Friday, March 5, 2021

Green Phoenix - Thunderball Review

I hope everyone is having a good start to March. I genuinely want to apologize to everyone who expected a review last week. Unfortunately I had a particular intense mental health spike and had to take a very needed mental health break. Thankfully I am feeling much better and can hopefully return to regular releases of these articles for at least the next few months (until my Summer Break in June). 

With that said, let's get started on this weeks film to examine. EON Productions' 1961 classic spy thriller, Thunderball.

Going to be entirely honest here, Thunderball's backstory is almost more memorable than the movie itself. The film was involved in a series of legal battles over the rights to the story, which a pair of collaborators of Ian Fleming's accused the author of stealing from them. The results of this legal battle would result in not only a delay in Thunderball's release but also the release of a non-EON adaptaion of the same story in Never Say Never Again in 1983 by Warner Bros.

This means that, in some ways, Thunderball is one of only two Bond films to have received multiple adaptations, besides the  parody adaptation of Casino Royale produced in 1967.

It's just a shame that in my opinion, Thunderball isn't nearly as memorable as its predecessor Goldfinger. And as you will see, this is rather strange when one considers how many elements of the film have gone on to be staples of the spy genre or parodies therein.

  • Directed by Terrence Young
  • Produced by EON Productions
  • MPAA Rating: PG
  • Running Time: 130 Minutes


The fourth film in the James Bond franchise sees Bond return to stop a plot by the global terrorist organization SPECTRE to ransom the world with the use of two stolen nuclear weapons. Bond will journey from France to the Bahamas and go up against the dangerous SPECTRE operative Emilio Largo with the help of Domino Derval, Largo's mistress who is also the sister of the French pilot killed during SPECTRE's capture of the nuclear weapons.

Failure to either capture the bombs, Largo, or pay the fine could mean the destruction of major cities in the United States and the United Kingdom and plunge the world into global war.



For some reason, Thunderball has always been something of an oddball of a film when it comes to my personal viewings of the film. Critically, I can recognize that the film has a very well written plot and many of the elements it has introduced or contributed to the franchise have become icons of the spy genre and the film has been subtly parodied in many ways. Add in a stellar performance by its actors and a kickass opening theme by Tom Jones of all people and you'd think Thunderball would be one of my favorite Bond films. In fact when adjusted for inflation, Thunderball is actually the most successful and profitable James Bond film in North America.

And yet despite these critically positive elements, Thunderball has always been a sort of forgotten film in my viewing memory. I know that I have watched the film quite a few times and yet, it doesn't leave the same impact that other films in the James Bond franchise have, especially the film's immediate predecessor Goldfinger. I just don't think about the movie in the same way that I do others in the franchise.

That is not to say that the film is not worth watching or does not have a great deal to enjoy about it, only that it doesn't stick in my mind as nearly as memorable (a purely subjective opinion).

Sean Connery is, as is to be expected at this point, stellar in his role as James Bond and could basically perform the role in his sleep by the time of the fourth film. He's dashing, suave, and athletic, all traits necessary for your lady-killer (literally in the case of Fiona Volpe) secret agent.

The villain of the film Emile Largo does a damn fine job of reintroducing audiences to the dangers of SPECTRE as the notoriously over-the-top terrorist organization that would become in later films. The boardroom scene has been parodied and referenced in many spy comedies, with Austin Powers being the most famous. His relationship with Domino, the film's primary Bond girl, is also rather unique and helps to create a strangely personal rivalry with James Bond that goes beyond the demands of their role as supervillain and secret agent. Largo is also the first Bond villain to utilize sharks as a supervillain defense mechanism, something that would become a particularly strange staple of the spy genre.

Thunderball actually has a surprisingly large amount of high quality Bond girls. The two most important are Fiona Volpe,who only sort of fits the role as she is actually one of the main henchmen of Largo and dies during the course of the film while trying to kill Bond, and Domino, Largo's mistress and the sister of the pilot killed during the beginning of the film which kick-offs the entire plot. She and Bond have about a good a chemistry as one can get out of a 60s Bond film and her role in the film is actually essential to the entire resolution in a manner that I find quite cathartic.
Where Thunderball kind of falls a little flat for me is in the story department. Largo's scheme is somehow both incredibly simple with its run-of-the-mill supervillain ransom plot and mind-numbingly convoluted in its effort to draw out James Bond and play a strange cat-and-mouse game. While the film does make an effort to raise the stakes by threatening to use the stolen nuclear weapons against American and British cities, this plot kind of feels less weighted than other villain plots, especially compared to the next film in the series You Only Live Twice.

Beyond the cast and the story, where Thunderball does stand in its memorability for me is in its opening theme. Tom Jones' performance of the song is just exemplary. The song, like most of the opening sequences, is about James Bond and talking about how cool he is. The film uses the iconography of a "thunderball", which I actually had to look up to understand why the film was even called that (It is a military term for a nuclear mushroom cloud), to evoke the passion and "fire" of James Bond.

It's on the nose but Jones' performance truly is iconic and it remains the one part of the film that I absolutely remember other than the death of the one henchmen to a shark during the first third of the movie and truthfully I do find this a shame. The movie just doesn't capture my interest like others in the franchise.

Despite this, Thunderball remains a classic and is an achievement of the series. Despite my personal preference for other films in the series, the influence of Thunderball on the rest of the spy genre has ensured its place among the greatest spy films of all time and the best of James Bond. The film is incredibly good on a technical level and I highly recommend it. While it does possess some of the same pacing and troubling content issues that are a byproduct of its time period, Thunderball is much less troubling than the next film in the Bond franchise.

Oh boy...I'm actually going to take a bit of a break from James Bond for a while, but I will return with an analysis of the next film in the Connery era, You Only Live Twice. The one James Bond film that I absolutely cannot believe was made even in its own era.
I mean...holy shit.
But until then, we will be switching gears in the coming weeks in preperation for my June Break. As our world slowly returns a somewhat stable sense of normalcy (fingers fucking crossed), I will have more editorials and countdowns in the works that I think will be a ton of fun for all of you to read.

I hope you all have a very good week and stay safe out there!

  • 8/10
  • 9/10
  • 6/10
  • 7/10

 FINAL SCORE - 7.5/10

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