For Your Eyes Only (1981)

After the disappointing and silly conclusion of Moonraker, Bond needed an adventure a bit more down to earth. However, with Bond getting closer and closer to being six feet under and yet another adventure that takes him even farther down than the surface of the earth, For Your Eyes Only might make us question if this is even something we need to see. 

When an important British vessel with military secrets end up sinking in an “accident” in neutral territory, the good guys once again turn to James Bond (Roger Moore). After an unexpected encounter with an old friend he’s left a bit reeling. Meanwhile, Greek beauty Melina (Carole Bouquet) has her world torn to bit in front of her when her parents are killed. Both Bond and Melina end up looking for the same guy, although they both have different plans as to what they’ll do when they catch up with the killer.

The problem plaguing For Your Eyes Only early on is that it’s a film that feels composed of all sorts of tangents. Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson have great ideas for scenes, but they’ve no idea how to connect the disparate locations and characters into a story that develops into a cohesive Bond experience. It’s not always clear where Bond is going and what he expects to find when he gets there.

To me, the logical starting place is the shipwreck. For some unexplained reason, Bond starts elsewhere but must eventually return to the sunken ship anyway to regain the equipment and flush out the real villain. And why didn’t we do that to begin with? But it does present my favorite part of the Bond franchise: underwater action scenes. The pair are attacked by a man in a giant scuba suit who’s followed up by a mousy fellow in a sub.

However, this does present one of the strong suites of film: suspense. The underwater sequence has Bond and Melina in close quarters and the way director John Glen builds tension allows for some moments where the pressure slowly ratchets up and builds into something where you’re not quite sure how Bond is going to make it out of this mess.

Another great suspense piece is presented near the very end. It’s a strong contender for my favorite Bond action setpiece. It’s a slowly moving scene where Bond spends most of the time trying to get into the right position and make sure everything is lined up for his attack. It’s a stealthy, quiet assault and the way the film is edited and the action is choreographed makes for a thrilling sequence.

I’ve also got to praise the amazing stunt team for some fantastic scenes. After the skydiving sequence in Moonraker, I wasn’t sure how this film could live up to that action setpiece, but it tops it with a fantastic chopper sequence in close quarters, some impressive skiing acrobatics and a thrilling—albeit somewhat comical—car chase sequence. More than once my jaw dropped as I wondered how they pulled off such a stunt.

But these action sequences do bring up a problem that’s been growing for the past couple of Bond film: Roger Moore is beginning to show his age. More than once, it’s clear that Moore is getting a bit winded and he doesn’t seem quite as physically agile and virile as he once was. The wrinkles are beginning to show, the movement is starting to get a bit stiffer and it’s clear that Bond is passing his prime.

And in some ways, the film is aware of that. The sexcapades of the film are reduced to almost a bare minimum. Moore no longer is the wolfish sex fiend of previous films. In fact, he turns down sex from a young woman. It might be because the film alludes she’s underage, but one also gets the feeling that Bond feels as if he’s a bit too old for such a girl, a girl he’d have no trouble bedding a few years ago.

The film also shows a bit more class with the main Bond girl of this film. Melina (Carole Bouquet) is not the usual sex object. In fact, she’s almost completely devoid of sexual appeal for a good portion of the film, as the story focuses more on her quest to avenge her parents. However, the emotions never come off right and, in practice, she’s not as compelling a Bond girl as she should be.

I do like the relationship between Bond and Melina. Instead of being the typical flirtatious romance, it’s a serious, adult relationship of two people who, on some level, can understand one another. Both have lost a loved one (there’s a brief opening scene where the film reminds us of Bond’s deceased wife), but Bond knows where the path Melina is taking will end. He tries to save her from taking the path, while she tries to embrace it.

As much as I like that core relationship, it’s not as dark or emotional as it should be. The film is a bit more concerned with the impressive action feats, letting the characters take a back seat to the ride. I don’t mind too much, because the ride is fun, even if the structure and logic is poor. While I liked For Your Eyes Only, there’s a better Bond film to be made with this film’s stronger elements.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing