Dr. No – James Bond 007 stars Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, and Joseph Wiseman and was directed by Terrence Young. Based on Ian Fleming’s 1958 novel of the same name, this film serves as our introduction to MI6 agent James Bond, played by Sean Connery. Sent to Jamaica in search of a missing agent, Bond soon discovers that a bigger and more nefarious plot is underway and must stop the mysterious Dr. No before it’s too late.
I hope you guys are ready for some James Bond cause this review is kicking off the most extensive video series on my channel yet. Leading up to the release of No Time to Die, I’m gonna be reviewing all 24 Bond films for you, plus I’ll be releasing a few other bonus Bond videos along the way.
I’ve already seen all the movies in this franchise, but it’s been a few years, so I’m excited to have an excuse to rewatch them all again. I’ve always found Dr. No to be a bit of an odd first film for the franchise. I think part of that comes from the fact that I personally didn’t seen this movie for the first time until after I had already watched some of the later films. So, I already had a sense of the character and this franchise or at least I thought I did. But this first movie is kinda strange. It has certain elements to it that are very central or iconic to the franchise, so you do see parts of the groundwork being laid for the series here.
But then it has other things that make it very much an outlier in the series, especially among the earlier films. But before we get into those odd elements, I want to talk a little bit about the ways in which this movie actually does live up to expectations: the Bond tropes. James Bond is one of those things that’s so engrained in pop culture that everybody can recognize it. Just like how anybody could hear the line ìI’ll be backî and think of The Terminator or see Sylvester Stallone in the jungle wearing a bandana and be able to identify him as Rambo, there are certain Bond things that everybody knows, even if you’ve never seen a single James Bond movie.
You know his classic ìBond, James Bondî intro, you know he likes his martinis shaken, not stirred, you know he works his way through a seemingly endless succession of Bond girls. And so many of those classic Bond-isms that were so oft-repeated in the franchise that they’ve become tropes make their debuts here in this first film. Dr. No even has a few things that a Bond-novice might expect in a Bond movie, but don’t actually happen all too often in the franchise. The biggest of these? Actual, practical espionage tactics. Most of the time, Bond doesn’t actually do many spy things in these movies. And when he does, it’s almost always thanks to some fancy gadget Q whipped up for him. In this movie, Bond doesn’t have any of that.
He has to rely on his own competence as a spy and while he certainly makes some dumb choices, he feels like he could be a real agent. He deftly avoids being photographed. He puts powder on his briefcase latches and a hair across a closed door to see if anybody’s snooping through his hotel room when he’s not there. He carefully stages scenes to lure his targets just where he wants them. He feels like a real spy. But we can’t forget that Dr. No is an outlier. The relative number of expectations that are met pales in comparison to the number of things that you would never think to anticipate going into this movie.
I think the thing that surprised me the most the first time I saw this movie wasn’t the story or the characters, but rather the setting. Jamaica?! I don’t know about you, but I always used to think of England when I thought of Bond. Or maybe I pictured him chasing bad guys through a series of European cities. But I definitely never would’ve imagined a spy film being set in Jamaica, let alone the very first Bond film. As weird as it seems at first, it does end up working for the movie, providing a brighter and more adventure-tinged tone than any European city ever could’ve.
Unfortunately, that adventurous side of the film gets bogged down quite a bit by a surprisingly dull third act. Once some of the movies’ mysteries get revealed, it kinda becomes a very silly slog. All of the interesting set-up and cool espionage tactics get thrown away and we’re left with fragments of a ridiculous plot and even more ridiculous visuals. The movie definitely loses steam and once it starts to drag, the unnecessarily lengthy runtime becomes apparent. Luckily, this film does have one thing to keep us engaged throughout, even during the bafflingly mediocre third act: Bond himself.
I really like Sean Connery as James Bond. Despite the fact that he’s been in dozens of films, before watching through the Bond franchise, I had very little experience seeing him play any character that wasn’t Indiana Jones’ dad. But, I have to say, he really exudes the cool 60s charm that you expect from Bond and manages to make the overly-cocky, womanizing character likeable. Alright let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the introduction to Bond. This might sound like an obvious one considering it’s the first Bond film and all, but this movie really does a great job with setting the character up.
The rest of the film might not match the expectation people have of the Bond franchise, but the character of James Bond does. He’s that cool, smooth-talking spy you expect him to be. Sean Connery does a great job with the role, but it’s not just his performance that makes this so enjoyable: it’s the inclusion of all the classic Bond tropes and Bond-isms. They’re fun to look out for as a Bond-novice cause many are so engrained in pop culture, but they’re even more fun to spot when you’ve seen all the movies and know how they’re gonna evolve over the course of the franchise.
The second pro might also be an obvious one, but it’s the score, or more specifically, the main theme song. You know the one ñ that jazzy, orchestrated instrumental that makes you think of espionage, martinis, and gun barrels. Dr. No was one of the only a few 007 films not to have an opening theme song with words, but this main instrumental theme is more than enough. It’s iconic and found its way not only into nearly every Bond-centric scene in this film, but also makes an appearance in every Bond film since. On the con side, my biggest issue is the dull third act. It’s strange cause the first half of the movie’s pretty engaging.
It’s got some fun sequences and the mystery of Dr. No and Crab Key keeps you focused. But things take a turn for the ridiculous towards the end of the 2nd act and once the secrets are revealed, it’s just not that interesting anymore. The evil plot is a bit underwhelming and the finale is both goofy and slow. This franchise certainly has its fair share of ridiculous scenes and plots, but there’s something especially disappointing about having that in the very first film.
The second con is the race portrayal in this movie. Some of these early Bond films really struggle with this, but Dr. No is especially tactless when it comes to this. I guess you could argue that it’s just a product of its time, but it’s pretty rough here. Despite being set in Jamaica, the Jamaican characters are almost all portrayed fairly poorly. Even the Jamaican character with the largest role, Quarrel, get subjected to quite a bit of casual racism during the film. On top of that, this movie casts several clearly non-Asian actors as Chinese characters and then loads them up with as many stereotypes as you could think of.
I’m gonna give Dr. No 3 out of 5 paws. It’s a bit slow at points and definitely underwhelming as the first James Bond movie, but it functions very well as a set-up for the character and the franchise and has a decent-enough first half. I would recommend Dr. No most obviously to people who like spy movies, especially glamorized spy movies.
This 007 film is a bit unique when it comes to its use of practical espionage techniques, but Connery’s version of Bond is about as far from gritty as you can get. It’s all very cool and sophisticated, but certainly less action-oriented that most modern spy-fare, so if you’re looking for something like that, you’ll want to look elsewhere. If you’re hoping to get into the Bond franchise, this is an obvious place to start, but just be aware that it’s not exactly peak Bond. If you liked Dr. No, I would suggest checking out Live and Let Die. It’s the 8th movie in the Bond franchise and although it stars Roger Moore at that point, it features a number of similarities like a Caribbean setting, odd reliance on certain stereotypes, and a pretty ridiculous plot.
If you want more Caribbean 007, but want to stick with Connery, you might want to check out Thunderball. It’s the 4th Bond movie and not a personal favorite of mine, but it’s Bahamian setting and mysterious villain might be of interest to fans of this movie. And if you liked seeing the origins of a long-running spy character, I’d suggest watching Mission: Impossible for Ethan Hunt’s introduction and a good deal more action. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Dr. No? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: Which franchise or series do you think has the most unexpected first film? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.