Thunderball

Thunderball ★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Just think, Thunderball is the story that Kevin McClory vigorously, repeatedly, and litigiously defended his ownership over. For years. Imagine if that was the James Bond field you had to die on. The universe was clearly trying to do McClory a solid by gracefully letting his authorship recede into the sands of time, but he just wouldn’t let it go. (I guess it’s about ethics in James Bond ownership!) And now there’s all this.

I don’t like this movie. It’s frustratingly plotted and populated with so many characters about whom the movie itself clearly does not give the faintest of shits. The first half laboriously documents the minutiae of SPECTRE’s plan, which conveniently unfolds at and near the health spa where James Bond is busy sexually harassing the shit out of his physiotherapist. He is well placed to see a corpse which leads him to the corpse’s sister and her bad guy boyfriend. It’s really the last time Bond does anything useful in the film, although he spends the rest of it slowly catching up with what the audience already knows. Maybe this is why I found it so dreadfully boring. Where my boredom turns to contempt is how the movie fills in the gaps, which it does with some of the most dispensable allies and half-baked villains and henchmen the franchise has offered. It’s rank laziness. For example, instead of having the henchman in question do something memorable, Largo just tells us why he’s so interesting: he won’t drink! Or have sex! He just kills! His eventual death has as little fanfare as that of poor Paula, one of James’ contacts in Nassau. She gets exactly nothing to do but look sexy on a speedboat before she’s kidnapped by thugs and kills herself to avoid leaking information. She’s just a gratuitous waste.

The movie is so lazy that even James Bond can’t help but notice how slapdash its characters are. “Who’s he?” he asks towards the end of the film. That was my question! Well, the guy in question is the deus ex machina, James. One of Largo’s goons, Ladislav, saves the day the same way he lives: largely offscreen. Why did he rescue Domino? Why did he throw the bomb arming device into the sea? Who cares? Does he live or die at the end? I SAID WHO CARES BOND AND DOMINO HAVE A FLIGHT TO CATCH, JESUS

The only major character besides Bond who’s of any interest is Fiona, the bad Bond girl. Just like her unmedicated counterpart Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again, she’s easily the best part of the movie. Her smiling contempt of Bond and his sexual one-upsmanship is treated far more coolly, never sliding into Fatima’s hysteria, and she and Bond have great repartee together. She’s an effective assassin, she drives like a damned maniac, and I truly love the image of her shooting targets looking pretty as a picture--very Betty Draper. Connery’s pretty good here, too. Isn’t his impishly eating a single grape after brutally murdering “Mrs.” Bouvar and then jet-packing the fuck out of there one of the most Bond things that ever happened?

But Largo as a villain is a complete nothing. You know he is a bad guy immediately, because he has an eye patch. This is an interesting fact about him. In case you thought there weren’t other facts about him, you’re wrong: he’s jealous, and he keeps sharks. Also, the actor has a thick, full head of silvery hair, which is lucky because it makes him distinguishable underwater. His girlfriend Domino is a kept woman. She’s pretty. That’s what you need to know about Domino. The triangle of Bond-Domino-Largo meet up one last time in what should be an exciting hand-to-hand death match on an out-of-control speedboat, but who cares about such baldly written characters, especially when the day is saved by a guy who’s been in the movie for 43 seconds? On top of everything, the sped-up editing in this scene just looks terribly crude and laughable, even excepting that this is a movie from 1965.

Bond and Domino have sex underwater, which is probably the most interesting thing that happens underwater in this movie.

It’s really too bad about all this. There is so much to like about Thunderball. It has:

- one of the best Bond girls in Fiona
- an excellent score
- an interesting setting in a health clinic with its medieval torture devices disguised as health-promoting machines that would make OSHA shit its pants
- a couple of great scenes, including a chase through a Junkanoo celebration and a meeting of the Best Friends Club, I mean the 00s
- a cold open that I love just as much as it makes me cringe
- a flamboyant and wailing Tom Jones theme
- some great-looking if tedious underwater photography.

This should be so much better.

The subtitle of Thunderball could be They Harpoon Sharks, Don’t They? Have I mentioned fuck this movie?

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