I was not expecting this to hold up this well, but it's definitely showing some age. Everything is just less, from the pacing, to the action, to the plot twists. That's not necessarily a bad thing; on the contrary, I quite enjoyed a more grounded story and a Bond that's closer to being a detective than an invincible superhuman. But it does mean that not a huge amount happens. It's your basic thriller or crime novel: you find out clues and important details in tandem with the main character, so you're always getting nice little surprises, but there's nothing truly clever going on.
Still, most of the core of what makes Bond, well, Bond is here. He's bold, at least a little clever, very happy to exploit the smallest chink in his enemies' armour, and uses dry wit, confidence, and charm as his main weapons. He also gives a crap, although not enough to mourn the local CIA asset who gets burned alive unceremoniously 😬 On the other hand, whilst Connery's portrayal is known for being steeped in misogyny (of which there is some, but not as much as I feared), I do find it funny that the very first liaison in the film franchise is one where Bond is absolutely being used by a woman in complete control of him 😄
From a franchise perspective, we get a decent Bond girl in Honey, who at least shows that she's a capable survivor, even if some of her actions are a bit overly "damsel in distress", and the whole "I'm up to T in the encyclopedia" line was bizarre. M and Moneypenny are just already there, no back story necessary (for M this is fine, he's Bond's boss, but the whole flirtation with Moneypenny feels kinda fun that they don't bother explaining it), and I hadn't realised that Spectre would be introduced by name so quickly. I was also surprised that Felix (CIA) is a character, as I only knew him as someone in the Craig Bond franchise (where he is a much more interesting person). There are also fancy opening credits and, of course, the whole "Bond shoots down the barrel" at the start (where does this come from?), but no Q or clever gadgets, no car, no huge song at the start (just the one about coconuts repeated throughout the film as if it's the only piece of music still allowed 😂), and almost no big action, apart from the final explosion.
Indeed, whilst the villain is distinctly campy and classically "other", the actual villainous plot doesn't really seem that big. Yes, Dr. No does claim that his atomic radar will somehow allow him to take over the world, but it's not really clear how or why that is the case. I can chalk that up to the age of the film and the current geopolitical condition with fears about nuclear threats and new technologies being invented constantly, but it does seem quite quaint by modern standards. I was also surprised by how much Dr. No suffers the same issues as Remi Malek's most recent villain, in that he's barely given enough screen time to feel like a threat. Though here, at least, his actions and operatives (and disembodied voice) do lend a certain level of growing unease.
Overall, then Dr. No is a surprisingly decent first entry. It's not amazing, but I enjoyed it, the plot (largely) holds up, the characters have more depth and interest than I expected (even if this was a low bar), and I just had a lot of fun with a slightly slower-paced, more grounded Bond.