Thunderball review – the 1965 epic definitely isn’t all wet

With Thunderball, Sean Connery chalks up one more notch on his belt with yet another entry in the Top 10 Best Bonds with this exciting aquatic adventure.

Watch enough Bond films and you’ll notice several plot points and action sequences repeated. That happens with a franchise with over 25 films and counting. One thing you don’t often see all that often is Bond battling underwater too often thanks to the masterful take provided with Thunderball.

Thunderball -Largo and his menAlongside his fellow M16 agents, James Bond (Sean Connery) is tasked with finding a plane that housed two warheads kidnapped by SPECTRE operative Largo (Adolfo Celi) in an extortion scheme. It’s not the standard world domination scheme and a villain who just wants money to impress his boss is surprisingly grounded for a Bond film.

Bond’s investigation brings him to the Bahamas where he encounters Largo’s lover Domino (Claudine Auger), an all-time classic Bond Babe, and Largo’s fellow SPECTRE associate, Fiona (a terrifically devious Luciana Paluzzi). Paluzzi is a fantastic Bond villain, one who gets a thrill, but doesn’t find anything revelatory about Bond’s lovemaking skills.

Thunderball -Domino and Largo

Largo himself makes for an above average 007 adversary as he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and lead his goons into battle or unleashing his pet sharks on Bond.

Thunderball marked the third and final film Terence Young would direct in the series. Young’s Bond portfolio covered three of the all-time most popular Bonds (Dr. No and From Russia With Love).  It would have been fascinating to see Young’s visions for subsequent films as he laid the groundwork for the definitive format for a classic 007 movie.

Thunderball -Largo and Bond

Young certainly knew how to get the best out of Connery who, with this performance, essentially makes all future Bonds vie for second place.

Connery is equal parts suave, self-assured, daring and quip-tastic. In encounters with Largo, Bond is much more antagonistic taunting his adversary at every turn and making his intentions to woo Domino very apparent. I liked that bolder Bond approach and Connery makes that seem like a perfectly sensible strategy instead of attempting another undercover mission.

thunderball-Bond and FionaWith Goldfinger whetting audiences’ appetite for high-tech gadgets, Thunderball goes heavy on the spy gimmicks. Despite the appearance of a jet pack, underwater bomb sled, homing device pills and more, Young never lets it get too out of hand and over the top.

This is one of the better Bond and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) interactions as both play off each other well with a banter steeped in high annoyance.

In addition to the Bond Babe and femme fatale, Bond gets his now regular assistance from CIA agent Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter). Van Nutter was a great fit for the character and had strong chemistry with Bond conveying a friendship in addition to a partnership that most Felix actors lacked.

Thunderball - Paula and Bond

The film also gave Bond a female sidekick in agent Paula (Martine Beswick), whom Bond wasn’t trying to bed, which provided a welcome change of pace from the normal dynamic.

If there was one flaw in Young’s directorial approach is lets all the excitement of a scene play out oh so slightly overstaying its welcome. The diminishing returns of drama is especially evident in the parade chase scene, which would have come across more intense had Young shaved off two or three minutes.

Thunderball -final battle

The film’s signature deep sea battle is equally extended, but in that case, it’s such a well staged action sequence it’s hard to fault Young for not wanting to trim even a second from the final cut.

That scene, handled by underwater sequences director Ricou Browning, is even more impressive considering it was shot in 1965. Browning didn’t have the option of “cheating” and just doing it all with CGI. The old-fashioned approach works as it remains one of the best Bond battles in the franchise and still holds up in 2015.

In a rarity for the series, Thunderball earned Bond a well-deserved Oscar as it won the Academy Award for Visual or Special Effects.Thunderball -Bond underwater

Thunderball is Connery’s last exceptional Bond as it gives 007 a competent villain, a thrilling adventure in an unusual setting, great Bond Babes and one of the series’ all-time best scenes.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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