Urgh, just for a minute there, I was having fun with this whole Bond thing.
I’m going to level with you straight away. I’ve never liked Thunderball. After the first three ever-improving Bonds, it’s a letdown. I pride myself on being able to see other points of view. I don’t have to agree with them, but I can respect them. However, I have no Christ-punching idea why Thunderball keeps turning up on “best of Bond” lists. No clue whatsoever. It’s bloated, uncoordinated and criminally boring in places. Maybe it just gets a free pass because Connery’s in it.
After some pre-credits nonsense with a jetpack, James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to the Bahamas to investigate the theft of two nuclear missiles. Turns out SPECTRE plan on using the weapons to hold the UK and U.S. to ransom, threatening to reduce a non-specific city in both to radioactive rubble. Bond starts becoming suspicious of the eyepatch wearing Largo (Adolfo Celi) and enraptured by his niece/prisoner/lover Domino (Claudine Auger). The plot’s alright. It’s rather a simple story overcomplicated with needless clutter. I’m sure I don’t need to comment on Connery any more, so I’ll skip to Auger’s Domino. I kinda like Domino. She’s not very interesting and doesn’t have much to do outside of waiting from Bond to free her from Largo’s tyranny, but she’s alright. She’s nowhere near the firecracker that “Pooshy” was in Goldfinger. Largo is pretty boring too. He’s well played by Celi, I just think SPECTRE’s second-in-command should be a bit more charismatic than this. Snatching something fun from the jaws of dull is Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), pretty much the only entertaining character in the film. Much like Red Grant in From Russia with Love, Volpe can be seen as a dark reflection of Bond, enjoying using her sexuality to get the better of her victims. Awesomely, she tends to have sex with people to pass the time until SPECTRE goons show up to take out her lover. She also manages to hit Bond right in the ego after the deed, pretty much the only woman in all 22 to do so. She’s like a black widow or praying mantis. She throws how uninteresting Domino is into sharp contrast.
I think the main problem with Thunderball is the pacing. Quite a lot of it takes place underwater, which really doesn’t help things, especially when the same dreamlike John Barry motif is used over and over again.There are a lot of scenes of characters just bouncing exposition off each other where a little character development would have gone a long way. Largo likes and owns sharks and he keeps his niece as a sexual prisoner. That’s basically all I could tell you about him and he’s the film’s main villain. The only underwater scene that actually works is the big undersea battle between armies of divers. It’s inventive and surprisingly vicious, especially with the liberal use of harpoon guns. The opening sequence where Bond fights a man in drag before jetpacking away is groan inducing. It’s just too silly, even for a Bond caper. There’s also more use of speeding up the film which reduces the potentially exciting ending sequence aboard the Disco Volante to a farcical glob of spunk. I get that there were technical limitations back in the ’60s, but I refuse to believe that this looked anything but naff even back then.
Anything good? A few things. Connery is still fun to watch as Bond. The aforementioned Volpe is great. The underwater battle is good. The big sets by Ken Adam are predictably good, with SPECTRE’s huge parlour and massive table really having the wow factor.The title sequence also screams classic Bond with its swimming silhouetted ladies and big Tom Jones song. There’s also one great bit where Bond and Domino are relaxing on the beach and are being stalked by a villain. After Domino’s warning, Bond picks up his nearby harpoon gun and spears him, pinning him to a tree. His kiss-off line?: “I think he got the point.” Cheesy, yes, but it made me chuckle. Oh- and grumpy old Q showing up in a loud Hawaiian shirt is worth a mention too.
Thunderball isn’t great. All the elements of a good Bond adventure are here, but they never convincingly hang together. Plus, for a lot of the time, the film is really quite tedious to sit through. It’s not the worst Bond film ever as I’ve still got that to come (the prospect of having to rewatch it and say something more constructive than “it eats dicks” is daunting), but it definitely isn’t in the same league as the preceding flicks. It’s not bombastic enough to be fun like Goldfinger and it’s not a decent enough spy thriller to be like From Russia with Love. Pretty damn poor.