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James Bond Redux, part III.

…continuing my capsule reviews of the James Bond films, in order of release. (Parts One and Two.)

:: Live and Let Die. This is the only James Bond film that I really, genuinely dislike. There are some good things in it — Jane Seymour is stunning and she does fairly well at portraying her character’s inner conflict (ludicrous as that conflict may be), and Yaphet Kotto is a decent villain. Roger Moore does fairly well in his initial outing as Bond, despite the worst script ever written for a Bond film. I did write a more detailed review of this film a few months ago and see no need to rehash it. (The Gadgets: Adding to the list of ways in which this film falters, Q does not appear at all. Instead, M briefs Bond on how to use a wristwatch that is a buzz-saw and an incredibly powerful magnet. I actually like this gadget, and to the film’s credit Bond puts it to good use later on. There is also a weird gun that shoots bullets that are filled with compressed air or something like that.)

:: The Man With the Golden Gun. Better than Live and Let Die, it has some good parts as well as some parts that are truly awful. Roger Moore brings a certain intensity to his portrayal — witness the scene where he interrogates Miss Anders as to Scaramanga’s whereabouts), so the typical accusation of Moore as playing Bond for laughs doesn’t hold up. I also wrote about this one in more detail a while back. (The Gadgets: The best gadget in the film is actually Scaramanga’s golden gun, which he puts together out of a pen and a cigarette lighter. Come to think of it, that’s probably the film’s only gadget. Q appears to provide analysis rather than equip Bond with nifty items.)

:: The Spy Who Loved Me. This one is generally held in higher regard than I would prefer; I find it a mixed bag. The plot is a rehash of You Only Live Twice, with American and Soviet submarines getting highjacked as opposed to space capsules. There are some good action sequences, especially a high-speed chase on the mountain roads of Corsica. Barbara Bach plays Major Amasova well, and the “Bond teamed with his Russian counterpart” angle is fun, although the bit where Bond turns out to have killed her lover (also a Russian agent, who had been trying to kill Bond in the film’s teaser sequence) does not so much lend tension as seem contrived. And if Anya is such a good agent, why does the film just turn her into yet another trapped damsel at the end, when the villain escapes with her only to do no more than tie her to an ugly plastic chair? And speaking of the villain, Stromberg is curiously unmenacing. Maybe he just doesn’t have enough screentime to develop a persona of evil; he’s simply not sharply drawn at all. He is obsessed with the sea, and in one shot we can see that he has webbing between his fingers, but nothing much comes of this aspect of his character. (He also displays the same bizarre habit that Goldfinger had of killing people in highly expensive ways when there were much simpler ways to do the job. He drops a secretary who betrayed him into a shark pool — very easy — but then he allows two scientists who worked for him to fly off in a helicopter, which he then blows up by remote control. Why destroy a perfectly good helicopter? Why [presumably] kill a pilot? Why not just dump the scientists into the shark pool as well?) This is also the film that gave us the dentally-enhanced henchman Jaws, who is mostly played for laughs. The fight aboard Stromberg’s supertanker goes on far too long. The film’s teaser sequence features an ineptly-photographed ski chase, and the music — some disco garbage by Marvin Hamlisch — is distracting and ugly. The Spy Who Loved Me has some good parts, but I generally find it a disappointment. (The Gadgets: A bunch of them. Bond has a wristwatch that scrolls of a tickertape message from M; he uses his cigarette case to screen some microfilm; he has a Jet-ski — this was when Jet-skis were fairly new items — and he has the Lotus automobile that is armed in the best Bond fashion and can convert to a submarine.)

:: Moonraker. This is easily the most absurd of all the Bond films, with a villain — Hugo Drax — who has decided to go to a space station with a hand-picked group of “colonists”, wait out his poisoning of the earth, and then return to the surface to repopulate and rule. This plot is completely over the top, and in the end a laughable space battle takes place. And we have Jaws again for the ride, this time falling in love with a short, pigtailed blond girl he finds amid the destruction that he wreaks in a cable-car station. In another fight scene, Bond and an Oriental martial artist seemingly destroy half of the artistic heritage of Venice, Italy (what is it with objets d’art always being demolished in Bond films, anyway?). There is a ludicrous chase through the canals of Venice, for no other reason than to have a chase through the canals of Venice. This entire film is over-the-top self-parody; it’s films like Moonraker that gave rise to Austin Powers. And yet, I actually like the bloody thing, probably for the same reason that I like chicken wings and beer. The film has a sense of fun that is actually infectious; every actor involved seems to be enjoying what is going on. I especially like Lois Chiles as Holly Goodnight; here Bond is again teamed with a female secret agent — this one from the CIA — and she is never turned into a damsel-in-distress; she is a genuine equal for Bond (or as much as was possible in 1979). The script is utterly loaded with double-entendres, some of which really are funny. The teaser sequence, involving Bond being tossed out of an airplane sans parachute, is eye-popping. John Barry is thankfully back to do with the music. Moonraker is a guilty pleasure. I shouldn’t like it, but I do. Ah well…. (The Gadgets: this film actually has my favorite of all of James Bond’s gadgets, a dart-gun that he wears around his wrist. All Bond does is flick his wrist and out flies either an armor-piercing dart or a poison-tipped one. He also has a wristwatch that contains explosives; in the afore-mentioned Venician chase scene he drives a motorized gondola, which then converts to a hovercraft. He has another nifty safecracker, this one using X-rays to reveal the tumblers of the lock. There is also an amusing scene where Bond figures out that Holly Goodnight is a CIA agent by testing all of her gadgets and making fun of them, although one of them comes in useful later when he’s engaged in a fight with a big snake.)

…to be continued…

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