May 4, 2020

Best Bond movies from restless phase of excitement cycle, worst from vulnerable phase, hit or miss during manic phase

Going through all the Bond movies in quick succession, while they were available on Amazon Prime, I couldn't help but notice the rhythm of their high and low entries matching up with the phases of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. I never would've watched all of them one at a time, and even so, the pattern would not have leapt out so starkly if the viewing had been spread out over a long period. But since they were all there, and with little else to entertain myself with, I blew through them all in a couple weeks.

The restless warm-up phase of the cycle made consistently good Bond movies: the early '60s (Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger), the late '70s (The Spy Who Loved Me), and the late 2000s (Casino Royale). The only disappointing one from this phase was Quantum of Solace from the late 2000s. The first third or so of Moonraker is good, from the late '70s.

Unfortunately no Bond movies were made during the early '90s, so we can't judge that warm-up phase. It was a real missed opportunity, given all the other excellent thrillers of that time -- if only the Brosnan ones had begun a few years earlier, it would have been better than GoldenEye. Or if he wasn't available, make one or two standalone movies with someone like Kyle MacLachlan (just coming off of his Dale Cooper role), or Harrison Ford (a mainstay of early '90s thrillers). They're not British, but then neither was George Lazenby.

The entries of the following manic phase are more hit-or-miss. There are good ones from the late '60s (Thunderball, On Her Majesty's Secret Service), the early '80s (Never Say Never Again), and the late '90s (GoldenEye). Watchable ones from the early '80s (For Your Eyes Only) and the early 2010s (Skyfall). And bad ones from the late '60s (You Only Live Twice), the early '80s (Octopussy), and the late '90s (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough).

By far the worst phase for Bond movies is the vulnerable phase afterward: the early '70s (Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun), the late '80s (A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill), the early 2000s (Die Another Day), and the late 2010s (Spectre). The Dalton entries from the late '80s (LD, LK) are the least offensive of the group, but only in contrast to the late entries of the Roger Moore era that they followed. Otherwise they're just big dumb action movies of the time -- not even close to the best of '80s action movies, nor among the best of the Bond movies. Just forgettable.

This evaluation matches up with those of Rotten Tomatoes scores, fansite rankings, and the like, except that those ones reward the Dalton movies for getting past the Roger Moore era, whereas I evaluate them on their own merits (forgettable).

What about Bond movies makes them so in sync with the restless warm-up phase? It's what distinguishes them from other action / crime / suspense / thriller movies -- Bond being a ladies' man, the back-and-forth flirtatious banter between him and the babes, his style, and the nightlife settings.

These are all part of the restless phase zeitgeist, as described in the original post on that phase. As men and women are coming out of their refractory-phase cocoons, they first have to go through simple warm-up exercises to get their dating-and-mating behaviors back into shape. That means flirting and bantering back-and-forth, in a color-by-numbers approach to getting to know the opposite sex all over again.

I have yet to write a separate post on the topic, but guys get more deliberately "dressed up" during this phase of emerging from their cocoon -- it's a clear visual signal to women that they're out of their shells and eager to make an impression on them, whereas they had previously been hunkered down in a drab look to ward off the opposite sex during the vulnerable phase.

The Mad Men-type suits of the early '60s, the leisure suits of the late '70s (I didn't say they were timeless fashion, just a visual social signal of their time), the nightclub suits of the early '90s (Madonna's "Vogue," etc., later parodied in Night at the Roxbury), and the revival of suits and skinny ties -- or at least the "statement blazer" -- during the late 2000s.

The Bond-mobile distinguishes the series from others of the genre, and that's also related to creating his sense of style, especially to make a good impression on the women.

These interactions must take place in a setting where it's clear that the people going there are out of their cocoons and eager to mix it up with the opposite sex again. Since they're only just coming out of their shells, they can't flirt and date in any old place -- they need to go through the simple motions first, to get warmed up in their social skills. That requires a clearly designated location where everyone expects nightlife to take place (club, outdoor dance floor, casino, etc.).

Related to the theme of nightlife is dancing. Simple, step-based dances flourish during the restless phase, as detailed at length in the original post on it. People get dance fever all of a sudden. There was proto-disco during the early '60s, disco during the late '70s, neo-disco during the early '90s, neo-neo-disco during the late 2000s, and neo-neo-neo-disco to come during the early 2020s (already evident in Dua Lipa's current hit "Break My Heart").

Typically these elements come together in a refined setting, like the high-stakes casino resort in Casino Royale, but they could just as well incorporate the less civilized exotic locations that distinguish the franchise -- such as the night scene at the Gypsy camp in From Russia with Love.

These themes begin to wane in importance during the manic phase that follows, since people have already come out of their shells. But they're still up for dancing, flirting, looking cool, and hanging out in nightlife spots. They've just moved into a more spontaneous mood, and don't need to have their hands held by simple, deliberate warm-up exercises anymore. Bond maintains his appeal, but is not so necessary to the zeitgeist.

Finally, when energy levels crash into a refractory state during the vulnerable phase, Bond loses his appeal altogether. Men and women don't want to flirt with each other, and if anything are hostile toward each other. That was already true in the first vulnerable-phase Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever, where the Bond girl is more aloof, and whom Bond insults as a "bitch". People start dressing in drab colors, baggy sizing, and in a deliberate anti-style of casual. They've gotten over their dance fever, and aren't drawn to the nightlife in general. So much for the appeal of a suave ladies' man.

Let's wrap up by discussing the new one coming out this year, No Time to Die. Technically this will be from a restless warm-up phase, and therefore predicted to be a good one. However, it was mostly conceived, created, filmed, and finished in the late 2010s vulnerable phase, which predicts that it will suck. It's continuing the plot and characters of Spectre, which was bad, and at least for awhile its conception had a strong Me Too influence.

It was supposed to come out in April, but has been delayed until November due to the coronavirus pandemic. We'll have to wait and see, but my impression is that it will be more like the vulnerable phase ones, having been mostly made during that phase. It's true that it was supposed to be released early in the first year of a restless phase, but the other restless phases didn't see a Bond movie until the second or third year of the phase ('62, '77, '06), when the zeitgeist was firmly established.

I don't think it will be hailed as a "return to form" like the previous restless phase movies Casino Royale and The Spy Who Loved Me (along with the originals from '62-'64, which created the form to begin with). Plus Daniel Craig is getting long in the tooth at 51, and the lead Bond "girl" is 34 and already appeared in the last movie.

If they re-boot the franchise with a new younger Bond in a year or so, they'd have a much easier time returning to form. Make sure the lead Bond girl is a 20-something. And get Dua Lipa to be the big-voice diva for the theme song (unlike the emo Billie Eilish who's doing the song for the upcoming one, another sign of it being shaped mostly by the previous vulnerable phase).


  1. " if only the Brosnan ones had begun a few years earlier, it would have been better than GoldenEye"

    Brosnan seemed like he was perfect for the role. Its a shame all of his Bond movies were in the manic and defractory phase.

  2. Heard this one on the radio, sounds like a good example of a restless song - was released in 1977:


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