The Good: Adequate acting, Generally good plot (from a conceptual standpoint)
The Bad: No character development whatsoever, Almost constant reversals get tiresome, Many of the special effects are cheesy, Craptastic editing.
The Basics: As part of a series of escalating reversals and assassinations, You Only Live Twice continues to raise the stakes in the James Bond universe into almost preposterous territory.
As I make my way through the James Bond films I am discovering that the franchise was faced with a problem that I did not recognize as a child. As a teenager, I loved the James Bond films and I recall You Only Live Twice being one of my favorites. Watching it now, though, I find myself catching so many of the problems with the movie – and not just the very clunky editing – that it is surprising I ever was impressed by it. The thing about You Only Live Twice is that it is the fifth cinematic outing in the James Bond franchise and by this point, in order to make the movie an interesting progression that goes beyond all that has come before, the story has to have more reversals and a plot that ups the ante beyond big business swindles, the attempt to destabilize currency and limited warfare through manipulations by secret organizations.
So, You Only Live Twice has a fundamentally absurd plot – an international comes out of nowhere with a fully refined and viable space program that effectively captures space vehicles from the United States and the Soviet Union – that has SPECTRE looking to start World War III for no particular reason. This was the last time Sean Connery played James Bond in a run of James Bond movies (he would return for two other movies between other actors playing Bond).
After the Jupiter 16 spacecraft is abducted in space by a mysterious craft, the Americans blame the Soviet Union while the cooler heads in Britain track the abducting craft to the Sea Of Japan. There, James Bond is working on finding which country launched the high tech ship when he is apparently killed in action. Sent to Japan after his funeral, James Bond meets with Henderson who is killed just before he can reveal who he thinks is behind the spacecraft abduction. Bond hops a ride in the assassin’s car which takes him to Osato Chemical where he steals from the company’s safe.
Delivered to Tanaka (The Tiger), he has the photograph he stole from the safe analyzed and when he returns to Osato, the head of the company tries to assassinate him. Trying to discover what Osato is up to, Bond arrives at the docks and is abducted by Osato’s ship the Ning-To. Escaping again, he is outfitted by Q with the most powerful mini-helicopter in the world and he goes to spy on a small island the Ning-To visited. When a Soviet spacecraft is abducted, Bond locates the villain’s secret lair and as the world moves closer to war, he works to expose and stop SPECTRE’s latest plot! In the process he disguises himself (poorly) as a Japanese man, marries, and essentially becomes a ninja while those around him die.
You Only Live Twice features James Bond taking on a Japanese persona that is utterly unconvincing in the make-up and the latter portion of the film is laughable for that conceit. In fact, given how it never becomes fundamentally important that Bond truly pose as a Japanese man, the effort to make him over is somewhat ridiculous. In fact, the only point to Bond’s deception in that regard seems to be to make it credible that he would become a ninja and be able to proficiently throw throwing stars.
That said, You Only Live Twice may contain one of the first references to the idea that the name James Bond is a code name for British intelligence agents (Bond’s new wife notes that he gave a false name in the marriage ceremony) and the fact that he gets married – even as part of a job – is an interesting twist. And Sean Connery does fine with the role, but the character does not evolve or develop beyond who he was in the past four films.
Unfortunately, director Lewis Gilbert is stuck in with a movie that relies on a preposterous number of reversals and sacrifices substance for extended action sequences. The first two-thirds of You Only Live Twice is pretty much a protracted sequence of murders, narrow escapes, captures, and chases in vehicles of various types. When the movie introduces the SPECTRE volcano base, there is an ironic slow down that takes the time to revel in the cleverness of the film’s villain, but by that point, it is hard not to find oneself laughing at the injection of piranha, a bicycle-like helicopter armed to the teeth and more women throwing themselves at James Bond than reason would suggest is possible for such an emotionally unavailable guy (one of his lovers is killed in one of the coolest and most imaginative ways and within days he is sleeping with another woman and flirting with her continually).
While Gilbert might get a pass on the lack of character development and the troublingly convoluted plot, but he should be held accountable for the terrible editing. Things like Bond’s fight with Hans are cut in such a way that are choppy and lack a sense of continuity to make the fight tense or even engaging.
In the final analysis, You Only Live Twice is not terrible, but it does illustrate that the James Bond franchise has to push toward the ridiculous in order to keep the franchise from feeling as stagnant as it actually is becoming.
For other James Bond films, please check out my reviews of:
From Russia With Love
Die Another Day
Quantum Of Solace
For other movies, check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the film reviews I have written!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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