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The 5 Best James Bond Action Sequences

by Oliver Lyttelton
November 6, 2012 1:02 PM
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"Goldeneye" - Tank chase
One issue with Bond films, particularly these days, is that the most spectacular action sequence often comes with the opening scene, leaving everything that comes after to feel a bit underwhelming. That's arguably true of "Skyfall," for instance. And certainly "Goldeneye," as the return of the franchise after a lengthy absence, needed to introduce new Bond with a bang, and did so with a jaw-dropping opening that sees 007 both bungee jump off a dam, and skydive into a runaway plane. And yet director Martin Campbell managed, in a rare feat, to top himself later on with the much-celebrated tank sequence. After being captured and held in the Russian military archives, Bond and computer programmer Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) escape, only for her to be grabbed by fleeing third-tier villain General Ourumov (Gottfried John). So Bond pursues them in a tank. What Campbell understands as well as any of the great Bond helmers is that what makes a memorable sequence isn't necessarily the pure spectacle and stuntwork (though there's plenty of that here), but the beats and gags spread through the scene. And Campbell loads up on those, as Bond's transport goes through entire buildings, forces the Russian police force to reverse away from him, and ends up with a statue on the top of the tank. Topped off with a great bit of tie-straightening from Brosnan, it's quintissential 007 stuff.

"The World Is Not Enough" - Boat chase
Bond's always done action sequences on the water well, with memorable scenes in "From Russia With Love" and "Live And Let Die," but the aquatic stuntwork of the team has never been better than in the pre-credits scene of Brosnan's third film, "The World Is Not Enough." The film is, for the most part, a sub-par entry, muddy-looking, with poorly-conceived action sequences and arguably the worst Bond girl in history in the shape of Denise Richards. But for the opening ten minutes or so, Michael Apted's film soars. After a British banker friend of M's is blown up inside the MI6 building, 007 heads off down the Thames after the assassin (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) in an experimental Q-branch speedboat. It's faintly ludicrous, as is much of the later Brosnan era, but the second unit are really earning their paychecks with the lensing, and here at least, Apted shows the same gift for seeking out memorable beats within the scene -- Brosnan's trademark tie-straightening underwater, a spectacular corkscrew jump, the rocket-powered boat taking to land for a spell, and finally a spectacular drop from a hot-air balloon over the then-new Millennium Dome in Greenwich. No wonder the rest of the film looks so bad by comparison.

"Casino Royale" - Parkour opening
By the time that Bond returned from a four-year gap after Pierce Brosnan left the franchise, the action movie had changed. "The Bourne Identity" had reinvigorated the spy-genre, particularly in 2005's "The Bourne Supremacy," which saw Paul Greengrass graft a documentary aesthetic and parkour-inspired action onto the rival franchise. Needing to come back strong, Eon hired Martin Campbell again, and if anything, he came out of the gate even more impressively than he had on "Goldeneye." Chasing down a bomb-maker played by parkour creator Sebastien Foucan through Madagascar, Craig's Bond is reintroduced as the "blunt instrument" that Judi Dench's M refers to him as. He can't match his quarry's freerunning skills, so he takes the simpler route: driving a digger at the guy, throwing a gun at him, generally causing as much damage as he can to his environment and, at the last, shooting Foucan in the heart and blowing up an embassy. It's not just a great re-introduction to Bond, it's a great example of showing character through action, establishing the tone that's run through Craig's three films to date. Plus it's impeccably lensed (by Campbell's regular DoP Phil Meheux) and cut (by action veteran Stuart Baird). As good as "Skyfall" is, it's hard not to hope that Campbell gets another go in the Bond director's chair at some point.

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  • Simon Paiva | November 14, 2012 4:59 PMReply

    Three reasons why "The World is not Enough" was the Bond of my adolescence and my favorite Bond of the Brosnam era to this day: The amazing pre-opening credits sequence, the Garbage theme song ( second only to McCartney's live and let die, in my opinion of course) and the most beautiful, sexy and exquisite bond girl ever: Sophie Marceau.

  • Alan | November 7, 2012 7:51 PMReply

    Oh God, the boat chase. You mean the one that goes on forever? That would have been a nifty action sequence, but Apted lets it drag on for too long until you forget why exactly Bond is chasing this girl in the first place.

  • Fulmer | November 12, 2012 4:12 PM

    I agree, what was a riveting scene, becomes drawn out with the silliness of the stunts at the end of it. I would rank the boat chase in Live & Let Die ahead of it. It definitely has humor, but ends with intensity and dramatic (and somewhat more believable) fashion.

  • JD V | November 6, 2012 6:29 PMReply

    Okay, hold on. Wait a sec. WHERE is the great "Living Daylights" tanker truck chase? We're talking 18-wheelers doin' stuff that NEVER fails to astonish an audience--and it's all real, without even model or optical effects of the pre-digital 1980s. That deserves a place on ANY list of great Bond action scenes.

  • TheoC | November 6, 2012 3:38 PMReply

    I guess you can't have two Brosnan's on a list but I loved the helicopter VS motor bike chase in Tomorrow Never Dies, an awful movie, but it had this chase and Michelle Yeoh.

  • James | November 6, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    Loving these Bond-themed lists you guys are doing. And very happy to see that OHMSS ski scene made the cut. I agree -- pound for pound the ski sequence in FYEO is probably the best of the bunch (not to mention the campy Bill Conti track), but Lazenby's ski scenes are more classic and edgy. While skilled on the slopes, you still get a sense of 'Bond might not make it.' I think the more contemporary Bonds could use that.

    I'm still undecided about Skyfall. Greatly enjoyed it but felt that something was off. Perhaps it was (mild spoiler alert) the lack of a large set piece in the second act. I'll have to see it again soon. And I hope they bring back another ski scene in Bond 24 (TWINE's ski chase was terrible).

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