Light Bondage: “Moonraker”

Bond, James Bond. For fifty years that has been the cinematic calling card of one of films most enduring heroes. Sure, Bond was born in books, but it was through film that he became a household name and one of the movies’ most enduring legends. He is a character so archetypal that he is bigger than the half dozen men who have played him across nearly two dozen films, and that kind of longevity is both unheard of and a little bit magical.

Light Bondage is my attempt to rewatch the series and try to recapture some of what made these movies worthwhile. I might not always succeed (I’m looking at you, Roger Moore!) but in this biweekly series of articles we’re going to take a ride through the time capsule of the last half century with the world’s most famous spy/action star.

Moonraker (1979)

I’m going to make a bold claim: Moonraker is the worst Bond movie we’ve come across to date. And I know I’ve gotten angry at plenty of movies during this little trek through cinematic ‘history’, but often it was for the sin of being offensive or overambitious. Moonraker is none of these things. Instead, it commits the greatest sin a movie could make–it’s simply boring. And for a movie that involves going into space, that takes some concerted effort.

Once again we follow the adventures of Roger Moore as James Bond, already starting to look a little more like the father of many of the women he ends up with than a prospective romantic partner. And as usual for Moore’s Bond, his adventures are becoming increasingly ridiculous. We open with a skydiving action scene that involves an awful lot of great choreography (and obvious stuntmen) as Bond meets the villain Jaws once again and fights a guy midair for a parachute and other silly things.

The story involves a space shuttle that was hijacked midair while the British were borrowing it from the Americans. Now under investigation, they decide to let Bond figure out where the space shuttle has gone, starting him with the man who made it, an obscenely rich industrial baron type by the name of Drax. Drax is evil, of course, because a) his name has an X right in it and b) on their first fairly cordial meeting he instantly orders his henchmen to try to kill Bond.

The future is now our past!

What follows is an hour plus of Bond following Drax around the world, from California to Venice to Rio, stumbling across scraps of information only to end up in some sort of gimmicky fight (swordfights! a fight in a glass (yes, really) museum! a fight with Jaws on some cable cars!) before the bad guy gets away again. It quickly gets the point where one wonders if he’s not watching Inspector Gadget instead of James Bond, as each encounter robs the whole proceeding of more of what little impact it has until it just becomes a smash-and-gab travelogue of sorts where every character is horrendously dull and talking at length about a plot we’re never given any reason to care about. Perfunctory doesn’t begin to cover this mess.

Eventually after a bunch of bullshit Bond ends up at Drax’s crazy Brazilian temple lair/tech lab, where he finds his way onto one of Drax’s many departing shuttles. Thus begins the adventures of Bond. In. Space. Which sounds potentially great fun until you realize it’s just the same bad action scenes as Bond fights guys and blows up a bunch of really obvious sets, just that everyone’s doing it at half speed to act like they’re in zero gravity.

Included in this mess is a ridiculous subplot involving Jaws where he meets a girl in Rio and ends up taking her with him into space, only to turn face in the 11th hour and save Bond’s ass. This was reportedly in direct response to letters the production received about how kids wanted Jaws, a sudden fan favorite, to turn good. Which isn’t necessarily bad, I guess, Bond movies have a dearth of returning characters and almost no allies outside of the MI6 support group standards, but the haphazard way it’s done just seems like another kick in the face to anyone who had any sort of affection for what these movies were.

Jaws II: Jaws Returns! Yet, he remains boring and dull.

I suppose that’s my biggest problem with Moonraker, the epitome of a problem much of the Moore stuff had. There seemed to be a general lack of faith in the 70s, for whatever reason, that people wanted to see a genuine spy movie. I mean, Bond hasn’t particularly ever been the most tense version of that subgenre, but it had its moments and generally played to its strengths. Instead, trying to bank on the popularity of other late-70s blockbusters, Bond finds himself suddenly in a sci-fi adventure film? It’s dumb from the first moment, and the lack of faith in the property really shows in the final result, which takes ideas that would be interesting in a movie that they belong in and just makes them seem awkward and forced. This is a problem that cropped up a lot in the late Brosnan movies, as the action got more and more ridiculous to counter the gritty spy action of Jason Bourne and his ilk.

The Theme Song/Opening Title:
Shirley Bassey returns for her third stint as Bond vocalist in a slow ballad that reads more snore than space adventure. It’s out of place, a song that could work in just about any movie, and with it comes an opening title that feels just as generic. I don’t have anything particular to say about either of these. They are as dull as the movie they’re in.

Most Ridiculous Gadget:
This movie has a watch-gun, a watch-conceiled plastic explosive, and full on laser rifles. Yet, for all that, it’s a scene in Venice with Bond in a gondola that takes the cake here. Floating down the canal, he’s approached by a funeral barge, with a coffin that pops open to reveal an assassin lying in a coffin storing dozens of throwing knives and swords along its walls. Bond manages to avoid that, only to flip some switches and turn his gondola into a speed boat, leading actual speed boats on a chase until at the last minute he flips another switch and the gondola turns into a hovercraft, driving up out of the water to ride around the busy streets of Venice knocking over tables and encouraging dumb cutaway double takes from passersby and dogs. Yes, dogs.

Bond Girl Award for Most Thankless Role:
Lois Chiles plays Dr. Holly Goodhead, one of the more unfortunate names to ever cross these films. She is Drax’s rocket scientist who turns out to be a CIA agent also investigating Drax. There really isn’t much to say for her, other than she is one of the unfortunate victims of Bond’s Disease, which turns women who are initially businesslike and pointedly uninterested in unwanted advances totally at the mercy of 007’s unique brand of smarm. Also, the movie ends with her and Bond having sex in zero gravity. Which … counts for something? I don’t know. It’s stupid, and she’s not even interesting. Siiiiiiigh.

Best Bondickery:
Escaping a rapidly exploding space station, Bond and Dr. Goodhead manage to get into the last shuttle, which is unfortunately stuck. Bond sees Jaws through the window, still on the space station with his girlfriend, breaking open a bottle of champagne to celebrate their newfound freedom and doomed romance as they’re sure to die. Bond contacts Jaws and gets him to release the stuck controls, freeing Bond to escape at the last second. As he drifts away, the station begins to fall into the atmosphere, obviously where it will burn up and Jaws will be killed (because Bond has said not ten minutes before that the parts of the station are big enough to harmlessly burn up).

What has private space travel wrought?!

Dr. Goodhead expresses her concern over the fate of the man who saved their lives, but Bond simply shrugs and forgets what he knows about everything and says “I’m sure he’ll be all right.” And he is! The movie manages to sneak in a scene showing Jaws and his girlfriend safely back on earth after their exploding space station crashed from orbit. This is part Bondickery and part frustrating lack of spine from the writers, who manage to make a movie about a guy who is legally allowed to kill people but only the bad guys ever die. If ever you wanted a Bond movie obviously geared towards kids, here it is.

JAMES BOND will return in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
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