What surprises me about Dr No is how many of the classic Bond staples were already in place by the end of the first movie in the franchise. The gun-barrel opening, the excellent, timeless theme and those famous words “Bond, James Bond.” An excellent way to introduce your main character and an excellent opening movie too.
It is even more surprising because Dr No is not what a Bond film is anymore. There is only one major location, rather than the jet-setting we expect from the movies today. It lacks the huge set-piece stunt sequences and instead goes for something that resembles more of a detective movie than an action-packed spy film. James Bond is investigating the death of a 00 agent rather than taking down a super-criminal or chasing loose leads across the world.
This doesn’t sound necessarily very exciting but it makes for a much better movie that you would initially think. It means we get a proper look at the spy, who he is and how brutal he can be. If we had been given one of the later films as a jumping off point, he would be much more a faceless hero – Dr No truly introduces us to the James Bond we would get in future movies.
It helps that Sean Connery is great as the hero. Connery has the strength, sophistication and swagger to portray the super-spy and delivers the quips and punches with equal confidence. He is believable as both a genuine agent of the British Government and the required Lothario. Although Ian Fleming didn’t particularly like his portrayal of the character, you can see where the template for the rest of the series comes from.
His support is very good too. The Bond Girl becomes a standard from the very first Bond movie and it is no different here – with the role being played iconically by Ursula Andress. From the moment she emerges from the sea you are captivated by her and the movie plays up the sex symbol status very well. Beginning with a skimpy bikini doesn’t hurt the cause. It is a shame that she is used for little more than a prolonged damsel-in-distress and at times you wonder why Dr No is even keeping her alive.
That isn’t the only issue with the titular villain though. He is built very well and becomes a well foreshadowed, towering presence. His appearance somewhat matches his build-up but when the hero and villain do finally meet, it feels slightly under-whelming. He explains his plan (classic Bond) and then locks Bond away (another poor villain choice). What then follows is one of the most anti-climactic “final battles” in any of the Bond films I’ve seen. This evil, feared individual is dispatched as easily as any regular Bond henchman. It is a shame that the movie does end on such a damp note though because what goes before it is the beginning of the hugely successful and popular franchise that dominates movies from the 60s onwards.
Overall, Dr No sets a high benchmark as a Bond movie, even though it doesn’t always feel like a Bond film. More concerned with investigating and mystery than action and stunts, it’s only the presence of some of the classic and timeless Bond tropes that helps distinguish it as such. Add to that the great portrayal of the iconic spy and you have one of the better beginnings to a franchise.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)