CAST: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Cléry, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Geoffrey Keen, Emily Bolton, Toshiro Suga, Lois Maxwell, Irka Bochenko, Nicholas Arbez, Blanche Ravalec, Anne Lonnberg, Michael Marshall, Jean-Pierre Castaldi, Leila Shenna, Walter Gotell
RUNNING TIME: 126 mins
BASICALLY…: In order to investigate the mid-air theft of a space shuttle, James Bond (Moore) ventures beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and into space…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With No Time To Die being pushed back all the way to November, the world needs its fix of Ian Fleming’s ace secret agent to tide them over until then. That’s why, every week until it finally comes out, we’re going to be taking a look at each previous movie in the series to see if, and how, they hold up today.
This week, it is time to look at the notorious Moonraker, considered by many to be a jumping-the-shark moment for the series, simply for the fact that it’s the one that takes James Bond into outer space. However, that isn’t all there is to talk about, and I’m not going to lie: this movie is ridiculous, but it is mesmerizingly ridiculous, because it takes the out-there concept and completely runs with it, giving you a movie that has plenty of stupid moments as expected, but also a lot of mindless energy that’s admirably, and sometimes hilariously, put to good use.
The film follows Roger Moore’s Bond as he investigates the mid-air hijacking of a space shuttle named Moonraker, which puts him on the path towards the shuttle’s manufacturer, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) who – as you might have predicted – has a diabolical scheme up his sleeve that involves the destruction of mankind. Throughout the course of this mission, Bond travels from California to Venice to Rio de Janeiro to, eventually, just above the Earth’s atmosphere for a climactic showdown on the villain’s space station lair, where he and CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) try to stop Drax’s evil plan.
If you’re going into this movie with the thought that most of the movie actually takes place in space, you’d be mistaken; Bond doesn’t even get into the rocket until the fourth quarter of this two-hour movie, but to be honest there are plenty of bonkers things that happen in the lead-up to his space adventures which dwarf even that. How about a dizzying experience inside a centrifuge chamber with sped-up editing that makes the scene feel a lot funnier than it’s intending to be? What about a boat chase through Venice which ends with Bond’s gondola sprouting wheels and riding up onto the surface like it’s a cut-scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (this scene is so silly that it even has a pigeon doing a double-take – yes, really)? And let’s not forget a run-in with the main villain’s Japanese henchman, who fights Bond with a wooden sword inside of a glassworks museum, dressed head-to-toe in full ninja costume? All of this stuff happens in the movie, and it’s as bonkers as you can probably imagine… and that’s only just the first half of the movie.
The second half onwards is when this movie gets far more consistently hilarious (whether it’s intentional or not), and it is also the point where you realise that the filmmakers seem to not only be in on the fact that this entire premise is stupid – the sci-fi element was originally conceived as a response to the phenomenal success of Star Wars only a couple of years prior – but are also actively trying to make everything else feel so insane that suddenly the idea of Bond going to space doesn’t seem so far-fetched. The action, the one-liners, the slapstick, it’s all done in an extremely tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top manner that it sometimes borders on cartoonish self-parody, but you’re more taken by how it has the balls to go so completely overboard, especially coming after a legitimately great Bond film like The Spy Who Loved Me. In that sense, there is a certain charm to this movie’s silliness, because while it’s certainly dumb you can feel the passion behind it by people who set out to make something knowingly ridiculous but are having so much fun with it. Some things about it legitimately don’t work – Michael Lonsdale is playing a pretty boring and unthreatening villain, while Lois Chiles comes off as a little bland next to her co-star Moore – but on the whole this is a very entertaining, if incredibly silly, ride.
However, I do have to mention one thing, which I absolutely love about this movie; Richard Kiel is back as Jaws, which is already a smart move given the character’s breakout status in the previous film, and they certainly do not waste him. Aside from still being a physically intimidating figure (he can even wander down an alley wearing a clown disguise, and still be creepy), he’s also given a lot of funny things to do which actually work because Kiel is completely owning every minute of it, especially when – in the biggest laugh-out-loud moment I’ve had so far while watching this series – he even gets a girlfriend out of nowhere. I love to imagine that every time he’s off-screen in this movie from that point onward, Jaws is embarking on his own romantic adventure with this pig-tailed blonde woman, to a point where he even brings her on board the space shuttle at the end. The thought of Jaws falling in love with a woman half his size is funny enough already, but the two legitimately have a sweet romantic connection, to a point to where I was rooting for this couple more than I was Bond and Goodhead. It’s kind of sad that this character only ever appeared in two Bond films, because not only is it a really fun character but Kiel was absolutely great in the part, but at least he went out with a happy ending (in more ways than one, I’m assuming).
So, for all its hype, is Moonraker the worst Bond movie (so far)? No, not by a long shot; while it’s certainly dumb in a lot of aspects, there’s also a great deal of passion that makes it so admirable that the ridiculousness of it suddenly feels outweighed because you can tell the filmmakers put their all into this silly little movie. It’s by far some of the most fun I’ve had watching a Bond film, just based on its stupidity alone, and unlike the far weaker entries like Diamonds Are Forever and The Man With The Golden Gun this one feels like it’s at least trying to reach well beyond its limits to give us something so mindless but also so entertaining – and that’s something I never thought I’d say about the one where James Bond goes into outer space.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Moonraker has plenty of dumb moments as you’d expect from a space-set storyline, but the sheer passion behind its silliness gives it a certain charm that’s hard to resist, especially in some utterly insane but surprisingly endearing moments that dwarf even the space stuff.