How Good Is It?
I am consistently unable to remember the existence of Thunderball. Unless I have recently seen it, if asked to list the Connery Bond films I will omit it and it will take me hours or days to figure out what the missing one is. Due to an unusual rights situation it is the only Bond movie to have been remade (as Never Say Never Again) and a second remake (as Warhead 2000 or some such) was in the works as late as the mid-2000s. Needless to say, Thunderball isn’t really interesting enough to deserve it.
The overall plot is based on the recurrent Cold War worry of an elaborate theft of a nuclear warhead (nowadays, of course, we worry more that someone will just sell a warhead for a nice dacha and a pack of cigs). The execution of the theft is nicely laid out and chilling, but unflatteringly set against a semi-comic episode of Bond hanging out in a rehab facility and antagonizing a criminal aristocrat. The group responsible for the warhead theft is SPECTRE, still regularly killing off its high-ranking members.
Thanks to the absurd coincidence of his earlier encounter, Bond decides to follow up on the sister of the dead man he saw by accident. Incredibly, this works out to his advantage and he quickly finds the villainous Largo, who is the brains behind the scheme. The whole story is like this, and seems to have no impetus other than coincidence. Neither Bond nor anyone else seems to exert any real control over events.
As a piece of visual media, a major problem with Thunderball is that so much of it takes place underwater. This provides a few striking visuals, particularly the underwater commandos descending in formation to attack Largo’s men, but the fights beneath the waves have serious problems. The close-in scrums are impossible to follow, all bubbles and black rubber thrashing around, while the larger battle at the climax of the film is repetitive and never seems to end. That final battle is particularly poorly edited, to boot, so one never gets a sense of which way the fight is turning. At one point it seems to just end by directorial fiat. With a little restraint this stuff might have turned out okay but it just goes on and on well past the point when Bond’s teensy little rebreather should have given out.
Several of the fights outside of the water break down in a jumble too. Bond’s escape from Palmyra is silly (nobody stayed up at the shark pool?), and the final fight on the yacht’s bridge is just a mess. The film’s logic also breaks down in the case of Bond’s leg injury, which is a big deal in the Junkanoo scene and then simply gone for the rest of the film. Especially considering the hyperspliced jittercam bullshit that’s taken over the genre, Thunderball is not a terrible action film, but it’s not shot anywhere near as well as Goldfinger.
How Gross Is It?
Early in Thunderball Bond kisses a nurse against her will and then blackmails her into a sexual encounter. Per the spirit of the times, she is later a willing sexual partner. Two women get tortured, one onscreen and the other committing suicide. At least Fiona Volpe calls Bond out on his shit later. Too bad that speech had to come from a villain. Anyway the overall treatment of women is really terrible in this film, a theme that will be recurring.
How’s The Song?
Despite having a pretty decent fanfare, “Thunderball” the song has a lumpy, stentorian tune and the lyrics are junk. It’s a shameful waste of Tom Jones.