Another week, as you may suspect by now, brings us another James Bond adventure here in our 007(x3) Weeks of 007. This time out, it’s “Moonraker,” Roger Moore’s fourth film and if you don’t think anyone can argue for “Moonraker” after arguing against “The Spy who Loved me,” just watch me.
Yes, the finale for “Moonraker” is over the top and foolish. The lasers are silly, the costumes are silly, and I’m convinced that Neil deGrasse Tyson could do an epic Twitter rant on how they have the physics entirely wrong. Forget all that stuff, none of that stuff is relevant, the rest of the movie works way better than those bits… except for the notion of a Tyson Twitter rant about it, that would be fantastic.
Go all the way back to the beginning of “Moonraker,” to the pre-title sequence. Last week, I spent some time complaining about how the pre-title sequence for “The Spy who Loved me” doesn’t really work. It’s a little bit of mundane skiing, a few bullets, and then an impressive jump and parachute opening that fails to impress as much as it should because of how it’s shot.
“Moonraker” completely makes up for that, doesn’t it? The film offers one of the all-time great Bond opening sequences, with 007 finding himself pushed out of a plane without a parachute and needing to catch up to the already skydiving pilot so that Bond can “borrow” his chute. Everything that the last movie lacks in its opening exists here. You can even, almost (if you squint just right), believe that it’s Moore in the aerial wide shot.
What else makes “Moonraker” great? How about the return of Jaws? It is one thing to introduce a classic henchman, but is another thing entirely to bring him back for a second film. Jaws is the only henchman to return and the producers are even able to play with our expectations of the character a little, making him more well-rounded than he was in “The Spy who Loved me.” Jaws may be slightly less terrifying here, but he works better with everything around him.
Then you have the return of Geoffrey Keen as Minister of Defence, Sir Frederick Gray and Walter Gotell as General Gogol. The Connery films are marked by a sense of continuity from one to the next as Bond pursues his goals and SPECTRE. The Moore movies may appear to lack that sense of continuity as we hop from one villain to the next, but the producers wisely bring back Gray and Gogol here from “The Spy who Loved me” and they’ll keep bringing them back through “The Living Daylights.” It all ensures that we, the viewer, know that this is the same world even if it keeps changing rapidly (and although they didn’t know it when they made this movie, change rapidly things do – this is Bernard Lee’s last appearance as M, he was going to be in “For Your Eyes Only” but passed away before his scenes were to be shot).
One of the other great moments in “Moonraker” is Bond throwing his hat perfectly onto one of the decorative bits of the gondola in Venice. It is a call back to the times Connery’s Bond tossed his hat perfectly onto the rack outside M’s office. People, I tell you again, this is the same James Bond, even if the actor is different.
Now, I promised to ignore the end of the movie (and mostly I’ll stick to that), but there are some perplexing parts of “Moonraker.” First and foremost (again, this is only first and foremost if we don’t discuss the finale) is the fact that Drax lets Bond get away when they’re at the Drax estate in the U.S. Bond, as you may recall, shoots Drax’s sniper who is gunning for 007, Bond then offers a quip and leaves. Why does Drax not stop him then and there? I will give Drax the notion of the cool death, frying Bond underneath the Moonraker shuttle later in the movie, but not Drax’s allowing Bond to leave at this point. Bond is outmanned and outgunned, it should have been easy to kill him.
Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) also ought to get a nod for being another strong woman decades before we ever meet Jinx or Wai Lin. She is a CIA agent, can pilot a space shuttle, helps point Bond in the right direction more than once, and lets him know early on that she isn’t interested in his malarkey. Goodhead isn’t the first strong woman in the Bond series by any means, but she is his equal. As she’s in the CIA, she also serves as a substitute for Felix Leiter. Poor Felix, we haven’t seen him since “Live and Let Die” and we won’t see him again until “The Living Daylights.”
Fine, fine, the outer space finale. I can’t avoid it any longer no matter how much I might like to. It is virtually indefensible. It is over the top and silly, and not silly like Moore in his best moments, silly like Moore in his worst. Remember how we have talked before about the James Bond movies needing a periodic reset, one where they can strip away the over-the-top bits, and this regularly happening when a new Bond is introduced? Yeah, well, guess what we are going to get in the next film – a mid-Moore reset.
But, that is a tale for next week, instead, I will leave you with this. “Moonraker” lacks the overly melodramatic moments of “The Spy who Loved me,” opting to up the wow factor instead. Yes, the go too far, but from the skydiving to the cable car, to the gondola sequence, to not getting burned to a crisp under a space shuttle, “Moonraker” offers more bang for Bond buck than “Spy.”
And that, as they say, is that. 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return with “For Your Eyes Only.”
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment