Fun fact about Thunderball. It is, when adjusted for inflation, the most successful of all the Bond films. Crazy huh? That’s what happens when a series is riding the crest of a great big Goldfinger sized wave. So how good a film is it? Well you’ll have to click the link to find out. Or just watch it yourself and make up your own bloody mind. What am I? Your personal opinion maker?
In Thunderball Bond (Sean Connery) is busy dicking about at a health spa, nursing a few injuries, when he gets into a little bit of a tit for tat mini feud with a guest. When that guest appears to have died at the spa whilst somehow also being on board a plane carrier a nuclear payload that has recently gone missing Bond is called in to find out just what has happened. In true Bond fashion he figures out where to head based on the location of the dead guy overly hot sister whom Bond hopes to bone. Luckily for his job, and his penis, that single mindedness pays off. Bond ladies and gentlemen!!! There he meets Emilio Largo (Aldofo Celi, voiced by Robert Rietty), a member of evil terrorist group SPECTRE and the man behind the plan to nuke an unnamed city if he doesn’t receive £100 million in diamonds. Also he has that dead guy’s sister Domino (Claudine Auger, voiced by Nikki Van Der Zyl) as his mistress which temporarily gets in the way of Bond giving her a double O and a 7… whatever that means…
We’re in full Bond spectacular mode here with Thunderball, which is to be expected after the extravagance of Goldfinger. The film is directed by the man behind the lens of the first two Bond films, Terence Young, and as such takes a much more measured and less showy approach than the previous Guy Hamilton directed Goldfinger. That does lead to the films biggest issue though. It’s a little too slow. This is the first Bond to clock in over 2 hours and it can largely be put down to the sheer amount of slow, overly long, and dangerously close to boring underwater sequences. Honestly about one quarter of the film is shot underwater with slow moving deep sea divers firing harpoons at each other. To add to that the films opening act, which consists of the aforementioned spa based dickery and a few moments of SPECTRE being evil. It feels like it’s going nowhere for a while and slows down the pace considerably. Luckily the underwater battle with a team of secret agent divers taking on Largos SPECTRE divers is actually a pretty cool and really quite violent affair which does go some way to alleviating just how slow paced the underwater sequences feel.
Thanks to the restraint Terence Young brings to Bond the film also has more time for character interplay and general all round spy based shenanigans. Also, Bond doesn’t spend half the film as a prisoner which makes a massive change from Goldfinger. Young shoots the Bahamas setting very well and captures a lot of the varying locales and culture which is most welcome. I’d say this film was likely the basis for how future Bond films shot their various exotic locales. This was the first Bond film to be shot in Panavision Widescreen meaning it has a strong, crisp 2.35:1 ratio which is the perfect film ratio to me. It helps make everything maintain a more cinematic feel and looks quite lovely on the blu ray remastered edition. The film does lack many of the iconic moments that made Goldfinger so memorable, although I’d say when Vargas “Got the point” was as iconic as any Bond moment. Even without many iconic moments there is plenty of scenes that have influenced later film makers. For example, you know Chris Nolan was thinking about this films final scene when he put the sky hook escape in The Dark Knight. He even mirrors the final shot of the film.
Connery comes across a little tired and fed up in his performance during the film, likely due to the amount of press hounding he was receiving at the time. A stress that was compounded by his rising fame and his divorce from his first wife Diane Cilento. That said his bond has a little more of a rough edge than we saw in Goldfinger and it really is the way Bond should be. Less smiles, more brutality. Although switch them around when it comes to the ladies of course… most of the time. His Bond girl of choice here, in the form of Dominique “Domino” Derval is easily one of the most attractive creatures ever captured on film. To be fair I mock Bond choosing to travel halfway around the world just to see her but to be fair… it makes sense to me. As is a tradition for Bond girls looks came first and ability to speak English second. Domino is the second Bond girl to be dubbed by Nikki Van Der Zyl. She dubs a few more in later films too. This film also features yet another incarnation of Felix Leiter this time played by the Gary Busey prototype mould Rik Van Nutter. That surname should totally be adopted by Busey. It would suit him.
When it comes to the villains Largo is a bit of a straight forward type of bad guy but, like many villains, he’s prone to stringing Bond along when really he should just shoot him. He tries trapping him in a pool filled with sharks but really the more complex a death mechanic is the less likely it is to work on Bond. Joining Largo is Fiona Volpe (Lucianna Paluzzi) who is physically as volpe-luptuous as her name suggests. She’s also a little stronger at resisting bonds charms than lesbian Pussy Galore was in the last film. She may get conquered by Bond but she isn’t defeated by him. She’s the first Bond girl to basically tell Bond she shagged him for the hell of it and isn’t gonna change her evil ways just because he’s all charming and hairy and stuff. Bond uses her as a human bullet proof vest later. That, apparently, is what you get for not playing along.
Thunderball is a good fun adventure and can easily be called as good as Goldfinger in my estimation. But is is also dogged by slow paced underwater sequences and a Connery that looks a little like he can’t be arsed. The film has more character depth than Goldfinger though and that really helps it stand up despite it’s pacing issues and that silly jet pack escape sequence in the pre-credits scene. It also serves as a good hype builder for the eventual reveal of Blofeld, who here has a larger role than in any previous film. Albeit one where we do not see his face. That comes soon though when Bond returns in You Only Live Twice.