The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.
Synopsis: James Bond investigates the mid-air theft of a space shuttle and discovers a plot to commit global genocide
Stars: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Cléry
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Running Length: 126 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
After coming back strong with The Spy Who Loved Me, the James Bond franchise had nowhere to go but up…and I guess someone took that literally when the previously announced next Bond film (For Your Eyes Only) was scuttled in favor of Moonraker. With the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, outer space was hot again and the producers probably wisely made the decision to cash in on that craze. This was fashioned as the Bond to beat all Bonds, with the largest budget of them all and the biggest sets.
The resulting film is big all right…a big mess. Now, it’s not as bad as most people remember it to be but and it does sport a few good ideas that are muddied by a bad pace and a curious lack of thrills for a Bond film. The Spy Who Loved Me was a welcome return to form and it seems like Moonraker was rushed into production simply to capitalize on audiences renewed interest in space and the positive reviews the previous film received.
Moore is back to coasting along on the 007 highway, going through the motions rather than imbuing his fourth turn in the role with anything new or fresh. Even worse is Chiles as one of the most lackluster Bond girls of the franchise. Speaking her lines in the same monotone meter one would use to order take-out, she’s charmless and joyless as Holly Goodhead and just a dud in general. It’s hard to believe the producers were after her for some time to land her for one of the Bond films. A secondary Bond girl (Gallic beauty Cléry) would have been better suited for the role…but she’s dispatched, per tradition, in a strikingly sad fashion.
In the villain category, Drax (Lonsdale, The Name of the Rose) is a mostly interesting nemesis for Bond that dreams of creating a super race population in space while poisoning everyone here on earth. Thanks to his popularity in The Spy Who Loved Me, steel toothed Jaws (Kiel) was also brought back. While it’s nice to see a favored Bond foe return, it’s never really clear why he’s there or how he made it from the end of The Spy Who Loved Me into this mix. Adding insult to injury, the film decides to go soft on Jaws and gives him a Nordic love interest for no real reason than a few sight gags.
Kiel, Moore, and Chiles feature prominently in the best sequence of the movie set in, around, and on top of a cable car as it descends from the mountains of Rio. Its well shot and edited, creating the kind of tension and suspense that you wish more of the film had. Again, it’s odd that so much of this fight and others have next to no underscore which provides a void where some nail-biting moments could be built.
Though its advertised as taking place in space, Moonraker only takes to the stars in the final forty minutes for a few impressive visuals and zero gravity fights. The space station sets are nicely rendered and worked with by the gargantuan cast. Try not to laugh, though, when Drax’s army stages a space battle with US marines complete with lasers that would make Han Solo retch.
It’s a pretty silly film overall and a major step backward when you consider how top notch the previous film was. Even with director Gilbert returning, he can’t catch lightening in a bottle again with this one…and Shirley Bassey’s theme song doesn’t hit the highs it could have. With 11 films to his name, James Bond had jumped the proverbial shark and Moore’s run as Bond would never really recover.