Welcome to the fifth instalment of Sticky Trigger Entertainment's James Bond 007 Retrospective. We'll be bringing you a new retrospective review each week, covering every Bond film from the official canon, leading up the Australian release of Skyfall in November. Make sure Little Nellie's armed and assembled as you take off into the next adventure of Bond... James Bond.
Title: You Only Live Twice
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Writer: Roald Dahl (based on the novel by Ian Fleming)
Starring: Sean Connery, Donald Pleasance, Mie Hama
After four weeks straight of solid adventure, the James Bond 007 Retrospective delivers its first real stinker. You Only Live Twice continues the trend of Bond films getting bigger, broader and more expensive, but someone clearly forgot to throw money at a decent director and screenwriter because the end result is a film that hangs together on a bored protagonist, a plot so threadbare you could sew drapes with it, and more bad stereotypes than robots in a Michael Bay film.
This is about as expressive as Connery gets for the whole film.
The plot, if it can be called that, sees Bond faking his death in the opening minutes so he can go to Japan and investigate the disappearance of an American spacecraft, without interference from his enemies, before the incident sets off World War III. It's really just a pathetic excuse to string together action sequences: within fifteen minutes of the opening titles, Dahl resorts to invoking Chandler's Law ('When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand'), which is no surer sign of the fact that no one knows what's going on, and this failure is compounded by willingness to keep resorting to this tactic in increasingly illogical, outlandish ways. For instance, if enemy assassins know that James Bond is training for a secret mission in a ninja school, why use an elaborate poisoning mechanism instead of dropping a grenade? Why not actually figure out what Bond's up to and be ready for him? But that'd be too sensible for this film. There's no logical chain of events, no narrative causality, nothing. It's such a sad state of affairs when even Goldfinger, the most outlandish film of the franchise to this point, manages to string a better story together.
Perhaps this wouldn't seem so bad if these action sequences were of high calibre, and certainly there are some impressive moments, but they all centre on an actor who clearly has somewhere else he'd rather be. Connery is so obviously sick of playing this character that he sleepwalks through every scene, mentally telling himself that it's just a few more scenes before he can cash the next paycheck. And when Bond clearly doesn't give a toss, why should the audience? The action scenes that do work are the ones that are staged and shot in such a way that Gilbert can throw an enthusiastic stuntman into the mix. The extended fight scene on the docks, shot in one sweeping helicopter movement, is stunning, and the sequences of Tanaka's ninjas storming the villain's superbase have been homaged and parodied for good reason.
What d'you reckon the cleaning bill for this would be?
And then to compound these mistakes further, the sexism of the early (many would say 'all') Bond films has eaten its spinach and put on some muscle for this instalment, helped by a good heaping of racism. Tanaka is a comic relief caricature, offensively stupid, and the rest of the supporting cast don't distinguish themselves from his example. Every bad cliché and stereotype is present and accounted for, culminating in the Japanese Secret Service's private army of spandex-clad ninjas being on the front lines of the epic battle at the end -- if these sequences weren't so epic in their scope, they'd be completely without merit. It gets worse still when Tanaka's plan for Bond to infiltrate the Japanese fishing village is to give him plastic surgery to make him look Japanese -- they should've just given Connery blackface and been done with it. Fleming's novels have a well-deserved reputation for this kind of thing, but it's hard to see how they could be worse than this.
There's really only one thing of note in this film, and that's Pleasance's few scenes as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the finally-revealed head of SPECTRE whose iconic appearance has since been almost eclipsed by Mike Myers' oft-quoted parody. The character has such a dramatic appearance but Pleasance is surprisingly restrained and soft-spoken, which only makes Blofeld all the more memorable. No wonder they decided to keep the character around for a few more films, though sadly without Pleasance, whose final scene amounted to little more than a melodramatic snarl at the hero.
'Mike Myers can kiss my... cat.'
This film is an embarrassment. Even Sean Connery doesn't want to be here, and no wonder, given the appalling screenplay and emphasis on dumb spectacle. Where is the Bond whose brutal showdown with Red Grant was the stuff of film history? The Bond that's smart and charming, not merely quippy and armed? He's not in this film, and even if he was, it's doubtful he could save it from this abyss of mindless drivel dressed up in big sets and explosions.
Highlight: Donald Pleasance. "You only live twice, Mister Bond."