Movie Review – Black Panther

Black Panther may not be Marvel’s best origin story, but it’s definitely one we all have to see.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I hate to have to pull up the DC Extended Universe when talking about Marvel, but I’m sorry, the comparisons are inevitable. Here is a movie that will do for the black community everywhere what Wonder Woman (2017) did for women, but while the exhilarating romanticism of our first blockbuster female superhero has already been washed away by the stench of Justice League (2017), Black Panther arrives at a time that could not be more crucial for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the world in general. This is an important film, if not necessarily a great one.

As an origin story, Panther is neither a success nor a failure. It just is. But inherent within this fable is an abundance of joy and innovation; it’s a tried and tested story of a prince who has to fight for his throne, set against a mouth-watering backdrop of an Africa that has been bisected by tradition and the ultramodern.

That is what really works here – the film’s energetic production design. The fictional kingdom of Wakanda is cradled somewhere in the mountains and visually sealed off from the world by some kind of force field, so we’re treated to mud huts and goat farmers before the camera swoops through the barrier to reveal an eye-popping futuristic utopia of towering spires and flying vehicles. It’s a place where the new is built upon the foundations of the old – it can be seen from the magnificent costumes to the graffiti that adorns an underground research lab. We get the sense that this is a city born from African soil and raised in its complex culture, not in the memory banks of a visual effects artist’s computer, and it’s splendid.

But the plot, it must be said, is rather ordinary. We are reacquainted with Prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who, after his father’s untimely demise in Captain America: Civil War (2016), has to assume the throne and ensure the precious vibranium metal that accelerated Wakanda’s growth remains secret from the rest of the world. But there is dissent in the ranks and the emergence of a foreign foe, who has been selling vibranium on the black market for years in an attempt to finally reach the mythical El Dorado and claim the kingdom as his own.

There are deep pockets of delightful moments, as when Black Panther tears through a car chase in South Korea, but for some reason many of the fight scenes take place in near darkness, and it doesn’t help that our hero’s costume is 98% black.

The large cast, in which I counted only two white men, is populated by quite an effective range of personalities, from Danai Gurira’s formidable warrior Okoye, to Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s enchanting younger sister who is apparently proficient at everything, including spinal surgery. Unfortunately, Michael B. Jordan’s villain is awarded pathos and a profound backstory but ends up shouting “BURN IT ALL!” and “I AM YOUR KING NOW!” a whole lot, y’know, like a bad guy. He seems more like a brutish nuisance than an emotional nemesis.

Black Panther is nevertheless a success. It’s entertaining and confidently directed by Ryan Coogler, who has left enough doors open so that we may all discuss his movie’s relevance. What’s left now is to see what Marvel will do next, because it’s imperative, after such a momentous step into the light, that these pioneering characters not be hustled back into the shadows by their white counterparts. They’ve proven they can hold their own.

Black Panther is available in Australian cinemas from February 15

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

End of Days For Daniel Day-Lewis?

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Who knows if Daniel Day-Lewis will actually retire? He’s been teasing the idea for years, but he can’t seem to resist a promising screenplay, which is precisely what has drawn him out of a five-year hiatus since playing Abraham Lincoln in 2012. He’s a man infamous for taking substantial breaks between projects – having starred in only three films in the last eleven years – and now that his apparent swan song, Phantom Thread, is playing across the country, it might be a good time to pore over his sparse, but rather fine career.

It’s a career built upon astounding records, many of which may not be broken in our lifetime. He’s won Critic’s Choice awards, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Screen Actor’s Guilds, Satellites, and perhaps his most impressive triumph: three Academy Awards for Best Actor (winning for Christy Brown in My Left Foot [1989], Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood [2007] and the titular president in Lincoln [2012]). He’s also the only actor in history to have won the Big Five twice (Academy Award, SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Critic’s Choice for There Will Be Blood and Lincoln).

But awards are merely the gold stars on top of good grades. To earn the grades in the first place requires a devotion to the craft, and a kind of perfection of skill; qualities Day-Lewis exercises with abandon. He’s what you might call a smart man’s method actor, sinking entirely into roles without the drug addictions or drastic body changes. Instead he absorbs his characters from the inside out, assuming new identities like a master criminal.

His early work in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) and the unusual comedy Stars and Bars (1988) is masterful – particularly as the fractured Tomas in the former – but it doesn’t really prepare you for what’s to come. In fact, it’s not till his devilish turn as Bill Cutting in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) that his face, his speech and his very person becomes unrecognisable. This was the first time Daniel Day-Lewis truly got lost inside the body of another.

His greatest performance, and my favourite, is as oil tycoon Daniel Plainview. Hunched, raspy and totally self-serving, Plainview is the kind of ego-centric movie villain that grips you in a way that almost makes you sympathise, even though there’s nothing to sympathise with, like Michael Corleone in The Godfather II (1974). From his ruthless upbringing of his adopted son, to the mental and spiritual abuse dished out to poor Eli Sunday, Plainview is a character of unbelievable evil, and Day-Lewis is particularly good at jutting out his chin, raising a derisive eyebrow and lashing about with his superior accent. It is, rather ironically, a delight to watch him.

And then the real Day-Lewis gets up to speak at the Oscars, with his pristine face, platinum hair and dignified English-ness, and no one anywhere can believe it’s the same man. He has worked with some of the finest directors of our time, delivered some of the most memorable lines and ended it all without so much as a wave to the crowd. For him, the job’s done, like a long day at the office – there’s nothing to talk about.

Apparently, the filming of Phantom Thread left within him a great sense of sadness, which became a compulsion to stop acting. He’s made such decisions before but has always been drawn back out into the light by screenplays that offer him one last hurrah. Maybe it was another chance to work with Paul Thomas Anderson, or that Phantom Thread, in which he plays a fashion designer in 1950s London, finally returns him to his English roots, but he seems assured now that it’s over. The man could do it all – comedy, violence, drama, even musicals. Let’s hope he carries retirement with as much grace.

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is by no means the finest Marvel movie, but it does a fine job of keeping up with the pack.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 
Zachary Cruz-Tan

If there is one thing true about the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s that Thor is about as interesting a movie hero as the dried up skin flaking on my heel. It’s the failing of any mythological figure – they are bound by the limitations of their respective traits. Medusa cannot do anything other than turn infidels to stone. Ares knows only how to wage war. No matter how many family squabbles you throw at him, Thor can still only command lightning. So what do you do? Run with it and make it as much fun as possible, I guess.

Thor: Ragnarok is a delightful step up from the first two movies because it proves Marvel is capable of running self-diagnostics. Thor and Thor: The Dark World were horrendous. You don’t take a boring mythical juggernaut and dump him in New Mexico. That’s like trying to treat depression with Schindler’s List. As a result, Ragnarok is damage control. Its director, Taika Waititi, whose What We Do in the Shadows had me guffawing like a buffoon, is the emergency physician. His remedy is simple: Thor is a hulking lug without brains or a character to develop, so I shall construct around him a world that is infinitely more exciting. And it is.

This is the kind of movie that knows precisely what it is and what it isn’t, what it can and cannot do. For example, it can deliver amazing action set pieces and some truly beautiful imagery, but cannot be as deep or insightful as Batman Begins or Captain America: Civil War. Waititi’s approach is fundamentally helpful. He doesn’t try to beef up the lousy characters or outdo more successful superhero films but simply lets the chemistry of his cast flow with the outrageous dialogue.

Thor is once again played by Chris Hemsworth. This time, his home of Asgard is under threat of destruction by Hela (Cate Blanchett), another mythic figure bound to her eternal moniker of “goddess of death”, which is unfortunate because no matter how hard she may try, she cannot play anyone else but the villain. Thor, meanwhile, is stranded on a faraway garbage planet, ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum in Goldblum overdrive), who enjoys pitting superheroes against each other as some kind of intergalactic blood sport. So you can imagine Thor’s consternation and beastly grunting when the Grandmaster forbids him from saving his home.

Let’s face it, this isn’t a compelling plot, least of all because Asgard as a fantastical ethereal paradise looks more like the blown up internal mechanisms of a wristwatch. Hela’s dialogue is all exposition and snark and very little intelligence. The scenes on the garbage planet are colourful and alive, but after you’ve seen one fight-to-the-death arena presided over by a psychotic dictator, you’ve seen them all, especially if the movie’s trailers have already given away all the best bits.

So the plot is merely serviceable. We know the characters are thin soup. And yet I had a really good time with this. I appreciate an action movie that can make me laugh earnestly, that doesn’t betray the idiosyncrasies of its quirky director, that adopts an approach and sticks with it for better or worse. I can’t recall a single memorable quote (except perhaps “the devil’s anus”) but I remember laughing a lot, being impressed by the quality of the entire production, and thanking the Norse gods for finally giving Darcy the day off.

Thor: Ragnarok is available in Australian cinemas from October 26 

Image courtesy of Marvel Studios 2017

Movie Review – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Director Matthew Vaughn returns with another action packed film, but can America and Britain really put aside their egos and come together to save the world from devastation?

⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

When the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed, the two remaining Kingsman, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong), travel to their brother spy organisation in the US. The two elite secret organisations must now band together to defeat a common enemy who is holding the world hostage.

Director Matthew Vaughn delivers another adrenaline-filled adventure, following the success Kingsman: The Secret Service, and his early works, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. The humour remains as crude as ever, and at times you wonder if it’s he’s trying to create some Guinness World Record for the amount of times the word ‘fuck’ is said in a film, but his fight scenes are some of the best in the comic book genre. Well-choreographed and edited to high-tempo music, these scenes get your heart racing, and you’re more than willing to suspend your disbelief to enjoy the spectacle.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is packed with A-list actors, including Colin Firth and Taron Egerton who return to reprise their respective roles. Firth’s Harry “Galahad” Hart lacks the grit and unexpected crudeness of the first film, purely because his character is criminally underutilised in order to make way for a range of newcomers.

Julianne Moore gives a disturbing performance as the seemingly sweet, yet power-hungry villain Poppy, who has no issue with threatening billions of lives to receive recognition for operating the biggest (unknown) drug cartel in the world. Halle Berry plays the US secret service’s version of Merlin, continually saving the agent’s lives with her nanobot technology, yet finds herself constantly undermined by her US co-workers, and Channing Tatum plays hotshot US spy Tequila. While none of them put in award-winning performances, they all seem to be having a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the film lacked stability for me. Compared to the first Kingsman,which was slick and filled with dry British humour, this one just has far too much going on. Constant flashbacks are needed to help set up the story, plus there’s the introduction of a whole new spy organisation filled with a number of different characters. Add in the clash between American and British humour, and it all ends up a little bit muddled.

While humorous, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is nowhere near as funny as its predecessor. It relies heavily on a large amount of assumed knowledge from The Secret Service, so good luck if you haven’t seen the first film! The ultimate downfall of this film is in taking the story to the US; its British quirks are completely lost, and the tone shifts into typical, American territory.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is available in Australian cinemas from September 21 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox


Movie Review – The Boss Baby

An extremely energetic film with not much substance.  Bring the kids, but be ready to browse your phone.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Cody Fullbrook

Imaginative only child, Tim Templeton (Miles Christopher Bakshi), has his life thrown into chaos when his new baby brother (Alec Baldwin) is dispatched. Not born – dispatched. He investigates the decreasing love for babies in this modern age; a deceptively real issue nowadays, and one which could have been handled more genuinely if the baby wasn’t, you know, wearing a suit!

When talking about any movie, it’s important to know that the audience is easily grasping its message.  The Boss Baby’s message is simply “love is important”.  A passable moral, at least when paired with an engaging story, but the problem is that the concept of love is never explored here.

We’re constantly made to feel stressed about our two protagonists stopping the villain (Steve Buscemi) from making people love puppies more than babies, but it’s unclear as to what exactly is going to happen if they fail to stop him. And if they succeed, all they’ve done is prevent the villain’s plan to catalyse the problem. Not cause it. So, even when they win, the issue still exists.

The Boss Baby’s length and pacing is fine and, while never terribly confusing, Tim and the baby’s actions to achieve their goals are just as vague as the goals themselves. Astral projecting pacifiers, immortality milk and a team of Elvis impersonators all progress the story in appropriately comical ways, like all comedies should, but almost all the tension is constantly sapped from the story when you can assume they’ll have a magical gadget to fix any problem, and that includes literally using Tim’s imagination to beat someone in a sword fight.

Alongside the hysterical image of a baby having Alec Baldwin’s voice, the worlds Tim creates is the highlight of The Boss Baby, easily rivalling the colourful energy of Inside Out and The Lego Movie.  In fact, after seeing all the film’s bizarre events mesh seamlessly with the vibrant imagery in Tim’s head, I assumed The Boss Baby would have a reveal similar to The Lego Movie, where the plot was simply the active imagination of an innocent child who, in his own way, learns how to handle having a baby brother. But, no. There was a rocket ship filled with puppies, a skateboarding bodyguard in a dress and babies come from a factory in the sky.  These things all happened. That is reality. Accept it.

For better and worse, The Boss Baby is just plain silly.  Its lively animation and humour make it a fine movie for children and maybe even young teenagers, made even better with the terrific chemistry and voice acting between Bakshi and Baldwin. Older viewers, however, will find the message and overall plot less than substantive.

The Boss Baby is available in Australian cinemas from March 22

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Movie Review – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

The second Jack Reacher movie reaches for greatness, but fails to grasp it. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury 

The ultimate power fantasy for 40-something dads on holiday is back! This time ex-military police officer/freelance badass Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) must go to ground after implicating himself with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), a senior military official accused of espionage. Caught in a conspiracy that covers smuggled weapons, corrupt soldiers and a tearaway teenage girl, a long-forgotten encounter from his past also comes back to haunt Reacher.

Never Go Back doesn’t quite live up to its underrated predecessor, but it still offers a little bit of everything for fans of its leading man. This is Tom Cruise’s film through-and-through, complete with numerous running scenes and the occasional brooding topless shot. Bolstered by taut pacing and director Edward Zwick’s experienced eye behind the lens, the film is best characterised as a solid mid-budget, low-stakes action film that gets the job done – albeit with a few bumps that threaten to derail the fun.

While it lacks a flagship set piece like the car chase from the first Reacher film, the action is still good; Zwick holds onto that no-nonsense punchiness that Christopher McQuarrie brought to the series. Like last time, Reacher leaves a trail of shattered femurs and punctured lungs in his wake – but it does make you wonder how much better this series could be if they pursued an MA15+ rating.

Smulders is great as the military policeman under fire for spying; her character is billed as an intellectual and physical match for Reacher, creating a tug-of-war dynamic that makes for some entertaining conflict between the two.

However, aside from the two leads, Never Go Back’s cast isn’t anything to write home about. Danika Yarosh plays Samantha, the 15-year-old stroppy schoolgirl who gets swept up in the chase, but her unpolished and uneven performance is often grating. Her entire subplot weighs the film down through the middle third as Cruise is hamstrung with babysitting when he should be bashing in skulls. It’s a disjointed attempt to inject some pseudo-paternal emotion to proceedings and ends up feeling mismatched with the rest of the film.

Similarly, the piss-weak villain isn’t even half as entertaining as Werner Herzog was in the first movie. Patrick Heusinger plays a lethal hitman assigned to bring Reacher down – and that’s about it. C’mon guys – if you’re going to make Cruise race around town, at least give him a compelling enemy to run away from.

All told, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is your typical, middle-of-the-road game of cat-and-mouse that fails to linger long in your memory. The stripped back action is just as snappy as you remember, but the plot is a little patchy and neutered by uninteresting subplots and a villain as dull as dishwater. Let’s hope a hypothetical third instalment dispenses with the pleasantries and gets back to bare-knuckle business.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is available in Australian cinemas from October 20

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Movie Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is indeed the follow-up fans have been eagerly anticipating. It is just as goofy as George Lucas’ original; just as loud, just as ridiculous, and just as brilliant.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumph of science-fiction in this new age. In a decade where movies like Man Of Steel (2013) and San Andreas (2015) exploit character and computer graphics to erase hope from the world, The Force Awakens is a cheerful reminder that not every adventure has to witness buildings crumbling over uninteresting people.

Overall, The Force Awakens is a marvellous movie that returns respectfully to the pure space opera of George Lucas’ first three pictures. At their best, the Star Wars movies are simple, clearly defined adventures in which the forces of good desperately try to one-up the Dark Side. At their worst, they embroil themselves in petty, directionless trade negotiations and border disputes. Luckily, The Force Awakens has awoken within itself the wits to avoid banality.

In its broadest sense, it echoes very loudly the plot of Star Wars (1977), where a plucky band of rebels must gather their cunning to destroy a giant orbiting globe that contains enough destructive power to obliterate planets. Some have complained about this similarity. But think about it – when you’re an evil intergalactic organisation in the far reaches of space (this time called the First Order), what else is there to do to pass the time other than clear up some real estate?

We follow the plights of young Rey (Daisy Ridley), a bold scavenger meant for greater things; Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper down with a bout of identity crisis; and Poe (Oscar Isaac), the best resistance pilot in the galaxy. They represent the trinity of heroes, as did Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han (Harrison Ford) before them.

What surprised me more, though, was the introduction of perhaps the most compelling Star Wars villain since Darth Vader. Adorned with the unusual moniker, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is the fallen Jedi; robed in black and concealed behind a mask of menace, he arrives at the movie already buried under pounds of personal crisis. He is petulant, impatient, but strong in the Force, and Driver is wonderful at capturing both his sordid cruelty as well as his inexperience. His surprising link to the senior cast of characters is a touch of genius, as is his misguided adulation of Vader. Never has a such a splendidly complex bad guy started a Star Wars story.

This is precisely what tips The Force Awakens over the edge into greatness. Its mammoth plot is secondary; its likeable characters come to the fore. They are immensely interesting individuals who share on-screen chemistry, and have set up personal stories that are more than capable of going the distance of a trilogy. We get the sense that director J.J. Abrams has established his movie in the same grand universe that made the earlier pictures so spellbinding. There is action here; comedy; the chance for romance; startling revelations; intriguing secrets; awesome battles; and deep, resounding emotional cues.

For years fans have been left disappointed by Lucas’ lesser efforts. The Force Awakens is a Star Wars movie for the fans, by fans. It unites the old and new so seamlessly as to inspire ecstasy. Indeed, my heart raced as I sat there, so taken by Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo that the very idea of having to wait another year or so to see where their stories have taken them has already worn down my patience. This is one of the year’s most gorgeously satisfying movies.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is available in Australian cinemas from December 17th

Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Top 5 Bond Villains 

As we come to the end of our Bond series in the lead up to the release of Spectre, it seems only fitting to go out with a bang by shining a radioactive light on the most dangerously diabolical, and magnificently malevolent Bond villains.

**WARNING: spoilers ahead**

Corey’s Pick: Auric Goldfinger, Goldfinger (1964)

“He’s the man with the Midas Touch… a spider’s touch!” so crooned Shirley Bassey of the first truly memorable Bond nemesis; Auric Goldfinger, a  prosperous businessman with a penchant for golf and, of course, a psychotic obsession with gold. Played by the late German actor Gert Fröbe (though dubbed by the British Michael Collins due to Fröbe’s poor English), Goldfinger remains a truly iconic adversary for his sadistic, yet undeniably imaginative methods of murder- such as suffocating his rogue seductress Jill Masterson by covering her in gold paint. With almost equally unprecedented henchmen – Pussy Galore and Oddjob – and an extraordinarily diabolical scheme involving chemical and nuclear warfare, Goldfinger shall forever be one of Bond’s – and cinema’s – greatest villains.

“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die” –

Rhys’ Pick: Raoul Silva, Skyfall (2012)

Batman and the Joker, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader; the best villains have the capacity to mirror an aspect of the hero, and for James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Skyfall, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) represents his complicated relationship with, and his potentially misplaced trust in M (Judi Dench).

Silva, a past MI6 operative himself, is a victim of M’s uncompromising, take-no-prisoners attitude; the very same attitude which sees Bond shot through the chest, and left for dead at the very start of the film. Whilst Bond was able to put M’s questionable decision behind him, Silva was left disfigured and determinately disgruntled with his former handler. Driven by this personal vendetta, Silva’s plan involves disgracing MI6, dispatching Bond and, finally, exacting his revenge by assassinating M.

“Look upon your work, mother”

Zachary’s Pick: Le Chiffre, Casino Royale (2005)

Among a great many surprises, Casino Royale treats us to one of James Bond’s most human villains; a man who makes some poor financial choices, and compensates by putting up a stoic front to try and redeem himself.

Le Chiffre is suave, deadly, deceitful, and a master of high-stakes poker, but weakness is ever-ready to gnaw away at his resolve. He’s not above sacrificing his girlfriend’s arm to African warlords, yet when deadlines close in, and debts have to be paid, he is impatient. Afraid, even. And Mads Mikkelsen hides a steely peril behind his cold, bleeding eyes. You know at once that this isn’t a man to be trifled with.

Le Chiffre’s not a larger-than-life organisation like SPECTRE, neither is he a megalomaniacal tech fiend like Max Zorin. He is very flawed. Very real. Very human. Not to mention he pummels Bond’s dangly bits with unabashed glee.

Le Chiffre wins –

Tom’s Pick: Dr. No, Dr. No (1962)

1962’s Dr. No successfully kicked off the ever-lasting 007 franchise with a hearty concoction of Sean Connery, gorgeous settings, and that white bikini. However, unlike most Bond villains, its titular antagonist is a dangerous, well-defined character. Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), part of super-villain super-group SPECTRE, fits the mad scientist trope. His thirst for radioactive materials, costing him his hands, drives his thirst for mass destruction and power. No’s plan, disrupting multiple rocket launches in superpowers including the USA and Soviet Union, resonates effectively. Sporting bionic metal paws and an elaborate island lair, the character, physically and psychologically, resembles the archetypal Bond foe. Bond, lured to No’s abode in Jamaica, is threatened by multiple attacks on No’s behalf. Capturing Bond and Honey Rider, No’s confronting persona and mercilessness make for a worthwhile obstacle throughout the climax. As the lair self-destructs, however, No is foiled by his physical deformities. Unable to grasp onto anything, he falls to his destructive demise into boiling coolant.

SPECTRE revealed –

Rhys’ 2nd Pick: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, From Russia With Love (1963), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), For Your Eyes Only (1981).

James Bond has faced dozens of foes over the years, but none have been quite as fearsome and iconic as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head honcho of international terrorist group SPECTRE. The villain against which all others are measured, Blofeld has recurred more times than any other antagonist, and in many ways has transcended the series to influence cinema as a whole.

Concerned with only one thing – total world domination – Blofeld has orchestrated potential nuclear war between Russia and the United States, threatened to sterilise the world’s food supply and, perhaps most tragically, assisted in killing Tracy Bond (Diana Rigg) mere minutes after her wedding to James.

Although numerous actors have played him, perhaps his most iconic appearance was in You Only Live Twice when Donald Pleasance was cast in the role. With a pale and scarred visage, and gently stroking a white cat on his lap, Blofeld is also a villain who has been parodied a thousands times over, from Mike Myers’ hilarious Dr Evil in the Austin Powers series to the outlandish volcanic lair used by Hank Scorpio in my personal favourite Simpsons episode of all time.

“Allow me to introduce myself”

Images courtesy of United International Pictures, Chapel Distribution & Sony Pictures

Top 5 Bond Theme Songs

Swirling graphics. Crisp silhouettes. A screen drenched in blood… every 007 romp opens the same way: an intricate opening credit sequence backed by a killer song that boasts a powerful voice. From all-time legends (Paul McCartney), to eighties icons (Duran Duran) through to today’s megastars (Sam Smith), only the best of the best are fit to carry Bond’s theme songs, and below you will find our top 5 picks for the greatest of the great.

Zachary’s Pick: Tina Turner – Goldeneye (1995)

A Bond song has to sound like a Bond song. What’s the name of his game? Seduction. Espionage. Violence. Cheek. There have been a fair few theme songs over the years to wittingly capture the essence of 007, notably classics sung by Garbage, Adele, and perennially, Shirley Bassey (you can wipe all the love ballads of the ‘70s and ‘80s from your memory). While Bassey’s Goldfinger will forever remain the cornerstone of the Bond musical canon, none encapsulates all that the franchise is more succinctly and proudly than Tina Turner’s Goldeneye.

From the second it begins, Goldeneye hints at something clandestine, almost taboo; dark secrets not yet revealed. Then Turner sweeps in, singing as if she too is concealing deadly secrets, and is happy about it. The song has a masterful ebb and flow of power and restraint, much like Bond himself. Apart from Goldfinger, no other song in the Bond universe tells you everything you need to know about this character and the dangerous world he inhabits.

Tina Turner sings Goldeneye –

Tom’s Pick: Adele – Skyfall (2012)

Like Skyfall itself, the titular song eclipses everything that has come before it. Building upon the already immense success of British pop singer/songwriter Adele, this theme song elevated her career into Golden Globe and Oscar glory.

Hitting its stride immediately, the song’s orchestral riffs and straight-edged tone establish the film’s dark, gritty aura. Like the accompanying credits sequence, Adele’s sombre, hushed style firmly emphasises the film’s refreshing rebirth angle.

The singer’s graceful harmonies pay tribute to the Shirley Bassey era whilst ushering in the new-and-improved Bond universe. From the piano-key lead-in to the ear-shattering crescendo, Skyfall delivers an array of memorable, heart-pounding touches. Eclipsing recent entries including You Know My Name and Another Way to Die, the track is one of very few themes to successfully accompany, and elevate, the film and franchise.

Adele’s Skyfall music video

Rhys’ Pick: Paul McCartney & Wings – Live and Let Die (1973)

Despite racking up the most appearances as the iconic super spy, Roger Moore’s era is lumbered with a divisive reputation; however, you can’t deny that the titular track on 1973’s Live and Let Die didn’t get things off to a rip-roaring start.

Written by Paul and Linda McCartney, and performed by Paul’s band WingsLive and Let Die was a departure from the series norm of grandiose horns and operatic themes. It’s a much stranger beast as McCartney kicks things off with a gentle piano intro before diving into racy guitar snarls, hammering drums and some spacey, fever dream weirdness in the middle.

It’s a fitting companion to the film also; Live and Let Die concerns itself with drug trafficking in New Orleans, Blaxploitation and voodoo rather than maniacal supervillains in Alpine bases or volcanic lairs, and marks the first time that 007 cosies up with an African-American character (Rosie Carver played by Gloria Hendry). Simply put, it’s a vastly different song for a vastly different Bond.

Live and Let Die opening titles sequence –

Corey’s Pick: A-ha –The Living Daylights (1987)

The two Timothy Dalton-starring Bond films – The Living Daylights and License to Kill – seem to divide 007 aficionados; some welcoming a darker, more realistic side to their favourite spy, others criticising Dalton’s sombre, humourless hero. Their theme songs, on the other hand, were decidedly upbeat; particularly the former. Performed by Norwegian synthpop rock band A-ha (yes, the guys who did Take On Me) The Living Daylights is among the catchiest of the many Bond theme songs, despite not ranking among the most well-recognised. After the commercial success of Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill, the producers sought after another popular band, first asking Pet Shop Boys (who declined) before opting for A-ha. A clash with the film’s composer John Barry led to the existence of two versions of the song; Barry’s string arrangement that wound up in the credits, and A-ha’s synth-heavy reworking for their own album – though both are deliciously 80’s and perfectly capture the essence of Bond’s style with cryptic lyrics. An underrated gem.

The Living Daylights opening titles:

Kit’s Pick: Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger (1964)

Performed by the mightily lunged Shirley Bassey, the opening theme to 1964’s Goldfinger is not only not only synonymous with James Bond; it’s also one of the most recognisable theme songs in film history. The searing vocals, catchy lyrics and bold brass section marry together to create something truly special.

The song set a high bar and generated a long-standing influence that can be seen in later themes that copied its formula. Bassey would return to record two more efforts for the franchise for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever and 1979’s Moonraker, making her the only artist to record multiple Bond themes. The song, along with an iconic opening title sequence (featuring sexy female silhouettes painted gold) capture the film’s tone perfectly.

Goldfinger title sequence:

Images courtesy of United International Pictures, Chapel Distribution & Sony Pictures