Moonraker (1979)

After hearing about the infamy of this chapter in the Bond series, I have to say I was disappointed when I discovered Moonraker isn’t a terrible film. Far from the corny and miscalculated venture I expected going into Bond’s foray into the final frontier, I was greeted with a competent, albeit occasionally odd, spy procedural.

When the spacecraft Moonraker is stolen in midair, Britain’s finest begins an investigation, starting with the manufactures of the spacecraft. James Bond (Roger Moore) is greeted by the corporation’s head, Hugo Drax (Michael Londale), and begins a tour with Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) that takes on a more extravagant nature when he discovers she’s a CIA agent. Not long after, the two end up working together to find the missing craft.

Didn’t I just watch this film? A female spy from another country, bad sexual pun for a codename, must work with Bond to find some missing device that involves both countries. Screenwriter Christopher Wood rewrote The Spy Who Loved Me, set it in space ( a response to Star Wars) called it a day.

Although, I don’t mind that too much because I find the idea of a Bond girl who’s a spy working with Bond one of the franchise’s more compelling concepts. However, it doesn’t work as well here because the two are from friendly countries so there’s no tension between the two and they are a bit too cooperative together, if you catch my drift. Plus, Lois Chiles doesn’t bring much charisma or acting talent to her role.

While Moonraker lacks in the love department, the action setpieces are much better. The opening skydiving sequence might be the most impressive, a fresh idea pulled off with a surprising look of authenticity (I imagine they did it for real somehow). The obligatory boat chase is fun enough, and it leads to what is one of the most hilarious and ridiculous moments I’ve seen on film.

After maneuvering through the narrow spaces of Venice, Bond hops his boat up on the paved city pathways and drives through a crowd of befuddled and confused onlookers. Intercut with Moore looking utterly serious and ridiculous in his boat is a series of priceless reaction shots, the best of which is a close-up of a dog. I think the Bond series has reached its zenith. Is there really a reason to continue after such a fantastic moment?

This film also has a zest for destruction. I’ve always contended that Bond was a bit of a dick, and here he goes about being as reckless as possible. He breaks priceless glass artifacts, although, in his defense, he does put down the most expensive, leaving the honor of its destruction to his opponent.

Another fine example is set up when Q (Desmond Llewelyn) gives Bond an expensive boat filled with all sorts of gadgets, costing England a good deal of money to produce such a boat. Within five minutes of employing its use, Bond drives it over a waterfall, bailing out with a smirk on his face.

Speaking of smirks, Moonraker brings back my personal hero of the Bond franchise: Jaws (Richard Kiel). Sadly, Bond goes about making this hardworking misfit suffer through awkward social situations and a dastardly crash. But fortune does smile upon Jaws when he discovers his true love. It’s an incredibly corny moment, but it reminds me of what I find so desperately lacking from this series: heart.

I imagine that for the millions of males that love Bond, such mushy stuff is a bad joke. They want that epic space battle. It certainly is something to behold. I’d put it just a smidge above Thunderball in terms of how miscalculated and awkward it is to watch. The setpiece is a clear riff off of Star Wars but without any of the strong set design or well-crafted miniatures to make it work.

There’s a great moment when the station shakes from an explosion which is hilarious because the entire model trembles, an impossibility in space given that there’s no gravity for the station to tremble against. And seeing hoards of X guys fighting Y guys when the entire thing is about Bond is rather dull and loses sight of what little story is left.

And while it’s easy to nitpick such moments, Moonraker isn’t terrible film. It has some terrible moments, but there’s enough of a story and some fun setpieces that make it a decent Bond outing. It’s still a step below The Spy Who Loved Me, as it’s simply a riff off of the film. I’d have liked to seen the setpieces of this film (excluding the space part) with the story of The Spy Who Loved Me. In a perfect world, I’d like to see a Bond/Jaws buddy spy movie—possibly in space. Please tell me that film exists.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing