Director: Lewis Gilbert
Cast: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewellyn, Lois Maxwell, Toshiro Suga, Corinne Clery, Emily Bolton
Plot: When a space shuttle loaned to the United Kingdom by Hugo Drax (Lonsdale) is stolen, 007 (Moore) investigates, but did Drax set the whole thing up himself?
I have never liked Moonraker, always classing it as the worse of all of the Bond movies. While rewatching this helped me discover certain beats I appreciated a lot more than I once did, it still will probably end up at the bottom of my Bond movie preferences.
Let’s start with the good things I rediscovered. For one, Lois Chiles is one of the best Bond girls of the Moore era. The writers seem to have enjoyed the reaction to a formidable woman in the form of Anya in Spy Who Loved Me and continue the girl-power trend here. Her character doesn’t really break away from the norm; she talks tough, yet she still sleeps with Bond at the drop of a hat. However, there is something in Chiles delivery that makes Holly Goodhead hard to write off. No one is quite sure who is taking who to bed, when Chiles delivers a cool response to Moore’s usual quips. On the negative side, while we have Lois Chiles providing a decent female figure, Roger Moore still acts alongside her as though she is a piece of meat. Variety was never Moore’s strong point. Other beats include certain scenes. The opening sequence is up there with the best. Bond falling through the sky without a parachute, yet being able to focus and find a way of surviving is exactly what I want from James Bond. I wish I hadn’t seen that scene as a kid, because I really wanted to have my heart in my mouth, totally oblivious to how he was getting out of this situation. Another good scene I totally forgot about was the moment where Hugo Drax sends his dogs to run down and kill a poor woman that let a secret slip to Bond. It was a brutal watch and surprisingly gruesome for a Bond. Little things like that made me realise that Moonraker was a little better than I originally thought.
My problems began afterwards and the easiest place to start is Jaws. Jaws is a good idea that was beaten to death through over-saturation. He is strong, adds a light touch of humour to a story about spies and assassins, plus he was the right ingredients for a cult character. Moonraker goes too far with the joke. A mysteriously strong figure turns into invincible; Spy Who Loved Me left Jaws’ immortality ambiguous, but Moonraker leaves no two ways about it. The character falls from Niagara Falls and somehow lives. The second half of the film turns into a group of set-pieces strung together where Bond and Jaws can duke it out, like some form of superhero movie. It drains tension and excitement from everything. A fight on a cable car is actually a pretty good idea, as is a chase on the Amazon River. However, seeing as every Jaws fight is the same, why bother investing emotion into the fight? It will obviously be the same ‘aww, isn’t Jaws funny?’ joke over and over again. Michael Lonsdale isn’t much better as Hugo Drax. At least, he doesn’t damage the movie, but he seems very Mastermind 101. He has a crazy scheme, a refined malice about him and would much rather create elaborate executions for Bond rather than planting a bullet in his head. This movie is essentially a string of failed attempts on Bond’s life; the guy should have learned. Lonsdale doesn’t even seem interested with this movie, droning his lines out, as though he is bored of everything going on around him. Sure, it gives him an eerie detached spark, but that gets old quick. Also, his plan would have worked if he hadn’t tried to kill Bond at the start of the investigation. At this point, Bond assumed he was the victim of the crime, not the mastermind behind the whole thing. All he had to do was play nice and Bond never would have cottoned on in time to stop the plan. Rookie error, Drax!
And then there is the space stuff that just makes Moonraker turn into pure cringe-worthiness. I get throwing space into the mix, because at the time, it was logical set-piece to tackle. Lewis Gilbert just fails to make any of it work. The sound effects of the lasers are embarrassing; the slow-motion clambering around zero gravity areas highlights how copied and pasted this story is from a bog standard Sci-Fi. Even worse is Bond getting to space. He breaks into Drax’s base and smuggles his way into a space shuttle. He and Goodhead travel to space and continue the fight. There is no excitement, no awe, no tension. Space is just another set-piece. Sure, when we actually see the space-station, there is some dramatic music, but the initial launch and Bond being introduced into the cold vacuum of space is totally overlooked. Lewis Gilbert wants to make a Bond movie in space, but has no idea of how to actually go about making one.
Final Verdict: There might be no such a thing as a truly bad Bond movie, but Moonraker sure gives it a good go.