James Bond Retrospective: Review of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

Besides NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, this is probably the Connery Bond film that I’ve seen the least, which means I’ve only seen it about 9 or 10 times.  When I watched it about 5 years ago, I liked it quite a bit, so I was pretty confident that I would still dig the 5th entry in the 007 series.

This time Bond travels to Tokyo as he investigates the mysterious disappearance of a U.S. spaceship, which was swallowed by a bigger ship of unknown origins (America thinks the Russians did it, of course).  With the help of a Japanese ally, Tiger Tanaka, 007 searches all over Japan looking for clues.  He soon discovers that Spectre is behind a plot to start WWIII, and that their secret headquarters is hidden in a volcano.  This time Blofeld himself is  the main villain.

The pre-title sequence shows the American ship being consumed by the Spectre ship, which considering the year, contains some pretty impressive model work.  Then we find Bond making out with a Japanese woman (“Why do Japanese girls taste different from other girls?”), only to have the bed close up into the wall and a bunch of henchmen open fire.  Bond is dead!  Then the title sequence starts, which has a lovely ballad sung by Nancy Sinatra.  It’s not the best pre-title sequence, but still a compelling way to start of the film.

Of course Bond isn’t dead!  It’s just a ploy so enemies will stop looking for him, therefore making his mission easier.  Which I should mention that it really didn’t make a whole lot of difference since people seem to know he’s Bond right away, and continues to be attacked by baddies.  Oh well.  The plot is a bit over-complicated as we’re introduced to a few too many characters like Charles Gray’s Henderson (who probably wasn’t needed).  The Moneypenny and M scenes aren’t quite as fun and playful as they were in the previous outings.  The energy level is up a bit from THUNDERBALL, but the script (written by awesome child author Roald Dahl of all people) is less than inspiring.  The first half seems like it just had a lot of unnecessary exposition.  I was ready for the action.

In that department it does deliver.  There is a great hand-to-hand combat scene between Bond and a huge Sumo wrestler dude, with 007 using a leather couch as a weapon.  One of the movie’s highlights is an aerial chase with Bond piloting a gadget filled mini-copter, shooting down baddies with machine guns, rocket launchers, flame throwers and heat seeking missiles.  It’s a well put together action set-piece.  The finale also has some pretty snazzy sequences, especially when Bond is backed by a ninja army as they attack the Spectre hideout.  It’s one of those chaotic action scenes with everyone running around and getting blown apart by explosions, the way only a Bond movie can do it.

Unfortunately, the action is really the only great thing about this movie.  The performances and characters are unsatisfactory.  You can tell that Connery is getting burnt out from being Bond this time, as he seems to be delivering his lines half asleep.  He also looks a bit paunchy this time.  The Bond girls are really disappointing since none of them have any charisma or sex appeal, something every Bond girl should have.  Tiger is probably the most likable of the characters this time out.  Donald Pleasance as Blofeld is a bit of a letdown.  His makeup (with his bald head and scarred face) is legendary, and was also the basis of Dr. Evil’s look in the Austin Power movies.  But his screen time is limited to about 15 minutes (if that).  Since we don’t see that much of a villain this time round for most of the film’s running time, there isn’t really a sense of any real threat.  Once Pleasance does appear on-screen, it’s good.  The actor does a decent job, but he’s not written particularly well.  Physically, he doesn’t pose much of a threat.  His henchman that Bond battles in the last few minutes is though, and that fight was good.  Love the killer piranhas!

This marks Lewis Gilbert’s first shot in the director’s spot, and while he handles the action well, he can’t quite cope with the mediocre script.  There are so many unnecessary things going on.  It probably wasn’t all that needed that Bond disguises himself as a married Japanese man.  It was a good idea, but the movie didn’t show us why he really NEEDED to do that.  There is some cool ninja training stuff, and a cool death by poison running down a piece of long string, into a girl’s sleeping mouth.  But again, Connery just does not seem all that interested this time, and if the lead character isn’t all the interested in what’s happening, why should we care?  John Barry’s score also doesn’t possess the fun spirit as its predecessors.  It’s fine, but there should have been more energy with the music.  Oh yeah, I should mention that the ginormous sets are impressive in the main Spectre lair.  Loved the monorail stuff.

It may sound like I hated it, but I really didn’t.  Like I said, the action scenes are quite enjoyable and the special effects (sans the exploding volcano at the end) are terrific.  It probably helped that it had a tripled budget of THUNDERBALL.  But the story is just so lazy and lackluster that I became uninterested during any scenes that didn’t contain gunshots or explosions.  After this one, Connery left the series (only to return one installment later).  It’s evident here that he wanted to be done with the series, as his performance is uninspired.  If you’re looking for action, this one has some impressive sequences, but as a whole it’s unsuccessful.  Maybe worth a look if you have watched all the good Bond movies already, but just lower you’re expectations.   ★★½ (out of ★★★★)

Special note:  This was my 9-year-old daughter’s introduction to Bond, and she enjoyed it enough to give it ★★★ (out of ★★★★). 

Not rated but contains PG13 level violence and innuendos. 

Running time: 1hr 56min.

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Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews

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3 replies

  1. I think this is my favourite Connery Bond simply because it was the one they seemed to play on the TV the most in the 80s. Looking forward to more reviews!

  2. Spoilers** No impressive Bond girl but the ninjas were awesome, especially the one who preferred the sword loved that guy. It makes no sense why Blofeld never shot Bond, I mean he is a genius and he would know that Bond would have no use except to hinder his work. In fact, he keeps saying the whole time he wants him dead, why is he kept around? I understand Bond is lucky beyond belief, but all the times and opportunities the villain (this goes for all the Connery films) can kill Bond and should kill Bond but do not make absolutely no sense. Oh and one last thing, there are dozens of ninjas and people escaping the exploding lair at the end, how is it Bond manages to snatch a huge raft for just him and his wife? And why the hell is she in underwear again?! Wouldn’t she have put some fresh clothes on when she swam all the way back for help from Tiger?

  3. there is at least one mistake in the above, before the possibly best ever Maurice Binder title sequence (my other favorite title sequences are thunderball, ohmss and diamonds are forever) 007 is in bed with a CHINESE not Japanese girl and he asks her why Chinese girls taste different and follows up with the peking duck line. as for your nine year old daughter, everybody’s first bond film is their favorite for awhile . . . the first I saw was Diamonds are Forever in theater when I was just starting high school (the first my parents allowed me to see), but I had the bubble gum cards before that and the experiences of the Goldfinger and Thunderball themes on transistor radio! My favorite now is From Russia With Love and Goldfinger a close second, I thought Live and Let Die was RM’s best 007 outing (Spy Who Loved Me would have been without the stoopid disco score). and I’m sorry while a great actor Daniel Craig is just not 007, he does not have the look and with those ears belongs in a Lord of the Rings movie instead

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