From Russia With Love (1963)
Once More Into The Breach
Warning: this review does contain a few vague spoilers.
From Russia With Love is the 1963/1964 (1963 in Europe, 1964 in North America) sequel of James Bond's first movie, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Robert Shaw, and Lotte Lenya. Like its predecessor, this movie is an adaptation of Ian Fleming's novel with the same name.
Since Dr. No was a huge success, despite it's shortfalls, the second 007 movie came out fast, with a bigger budget, and far fewer mistakes. With the sharp spike in acting, storytelling, effects, and action, it's almost difficult to believe that this movie was made and released so quickly. Almost all the problems I had with the first instalment were fixed in From Russia With Love - although some new ones did come up.
The plot of the movie is quite simple, and was explained at the very beginning. Spectre, angry about what James Bond did to Dr. No, plotted a way to get revenge on the agent by using his womanizing ways against him, and get something they wanted in the process. The idea was a good one, and could easily have worked, if they weren't going against the luckiest man on Earth.
Okay, I'm sure the foolishness of the lower villains didn't help much. There were so many times that they had a chance to take their revenge and win their prize, but for some reason they just never took them. Worse yet, their choice opportunity was handled so sloppily that they didn't stand a chance against Bond's luck.
Yes, Bond is just that lucky in this movie. It doesn't even seem like he has any skill, just luck. Every bullet miraculously misses him and his Russian admirer, every explosion doesn't even leave him with a scratch, every ally he needs falls into his lap when he needs them, he makes fantastically speedy recoveries when he is in dire circumstances, and everything he needs to survive is always in his possession like he is being protected by some god-like force. I know they would never have killed the hero, but the way he succeeded felt more like beginner's luck instead of using his years of experience. After his lucky escape from Dr. No, and now his near loss in From Russia With Love, combined with his charming looks, natural charisma, and built-in babe magnet, James Bond definitely appears to be the best choice for "The Luckiest Man on Earth" award.
Although, the "Bond Girl" is extremely lucky, too. Tatiana Romanova, played by Daniela Bianchi, should have been killed during many of their deadly encounters, but somehow she never even got a scratch. Although, for a "damsel in distress" she was a significant improvement compared to others of this era, especially that of her predecessors. Her acting was more fluid, the character had a slightly more believable attitude, and she was even useful during a couple of the action scenes.
The other women in this movie were significantly more badass than Dr. No's female characters, as well, particularly the evil ones. It's almost as if the writers tried to apologize for the awful roles they had in the last film. I wish they had a bigger part to play in events, though.
Instead, most of the villains screen time was filled with the foolish antics of Donald Grant, played by Robert Shaw. I thought that Dr. No was a dumb villain, but Grant may be even worse. Sure, he is but a mere minion, but not only does he help Bond several times, and he has several opportunities to complete his mission in one quick stroke, yet he lets so many of them pass by as he waits for the most opportune moment. Hell, after seeing what kind of dumb fools Bond has encountered so far, it's no wonder that no one is taking steps to tracking down Spectre. Even the ones planning these grand schemes ignore the least complicated paths which have a much greater chance of success. All these villainous flaws aren't really a bad thing, though. These foolish villains are actually so dumb that their entertaining.
Even though there are so many flaws with From Russia With Love, it is definitely a far more enjoyable experience than Dr. No was, and a better movie for newcomers to start with. There are a few small references to the first movie, but they are explained enough so not to take away from the experience. This still isn't a movie for everyone, but it's definitely a film that mystery and action fans should watch. Just don't take the villains seriously.
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