The only movie you need to watch to get Austin Powers.
Thunderball picks up with the sinister douchebags at SPECTRE stealing two nuclear warheads right out from under our noses and threatening to drop ’em on a major city of their choosing unless London pays up a £100 million ransom. But since England doesn’t take too kindly to jerks who think they’re all that just because they got some nukes lying around, they put JB on the case and send him on down to the Bahamas to check this business out for himself. With sexin’ on his mind and his trigger finger ready to roll, Jimmy grabs his trusty speargun, rocks that orange wetsuit like the total pimp he is, and gets to savin’ the world before these dicks even know what hit ’em. TIME TO KICK SOME ASS!
Before I say anything else, let me just say that even I’m pretty surprised by the low verdict I gave this movie. Coming off the heels of the first three entries in the series that ranged from effing great to could-have-been-effing-great-if-it-hadn’t-been-f0r-that-gypsy-catfight, I was pretty hopeful that this would keep the streak alive. But alas, it was only a matter of time before things started going downhill.
I mean, it starts out well enough with an intro where Bond gets into a knock-down-drag-out fistfight with a SPECTRE agent who’s disguised as a woman (Austin Powers gag #1), and that was awesome. But once Bond finishes chocking the guy out and armed guards start breaking in the front door, he runs outside, straps on the fucking jetpack that’s conveniently waiting for him in the corner and zooms off to his getaway car with nameless henchmen gunning for him in the distance. My point is that up until now, the gadgets have maintained a lovely balance between cool and practical, but Thunderball may very well mark the point where Q jumped the shark.
I don’t know if Q is some kind of future-predicting gypsy himself, but lucky for James that he got outfitted with all the right underwater inventions that continually save his ass in the most unlikely of situations. It’s the pocket-sized oxygen tank that he uses to breathe in shark tanks and deep-sea battles, it’s the rocket-powered scuba tank he whips out in the said sea battle to stab fools and tear off oxygen masks at lightning speed, and, again, it’s that damn jetpack. I can understand the homing device he has to swallow (God forbid James ever has to drop trou and Mi6 starts digging up septic tanks), and I can understand the watch and camera with built-in Geiger counters to let him to know where the radioactive nukes are, but come on, how in the hell did Q know he’d need that other shit?
What makes it even worse is that even if Bond didn’t have these gadgets, chances are he’d still be alright. Take the scene with him in the shark tank for instance. Here we find James fighting with a nameless henchman in the personal shark tank of SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo, also known as “No. 2” (A.P. gag #2). Shortly after he starts splashing around, No. 2 himself shows up with a nameless henchman who’s got an automatic rifle trained on James’ head, but instead of telling him to fire away, No.2 decides to draw a cover over the tank and trust that the sharks will have their way with Bond (A.P. gag #3). So now that no one’s watching him, James kills the henchman, pops in his bite-sized oxygen tank and then swims right past three or four sharks to freedom on the other side of the tank that’s been left completely unmonitored by any of No. 2’s men. End scene.
Wait a minute…how did that happen?
How come every time someone even gets remotely close to these sharks they get eaten in seconds, but when James dives in they just keep on moving like it’s no big thing? Not even a sideways glance, not even a gnarled tooth to show, it’s just a friendly wave of the fin and a look that seems to say “James! My dawg! How you been, man? Yo, why you actin’ so scared? We ain’t gonna eat yo’ ass, quit playin’. Alright, we gonna go lunch on that guy you just killed, but I’ll catch you later. Word to your mother.” Ugh, I don’t get it, but it happened and it completely defeats the purpose of having sharks here to begin with.
And that final sea battle is just beyond stupid. It’s like something out of Braveheart, only underwater. Dumb idea right from the get-go, dumb idea in execution, and twice as dumb once James shows up with his West Coast Customs scuba gear and single-handedly takes out 50 some-odd nameless henchmen in one fell swoop. Eye-roll city, man. And the camera keeps on cutting from the fighting to all the various sea creatures floating around everyone’s feet for some reason. That was weird.
But as far as the script is concerned, the problem isn’t so much the straightforward premise or its weak sense of humor, it’s how obvious everything is. In the past three movies, the audience only knew as much as JB did when it came to unraveling the terror plot at hand. I really liked that, it was fun being kept in the dark about what was going on until the final Act rolled around and we were finally let in on what the bad guy was really up to even though all the signs had been pointing in another direction. Unfortunately, someone decided that formula was for Commies, so now we know everything that’s going on within the first 15 minutes and the rest of the plot is comprised of us waiting for James to figure it out for himself. The element of surprise has been completely removed and the whole thing becomes a lot less interesting and a lot less suspenseful as a result.
Although I was a big fan of the Bond girls this time around. There’s two or three prominent women in Bond’s adventures this time around, and even though they all sleep with him at some point or other (in their defense, everyone was doing it those days), these gals are tough cookies. Nice to see some women who hold their own, aren’t ditzes, and are legitimately fleshed out instead of the usual requirement that starts and ends with gals itching to fulfill their life-long dreams of knocking boots with a British secret agent. And, hey, they’re pretty easy on the eyes, too.
Folks, I wish I had liked Thunderball more than I did and I know there are a lot of fans who dig it thoroughly, but this felt more like one big running gag than anything else. Maybe I should blame Mike Myers for that one, I don’t know. But either way, it’s a big step down from the bar set by Goldfinger, even if Tom Jones does sing the theme song. At least Connery still kicks ass, just a shame that his one-liners are worse than ever.
Does have a kickass skeet shooting scene though. Too bad it only lasts five seconds ’cause it’s arguably the best part of the whole movie.