Thunderball spreads a treasury of wish-fulfilling fantasy over a nickel's worth of plot. The fantasy is the familiar amalgam of wholesale sex, comic-strip heroism, bogus glamour and James Bond (Sean Connery). The plot concerns Bond's new nemesis, Largo. As No. 2 man of Spectre, Largo masterminds a daring bombnap. He hijacks a Vulcan bomber aloft on a NATO training flight, sinks its atomic payload in the Atlantic near Nassau. Then, for an asking price of £100 million, he promises not to obliterate Miami or a city of equal size.
Though From Russia with Love remains the liveliest Bond opera to date, Thunderball is by all odds the most spectacular. Its script hasn't a morsel of genuine wit, but Bond fans, who are preconditioned to roll in the aisles when their hero merely asks a waiter to bring some beluga caviar and Dom Pérignon '55, will probably never notice. They are switched on by a legend that plays straight to the senses, and its colors are primary. Director Terence Young dunks his camera into a swimming pool full of sharks for the film's best single shot, a fisheye view from below, filtered through a victim's blood. In one donnybrook following a funeral, Bond slugs it out with the widowactually a male adversaryand lifts himself up, up and away by backpack jet. Still more dazzling is a climactic, blue-green underwater battle between Largo's men, wearing black rubber wet suits, and the brave lads from Our Side, parachuting to the fray in flag red.
Bond's dry-land conquests were somewhat zingier type in Goldfinger, but in Thunderball he manages a change of pace by joining Largo's seaworthy French playmate (Claudine Auger) for an amorous exploit down among the corals. "I hope we didn't frighten the fish," he quips afterward, wading ashore. Alas, even subaqueous sex cannot keep the formula entirely fresh. Yet, if Thunderball's gimmickry seems to overreach at times, Actor Connery gains assurance from film to film, by now delivers all his soppiest Jimcracks martini-dry. He is hilariously astringent when he drops a limp dancing partner at a nightclubber's ringside table, saying: "D'you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead." And indeed she is.