Time: 125 Minutes
Age Rating: Low level violence
Sean Connery as James Bond
Claudine Auger as Domino
Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo
Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe
Rik Van Nutter as Felix Leiter
Director: Terence Young
A SPECTRE agent steals two atomic bombs from a NATO plane. James Bond is assigned a mission to recover the warheads and put a stop to the evil plans of the criminal organisation.
I have some memory of watching Thunderball for the first time many years ago. I knew it as the Bond movie with a lot of water and sharks, but I couldn’t remember much beyond that. I was pleasantly surprised by the first three films, so I went into my rewatch of Thunderball with an open mind and came out of it feeling a bit let down.
After Goldfinger, James Bond was a lot more famous and well known. Naturally, everything including the scope and stakes are increased for the newest installment. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite work for me on the whole. Although there’s some enjoyment to be had, I just felt like it didn’t have the charm and fun of the first three movies. There is a sense of blandness to the storyline and most of the characters. I didn’t find myself very engaged or excited, and it was an underwhelming experience. The stakes may be grander, but you don’t really feel them. It doesn’t help that the movie slowly moves, so much of it meanders with a sluggish pacing. Also, as the first Bond movie to be over 2 hours, it manages to feel overlong. The first 40 minutes don’t have much to do with the main plot and wastes time with James Bond at a massage parlour, which in itself was a painful sequence to watch. In terms of treatment of women in Bond movies, I thought the worst instances would be in Goldfinger for a few bad moments, but Thunderball is by far the worst case, just for the opening act alone. There’s a scene where Bond sexually harasses a nurse and later blackmails her into having sex with him. This whole segment hangs over the rest of the movie and it’s hard to look past. It doesn’t help that the whole massage parlour sequence doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the plot. With all that said, Thunderball does have some entertaining moments, and occasionally there are some interesting scenes. It definitely leans more into campiness at points (including a jet pack in the opening scene) and is enjoyable for that. Some aspects are hard to take seriously like the tank full of killer sharks and the mysterious SPECTRE meetings since they’ve been parodied to death. However, it makes the movie more fun to watch at least.
Sean Connery’s James Bond is confident and charming as usual, and thankfully gets more focus in this compared to Goldfinger. I especially loved his interactions with Desmond Llewelyn’s Q. The main Bond girl Domino as played by Claudine Auger works well enough, but was a little forgettable. Alfodo Celi plays Emil Largo, one of the most recognisable Bond villains with an eye patch and a pool full of sharks. Unfortunately, that’s all that’s going for him. He’s very forgettable and dull, and he doesn’t really feel that threatening or dangerous. Luciana Paluzzi as Largo’s henchwoman Fiona Volpe fares much better, definitely one of the highlights from the movie.
Dr No and From Russia with Love director Terence Young returns to the franchise after Goldfinger was directed by Guy Hamilton. It is impressive on a technical level; you really feel the increased budget compared to the past 3 movies. It is very well shot, and the production design is great. The action is certainly larger, but for the most part they aren’t that thrilling. You can tell that much of the budget went into filming the underwater scenes, and to be fair it is commendable that they pulled them off. However, something I noticed when watching all the Bond movies is that even if it’s good on a technical level, it struggles with underwater sequences. Tomorrow Never Dies had one, For Your Eyes Only had one, and Thunderball is based around a lot of water so unfortunately there’s more than just one. These underwater scenes are too long, boring and slow, even during action scenes. The underwater action scenes may be impressive for the time but could get messy and can be hard to make out what is going on, with some bad camerawork and editing.
After the solid first three James Bond movies, Thunderball feels like a notable step down. I liked some of the performances and there is fun that can be had with it. However I just couldn’t get invested in the story, not helped by the dragging pacing. It’s not bad, but outside of some key moments, I think it is rather forgettable and on the lower end of the Bond movies.