Thunderball ★★★½

Film #4 of the FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY: A BOND-A-THON Challenge.

Completed Missions:
List and Let Die: James Bond Ranked

After a short hiatus, SPECTRE's got the thunderballs to take on James Bond (Sean Connery) once more... by accident.

SPECTRE operative No. 2, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), may only see out of one eye, but he can still spot two atomic bombs. What will he do with them? Hold the world ransom for diamonds not worth less than 100 million pounds at present market price. It's a flawless plan, as flawless as the diamonds demanded, but there's just one little problem. James Bond.

After tussling with a very-manly widow, and escaping by jetpack, Bond is sent to rest his bones at the Shrublands sanatorium - the same sanatorium where SPECTRE agents are prepping a body double to steal the jet bomber that's carrying the two atomic bombs. At first, Bond is too busy trying to seduce a nurse at the sanatorium, but after he's nearly killed by a spinal traction machine, Bond gets busy trying to figure out who at the sanatorium wants him dead. SPECTRE's business is now his business, and SPECTRE's business takes him to Nassau, Bahamas.

In Nassau, Bond meets Domino (Claudine Auger), the "niece" of Emilio Largo. She is his best chance of getting close to Largo and finding the whereabouts of the stolen bombs. Unfortunately, Largo knows exactly what is going on and has access to some Bond kryptonite - Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). Bond has finally met his sexual match - his evil, female equivalent. Volpe shows him that she can rev an engine before (literally) sinking her teeth into him. Bond knows he's being taken for a ride, though, and the interplay between them in terms of sexual power is riveting. Then and even now there's criticism lobbed at these films for Bond's crass treatment of women, which is fair, and I think this criticism is (slightly) addressed when Volpe finally whips out her pistol. Bond explains he only bedded her for queen and country, not pleasure, and Volpe scoffs and calls him out on his ego and his use of sex as a tool. She explains that his sex might have turned a bad girl good once before, but not this time. That scene, and the ensuing dance of death, are two of my favorite moments in Thunderball.

Compared to Goldfinger and From Russia with Love, Thunderball is a step backwards for the Bond franchise. Terence Young's direction gets a little sloppy this time, with the film overusing fades and transitions like a high-schooler's PowerPoint presentation. I also noticed several audio sync issues, and that one incident where Bond let a door slam open and there was no slam. Bond was sneaking around Largo's compound, though, so the slam would have given him away much sooner. As for the Bond Girl, I honestly wouldn't recognize her on the street even if my life depended on it. I also really hated the Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter) replacement.

What did I love? The underwater photography is simply gorgeous, and even though the underwater fighting scenes do slow the film's pace down a bit, they are still quite enjoyable. It's like watching some twisted water ballet routine. The shark tunnel sequence is also a real highlight. I'd also like to give a special shout out to the bashful, murderous henchman named Mr. Vargas (Philip Locke). He gets overshadowed by Volpe, but he's still an incredibly intriguing character.

And finally, I'd like to take a moment of silence for James Bond's hat. It shall forever be missed.

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