License to Review #4: Thunderball (1965)

James Bond will return to cinemas this November with his twenty-fifth adventure, No Time to Die. In preparation, David Alkhed will take a look at all the previous entries in the franchise and see which ones are deserving of praise (shaken) and which ones aren’t (stirred).

Goldfinger felt like a breath of fresh air in many respects, with many of the strengths of the series strongly outweighing the weaknesses, with a slightly changed Bond, a fun villain, an interesting and not just eye candy Bond girl and a good song all making it as iconic as it it. Sure, there were still the silly and over-the-top things (the numerous explosions and Bond’s awful attitude towards women) were still prevalent, but it should’ve been an indicator of where the franchise should’ve gone. But due to complicated legal issues involving a possible rival Bond franchise, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman allowed rival producer Kevin McClory produce the next installment, which became Thunderball, which is sadly one of the lesser and more boring entries in the franchise so far.

The story of Thunderball is that SPECTRE agent Emil Largo (Adolfo Celi) has laid claim to two NATO atom bombs and demands a £100 million ransom or otherwise he’ll target a major city in the US or the UK. Whilst the authorities agree to the demands, they of course don’t wish to pay, and send their top agent, the one and only 007, James Bond, to Bahamas, to get the bombs back before it’s too late.

When I was typing Bahamas I accidentally typed it out as Jamaica, which perhaps helps give you an indicator as to how interchangeable this film is to Dr. No. The picture I used for this review looks like Ursula Andress’ introduction from said film, both films utilize this extremely similar-looking tropical climate, and both villains are working for SPECTRE. So yeah, forgive me for confusing the two or thinking of them as being similar.

The problems with Thunderball is exactly that it is more of a retread of the Bond we saw in Dr. No and From Russia with Love as opposed to a continuation of the things we saw in Goldfinger, which is what they should’ve done. Also, Largo is quite a dull villain in this. He’s not the worst villain, he’s just quite a bore with the most interesting aspect to him being his eyepatch. He’s also yet another member of SPECTRE doing Blofeld’s dirty work for him (also one of the other SPECTRE agents is Philip Stone which immediately made me think of The Shining).

The film is also, quite silly actually, especially compared to the earlier installments. Not that the earlier films were exactly cinema verite, but this one really pushes the series into the realm of silliness not seen before, with several scenes that are completely over-the-top and ridiculous. One such instance is when Bond is put in a spinal traction machine, which upon being set at a higher speed, gives room to some quite hilarious and suggestive imagery. There are also some distractingly bad rear-screen projection and somec god awful one-liners.

There are also the issue of the underwater action scenes. Look, I’m sure when the film came out in 1965 it must’ve been seen as impressive and a major technical achievement being able to film extensively underwater like they do. But today, they simply don’t hold up. Apart from the fact that a lot of the characters are interchangeable and look alike underwater and in costume, the sequences are quite boring, primarily because all the extras and stunt doubles move so slow, making the action take much longer for it to be exciting.

But it’s not all bad though, as there are definitely some good things about the film. It’s the first Bond film to be shot widescreen and they utilize the frame beautifully. Also the title song performed by Tom Jones, is one of the best Bond themes and superior to Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger. I know the latter is a bit of a hot take, but I don’t care. Possibly it’s got to do with Jones’ vocals, the lyrics and the overall melody sounding like a Bond theme, or the kind I expect. But overall, I must say I find Thunderball underwhelming, especially when compared to the previous installments, so therefore I must say Thunderball is ‘stirred’ rather than ‘shaken.’


James Bond will return in You Only Live Twice. Until then, happy scuba diving y’all.

Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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