The Spy Who Loved Me:
First of all, I gotta say that it’s extremely hard to write about this movie without quoting Alan Partridge, so I hope you all appreciate the sacrifice I’m going to make by not bringing it up again.
Now, if you’ve been following this recap week-by-week, you might have me pegged as a kind of crybaby grump who throws a tantrum whenever James Bond isn’t dark and realistic and dripping with pathos … and that’s only half-true. The tropes of the Moore era can work on their own merits, and so The Spy Who Loved Me, while not exactly a deep work of cinema, is just plain good fun.
By 1977, it had been years since there was a truly successful Bond film, and nobody expected great things after the fiasco of The Man With The Golden Gun. But the filmmakers took a gamble, Moore threw himself into it, and the franchise was revitalised. So what went right here that won over audiences?
Well, we’ve done Bond in Vegas, Bondsploitation, and Kung-Fu Bond, and now we have the Milestone Celebration. You see, The Spy Who Loved Me was the 10th in the series and released to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the film series. Without any bandwagons to jump on (apart from a quasi-disco soundtrack) The film ops to just be the Bondiest Bond movie of all time.
The closest thing I can compare it to is The Five Doctors, the 20th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, which is totally shallow and fanwanky, but also so packed with nostalgic references and kisses to the past that it’s impossible not to enjoy the self-indulgence of it all.
It would take too much time for me to provide a full inventory, but believe me when I tell you that EVERY movie made up to this point gets a passing nod in some way, which is pretty impressive. Even the Evil Plan is more-or-less recycled from YOLT, with submarines being Pac-Man’d instead of spaceships, and it’s better if you just pretend that Karl Stromberg really is Blofeld assuming another alias.
The book’s plot is all about James Bond foiling an arson plot by hotel managers … and that’s it. Ian Fleming actually disowned it, and if it had ever been filmed as a straight adaptation it would have turned into a weird bottle episode. So, with nothing to go on but a title, the screenwriters went back and cherry-picked the best bits from the last nine films, strung them altogether, and added some connective tissue. Somehow, they got away with it.
A big reason for this is the character of Anya Amasova, a KGB agent who (at LAST) boasts total Bimbo immunity for the entirety of the movie’s run time. I kept expecting her to scream at a mouse at any moment or burst into tears, but the film gratifyingly presents the Final Girl as the anti-Bond character as well, and she’s framed as every bit as competent, heroic, and dangerous as her MI6 counterpart.
Not only that, but because of their rivalry we get some actual sexual tension between them, instead of 007 relying on his weird pheromones, so Bond’s seduction of her feels earned. Indeed, rather than Bond spouting off gross innuendos, most of their interactions consist of sassy snarking, which works because Moore and Barbara Bach have better comedy chemistry than they do romantic.
The movie begins with Bond snogging a Random Bint at a ski lodge, before being called away on a mission by Q. However, it’s easy to miss that this scene is mirrored later with Anya’s introduction. Concerned about a vanished sub, General Gogol (basically just a Russian version of M) demands for Agent XXX. We cut to a couple cuddling in bed together, before a message comes in, ordering XXX to report for duty. The lovers sigh resignedly … then the woman answers the call, revealing that she’s Agent XXX, not the bloke. It’s not much, but for James Bond it’s a massively progressive step; one that would have been unthinkable in the Connery era.
But Anya’s bae Sergei is also summoned to hunt down Bond at his alpine retreat, and is killed by Bond in the opener. This means that Anya shares the loss of a loved one with 007 (Sergei becomes her Tracy), but also harbours plenty of genuine animosity, and chafes when forced to work alongside him. So Bond has to work hard to win her affection and trust instead of relying on his reputation and threats. Guess what? This means he has to win the viewer over by proxy, and that simple change pays off big time in making Bond a more watchable character.
Not only that, but Bond killing Sergei, and Anya’s outrage over it, pushes the critique of Bond’s character established in the previous movie: is Bond a professional and a gentleman, a pawn of the establishment, or a glorified murderer no better than the villains he’s set against? This theme is explored in an almost modernist way, much like Grant Morrison’s comic The Invisibles twenty years later. The Spy Who Loves Me shows us that there are consequences when Bond flippantly kills goons.
There are several scenes where Bond is downright vicious, including a really nasty moment with a mook on a Cairo rooftop. The goon slips and is left hanging over the edge by Bond’s necktie. Bond lets him dangle, drawing out the man’s terror and misery, demanding information. The poor bastard has just enough time to yell: “pyramids!” before Bond callously slaps his hand away and lets him topple to his death, irritated at having to even bother, before quipping: “What a helpful chap.” Again, much like the moment when Connery shot the guy twice in Dr No, it’s a moment of indifferent cruelty that really highlights his emotional remove.
Yet this time Bond actually has an answer to his critics, and a much better response than just accusing them of being full of shit. There’s a great scene when Anya confronts Bond about his role in her boyfriend’s death, and Bond (quite reasonably) replies:
BOND: When someone's behind you on skis at 40 miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don't always have time to remember a face. In our business Anya, people get killed. We both know that. So did he. It was either him or me. The answer to the question is: yes. I did kill him."
It’s the first time Bond has ever openly discussed his own moral compass, and it at least makes us feel as though he might be an approximation of a human being. It’s not an particularly complex or nuanced code of ethics, but better than the ‘fight or fuck’ mentality he’s had up till now. Not just that, but he owns up to the killing completely, and even looks somewhat remorseful for it. It’s moments like this that excuse piffle like “Just keeping the British end up.” The puns become things which relieve tension, instead of making you queasy.
Speaking of Henchmen, the other highlight of the film is Jaws, easily the best and most memorable since Oddjob. However, I’m not so sure that credit should be given to the filmmakers so much as it should be lavished on Richard Kiel’s stature. Kiel is 7″1, and thus dominates every scene he’s in, without having to do anything but be incredibly tall. It’s crazy that, in this spectacle-laden franchise, a giant who towers over each frame without the benefit of special effects is more impressive than a flying car.
Jaws reminds one of a prototype Terminator; a T-650 that was never considered for mass production. He does. Not. Die. He’s a silent, grinning, metal-mouthed golem, who shrugs off anything thrown at him. Pitting him against Roger Moore is great because it puts the typically-unflappable Moore on the back foot. Jaws is so badass that he doesn’t even meet with an ironic death. He tears open a van like a tin of tuna, he survives a ton of masonry landing on him. He falls into a shark tank and bites the sharks. You just can’t help but root for him.
I could go on about this film’s other successes: the theme song, the genuinely cool-as-fuck underwater Lotus Esprit, the colossal supertanker set, but I don’t need to. This film doesn’t do anything new: it just tries that little bit harder, and it shows. When the titles rolled, I was actually excited when I saw the words: “James Bond will return in: For Your Eyes Only.”
Just imagine how gutted I was when Moonraker came next…