Mocking a Bond film for its absurdity is like taking Picasso to task for being abstract; that’s the essence of their art. Albert R Broccoli’s spy series has provided plenty of guffaw-provoking moments down the years, however, 1979’s Moonraker remains the epitome of Bond silliness, throwing in a dash of cynicism and plenty of comic cheese to boot.
Moonraker’s predecessor, The Spy Who Loved Me, had promised us that Bond would return in For Your Eyes Only. By the time filming commenced, however, the world was in the grip of sci-fi fever in the wake of 1977’s Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Bond camp spotted a lucrative bandwagon. In Ian Fleming’s 1954 novel, Moonraker’s villain was a Nazi with a nuclear missile trained on London, but the film dispenses with all but his name (Hugo Drax), instead cramming in space shuttles, laser guns and Wookies (not really).
The cynicism of this alteration is apparent in the somewhat incoherent plot’s occasional similarities to the aforementioned sci-fi blockbusters; at one point we witness Bond turn his spaceship’s laser gun to manual in order to hit his target (presumably using “The Force”), while a laboratory’s entry keypad actually plays the chimes from Close Encounters’ alien craft.
We open with the usual pre-title sequence in which, apropos of nothing, Bond is turned upon by a gun-toting stewardess and thrown from his private plane without a parachute, an issue which causes our hero only mild inconvenience. We also discover that a space shuttle, loaned to Britain by the US, has been stolen. Quite why Britain would wish to borrow a space shuttle is unclear; perhaps the recently elected Thatcher government had plans for galactic conquest?
Drax himself is rendered instantly villainous by way of his ostentatious wealth, beard and German accent, which make his plan to commit genocide to pave the way for a master race seem somewhat like national stereotyping (the master race themselves look worryingly like the cast of the musical Hair). He instantly launches several extravagant attempts to kill 007, as ever passing up a number of perfectly decent opportunities to simply shoot him in the head. Instead, a series of loyal henchmen are quickly mopped up by Bond, turning one’s thoughts towards the brilliant Austin Powers skit about the effect on such henchmen’s families (not the only moment in the film that summons the ghost of Powers).
Among the henchmen is Jaws (another Spielberg reference?) who turns up to work for Drax, presumably recruited from the ‘intimidating heavy’ equivalent of Office Angels. Richard Kiel’s character had previously appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me, proving so inexplicably popular with children (perhaps this film’s true target demographic) that he was recalled for Moonraker and even rewarded with a girlfriend and Road to Damascus-style conversion. His sudden switch from the dark side is particularly hard to swallow and adds to the impression that this is more kiddie flick than spy thriller.
One of the major criticisms of the film is its supposedly ‘comic’ approach, with Moore’s eyebrow-arching irony at its zenith. Certainly there is fun to be had, particularly as Bond is stalked by yet more potential assassins while cruising the canals of Venice; one scene involves a knife-throwing killer rising from a floating coffin, before Bond quickly returns him from whence he came. However, this is followed by a scene in which 007 outruns a speedboat in a motorised gondola, before taking it onto dry land for a drive through the Piazza San Marco. It’s more Benny Hill than Bond, and even features a ridiculous double-taking pigeon. Similarly, the use of music from other films to soundtrack key set pieces, such as The Magnificent Seven during a bizarre scene when Bond dresses as a cowboy, simply adds to the feeling that this is self-parody of the silliest kind.
There is some respite from the barrage of cheese, with occasional throwaway lines ranging from the Wildean (“Mr Bond. You return with all the inevitability of an unloved season”) to the Kenneth Williams-ean (“I believe he’s attempting re-entry, Sir”), but Moore’s oak-stiff delivery frequently seems more suited to the world of pantomime than international espionage.
As ever, there are babes in abundance, as our hero continues to ignore widely accepted sexual health advice. However, they are unmemorable in the extreme, with the exception of Corinne Dufour, who provides the film’s only genuinely dark moment when Drax has her pursued and eaten by a pack of dogs. Meanwhile, the name of scientist/CIA agent Holly Goodhead would provide Mike Myers with several films worth of mucky puns.
In this post-Bourne world, and in the light of Daniel Craig’s emotionally damaged, action-thug Bond, Moonraker seems camp and unbelievable. Equally ludicrous moments pop up throughout the Bond series, but this film’s attempt to stitch so many together, while self-consciously playing the ‘comedy’ card, leave it feeling retrospectively Powers-lite and very much of its moment. That it remained the highest grossing Bond film until 1995’s Goldeneye only goes to show how well Myers knew his audience when he launched his cash-cow parody on the world.
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