Licence to Kill

I know you were all (read: 2 of you) expecting this review yesterday, but I had to vacate my room and beloved desktop for a day or two whilst some building was going on. With that incredibly drab look into my personal life, I give you Dalton’s second outing as Jimmy Bon-Bon.

Licence to Kill (1989)

Poor ol’ Dalton. To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, he didn’t get no respect. When Licence to Kill came out, box-office takings were pretty low and reviews were extremely mixed, most citing the fact that it didn’t have the same old Bond stuff, like the one-liners and such. I’ve never understood that mentality. You get given the same thing over and over again and given the choice, you’ll plump for the familiar every time. It’s that attitude that has led Hollywood into one of its biggest creative slumps in years. God, I hate people so damn much.

“Señor Bond, you got big cojones. You come here, to my place, without references, carrying a piece, throwing around a lot of money… but you should know something: nobody saw you come in, so nobody has to see you go out.” 

After his friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison) has his bride murdered and is mutilated by sharks, James Bond (Timothy Dalton) quits MI6 and goes rogue, going on a personal vendetta mission against the man responsible, drug baron Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). Bond enlists the help of CIA agent Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) and Sanchez’s maltreated girlfriend Lupe (Talisa Soto) to take down the scumlord and his smuggling operation. I love Licence to Kill‘s plot. Bond going rogue is such a cool idea and it’s pulled off extremely well. It’s a hell of a lot darker and violent than previous Bonds (to date, it is the only film in the series to be rated “15”) and it works. It’s definitely got the spirit of the Fleming novels down. It’s refreshing that the villain isn’t some wacko trying to take over the world. He’s just a drug baron with power and stacks of cash aplenty.

Dalton fucking nails it in this one. He was great in The Living Daylights, but I always felt his performance was a little compromised. Here he gets to let loose and get all intense-like. Carey Lowell is also one of the best Bond girls. She’s a CIA agent who can actually do stuff, unlike Dr. Diana Dicklick in Moonraker. Her growing relationship with Bond is believable and heartfelt. Talisa Soto is more of a traditional damsel in distress Bond lass, but she’s still good. Robert Davi is great as Sanchez, he’s fucking psychotic and downright scary. His entrance to the film is catching Lupe in bed with another man and cutting out the guy’s heart. JESUS. I also love the young Benicio Del Toro playing Dario in this. He’s a right little shit. The film also wins massive plus points from me for bringing back the only memorable and decent Felix Leiter in the form of David Hedison. Some audience familiarity was needed and it totally works. Robert Brown also finally convinces as M. He gets some really good little beats and his scene with Bond just before he goes rogue is awesome.

Licence to Kill doesn’t feel like a Bond film, which I think is one of its major strengths. Whilst sticking to the formula can produce great results (The Spy Who Loved Me), most of the time it produces crap after crap. Licence to Kill forgets all about the Bond tropes and focuses on Bond’s personal story. Apart from OHMSS, this film is probably the best look at the man behind the wry smile and tuxedo. We feel Bond’s anger at the ridiculous semantics and red tape that initially stop him from avenging Leiter. Dalton always looks like he’s on the edge of snapping and it gives the film a really different feel to previous ones. This is a film that takes risks. To use the vocabulary of a complete wanker (why break with tradition?) it’s hardcore. It’s not a total free-flying flag though. For some reason it just has to include a Q scene (normally a highlight for me, but it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the film) and a bit where Bond and Bouvier get together for no real reason after a big bar fight. It’s like they had to put them in to not complete alienate the bonehead audience.

There are so many touches I like. One such moment is when Bond’s promiscuity catches up with him and Pam and Lupe meet. Never has that happened in a Bond film before and it’s an interesting moment. I love Bond infiltrating Sanchez’s organisation and becoming his friend. It really feels like an undercover cop film at that point, especially with Bond’s tinkering behind the scenes to ensure that Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe) is the one who is taken down as a traitor. Krest has one of the most memorable and disgusting deaths too. Head explodey fun. It’s so good, they referenced it in Kick-Ass. Actually, I noticed a few things that have been “borrowed” from Licence to Kill by other films. There’s a bit where Sanchez’s armoured truck plunges into the sea which is used in Mission: Impossible 3. There’s also the opening plane-jacking scene in The Dark Knight Rises- a bit which I said in my review is “jaw-droppingly good and really feels like an old-school James Bond setpiece”. There’s a reason for that. It IS an old-school Bond setpiece- from this film. Can’t believe I missed that. Even Skyfall seems to be lifting from it, with a palm-reader signature gun similar to the one in this film glimpsed in the trailer.

Since I’m banging on about the action, I’ll say it’s extremely  well done. There are some great sequences, but the absolute king is the final tanker sequence and Bond’s scrap with Sanchez. It’s genuinely thrilling. It features one of my favourite Bond moments ever where Bond drives a tanker on two wheels to avoid an incoming Stinger missile. It’s awesome. The resolution involving “a genuine Felix lighter” is fantastic and almost certainly a callback to Live and Let Die. I can’t think of too many bad things to say about Licence to Kill. The previously mentioned scenes stick out like pubes in a bowl of cornflakes (i.e. easily missable, but abhorrent all the same). The dialogue ain’t all that either with some truly nail-on-the-head exchanges taking place that make my inner writer scream. Also, if someone can explain why the film ends on a blinking/winking fish fountain, get in contact. I haven’t the faintest sodding clue on that one.

“(After being denied permission to pursue Sanchez) Then you have my resignation, sir!” 
“We’re not a country club, 007!” 

Licence to Kill is one of the best Bond films in my book. It’s got a completely different flavour to the rest of the films, actually more in keeping with the recent Craig films than anything else. Dalton really gives a great performance here and it’s a shame they dicked him around so much as I’d love to have seen the general public embrace him as much as I want to. Perhaps more modern, cynical eyes will see this film for the cracking film it is.

The Living Daylights

So here it is, the last week of my Bond marathon. This time next Tuesday I’ll be free of 007’s clutches. Well, for a week and a bit and then Skyfall comes out. Still, two thirds over. If only I put this amount of effort into bettering myself. Anyway, you’re on in five, Mr. Dalton.

The Living Daylights (1987)

With Roger Moore having finally hung up the shoulder holster and gone off for a nice little sleep, the hunt was on for the fourth actor to play James Bond. After a long search of countless famous actors (Sam “Jurassic Park” Neill was the favourite for a while) the producers settled for Pierce Brosnan. That ain’t a typo- Brosnan was all but confirmed in the role and was called away at the literal 11th hour to do more Remington Steele. With both the filmmakers and Brosnan gutted, they turned to another someone who had been on their books for a long time, Timothy Dalton, who signed on and immediately immersed himself in the source novels. For the first time in the Bond franchise they had a proper actor actor.

“I only kill professionals. That girl didn’t know one end of her rifle from the other. Go ahead. Tell M what you want. If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it. “

James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is sent to protect the defecting General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé). After he refuses to kill a sniper (Maryam d’Abo) he uncovers a complicated plot involving a Russian movement to kill spies- Smiert Spionam, an American arms dealer named Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) and a load of Afghan heroin. Now this is what I’m talking about! Complex but not convoluted, TLD‘s plot pops along at a fast pace involving all sorts of fun elements. It’s got the same sort of feel as the literary Bond adventures and it’s like a huge gulp of fresh air after the open mouthed sewer diving we did in A View to a Kill. There are still silly elements, but not too silly that they detract from the semi-realistic thrust of the film. It’s exaggerated but crucially shows some restraint and pulls back on the reins every now and again to keep everything on the straight and narrow.I love Dalton as Bond. He’s a lot more intense than previous Bonds, but that works. He does seem to struggle slightly with the quipping, but nowhere near enough to be a Lazenby type problem. There are a lot of subtleties to his performance that I hadn’t really picked up on until now. He’s damn good and unfairly sidelined when it comes to ranking the Bonds. I really liked Maryam d’Abo as well. She’s brave, resourceful and nowhere near the blonde bimbo she could have been drawn as. She’s lightyears ahead of Stacey Sutton in the last film. The treacherous Koskov is played well by Jeroen Krabbé. He’s not a comic book villain, he’s just a very believable selfish bastard. Same can’t be said for Joe Don Baker’s Brad Whitaker. He is a bit too ridiculous, but there’s always room for a little bit of that. Art Malik is also decent and likable. Hooray for John Rhys-Davies too.

Sweet Jesus, does this film open well. It’s got one of the best pre-credits sequences yet with Bond and two other 00s on a training mission that goes spectacularly wrong. Dalton cements himself as Bond the moment he looks all pissed off and hares after a truck. This is anti-camp. There is room for levity (did we need so many monkey reaction shots?) but as I said before, it’s balanced. It’s an incredibly well put together sequence that really kicks the film off the right way. In fact, there’s not a dud action scene to be found. Whilst the stunts have always been one of the best things about the Bond films irrelevant of film quality, some of these action beats are the best we’ve seen so far in the series. One of my favourite bits is Necros’ (Andreas Wisniewski) assault on an MI6 safehouse. It’s fucking great. Talking of fucking great things, Bond’s also back behind the wheel of an Aston Martin and the huge setpiece around it is superb. I’m less enthused by the following cello case escape, but can’t win ’em all. The third act showdown involving Bond and Necros hanging out the back of a plane is genuinely thrilling, ignoring the shoddy cardboard scenery that is occasionally visible.

“You were fantastic. We’re free!”
 “Kara, we’re inside a Russian airbase in the middle of Afghanistan.”

There’s not much I don’t like about The Living Daylights. The titles and dreary A-ha song could both be a lot better. As good as he is, Dalton hasn’t settled into the role at this point and his discomfort with some of the more humourous bits shows. They’ve cast a new Moneypenny in the form of Caroline Bliss. She’s sexy, but not in that homely way that is essential for the part. Plus, I’m not sure if she’s joking or not when she invites Bond round to listen to her Barry Manilow collection. Dalton’s few interactions with her also seem to be a little off. The Daniel Craig era gets a lot of credit for revolutionising Bond and taking him  back to his printed roots and whilst some credits is due, praises need to be sung about Dalton’s stint too. All the grittiness and realism? He did all that 30 years before the Craighulk stepped up. It’s just that in the late ’80s audiences aren’t ready for it, but their kids are going to love it.

A View to a Kill

Finally done with the Moore era. I love the guy, but I must admit these last few have been a ballache to sit though.

A View to a Kill (1985)

Having a 57 year old Bond is just not a good idea. I’m not ageist, but the fact that the character is meant to be able to do all these incredible physical things is part of the fantasy. There’s a bit in A View to a Kill where “Bond” does a simple combat roll whilst fighting off house intruders. I just thought “Nope, sorry.” and it took me out of the film for those couple of moments. Plus, they didn’t age up any of the Bond women, so it adds a real creepy vibe when Moore is snogging their faces off. I love ol’ Rog, but he should have stepped aside three films ago. Curse those Bond producers for their casting cowardice. Damn their oily hides!

“The bubbles tickle my… Tchaikovsky!” 

Upon learning that the Russians (yeah, those guys again) have exact duplicates of British microchip designs, James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to investigate the source of these chips, Max Zorin (Christopher Walken). Bond soon discovers there’s more going on as Zorin and his scary henchwoman Mayday (Grace Jones) plan to flood Silicon Valley in order to gain a monopoly in the microchip business. Along the way, Bond meets geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts) and the pair must fight to stop Zorin. The plot is a pale facsimile of Goldfinger‘s with added bullshit and nonsense. For some loopy reason it’s not bad enough that Zorin is clearly a deranged evil man, but he’s the product of steroid testing during pregnancy in World War II. He’s a super-intelligent Nazi psychopath. How Saturday morning kids’ show. Connery’s Bond would have never have stood for that sort of shit.

Moore has admitted that he himself was “too long in the tooth” to be playing Britain’s finest agent. To me, he seems to be playing the whole thing like a parody. There’s a lot more eye-rolling and knowing nudges than there have been before. Walken doesn’t really do much as Zorin. I really wanted him to get stuck in and chew the fuck out of the scenery but he didn’t. Damn shame too. Tanya Roberts is often referred to as the worst Bond girl, but she’s OK. She’s wooden as hell, but passable. The only person with anything about them is Grace Jones’ May Day. She has a real energy about her and is the only bright spot in a fucking snoozefest of a film.

Jesus this film is tortuous. It’s dull, plodding and Roger Moore only makes cameo appearances in between all the stuntmen doing cool shit. The pre-credits bit starts promisingly with Bond in Siberia, recovering a microchip from 003’s body. There’s some skiing and stuff and convenient things happen so that a snowmobile blows up near Bond. He then uses the front ski off that to snowboard away whilst “California Girls” by The Beach Boys plays. I’d somehow forgotten about this and so it was a fresh cockslap to the face when it came up. It is the lowest moment in Bond history. Yes, worse than the CGI parasailing bollocks in Die Another Day. It’s a fucking warcrime of a move. The titles aren’t much better with girls in rubbish neon paint lazily flouncing about. At least it has that kick-ass Duran Duran track which is one of the only good things about the film. The writing is awful too. Almost every interaction Bond has is some kind of clunking single-entendre.

The stunts are good, but without anything to prop them up they’re just hollow. You can’t find anything thrilling if you’re bored off your arse by everything else. There’s a ridiculous chase through Paris where Bond endangers way more lives than Zorin’s plan does, tear-arsing around in half a Citroen. The firetruck set-piece is extremely well done, but is ultimately pointless. This is Lois Maxwell’s last appearance as Moneypenny and it’s a shame this toss is her swansong. She was always incredibly endearing in the role. That bit in OHMSS with her at the wedding still chokes me slightly. Oh- and Alison Doody shows up as Jenny Flex (was there ever a more ’80s name?). I love her.

“Get Zorin for me! “

Fuck this film. It’s dull, lazy and derivative. Worst Bond ever? It’s a toss-up between this and Thunderball. I’ll get back to you on that one.

Octopussy

The 13th Bond. Unlucky for me. Hurry the fuck up, Timothy. I’m losing the will to live over here.

Octopussy (1983)

After For Your Eyes Only bored the ever-loving shit out of me, I was looking forward to watching Octopussy, a film which I rewatched a bunch of times back in the good old VHS days. As I sat down to watch it, a familiar sense of dread started growing. The sort of dread where you realise that maybe that childhood classic of yours may actually be a sticky wanksock. Growing up is a pain.

“Mr. Bond is indeed of a very rare breed… soon to be made extinct!” 

After 009 is found with a knife in his back and a Faberge egg in his hand, James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to find his killer and the connection to the valuable egg. He uncovers a smuggling operation masterminded by Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) and involving the mysterious Octopussy (Maud Adams). Somehow, the war mongering Russian General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) is also involved and Bond has to stop all three. The plot is a step up from the super simple world domination plots of previous films, with a few twists and turns. Efforts are made to keep Bond grounded, but it’s not as dry as FYEO. In fact, it seems to think those ridiculous campy sequences that were the absolute worst thing about the film were awesome and includes plenty of opportunities for absurd sight gags and Moore mugging.

I think Moore gives his best “serious” turn as 007 here. Yes, there’s plenty of smugging, but there are some great moments where he genuinely seems invested in what’s going on, rather than playing it all ironically and winking at the audience every second breath. Louis Jourdan gives a slick performance as Kamal Khan, playing his role with just the right amount of tongue in cheek needed for a Bond villain of this era. Maud Adams was one of the only good things about Man with the Golden Gun and she’s good here. She did a lot more with less last time around, but she’s still perfectly fine. I really like Berkoff’s Orlov. To me, he steals the show. When we’re first introduced to him, he’s slouched in his chair, waiting for the Russian higher-ups to finish talking before he interjects and reveals his plan to steamroll Europe with his many tank battalions. When he’s denied he acts like a petulant child. All he wanted to do was oppress and murder huge numbers of people, you big meanies. Let him at least have a go at Switzerland.

Octopussy is an overlong, bloated affair that a quick trip to the edit suite would have worked wonders on. The film spends a lot of time in India, which unfortunately means we have many moments of Bond Prince Philipping his way around (choice line: (after handing a casino employee a stack of his winnings) “That should keep you in curry for a few weeks!”) I know the film was made in the bad old days of the early ’80s, but dear Lord. There’s a bit where Bond hitches a lift with some Germans in a cramped Beetle. Naturally, the man is wearing a porkpie hat and munching the fuck out of a sausage, with the woman offering Bond various wursts and beer. They were probably wearing Lederhosen too, but we don’t get to see that. There’s just too much silliness for me here. It’s like we’ve got back to Man with the Golden Gun. During a jungle hunt scene, Bond swings on some vines and lets out a Tarzan yell. He also tells a snake to “hiss off”. This stuff makes me want to crawl inside my own skin. I hate this type of Bond.

There are some really decent serious moments, one of which,  funnily enough,  involves Bond in a clown suit, deactivating a bomb in a circus. People seem to have a problem with this, but it’s no more ridiculous than the crocodile sub thing he uses earlier in the film. I like the fact that there’s some proper tension when people understandably don’t believe him about there being a bomb. The best scene for me though is when Bond confronts Orlov. Bond actually seems pissed and Orlov delights in telling him his plan. There are some pretty harrowing bits, including the killing of likeable Bond ally Vijay (tennis player Vijay Amritaj) using a sawblade yo-yo device. The opening bit with 009 being chased through the woods by knife throwing twins Mischka and Grischka is pretty dark too.

Quick note about the title song and sequence. The titles are pretty boring, showing someone mucking about with a laser pen on nudie ladies, but I find the song particularly grating. It’s not as bad as Lulu’s effort or craggy old Madge’s techno nightmare, but it’s just blah. What the hell does “We’re an all time high” mean anyway? I can understand being AT at an all time high, but being one? You’ve lost me. Mind you, I suppose striking “like Thunderball” didn’t make much sense either. The action is a mixed bag. There’s a big final sequence where a building is stormed by circus performers that is exactly as lame as it sounds. However, points must be awarded for having a train fight ON TOP of the train rather than in a cramped compartment. The final set-piece of Bond clinging on for dear life onto Khan’s plane and his subsequent scrap with the hulking Gobinda is well handled and is a decent third act climax.

“Do you think you can help me? Someone seems to have stuck a knife in my wallet. 
Oh, and missed you, did they? What a pity!”

Octopussy isn’t as good as I remember. There are some nice subtleties to it, but most of the time it’s being all slapstick. It’s easy to see why this along with For Your Eyes Only and the upcoming A View to a Kill are the most forgotten Bond adventures. It’s better than For Your Eyes Only and certainly a lot more entertaining, but just isn’t anywhere near the high mark set by The Spy Who Loved Me.

 

For Your Eyes Only

I must admit, I’m kind of getting sick of Roger Moore now. Maybe it’s the concentrated dose of 6 Moore films in as many days, but I’m getting anxious for Dalton to step up.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

 

This is just a theory, but I think the Bond people knew they sold out with Moonraker. Depressingly, it’s one of the highest-grossing Bond films, but I think the dramatic tonal shift from that film to this one alludes to an unhappiness with the wacky cartoon version of 007. FYEO couldn’t be more different from Moonraker. It was actually meant to be a reboot in the vein of OHMSS, complete with a new Bond, but they struggled to get up the guts to cast anyone new and so Roger Moore picked up the slack.

“Think twice 007. It’s a long way down!”

A British spy ship is sunk with an ATAC machine, a device used to control the country’s Polaris missiles, going down with it. James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to retrieve the ATAC before it falls into the wrong hands. The film goes for a much more stripped-down, gadget-free feel for Bond than previously seen. It aims to be gritty and realistic and succeeds for the most part. It’s just a shame that it’s boring. Yeah there are action bits and the like, but the pace is just too slow. I can appreciate this approach to Bonding, but the execution is piss poor.

Moore is really starting to look his age at this point which makes all the awesome physical feats like skiing like a boss or climbing a mountain that much more unbelievable. He’s still OK and he doesn’t give a bad performance, it’s just that the filmmakers have forgotten how to utilise him properly. Carol Bouquet makes an interesting Bond girl. She’s a bit wooden, but what the hell. Melina has a decent revenge angle to her that they don’t make the most of. She’s not a highly-trained agent unlike Dr. Gertie Gobbler was meant to be in Moonraker, but she’s capable and extremely deadly with a crossbow. I wanted her to at least have a revenge arc, but was denied.  Julian Glover is fine as the boring Kristatos and Michael Gothard (teehee, mine is an immature laugh) is effective as the man of few words, Locque.

FYEO‘s main problem is tone. The film starts with an insanely campy and embarrassing sequence where Blofeld (unnamed as such due to wanky legal reasons) remote-controls a helicopter, leaving Bond at his mercy. It starts off nicely enough with Bond visiting Tracy’s grave, but then it just goes loony. Bond kills Blofeld by regaining control of the chopper, spearing Blofeld’s chair on the struts. Blofeld starts pleading with Bond, even offering to buy him a stainless steel delicatessen (what the actual fuck?) before Bond drops him down a chimney stack. It’s all so badly done and completely at odds with the rest of the film. The ending sequence is very odd too. It’s a “comedy” bit where Bond and Melina nip off for a midnight swim and a shag and Margaret Thatcher personally phones him to congratulate him, but ends up unwittingly speaking to a parrot. Jesus. It’s like two films have been spliced together. The film really doesn’t know what to do with Moore. This time round there’s some brutal action and a bit where Bond kills Locque in cold blood. It just doesn’t fit. In my amazing Live and Let Die review, I said that OHMSS showed us the pitfalls of not playing to the lead actor’s talents and it’s evident here. My guess is that the script was already written with a view to introduce a new Bond. When they couldn’t find anyone suitable they hurriedly added “hi-larious” bits in to appeal to Moore fans.

As usual, the stunts are the best bit. There’s a very well done and tense climbing sequence in the third act that the film fails to build on. The winter sports are fun an’ stuff too. There’s an underwater sequence which doesn’t suck where Bond and Melina face off against a guy in a huge diving suit with nasty pincers. The stand-out bit is the keel-hauling set piece which is pretty damn brutal. The bits without action are just dull. The terrible theme song and title sequence don’t help at all. Sheena Easton actually appears in the titles, warbling her shit song at the audience. The in-film music isn’t much better with Bill Conti giving the soundtrack all kinds of terrible ’80s things like wailing electric guitar versions of the Bond theme and pulling crap like this. The absence of John Barry is felt heavily.

“Now put your clothes back on and I’ll buy you an ice cream.”

For Your Eyes Only is a completely forgettable entry to the Bond series. I know something’s off about any film when I’m not looking forward to writing about it. Bad or good, I can’t wait to put fingers to keyboard. Here, I just couldn’t be bothered. I can see what they were trying to do and it may have suited a new Bond. Having said that, I’m not sure even the greatest actor in the world could have breathed some life into this borefest.

Moonraker

By a stroke of coincidence, it’s Global James Bond Day today. Happy Bond Day everyone! What better way to celebrate than taking a look at one of the worst ever Bond films?

Moonraker (1979)

Eagle-eyed viewers of The Spy Who Loved Me will have noticed that the end credits promised that James Bond would return in For Your Eyes Only. They’ll also have noticed that the next film wasn’t called For Your Eyes Only, the geniuses that they are. Y’see something happened in 1977 that hit bigger than anyone was expecting and made sci-fi the cool new thing. That’s right- Czechoslovakian comedy science-fiction classic Což takhle dát si špenát (A Nice Plate of Spinach) changed the cinematic landscape as we know it. Unfortunately, that was too awesome to have happened and what actually happened was motherflippin’ Star Wars. Based on this newfound spacemania, the producers decided to take the title of the only space-sounding Fleming book and knock together an intergalactic 007 adventure.

“James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.”

When the space shuttle Moonraker is hijacked ,the British government send James Bond (Roger Moore) to investigate, starting with the ludicrously wealthy man in charge of the shuttle’s construction, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale). Bond eventually recruits the help of undercover CIA agent Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) to take the madman down, leading them to blast off into space to stop Drax’s plan to destroy all human life on the planet and replace it with his own master race. Also fan-favourite henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) makes a reappearance. Moonraker is one of the sillier Bond films, tonally linked with the shitbox that was Diamonds Are Forever. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Bond ending up in space (although the notion does heavily tax my willing suspension of disbelief) but they way they go about it here is insane. Ignoring Jaws surviving a freefall without a parachute in the pre-credits sequence, the film is perfectly fine until about 40 minutes in when the wheels fall off and the film starts bibbling its lips and slapping its bum. It’s just all too slapstick for my taste.

Moore is back in Man with the Golden Gun mode, smarming his way around from scene to scene. I like Lois Chiles’s Dr. Goodhead (and you thought the name “Pussy Galore” was bad.) but she’s not particularly interesting. For someone who is a CIA agent, Sally Suckjob seems pretty useless- a phenomenon not just particular to this Bond film. Women, no matter how well trained, turn into typical gal pals when 007’s around. Character of the film by far is Lonsdale’s Hugo Drax. Drax is a lot better written than most villains and consistently delivers better one-liners than 007, my favourite being “Mr. Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.” This ended up being Bernard Lee’s last appearance as M and I haven’t talked about him much so far in these reviews. I always liked Lee’s gruff schoolmaster take on MI6’s chief. He’s tough but fair. Plus, the man had great comic timing and played a great foil to 007’s antics.

That 40 minute mark I mentioned earlier may seem oddly specific to you. Well, up until that point it’s all pretty good. Bond encounters Drax, seduces his pilot, Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry) and talks her into giving up the location of Drax’s safe. There’s a surprisingly harrowing bit where Drax learns of Corinne’s treachery and sets his highly trained dogs on her, leading to a stylish but unnerving sequence where she runs for her life through the woods before getting merked by Drax’s pooches. Bond ends up in Venice and here’s where the problems start. There’s the infamous “Bondola” bit where Bond’s gondola turns into a hovercraft and he drives across St. Mark’s Square, complete with baffled onlookers, waiters distractedly pouring drinks on customers and FUCKING DOUBLE-TAKING FUCKING PIGEONS. It’s unbelievably cringeworthy. The power of the English language can only get me so far in describing this bit. Just fucking watch it and feel my pain.

The film also turns Jaws into a walking punchline, even getting himself a tiny girlfriend (when they first meet the film plays this music, which gives you an idea how cartoonish it all is.) In fact, the film has a strange preoccupation with using famous pieces of music. Granted, The Spy Who Loved Me used the Lawrence of Arabia theme, but Moonraker uses the above Tchaikovsky piece (ugh), the 5 note motif from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (actually I kinda like that one) and the theme from The Magnificent Seven. I always find it strange when Bond films use “outside” music. I like to think of them as a world unto themselves and find that famous songs never quite fit into the Bond universe. A good example of this is the appearance of The Clash’s “London Calling” in Die Another Day. Talking of music, Shirley Bassey’s “Moonraker” is so fucking dreary and forgettable it matches the equally rubbish title sequence perfectly.

Frustratingly, there are good elements here, they’re just overpowered by campy slapstick and nonsense. Ken Adam’s sets are still amazing (I will never stop praising Ken Adam), some of the stunts are top-notch, such as a bit where Bond is hanging off a cable car suspended 1000 foot in the air (the stuntman did this truly death-defying stunt without a safety harness) and as I said, damn near half the film works. This next bit may sound great to you, but in practice it is really awful, but the space laser battle between two astronaut armies is like the underwater battle in Thunderball but with 1000% more lasers and cheesy “pew-pew” sound effects.

“At least I shall have the pleasure of putting you out of my misery.”

Apart from just being shit, I think the reason for Moonraker being so rubbish is the fact it was the first pandering Bond film. Space was popular, so they did it. Kid fans wanted Jaws to be a “goodie” so they did it. They ramped up the comedy because it’s the biggest crowd pleaser and audiences wouldn’t know what makes a good Bond film if it came up to them in a hovercraft gondola. In its favour, it’s not tedious like Thunderball or consistently shite like Diamonds Are Forever. It’s patchy, going from promising scenes one minute to ludicrous flights of fancy the next. Still, what do you expect from a film that credits “outer space” as a filming location?

The Spy Who Loved Me

Hooray! I get to review a good one!

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

With the rushed-as-fuck Man with the Golden Gun not setting the world on fire like it was intended, not to mention the final product being about as fun as a dose of of food poisoning at a loved one’s funeral, the Bond producers decided to go back to the last legitimately decent Bond film, You Only Live Twice, for inspiration. They brought back both director Lewis Gilbert and production designer Ken Adam to ensure a YOLT vibe.

“Observe, Mr. Bond, the instruments of Armageddon.”

James Bond (Roger Moore) is assigned to find a missing submarine which mysteriously vanished along with its spicy cargo of sixteen nuclear warheads. Whilst on the mission, Bond keeps running into his Russian opposite number, Agent Triple X, Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach). The pair find out all this missing sub business may have to do with the obscenely wealthy Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens). The race is on to stop the mad bastard, but their progress is impeded by Stromberg’s henchman, the 7’2 metal-mouthed Jaws (Richard Kiel). When I said “inspiration” in the above paragraph, I meant “the main story and action beats” The plot is 90% You Only Live Twice and about 10% Bioshock (obviously they didn’t rip the ‘Shock off, but when I hear “underwater city” I immediately think of Rapture.) Stromberg’s master plan almost a carbon copy of Blofeld’s scheme. There’s a big vessel that opens to snatch up foreign craft, the bastard behind it all wants to kickstart the Cold War and there’s a big ending where hundreds of extras storm an incredible Ken Adam creation. However, unless you’re a hopeless dork on some sort of retarded quest to watch and critique a Bond a day, you’re probably not going to notice the similarities between the two films or even give two shits either way.

I feel this is the film where Roger Moore really got comfortable in the Bond role. The incessant one-liners are still there, but he actually drops the smarm occasionally and plays it straight. He manages to find a good balance. If you’ve been a Bond fan as long as I have, you’ll have notice that in every promo interview for a new Bond flick they will describe the female lead as “a Bond equal”, which normally turns out to be a huge cart of horseshit. However, Barbara Bach’s Triple X could justifiably be called just that. I really like the character of Anya. Bach plays her very well. She’s more complex Bond squeeze, reminding me a bit of Tracy from OHMSS. Curt Jurgens is pretty good as Stromberg, but there’s not much required from the role than to have a foreign accent and just “be bad”, which he does admirably. I’d have liked to have known more about his plan for an underwater city though as he just mentions it in passing. Whilst he is ridiculous, I like Richard Kiel as Jaws. He’s a cartoony, seemingly immortal bad guy but he’s instantly iconic. I don’t even mind the little humourous bits they do with him. It’s all part of the ride.

From the opening scene this is quality Bond. The super famous ski-jump resulting in a Union Jack parachute still brings a goofy smile to my face. Every time I see it. the wait between the freefall and him pulling the ripcord seems to get a little longer. Perhaps I’ll sit down in 20 years to watch it and Bond will unceremoniously imprint himself at 60mph onto the unforgiving snowy rocks below. The title sequence is one of the best.  Naked silhouettes, trampolining secret agents and Luger gymnastics all scored by Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” add up to possibly my favourite Maurice Binder intro. I think the characters are a lot more fleshed out in this film than in previous films. There are nice little dramatic interplays that just make the characters that much more interesting. For example, in the opening skiing sequence, Bond kills one of his pursuers. Instead of being a faceless, nameless goon, it turns out that he was Anya’s boyfriend. She swears to get revenge on his killer only to find out later it’s Bond, causing a massive rift between the two. There’s also the first post OHMSS mention of Tracy’s death, mentioned by Anya where she rather insensitively lists 007’s career including his personal life. Bond interrupts her and she says “You’re sensitive, Mr. Bond?” to which he abruptly replies “About some things.” It’s a great little character moment.

So, what else is there? There’s the awesome submersible Lotus Esprit. There’s a sequence between the car and a helicopter that is way better than I remember it being. There’s the huge final act where Bond and an American naval crew get tooled up and wreck the shit out of Stromberg’s submarine swallowing tanker. Once again, Ken Adam proves he’s the master when it comes to seriously impressive sets. There’s a nice tongue-in-cheek Q Labs sequence full of wacky gadgets and plenty of opportunities for Desmond Llewelyn to get all exasperated and grouchy. The stuff in Egypt is pretty fun and we get a glimpse of a darker side to Moore’s Bond in a rooftop fight he has with henchmen Sandor. The fight itself is pretty weak, but it culminates in Sandor teetering over the rooftop edge holding on to Bond’s tie for support. Bond interrogates him and once he has his answer knocks Sandor’s hand away leaving him to fall to his death. I like Bond being a cold bastard sometimes.

I suppose if you had to criticise The Spy Who Loved Me, it would be on its unoriginality. Stromberg’s aquatic base with marine life viewable from the windows is straight from Dr. No as is his reluctance to shake hands. The shark killings are from Thunderball, but are also reminiscent of the piranha deaths from You Only Live Twice. There’s also yet another fucking train fight. Still, in a series that breeds deja vu, it can hardly be pulled up on just that. If you haven’t twigged by now, each Bond film has been a search for a formula that works. Previous Bonds had been trying to ape Goldfinger ever since it came out. To me at least, it really doesn’t matter.

“Hmm, maybe I misjudged Stromberg. Any man who drinks Dom Perignon ’52 can’t be all bad.”

So yeah. I effin’ love The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s undoubtably Moore’s best Bond and easily in my list of favourite Bond movies ever. When people talk about classic Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me comes to my mind straight away. It’s a cracking Bond picture. Simple as that.

 
P.S. It also inspired this amazing bit from I’m Alan Partridge. What’s not to love?