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