If you want to make the perfect Vesper, you’ll follow James Bond’s off-the-cuff recipe with the key elements of Gordon’s gin, vodka, Kina Lillet, and slice of lemon peel. If you want to make a memorable James Bond movie, you’ll include the key elements in the franchise’s recipe which has been honed over the past 50 years.
Sure, there are plenty of Bond films that have deviated from the full recipe. Some elements have been left out of films intentionally to reset the Bond actor (I’m looking at you, Live and Let Die). Other times they have been downplayed for a fresh view of the series (such as 2006’s Casino Royale reboot). And sadly, there have been moments when the missing elements were left out completely or flubbed (like the sometimes awkward Quantum of Solace).
However, every good Bond movie has most – if not all – of these key elements that make up the great recipe for the entire franchise.
The Rifle Barrel
Going all the way back to Bond’s first cinematic appearance in Dr. No, almost every film opens with the iconic rifle-barrel sequence. Connery wore a hat, Lazenby went down on one knee, and Brosnan got an updated CGI look, but it is this simple imagery that let you know a James Bond movie was starting.
The Pre-Titles Sequence
Early in the history of James Bond films, audiences became accustomed to seeing a cool opening sequence filled with action and stunts before the main titles rolled. Sometimes it was used to introduce the villain, like in From Russia with Love. Other times it had little or nothing to do with the plot and served as nothing more than a way to whet the audience’s whistle for the action yet to come, like my personal favorite, the skydiving sequence in Moonraker.
The Song and Main Titles
While you’re all listening to Adele’s “Skyfall” on continuous loop until the film comes out in November, you can think back to all the brilliant Bond themes. And while you’re thinking of that, flash back to all the half-naked ladies in the title sequences, designed by the visionary Maurice Binder until the time of his death. Some songs are iconic – like Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” Others are epic fails – like Madonna’s “Die Another Day.”
However, they are all welcome additions to the Bond franchise.
The Bond Girls
Even if the filmmakers skimp on any of the other key elements on this list, they never leave this essential element out. Since Ursula Andress stepped out of the ocean like Venus being birthed from the sea, the sultry, sexy Bond girl was a staple to the series. Some may have been dopey characters without a brain in their heads, like Tanya Roberts from A View to a Kill or Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in The World Is Not Enough. The franchise even toned down the number of girls in The Living Daylights, but there was always some pretty face next to Bond’s.
Even before Desmond Llewelyn was introduced as Q in From Russia with Love, Bond had someone handing him gadgets. Sure, the only new thing he got in Dr. No was a Walther PPK, but that started the tradition of handy gadgets from his Quartermaster over the years. Even when the number of clever items were toned down from time to time (most notably in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), Bond always had a certain amount of cool machinery at his disposal.
The International Intrigue
Imagine how lame a Bond movie would be if the whole thing took place on the streets of London around the corner from the Universal Exports office? Let’s save those kind of adventures for Luther on the BBC. The multinational travel of a Bond film is part of what gives it such pizzazz. James Bond has literally traveled around the world. He’s even been to unsavory locations like Afghanistan (in The Living Daylights), Kazakhstan (in The World Is Not Enough), and North Korea (in Die Another Day), though oddly never in Australia. Must be a Lazenby thing.
The Colorful Villains
Henchmen (and henchwomen) come and go, and they’re sometimes absent. (Though, check out Agent Brian Salisbury’s entry from last week naming the best ones.) The Bond villain stays. Count on the villains to be brilliant maniacal sociopaths bent on world domination. Sometimes that world domination includes controlling water or just stealing a boat-load of money, but they’re brilliant maniacal sociopaths nonetheless. Sometimes the Bond villain is overly cartoony, like Dr. No or Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Other times they are all too real, like La Chiffre.
In a way, watching all the Bond movies together is like watching a Presidential primary in this respect.
If we’ve learned nothing in 22 movies over 50 years, it’s that James Bond is one of the most charming, likeable alcoholics on the planet. He’s known for his signature martini “shaken, not stirred,” though he has downed plenty of other spirits as well. He invents the Vesper in Casino Royale, and he has a taste for Dom Perignon and Bollinger champagnes. For a full breakdown of the various drinks Bond has sucked down – from bourbon to sake – check out Robert Fure’s piece from a few months back.
Most people blame Roger Moore’s Bond for perpetuating the silliness and humor that plagued the series in the 70s and 80s. Sure, he had a hand in that, but the off-hand comments and tongue-in-cheek remarks started long before in Goldfinger when Connery’s Bond killed a man by electrocuting him and then saying, “Shocking. Positively shocking.”
The Slight Dash of Racism and Sexism
Now this is not necessarily a popular ingredient in today’s politically correct times, but you cannot appreciate the suave sophistication of the Bond movies without acknowledging a bit of racism and sexism in the 60s and 70s. From the nonsensical turning-Japanese surgery (aka, heavy eye make-up and a bad wig) that Connery’s Bond gets in You Only Live Twice to the ghetto treatment Moore’s jive-turkey Bond undergoes in Live and Let Die, the series has made some uncomfortable moves. As for the sexism angle… yeah, that’s still going on, but at least Bond’s just slapping women in the ass now instead of slapping them across the face.