Alright, so contrary to the silly, goofy movie this poster seems to be advertising, this one’s pretty good, especially coming after Moonraker.
It’s clear that director John Glen was told to pull things back on track and get the series back to its roots. In fact, many elements of this movie feel like they were borrowed from Connery’s early films and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The result is a grittier Bond film than we’ve seen in a long while, one in which Bond actually gets to be a spy again.
In this outing, James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to retrieve a lost ATAC machine (like Russia‘s Lektor, but smaller) which can do bad things if it falls into enemy hands. Something about missiles and whatever. I dunno. It’s a MacGuffin. Let’s leave it at that. Anyways, the device was on a secret British spy ship and the ship sank after “accidentally” bumping into an old sea mine (d’oh!). And so it’s a race to get the device. Several sides want it and it’s up to Bond to get to it first. Along the way, he crosses paths with the beautiful but deadly Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), who is seeking revenge for the murder of her parents (who were working with the British government to recover the ATAC), and the charming smuggler rogue Milos Columbo (Topol), who has a grudge with a rival smuggler, Kristatos (Julian Glover). Unsure who to trust, Bond must navigate the intrigue and avoid getting killed in the crossfire.
It’s like the script writers took From Russia with Love, Thunderball, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and blended it all together to get this one, injecting some trademark Moore-era playfulness when needed. The end result isn’t a perfect movie, but it is a MUCH better movie than Moonraker. It does tend to drag at times, and the plot can be a bit convoluted, but it features some terrific acting, gorgeous location shots, and some genuinely fun action sequences. And, of course, Moore is fantastic now that he’s found a more mature, reserved center to the character.
Melina is a really interesting character, but I wish she was developed a bit more so as to deepen the chemistry between her and Bond. She proves herself quite capable at the revenge thing, taking out several baddies with her kick-ass crossbow, unfortunately, the revenge angst is really all we get. She’s so steely and resolute that it’s tricky to get into her head and get to know her. I suppose that was intentional, but Carole Bouquet is a wonderful actress–it would have been nice to see more of who Melina is. I’m especially curious, for example, why such a serious and focused assassin as she drives a cute little yellow Bug.
I also LOVE Topol’s character in this. Columbo is sort of like what Han Solo would be if he’d never joined the Rebel Alliance (and had been Greek). He’s charming, untrustworthy, yet fiercely loyal. He really imbues the rivalry between him and Kristatos with as much implied depth as he can. That man can say more with a crooked smile and a half raised eyebrow than anyone else in this movie. Also, I promise that my love for his character has nothing to do with my all-encompassing love of Fiddler on the Roof…well, maybe a little…
The action sequences are really wonderful, even when they start to venture into goofball territory. The ski chase, which starts on a forested hill and goes off a ski jump and into a bobsled track, is fast and fun, a good nod to Secret Service. I also love the mountain climbing sequence near the end. The tension is genuine and the breathtaking landscape serves to really ramp up the drama.
I get the feeling that the director put all of his efforts into making the action sequences work (and work they do), but then left the connective tissue in a sort of blurry, unfocused state, ignoring a lot of good character development. That’s probably why this is a fun movie to watch, but not a very memorable one, which is sad because it features some great actors who could have really done a lot with their characters.
But fantastic as a large portion of this movie is, there are some things that just don’t work.
I could have done without the pre-credits sequence, for example, in which Bond takes out Ernst Stavro Blofeld once and for all. It feels like it’s not even a part of this movie. Blofeld was Connery’s villain, and it seems cheap for Moore to get to dispose of him, though I suppose the writers were looking to resolve the Revenge-For-Tracy-Bond’s-Death plot once and for all. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Anya was able to get under Bond’s skin by bringing up Tracy’s murder, so it makes sense that they’d want to give Bond closure in that area. Also, the studio probably wanted to get Blofeld out of the picture for good since they’d been involved in a loooong legal dispute regarding who had the rights to the character. But still, it just seems a bit empty and meaningless in the context of this film, especially since he later stops Melina from having her revenge against her parents’ killers. Why should she take the high road when Bond delighted in dropping Blofeld down a giant brick chimney?
Blofeld’s cat did survive to fight another day, I should add.
I also must point out that the music is not great. The title song is ok, though I question having Sheena Easton actually singing on screen throughout the opening credits. Having her there suggests that she has some part to play in the story, especially since she’s often singing directly to the audience, but it just seems awkward. Easton looks very lovely and has a nice voice, but visually, it doesn’t work very well. Also, the score by Bill Conti is a bit absurd. It’s very dated, and not in the fun retro way that Marvin Hamlisch’s 70’s disco-flavored score for The Spy Who Loved Me was. The early 80’s disco and synthesized dance music does not jive with the orchestral parts of the score which are often very atonal and odd. It feels like a clunky collage that fails to really come together in any pleasing way.
I also despise the character of Bibi. She serves no purpose except to be annoying. I don’t loathe her as much as I do Goodnight from The Man With the Golden Gun because she’s a stronger personality, but her singsong voice and desperate attempt to seduce Bond just makes me cringe every time she’s on screen. It’s nice that she stands up to people and knows what she wants, but I agree wholeheartedly with Bond who tells her never to grow up because “the opposite sex would never survive” her.
Despite these missteps, the movie as a whole is a nice return to the basics for Bond. It did well at the box office and quite possibly saved the franchise from spiraling into a series of tawdry B movie adventures in the vein of Moonraker. And so, for that, we should be grateful.
– I have no idea why Blofeld promised to buy Bond a delicatessen just before he fell down that hole…
-the identigraph is completely impractical, though “I said nose, not a banana, Q” always makes me chuckle.
-Bond gets to play Baccarat again!
-The dueling subs scene is glorious.
-I love the sequence where Bond and Melina are dragged behind Kristatos’ boat. It’s very much something one would have seen in a Connery-era Bond film.
-Kristatos’ mountain monastery hideout is fantastic and I want one. Those are pretty cheap, right?
-The ending with Margaret Thatcher talking to a parrot while standing in her kitchen making dinner is pretty cringe-y.
Next week, we reach Roger Moore’s penultimate outing as James Bond, Octopussy!