PG and hilariously so. Thunderball might be the most troubling Bond movie, especially considering that it came out in 1965. In terms of aggressive sexuality, the Bond of Thunderball ties to live up to the reputation that Fleming's James Bond had earned in the collective consciousness. There's a lot of boundary issues that Bond abuses in this one. There's also a comfort with violence that traditionally stayed off screen in other Bond movies. But this is James Bond, so expect some raunch. There's some really brief nudity, so keep that in mind.
DIRECTOR: Terence Young
Why don't I love this movie? I mean, I had a poster of this movie hanging up in my room in high school. I should be absolutely smitten by this film. In terms of quintessential Bondiness, it has just about everything going for it. But I swear, every time I watch this movie, I find myself just a little too bored to consider this movie to be a great film. I can just imagine my high school self meeting me today and just feeling betrayed about my ambivalence for Thunderball. But I think that it took a lot of soul searching to get to this truth: Thunderball isn't a great movie.
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with it. It's not a bad movie, by any stretch. There are problematic things with it, but it also is a Bond movie that exists in the 1960s, so keep that in mind. But the concern that I realized that I had with Thunderball is that it is absolutely a filler of a film. I was having a discussion with my friends about the perfect length of a season of television. I'm in the 10-12 episode camp. Ten to twelve episodes is a tight storyline that can have ups and downs without too much filler. When a season hits 22 episodes, there are completely forgettable episodes in there. Does this mean that I'm disappointed when a season of Doctor Who or Discovery ends? Totally. But I also know that from a binging perspective, that story is going to play a lot nicer than something that just keeps dragging along. Thunderball, for all of the stakes presented in the film doesn't ever feel like it is a movie that matters. With From Russia with Love, we get this hint that SPECTRE is something to be dealt with. It references Dr. No and says that the events of that film were all under the greater banner of this secret organization bent on world domination. We get to meet the man in the chair, the man who would ultimately be revealed to be Ernst Starvo Blofeld.
But look at the scope of SPECTRE in From Russia with Love. There's a training ground. There's a boat. There are Japanese fighting fish. It just seems so intense. So when we go a movie without SPECTRE in Goldfinger, we want the grandeur of SPECTRE to be there. Instead, we have a bunch of guys in a room and an electrocution chair. I know that the movie tells us that SPECTRE is everywhere, but it doesn't really give off that vibe compared to what we see in From Russia with Love. If anything, the movie is trying to be more enigmatic about the scope of this evil organization. We know nothing of Blofeld and the story doesn't advance at all. It almost feels like Thunderball backtracks on its promise that Bond would be facing his ultimate enemy. Now, some of this might be on me. After all, I know that You Only Live Twice is coming, the confrontation of James Bond and Blofeld on the horizon. Gone would be this faceless character and instead, I'll be able to see Donald Pleasance's scarred face as he goes one-on-one with Bond.
Instead, I'm left with Largo. Largo, from a description, sounds like the most Bond-y villain of all time. I mean, Austin Powers had a field day with having Number Two in their film, modelled after Emilio Largo. But Largo himself seems to simply a voice for a disembodied Blofeld. He is so cool about everything, yet wildly incompetent in the grand scheme of things. He is unable to kill Bond, but always gets reprimanded for trying. Fiona Volpe points out that, if Bond is killed, they'll know that the bombs are in Nassau. I like this logic, but I'm pretty sure that even trying to kill Bond should be a big red flag that the bombs are in Nassau. If you tried and didn't kill him, perhaps the cat is out of the bag and that Largo should just finish the job. Bond clearly reports that he's being constantly under fire by a guy who is super suspicious the entire time. Volpe's argument might not hold the weight that the movie implies it should.
But this movie does feel more sadistic than the other Bond movies up to this point. Part of it comes from wanting to be more. The Bond formula is in place by this point. Between Sean Connery, jokes, Q branch, and giant army sequences shown off by this film's predecessors, everything was already there. So, like the problem with a lot of the Bond films, the movie just tries pushing and squeezing more into the same amount of time. This is where things get a little gross. Bond is straight up disgusting in this one. It might be the worst he gets in the franchise. He blackmails a woman into sex at a club and proceeds to make her life miserable. She then wishes to pursue the relationship where he does a rude "Gotta go!" before driving off. He then is tasked with seducing Domino, who reads as young. I know that there's a line that she's prostituting herself out to Largo, but keeps the guise that Largo is her guardian. Then there's the very vague relationship that he has with Paula, which only seems romantic due to her reaction to when Volpe enters her hotel room. Then there's Volpe. Volpe is the weirdest of the group because they know that they are both playing each other. Why have all that sexy time if they're just going to fight later?
But the movie also seems to be savage towards women. The women in this movie are tortured and punished for being women. Patricia from the spa says "No" to all of Bond's advances. When something outside of her control happens, she has to agree to Bond's advances so she doesn't lose her job. Yeah, it's not surprising that the movie really plays up the "She doth protest too much" vibe considering that it's a Bond movie from the '60s, but it isn't exactly subtle when it comes to Patricia's intent in that sequence. Domino is the official Bond girl for the movie, yet she is burned and cooled as a form of torture. I know that Fleming had earned a reputation for being a bit of a sadist with his Bond books, but this is the moment that really solidifies how messed up things get with this movie. Then Bond kills Volpe and just leaves her to be found by the club's owners. It's really just disturbing all around. I know that Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig would embrace the fact that Bond is a cold-blooded killer, but I think that Sean Connery in Thunderball also sells the same story.
The final thing I have to say (I think!) is the fact that a lot of the beats of this movie feel like Dr. No. I'm sure that, because both movies are set in tropical paradises, it comes from the setting. But we have Bond discovering girls on the beach. Felix Leiter, by the way, apparently is a CIA who only likes getting stationed in tropical locations because he never made an appearance in From Russia with Love. Sure, Kentucky doesn't seem to be a big warm place in Goldfinger, but I'm pretty sure that he's in Miami as well. It just feels like a big old re-tread of the same thing and that initial movie wasn't even that great.
So it's not for me. I want to love it, but Thunderball is just that filler episode of TV for me. It doesn't really deliver on anything new, but instead just tries to do more when the next movie would do the heavy lifting.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.