Saga Review: James Bond (No.8 – No.14)

That’s right, with Skyfall releasing later this year I am opting to give you my thoughts on all of the Bond films! There’s twenty-two films, and when I started this challenge there were twenty-two weeks before Skyfall, sounds good to me!
I grew up in the six year drought of Bond films, between the Dalton and Brosnen Eras, so my definition of Bond is Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights and License to Kill, while Goldeneye is one of my top favourites. It took me a little while to watch all of the other James Bond films, but they were regularly shown on television, and while the Brosnen films quickly worsened I would never grow to like the Roger Moore era. At least not yet.

Because there are twenty-two films I am breaking my reviews down into eras as best I can.

Today’s post is one of torment, a torturous month and a half of hammed up comedy and glaringly bad storytelling. There is little salvation for me here, people have said I am a fool for doing this, but I will endure… I will.

So let’s see what nonsense we are mercilessly subjected to, the dimwitted Texas Sheriffs, the hovercraft gondolas, the brainless bimbos and of course… the skiing.

Live and Let Die (1973)

The first instalment of the Roger Moore era is actually one of my favourites (you have to like the poster with the tarot card theme) despite my general dislike of the other Moore films.

Bond is back with a confident new face as he tracks down a heroin merchant who relies on voodoo witchcraft and fortune telling mysticism. Can Bond survive on his wits alone when surrounded by enemies? By now we know the answer to that!

It is an unusual turn for the Bond character; the film starts out awkwardly and clustered with multiple locations and scenes, while Bond himself seems a little too oblivious to being followed and walking into traps. I found myself wondering how he got to be a secret agent!

But then the bad guys are numerous, they all have gadgets and spy equipment, and last but not least, a seer of the future! I think I enjoy Live and Let Die because of its unique themes and villains; Solitaire is a good Bond Girl, Baron Samedi is visually striking and unforgettable, and there’s a big guy with a metal claw! But despite all of this, it goes along at a reasonable pace (it doesn’t blaze along like Diamonds for example) the villains are composed and devious.

There are some detour chase sequences, and while they are fun, the airplane chase felt unnecessary and the boat chase was extended with a weird local Sherriff joining in. I think I understood the gag of having local police finally questioning Bond tearing stuff up, but it didn’t work so well in this instance; you could have edited him out, shortened the chase, and it would have been just as good.
But despite these criticisms, I enjoy this one. The themes used, the villains, it feels packed. Not to mention a great theme song.

It is a shame Moore’s initial success didn’t last though…

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Well it continues to surprise me how quickly the Moore films become campy holocausts, but here we are. The Man with the Golden Gun isn’t so much bad as it is disappointing.

James Bond is taken off assignment when a hit is placed on him by a sharp-shooter assassin known as Scaramanga. The undeterred Bond decides beat him to it, and track down the “Man with the Golden Gun” first.

It is Bond versus Dracula now; Christopher Lee plays an excellent part as Scaramanga, memorable with calculating ambition, and a desire to kill Bond simply because it would be good sport. The story is simple and has great potential; I was almost convinced early on that this Moore film would be another surprise.

That is until Mary Goodnight appears… A Bond girl who is as stupid as a Crystal Maze contestant (obscure 1990s British television joke, I couldn’t resist) and quite possibly the STUPIDEST agent of the MI6 ever. How she is a “Secret Agent” is beyond me… activating the doomsday laser cannon with her butt? Just makes me want to claw my eyes out.
Plus, there is a return of the Texas Sherriff “J.W. Pepper” from Live and Let Die because… he was such a hoot right? Ugh.
Plus, how exactly does one decide not to kill Bond, and instead put him into a karate school and be pampered by three Chinese girls where he can easily be rescued?

Overall, so much potential squandered here, making it pretty bland and forgettable – especially after Live and Let Die. Oh, and it has Bond fighting a midget too… really?


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

I’m impressed; this is a Moore Bond film that is trying to be more mature! Mostly.

The film opens with perhaps one of the most famous scenes, where Bond skis off a mountain only to open a parachute with the Union Jack flag over it. So begins a story about the United Kingdom rescuing both America and Russia from a criminal mastermind, so very fantastic. Bond must defend himself against a towering mercenary with steel plated teeth, side with Russian secret agent Triple X and stop a man’s plan to capture nuclear submarines.

Compared to the Texas sheriffs, midget fights and brainless bimbos, this film actually becomes quite severe, the plot reminds me of the lacklustre You Only Live Twice, with Blofeld’s abduction of space craft and a final siege on an enemy’s stronghold. Even our Bond girl, Agent Triple X (not to be confused with Vin Diesel…) aka Anya Amasova, is good although her initial hatred for Bond and reluctance of working with him seems to vanish rather easily.

I’d probably say that Jaws himself was the most peculiar element here… but he certainly is monstrous and is the template for future titanic bond henchmen in the future. I also find it a little ironic that Bond’s car turns into a submarine when the villain’s schemes revolve around a new piece of technology that specifically detects submarines.

It also has silly, silly late-70s music. Oh dear god, if only this film had better music accompanying the traditional themes, it might have been nearly perfect. The given effect sounds like someone poking a cat made of jelly, awful!

I was happy to see the campy Roger Moore-ness dialled down a little here though, keeping the humour down to occasion and one-liners. It has a more refined feel, making it one of the more iconic Bond films. Who’d have thought!?

Moonraker (1979)

Bond goes boldly where no Bond has gone before… and hopefully never will again.

When a special American space shuttle goes missing on its way to Britain, it is up to James Bond to track it down. He quickly discovers that the shuttles creator, Drax, has disastrous plans of a global scale.

You know… I hate this film? James Bond has had a lot of ups and downs so far, but Moonraker has to be crowning jewel of utter shame to the franchise. From the word go, there is little to be excited about, the opening scene shows a return of Jaws… why? No particular reason, he just appears, because the fans loved him, and so that Moonraker can ruin his monstrousness with campy stupidity later on.

What kills this film – to my shock – is not the utterly laughable spacesuit laser battle in Earth’s orbit, oh no, a string of contrived plot conveniences kills it before that finale. The entire middle hour of this film is redundant with random fight/chase scenes; we have Bond visiting every corner of the Earth for forgettable reasons, including Venice. While there he rides a gondola (doesn’t everyone?) only for a funeral gondola to pass by nonchalantly… oh snap! There’s a knife-throwing assassin in the coffin! What? No reason. The assassin kills the gondolier first (?) and Bond activates not only a motor, but a full blown hovercraft device!
I… I’m sorry, this was a regular gondola, yes? I knew there was a stupid space battle later, but this just blew my mind. They even loop the footage to make a pigeon (A PIGEON!) do a double-take at the… hover-gondola.
I try not to go on tangents like this, but sometimes it is necessary when the shark is jumped so completely like this!

Moonraker is a spoof, a parody of James Bond. Knife-throwing-coffin-gondola-assassins, double-take Pigeons, Jaws-and-girlfriend, Close Encounters of the Third Kind music cues, James Bond dressed as if in a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western only to be shown laser guns by Q… The list of awfulness goes on, and on, and on.

I was so bored, and made stupider, watching this. Even Drax’s plan felt redundant in its over-the-topness; there’s no chance it could be allowed to succeed. The setup was garbage too; Bond is called in because Drax stole one of his own shuttles?? I know Blofeld was stupid… but this is taking the cake. Just ask for it back, you moron!

Moonraker is utterly pointless, and bereft of any substance.

Additional Marshmallows: “Moonraker is a special space shuttle as it can launch by rocket and land like a conventional aircraft.”… Uhm, couldn’t all space shuttles do that?

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Some furious back-pedalling from the ghastly “comedy” of Moonraker does little to disguise this film’s lacking conviction.

James Bond is called in when a ship sinks while carrying the A.T.A.C device, a communications computer that can order all the British submarines to fire ballistic missiles. Bond is joined by a woman seeking revenge after the deaths of her parents, and they both begin a perilous mission to find the device before the Russians.

You know I had to go back to the beginning of the film to remind myself why the A.T.A.C was important and what it did? That’s how seemingly irrelevant it becomes twenty minutes into the film. We get a half-baked revenge plot for the very capable Bond Girl Melina, and while the film even began with a throw-away (pun intended) end to Blofeld and even Bond visiting his wife’s grave, it does not capitalise on this relationship synergy between Bond and Melina. The plot feels garbled and extended beyond its scope, making you wonder “Why didn’t they just do that?” whenever scenic detours take place.

So what is there? For a Roger Moore film it has some great stunt work, and some decent underwater sequences that don’t feel overused or slow, an effective car chase down a winding hillside and a great Bond Girl.

I do feel there’s some Bond clichés settling in now… I already stated in my On Her Majesty’s Secret Service review how it felt like Bond at the Winter Olympics, well here they brazenly have scenes taking place at the Winter Olympic stadiums! Yep, ice skating, bobsleigh, ski jump, etc. They really do love their winter sports… but it is starting to get old now. That entire segment of the film felt completely unnecessary, and did I see Bond get attacked by evil ice hockey players, really?

It could have been an hour long, let alone two; it is pretty forgettable…

Octopussy (1983)

Octopussy. That is all.

Seriously, I’m getting really tired of the Moore era now. How such over-the-top nonsense be so forgettable, formulaic and dull is beyond me, I couldn’t even figure this film’s plot (yes, even worse than with the last outing For Your Eyes Only!)

So, a secret agent is killed and a precious Faberge Egg is stolen, leading Bond to a mysterious smuggler known only as Octopussy. Meanwhile, on a complete tangent, a transparently evil Russian General plans to use this smuggler’s actions as a cover for a nuclear strike against NATO.

Apparently, and I just don’t care anymore.

This film is more of an adventure film than a spy film; physical stunts are thrown around left-right-and-centre (suppose I should be grateful there’s no skiing this time!) There is a singular fun moment where Bond is trying to outbid the villains for the Faberge Egg at auction early on, which got a chuckle.

But this rest is so much irrelevance and I guarantee you I won’t remember any of it tomorrow. The puns are out in force, especially during a car chase in the first act, my god it is Batman and Robin standards of puns-per-second (pps) there. We see Bond in an alligator suit… a monkey suit and a clown suit. Oh ho ho, so hilarious. We even get Q flying a Union Jack hot air balloon over the villain’s hideout, because you know… SUBTLE. Good way for the MI6 inventor to get shot in the face! Why? Oh, just so Bond can say “You’re full of hot air” to Q… which doesn’t even make sense.

Moonraker is just awful in many ways, but Octopussy is surely the campiest and shoddiest entry so far, the series is parodying itself now (if it wasn’t already). Easily the worst villain ever written, I mean Drax was an idiot, but General Orlov has no purpose other than he’s EVIL.

People have said this is very Indiana Jones style (oh yeah, he swings on jungle vines with a Tarzan roar too…) and one wonders if, two years after Raiders of the Lost Ark, if Octopussy took some of the Indiana fight scenarios?

I… I want this Moore series to stop, but it is unending! Why did people want more of this tripe? I know it will get better, that I am nearly out of it, but my god it is torturous.

Additional Marshmallows: Maud Adams, who plays Octopussy, is a returning actress who also featured in Man with the Golden Gun (and later uncredited in A View to a Kill)

A View to a Kill (1985)

Usually a final outing for a Bond star is a shallow, flailing mess, but amazingly Moore’s last entry proves to be his best!

When a new microchip is manufactured to survive the EMP blast from a nuclear explosion, MI6 discover the Russians have made an exact copy with help from Max Zorin, head of Zorin Industries. Upon investigation, Bond discovers Zorin is a lot more than he appears.

So the film starts with…. skiing.

For GOODNESS SAKE! STOP WITH THE SKIING! It’s not as long-winded as previous sequences, its conclusion is hammed up, but it leads into the excellent 1980s sound of the “A View to a Kill” theme.

The film benefits from strong villains and a strong storyline. Christopher Walken is a great choice for the snide, plotting but psychotic Max Zorin, finally giving this Bond an intelligent and extremely ruthless opponent. There are some nasty executions in this film. Meanwhile Grace Jones turns the tables on the Bond Girl image, playing a great femme fatale role.
There are even some really intense moments, specifically Bond trapped in a burning elevator shaft, and the total lack of comedy and gormless bystanders in these moments is remarkable!

So what’s wrong with it? Well despite distancing itself, there are still Moore-ish moments. The other Bond Girls are pretty unbearable, specifically Tanya Roberts as Stacey, I’m pretty sure her only purpose was to make sure the film ended in stereotypical Moore fashion: “Oh James!”
The villains also have their stupid moments; they could easily kill off Bond, but don’t. However, watch as many Bond as I have now… and these arguments are virtually invalid!

Honestly, with some script tweaks, I’d have loved to see Timothy Dalton start his Bond career on this film, but as it stands (weirdly) it is one of my favourites, despite some flaws.

Additional Marshmallows: This isn’t only Moore’s last film, but also Lois Maxwell’s, the original Miss Moneypenny. There was a thought she would later play the new M character, only for the producer Albert Brocolli to turn it down. He didn’t think audiences would want Bond taking orders from a woman…. How times change.

You have no idea how happy I am to be out of this Bond era. Okay, I know there are other bad ones to come, one in particular I dread as much as Moonraker… but at least it won’t be as consistent!

I don’t know what possessed everyone to like the Roger Moore films, because obviously the comedy angle worked… but looking back at it most of his films are simple parody! As if they had decided “we can’t be as good as the Connery years, so let’s not even try!”

While Live and Let Die and A View to a Kill are actually really good and memorable, they don’t excuse five other forgettable and often hideous films!

Luckily, I have my generation of Bond coming up next! Timothy Dalton was the first Bond I ever knew, and it pains me to reminisce how he only got two films… Oh well!

Next time it is The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill!  Awesome!

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