My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Coming off the huge success of Goldfinger, the fourth Bond film had the unenviable task of following it a year later with high expectations. Based upon the eighth Bond novel by Ian Fleming which was itself a novelization of a unfilmed screenplay, Thunderball was a mixture quality action sequences and slow pacing that created just a bit of a letdown from the franchise’s previous installment.
After killing a high ranking SPECTRE operative, James Bond is recuperating at sanitarium where he unknowingly interactions with SPECTRE agents that are beginning the organization’s latest project of stealing two atomic bombs and ransoming NATO. After the successful theft of the bombs, Bond is called to London for an emergency 00 conference and after looking at the dossier, convinces M to send him to Nassau. Soon after his arrival, Bond meets SPECTRE’s Number Two Emilio Largo who masterminded the operation and arouses Bond’s suspicions. Bond joined by Felix Leiter and MI6 agents in the Bahamas begins searching for the missing NATO plane while also playing a cat-and-mouse game with Largo and various SPECTRE agents. Upon finding the missing plane and confirming Largo has them, Bond along with U.S. Coast Guard divers battle SPECTRE off the shore of Miami to secure one bomb. Then infiltrating Largo’s ship, Bond is able to stop the man’s attempt to get away with the last bomb.
While Thunderball was the most financially successful Bond film until Live and Let Die, comparing it to earlier films and looking at it critically there were significant issues that affected the overall presentation. The first and most importantly was the pacing at the beginning of the film, especially when Bond was in the sanitarium. The slow beginning could have been tightened in numerous ways while not losing important plot developments. The second were the numerous underwater sequences, save the battle off Miami, which simply took too much time each without equal story development. Connery’s performances was once again top notch, Adolfo Celi’s Emilio Largo was an impressive villain, and Luciana Paluzzi’s femme fatale Fiona Volpe were stand out performances throughout the film. But the highlight and most memorable part of the film was the climatic underwater battle, which was skillfully choreographed.
Thunderball, while not close to mediocre, doesn’t not compare to its predecessor. While unfortunately dragged down by a slow beginning, the great acting and a fantastic climactic battle makes this a solidly good film.