Every Bond film has the same elements. There’s the man himself, of course; charming, suave, English (or Scottish). He’s the centerpiece of the action – they are Bond movies, after all.
But he’s only one piece of the puzzle. Surrounding him are the other traditional elements that make up a 007 movie: the girls, the gadgets, and the bad guys. Individually, they provide some of the most memorable parts of the whole series. Honey Ryder, Holly Goodhead, Pussy Galore. Goldfinger, Dr. No, Rosa Klebb. Little Nellie the helicopter, an underwater car, a damn jetpack. They’re as integral to the success of a Bond film as the man in the tuxedo himself.
The modern Bond films have certainly provided plenty of memorable entries in all three categories. Let’s break them down here (and remember, this only covers the Bond movies from Brosnan on).
The modern Bond girls aren’t just eye candy anymore – they’re used to drive the plot of the movie, and either actively work as protagonists or antagonists, helping Bond (and usually succumbing to his charms) or serving as a Femme Fatale (and still, usually, succumbing to his charms). We can break them down into divisions of good and evil:
BEST: Xenia Onatopp, Goldeneye; Vesper Lynd, Casino Royale;
Onatopp might be the single greatest Femme Fatale in Bond history. Her method of murder – choking men to death using her powerful legs – is brutal and evil, of course, but if you ever had to pick a way to go out, that might have to be it. Meanwhile, Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is both staggeringly beautiful and tragically traitorous.
WORST: Miranda Frost, Die Another Day
Rosamund Pike is a very good actress who deserved every inch of her Oscar nomination for Gone Girl. However, she’s yet another star caught up in the disastrous maelstrom that was Die Another Day; the iciness behind her name and role never give off any heat with Brosnan’s Bond.
BEST: Colonel Wai Lin, Tomorrow Never Dies
Michelle Yeoh’s Chinese agent Wai Lin was one of the highlights of Tomorrow Never Dies, presenting a secret agent who was at least as deadly as Bond was. There was talk of Yeoh possibly getting a spin-off movie from the feature’s success; sadly, that never came to pass. At least we’ll always have Crouching Tiger, though.
WORST: Dr. Christmas Jones, The World is Not Enough
Denise Richards (Jones) is … well, not a good actress. Not that you have to be Meryl Streep to be a Bond girl, but getting someone who can speak about nuclear technology without sounding like a first grader would be a good idea.
BEST: Le Chiffre, Casino Royale; Raoul Silva, Skyfall; Alec Trevelyan, Goldeneye
The heavies have been one of the strengths of the franchise over the modern era. Mads Mikkelsen was appropriately chilly as Le Chiffre; Javier Bardem charismatic and spooky as Silva; and Sean Bean intense and deadly as the turncoat Alec Trevelyan. Poor Sean Bean, too – his death is prominently featured in that hilarious Sean Bean death compilation on YouTube.
WORST: Dominic Greene, Quantum of Solace
Mathieu Almaric (Greene) is a fine actor, but he can’t do too much with his bad guy – mostly because his evil scheme isn’t as ambitious as most. His big plan is to control the water futures in Bolivia to create a monopoly; not exactly the most fiendish villain the world has ever seen, huh?
BEST: Patrice, Skyfall; Richard Stamper, Tomorrow Never Dies
Ideal henchmen – one sneaky (Patrice) and one brutal (Stamper). The former is the sniper who gets the better of Bond in hand-to-hand combat at the start of Skyfall; the latter is the building-tall and Great Wall-wide cold-blooded torturer employed by media mogul Elliot Carver. Not the main courses to the meal, but delicious appetizers.
WORST: Zao, Die Another Day
You’d think a North Korean terrorist would be scarier. Yet, nothing really works with the Die Another Day bad guys, especially with the main henchman – he doesn’t have the cool factor to let him rise above the rest of the movie. Plus, he dies by having a chandelier fall on him. How regal.
BOND GADGETS AND GIZMOS
The idea of the Bond gadgets have lessened in importance over the franchise as technology caught up to society – after all, the idea of a GPS system in a car was mind-blowing in the 1960s but yawn-inducing today. The venerable Q (short for Quartermaster, btw) returned in Skyfall giving Bond a tracker and a gun; just the basics, for a back-to-basics franchise. We’ll probably never see something as cool as the Little Nellie again, but the past few years have still provided some highlights and lowlights.
Best: Watch laser (Goldeneye), Ericsson cellphone (Tomorrow Never Dies)
The first two Brosnan Bonds had the highlight of the modern gadget era. Bond’s watch laser in Goldeneye was both cool and practical for the mission, saving him from the ready-to-explode train; in the follow-up, the Ericsson cellphone (hello, product placement) could work as a stun gun, lock pick, fingerprint scanner and remote controller for his BMW. I’d like to see my Droid do that.
Worst: “Vanquish” car (Die Another Day)
This isn’t only one of the worst plot devices in Bond history – it’s one of the plain dumbest things in movie history. An invisible car? In the Arctic? The guffaws in the theater when this gadget was introduced were the warning sounds of the jump the shark – nuke the fridge talk about the garish Pierce Brosnan-era Bonds – which brought about the successful Daniel Craig reboot. I guess the Vanquish car wasn’t the worst thing ever, then…
Did I miss your favorite girl, gizmo, or goon from the last 10 years? Let me know in the comments below.