The time has come, as they say, for a new entry in our regular 007(x3) Weeks of 007 series. This week, it’s Roger Moore’s third Bond adventure, “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
Let’s get this out of the way right up front, I’m about to spout an unpopular opinion, but I don’t sugarcoat stuff, that’s just not who I am. I don’t think “The Spy Who Loved Me” is a great Bond film. In fact, I am generally unenthused by it. I think it has some great elements, but they don’t come together as well as they should and there’s too much that just doesn’t work.
It seems right to look at the good first, so let’s do that.
First, Moore is obviously completely comfortable in the role at this point. It is his, he knows what he’s doing, and the comparisons to Lazenby and Connery are unnecessary. Here, Roger Moore is James Bond, he owns the role.
Then, there’s Barbara Bach. She is fun as Agent XXX, and the way in which she’s introduced is great. We all expect the man she’s with to be the agent that General Gogol calls in when he has to put his best on the job. Anya Amasova is Bond’s equal. She gets captured and flustered when she has to drive with Jaws behind them, but male agents get captured, killed, and flustered all the time in Bond movies so I’m not sure one can say it happens in order to subvert her because she’s a woman.
Over the years, and I’m sorry not to be able to offer evidence on this, the idea that the new Bond girl (for whatever film was coming out) is now, finally, Bond’s equal has been thrown about repeatedly. We continually hear about how, this time, the woman in the movie gives as good as she gets. Virtually every time that’s put out there, it’s taken as though it’s the first time it’s happened, that there never was a Pussy Galore in the Connery era or an Anya Amasova in the Moore one (and we’re going to get more during Moore’s time as we move forward). In the end, it’s a Bond movie and Bond has to be the one who obtains the final victory, but even if you want to say that Pussy Galore isn’t Bond’s equal, I think you have a hard time really arguing against XXX. Fine, she gets captured. Again I say, Double-0 agents get killed, Alec Trevelyan gets captured. I don’t see gender entering it, I see it as those agents just not being 007.
Finally, there are the Ken Adam’s sets and the Lotus. Stromberg’s Atlantis is fantastic, and the aquarium bits are the stuff of Bond legend. As for the Lotus, everyone loves the Lotus. I love the Lotus. The Lotus is stupendous.
Less stupendous? Amasova looks shocked when Bond drives the car into the water, presumably because she doesn’t know it’s a sub, only to be able to deploy countermeasures in the sub later. At that second point she explains that she stole the plans for the sub two years earlier. Really? Then why is she terrified when Bond drives into the water? Answer – plot flaw. I tell you, this is not a great Bond movie.
They even did a bad job with the pyramids. Talk about an overly melodramatic scene. Watching the pyramid scene is laborious. The shifting light colors, the background voice of the tourist show. The thing goes on and on and ends in mundane fashion. Like so many other parts of the movie, it’s all about build-up that goes nowhere.
Forget the hideously ugly yellow ski suit Moore wears in the pre-title sequence, while the thing ends with a solid stunt, there’s really not that much before it. We have gotten better skiing in the Bond movies already. Here, he really just turns around, shoots a guy, and then parachutes off a cliff. There needs to be a much more solid build-up to that jump. The tension just isn’t there.
Then there’s the death of Stromberg. How does that go down? They talk for a minute, Stromberg—sitting the whole time—tries to shoot Bond, Bond gets out of the way and then shoots Stromberg. Stromberg never stands, there is no fight, no battle, just the shooting of a now disarmed bad guy. Again, it’s a tension-free moment.
I really don’t want to end this thing on a down note, so I’ll offer up some more of the good. Jaws. Richard Kiel isn’t the best henchman, that’s Oddjob, but Jaws can definitely be considered number two (unless you put Nick Nack there). He is terrifying and huge and great enough that he’s the only henchman to come back for a second film.
Also to the good, Amasova mentions Bond’s dead wife. This goes back to our discussion about different actors not being different Bonds, them all being the same guy. It is an obvious reference to the death of Tracy in “OHMSS,” and while you could say that no, this Bond had a different wife, you’re really starting to stretch if you go there. It is a great call back, that’s all.
Finally, there’s Robert Brown’s first appearance in a Bond movie. I won’t give you multiple Bonds, but I will give you multiple Ms and think that Brown’s character here, Hargreaves, does become M later. That is to say, when Brown plays M in later movies, I think he’s playing the same guy he plays here. I don’t have evidence yet for that assertion, but we’ll see if there is any as we move forward to “Octopussy” and through “Licence to Kill.”
Here is what I don’t get about “The Spy Who Loved Me” – it has all these great things going for it, all these wonderful, should be classic Bond bits, but it never gels quite right, there’s too much that simply doesn’t work. It is as though they put all their time and energy into a few different moments in the movie and just forgot about everything else. As examples, it feels like they had an idea for the skiing off the cliff and opening the parachute bit, knew it was great, but didn’t care a wit for how they got there (except that Bond had to kill XXX’s lover) and so didn’t work anything out; they wanted XXX scared as the Lotus hit the water (so the audience would be) and for her to be able to deploy countermeasures (so she could be Bond’s equal), but never bothered with linking the two thoughts together to see how they don’t work as a cohesive whole. It’s distressing, I want more thought behind it all.
And there, now that I said I didn’t want to end it on a down note, I did anyway. On the plus side, 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return with “Moonraker,” and we’re certainly going to hit the stratosphere with that one.
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment