On Her Majesty's Secret Service

⭐⭐⭐⭐½ based on 1 review.

tl;dr: Interesting plot, excellent action, and actual character development. A perfect Bond film.


James Bond


Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

In many ways, On Her Majesty's Secret Service felt more like a Daniel Craig Bond film than any of the earlier instalments. Bond is portrayed as intelligent (if a little rough around the edges), a competent spy (that actually engages in typical espionage work), and at least a little nuanced, whilst the villainous plot is relatively coherent but also completely ridiculous and over-the-top. There are plenty of excuses for exotic locations and beautiful women, though some of the latter more than hold their own, and the action is well-paced and visually stunning. Plus, Bond exists equally in both sides of his world, falling for the daughter of a mob boss and ultimately marrying her, an action which firmly eschews anything we've seen from his character up until this moment and which feels like it should require a lasting impact on the series.

My one main issue with the plot was that Blofeld appears to be unaware of what Bond looks like. This feels generally a little ridiculous, given how much he knows about James in general and considering the breadth of Spectre's operation at this point, but layered on top of that is the fact that Bond literally faced off against Blofeld in the previous film. Sure, this isn't Connery, but despite some awkward opening quips about "the other guy" (breaking the fourth wall does not work in Bond), the film is pretty clear that Lazenby's Bond is fundamentally the same person as Connery's character, and none of the other returning actors/characters make any kind of note of the different face. So why doesn't Blofeld immediately recognise him? Well, whilst this annoyed me throughout the film, it turns out there is a reason: this movie is meant to happen chronologically before Thunderball. Heck, the film was actually meant to be made first, but the studio decided to flip them around. This explains Blofeld's ignorance of Bond (to a degree) and also explains his lack of a facial scar, which you could argue he picks up in the tree-garrotting scene at the end of this movie.

Unfortunately, whilst that explanation is sufficient for the villain, it does mean that the Bond seen in Thunderball is one that has just lost the love of his life and the only woman he has (and indeed, would) ever continue settling down with. Bond literally promises to leave the spy game for her; this is a genuine moment for the character. And yet, months later we see him back to his rapey, womanising ways, nary a care in the world. To some extent, Diamonds Are Forever tries to remedy this, but that just makes the timeline even more confusing. And the shame of it is, Lazenby's heartfelt performance around his wife's death, and the emotional cliffhanger it leaves the audience on, are some of the best moments in a Bond film ever, but they never get any kind of real payoff.

Speaking of which, can we briefly mention how solid Lazenby is in this role. I was genuinely confused why he only ever did one film; surely the fan backlash couldn't have been that great? Turns out, nope, the fans were largely on board, but Lazenby figured he could make more money in Westerns and tanked his career by breaking out of the Bond contract. Whoops! Still, his one-shot performance is a pretty decent one, with plenty of charm, emotion, and solid action sequences. I feel like the studio were a little worried that he might not be seen as "manly" as Connery, so the first half of the film is a bit spoiled by an overly macho Bond, one happy to punch defenceless women, sleeps with anything that moves, and (despite being in actual love) cheats at any moment possible, but these are faults of the plot, not the actor, and given what he had, Lazonby does a solid job. Plus, whilst he's playing a cheating scum bag, at least he can say he didn't play a rapist, unlike Connery, and I guess that's a slight win 😬

The end result is a really fun film that feels much more modern and yet still quintessentially "Bond". I thought they balanced stakes and humour well; Blofeld makes for a campy yet fun villain; and whilst they did lean a little hard on the skiing, it never felt tedious or overused like earlier action gimmicks (*cough* underwater filming *cough*). Personally, I think this entry in the franchise is reaching for greatness and just fails to make it, whereas Goldfinger achieves it and then sullies it with some poor choices, but the result are two films that I would broadly consider equally good, just for different reasons.

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