Do you remember that time as a kid when you got a new toy, and all you ever wanted to do was play with that toy for the following time period? I suspect that was exactly what happened to the crew of Thunderball.
In this follow-up to Goldfinger, Agent 007 (Sean Connery) tracks down two nuclear bombs, hijacked by Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi). In doing so, he enlists the aid of Largo’s mistress Domino (Claudine Auger).
Thunderball was the winner of the 1966 Oscar for special effects, and I can see why. The movie featured some absolutely spectacular underwater fight scenes. Don’t quote me on this one, but I think this movie marked a very early use, if not one of the first, of a camera that can shoot underwater.
In fact, therein lies the problem I had with Thunderball: I felt a little too much of the movie took place underwater. The story (Penned by Ian Fleming no less! This time, the novel was actually an adaptation of the movie) felt written so as to maximize the crew’s ability to try out their new special effects gadgets, and thus really sacrificed pacing. The beginning of the movie felt quite rushed, with much of the plot exposition happening at a rate where both Bond and Largo were struggling to keep up. On the other hand, much of the movie’s latter half involved sequences, such as when Largo’s goons were facing off US Coast Guard sailors underwater. That scene simply dragged on for longer than it should have. The movie was also a tad too much in love with the idea of people getting eaten by sharks and Bond wasting goons using a shark gun.
In fact, as a result of the uneven script, both the villain and the Bond girl suffered in terms of how much screen time each got. Largo was woefully underused. Claudine Auger was beautiful, but could not act her way out of a paper bag, so it was probably a good thing that her time onscreen was limited; seeing her was particularly disappointing as she was the Bond girl immediately after Goldfinger’s Honor Blackman. The scene where Bond revealed to Domino that Largo ordered the murder of her brother only served to highlight her limited acting capability.
As much as it pains me to say it, much of the issues I took up with Thunderball were the same that I had with Alpha Girls: It was beautifully shot and had Oscar-winning special effects (though they did look a little hokey to me as I watched this movie in 2013), in addition to the classic Connery attitude, but it was severely lacking in soul. Thunderball was already displaying symptoms of what would go on to plague many of the Roger Moore era Bond movies. While I haven’t seen 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, I will say so far, Thunderball was my least favorite Connery-era Bond film, and was in general the Bond film I had the hardest time enjoying in a long time. So much so that I just want to see Skyfall or Goldfinger again and pretend this didn’t happen.