliffhanger as evidence) and deliver on building the scope of Bond's adventures, this easily being his biggest challenge yet. It may lack the sharp wit and the iconic charm of more celebrated Bond movies, as well as Connery phoning it in a touch, but if at times it feels like two pictures in one, it has to be said that both are damn well done for much of the running time. If not among the greatest of Bond, this sits just below.