As the credits rolled on the magnificent slab of camp excellence that is The Spy Who Loved Me, the closing legend announced confidently that James Bond would indeed return in For Your Eyes Only and yet a mere two years later, Moonraker showed up in cinemas. The reason? Motherfucking Star Wars, y’all.
Never one to avoid hopping on a band wagon, the Bond series takes it’s cue from George Lucas’ space opera and blasts 007 into the stratosphere in a movie that jumps the shark so hard it literally goes into outer fucking space.
The switch from doing a more out-there experience – where a randy secret agent traverses the final frontier presumably in the vain hope that he can either fuck it, drink it or shoot it – in favour of a more traditional spy film also means that Moonraker is free to try and recapture the glorious excesses of it’s top notch predecessor but sadly, what The Spy Who Loved Me got so right, Moonraker gets so horribly wrong.
When an experimental space shuttle (codename: Moonraker) is hijacked in midair, not-so secret agent James Bond is put on the case in order to figure out what’s going on. His mission brings him into the orbit of Hugo Drax, owner of the company that supplies the Moonrakers and an obsessive space nut to boot who has concocted a plan to decimate the planet earth with a nerve gas while relocating himself and his hand picked master race to space (whatever happened to the good old days when Bond villains just wanted to hold governments to ransom?). Teaming with an undercover CIA agent and avoiding the frying pan sized mitts of a familiar enemy in the towering shape of Jaws, Bond first covers the globe, then leaves it in a final battle set among the stars.
To get the obvious out of the way early, Moonraker isn’t very good. In fact it’s actually one of the worst Bond movies ever made and might have been all snuggly and warm at the bottom of the heap if it wasn’t for the excruciating clown shoes of Octopussy years later. The problem here is the copious coat tale riding on the back of the far superior previous installment who’s deliberate and measured tone expertly balanced a knowing, jokey tone with big budget visuals to create a virtually perfect rollercoaster of high camp. In comparison Moonraker flies of the rails at the earliest given opportunity and greedily crams your eye holes with as many clumsy attempts at hilarity as you can tolerate, tossing in such “treats” as a hovercraft gondola and the cursed image of an honest to God double taking pigeon (possibly the very nadir of the entire franchise).
It’s somewhat cheap looking too, with a finale featuring more unnecessary lasers than a live dubstep gig, which reeks of being a less impressive do-over of the underwater battle that closed Thunderball and unintentionally funny scenes of actors feigning zero gravity by simply walking funny in slow motion.
Also, for a film that’s trying so hard to be broadly childish, Moonraker chooses to be ghoulishly mean spirited at frequent intervals, witness and recoil at such out of place scenes such as a woman who aids Bond is dispatched off screen by being torn apart by dogs or the sight of Jaws, labouring under the disadvatage of a busted parachute, desperately flapping his arms as he tries to stay aloft at 22,000 feet.
Lois Chiles as the improbably named Holly Goodhead (notice how none of the Bond girls in the franchise’s history are named Connie Sent – say it fast) struggles to convince as an expert in space or even suggesting that a flamethrowing perfume bottle is standard CIA equipment while Michael Landon, sporting the beard and awkward demeanor of a peadophile’s lawyer is as bland a villian as the cucumber sandwiches he seems to loves so much. Rounding out the cast is Richard Kiel who returns as metal mouthed miscreant, Jaws. But after boasting the life expectancy of a Terminator and falling in love with an short but amply bosomed tourist, has fully crossed over into being a full fledged cartoon character and is therefore rendered as threatening as a depressed beanie baby. The film is also proves to be the exact point where Moore’s age is noticeably starting to be an issue thanks to an infamous scene where Bond is trapped in a machine used to test G-force which in the centrifugal force makes his progressively loose jowls undulate like the gills of a fish. As distracting as that unforgettable apparition of a vision is, that sinking feeling in your gut is actually the realisation that the actor (in his early fifties here) has THREE more films left in his tenure.
There are a few good points. The ever-dependable John Barry wallpapers over cracks the size of the Grand Canyon with a typically expansive score that forcibly injects class into proceedings where there are none and the fact that the Bond movies we’re starting to become a glorified stunt show gifts us with a magnificently mind-boggling pre-credits scene where Bond carelessly falls out of a plane sans parachute and sky dives after a villain who has one.
It’s an astonishing set piece that completely smashes everything else in the movie, but it’s also the first thing the film treats you to, so it basically shoots it’s bolt before it’s even started and is confirmation that even James Bond can come way too early…