I’m genuinely struggling to remember much about the moronically-named Octopussy. It’s easily the most by-the-numbers Bond film, where every scene feels like it’s been plundered from a previous instalment. EON thought I wouldn’t notice.
But I did.
The plot is a straight-up rehash of Goldfinger, with some arsehole trying to blow up a nuke at an air force base to trigger a nuclear war because reasons. Okay, fine. The Spy Who Loved Me recycled a lot of its beats and it managed to pull it off. But what makes Octopussy feel so aimless is its inconsistent tone.
It seems to want to have its cake and eat it by being a realistic thriller with Bond in a cold war plot and with violent death scenes, and a lightweight Roger Moore farce with an island of sexy warrior women, gorilla costumes, and Bond swinging from a vine in the jungle like Tarzan. The plot involves Bond going to India to find a missing diamond egg, and from then on it morphs more and more into deleted scenes from The Pink Panther.
Again we have conceptually cool character who turns out to be a total let-down when we meet them. The eponymous Octopussy is set up to be this bad bitch diamond smuggler who lives with a bunch of cutthroat Amazons. Not only that, but she’s played by Maud Adams, who is only 18 years younger than Moore (we’ll talk more about the age gap problem in a bit) and boasts decent enough chemistry with him.
Yet when we actually see her engage in some derring-do, she turns out to be mostly useless, which is all the more grating after we just had a scuba-diving college girl with a crossbow.
Wracking my brains, I can only remember brief snippets of camp nonsense, while the actual plot remains elusive. There’s Bond telling a snake to ‘hiss off’, another scene where he orders a Bengal tiger to ‘Sit!’, and a bit where where he’s sliding down a bannister and shoots off a knob at the end to avoid it colliding with his ghoulies.
But if you were to sit me down and ask me how a diamond egg, a deposed Afghan prince, an ICBM, and a mad Russian general were actually connected to one another, I’d be fucking flummoxed. I’d probably be more confused than someone who had never seen the damn film before.
The climax seems to epitomise the whole Roger Moore era. James Bond has to rush back to a US base in West Germany, pursued by the polis and goons alike, and staggers into a circus held at the camp dressed as a clown. He looks utterly ridiculous, and isn’t taken seriously at all by the American generals watching the show when he warns them that there’s a bomb on the premises.
So on paper, it’s utterly laughable. Bond has been made to look more foolish and asinine than ever. Except we can see that there are kids in the audience, kids that are going to have the flesh seared off their skeletons by a 10 megaton wave of unstoppable nuclear fire if Bond doesn’t get his point across. Somehow, despite the facepaint and red nose and oversized shoes, Moore acts the hell out of this scene. He totally sells Bond’s mounting desperation, frustration, and sheer bloody panic as the clock ticks down to cataclysmic armageddon.
But it’s all wasted. It’s simply too much of an uphill struggle to carry it off with any gravitas. The silliness defuses the suspense (pun unintended) and overshadows the lead’s performance . Moonraker was dumb, sure, but at least it had the self-assuredness to attempt an idiotic premise with gusto. This is just wasting everyone’s time: Roger’s, yours, and mine.
I’d really like to say that Moore’s next film was a return to form, or that this was when he called it quits. But as we all know, Bond movies are driven by box office returns, not good taste. So instead we get-
A View To Kill:
A View to Kill might well have been another bog-standard Moore outing. But it partially redeems itself in two ways.
First of all, Roger Moore is now old as fuck. I mean, sure, he looks good for his age, but his age 57, which is somewhat weird. The last movie mitigated this issue by having him bed a woman in her late thirties, but in this movie Moore goes back to his personal code of ‘co-eds or bust.’ There were several action scenes in this film where I was sure his knees were going to give way at any moment.
However, this has the knock-on effect of ensuring that Bond is a lot more cuddly and less likely to extort nookie at gunpoint this time around. Mark Gatiss once said that this film is more enjoyable if you pretend that it’s not a Bond film, but about an elderly man convinced he’s a secret agent, and while I don’t agree with this, I do see where he’s coming from.
The second saving grace is the two villains: Max Zorin, played by Christopher Walken, and May Day, played by Grace Jones, who are just damn watchable. I call it the Emperor Palpatine Effect when a bad film can almost be redeemed by a compelling antagonist.
Zorin is a KGB agent turned industrialist who just straight up relishes being evil. There’s one scene where he guns down his own minions for kicks, despite the fact that he’s already leaving them to die in a flooding mine shaft. We’ve had baddies who enjoyed being bad before: but that was only because of the money and power it got them. Zorin feels like a Mastermind whose evil plan is deliberately arbitrary: an excuse for him to go on a mad rampage.
Meanwhile May Day feels like a homicidal Ru Paul’s Drag Race contestant: an towering, sinewy hitwoman with a buzzcut and a shawl, who kills people with poisoned fish hooks and who probably pegged 007 when they slept together. She’s a combination of the Femme Fatale and the Henchman, but she holds all the power in all of her scenes, even getting a genuine redemption and sacrifice at the end that knocks Jaws and What’s-Her-Face’s out of the park.
As for the plot … well, it’s another remake of Goldeneye, with a greedy bastard wanting to corner a market by destroying a precious resource so he’ll have a monopoly on it. In this case, we substitute Fort Knox for Silicon Valley and gold for microchips.
The problem is that Zorin’s plan makes zero sense from an economic standpoint: He wants to destroy Silicon Valley to make money by cornering the microchip market. But all the devs in Silicon Valley are the people who are buying them, not the producers. If he wanted to monopolise chips he’d be better off flooding China, which might have provoked an international crisis which would have merited the secret service’s involvement.
Indeed, AVTK gets more wrong than it does right. For a start, the entire first act of the film is a total filibuster, with Bond investigating an unrelated (and boring) plot of Zorin to put microchips up horse’s arses. It’s an excuse to have Bond schmoozing in a top hat at the Royal Ascot, so don’t worry about it too much.
The racehorse stuff all takes place in Paris, and sees Bond impersonate a toff called ‘James St John Smythe’ at Zorin’s French chateau. There’s a lot of mucking about with Bond having a superior pretend to be his butler (establishing conclusively that Bond is not nice to waiters) and being incredibly unsubtle (as usual) about his spying.
There’s also a scene where Bond tries to pull a female associate of Zorins, who rebuffs him before May Day appears and bluntly tells Moore to piss off. It seems as though the scene is meant to cast May Day as threatening muscle keeping Bond off the poone, but to modern audiences it just looks like a girl having her friend’s back when a creepy old man at a club tries to put his hand up her skirt.
The horse racing subplot is soon dropped like a hot potato and Bond tails Zorin to San Fran. It would have been cool to have Bond end up in an explicitly gay environment after all the faffing about he’s done in Harlem, Jamaica, China, Thailand, and Japan. But if you were hoping for a scene where Bond fights May Day and her drag queen minions at a pride march then I’m sorry to disappoint you.
Instead, Bond meets with Local Contact Agent Chuck Lee, who tells gives him a bit of backstory about Zorin. Again, we have another case of a cool concept being totally misspent after its introduction. It turns out that Zorin is actually the product of a Nazi experiment to create an übermensch, and has turned genetically perfect and nuttier than a Snickers bar. But rather than have an over-the-hill Bond rely on his wits to defeat a younger superman, the movie has Zorin depend upon over-complex schemes and grandiose ambitions, like all the other losers who came before him. Sigh.
Bond then goes to investigate an oil tanker belonging to Zorin, possibly because EON was still paying for the Diamonds are Forever set, and there he meets an unseen ex called Pola Ivanova. Pola is a competent and charismatic KGB agent, who has a bit of history with Bond and alludes to a mission they had together in … wait a minute! Is this bird just Anya from TSWLM with the serial numbers filed off?
Yes, it is. In fact, the director wanted Barbara Bach to reprise her old role, which would have been a nice continuity reference. But Back refused and we thus waste ten minutes watching Bond get it on with a Random Bint we’ve never heard about who isn’t relevant again. Terrific.
The Final Girl, a geologist who has been probing Zorin’s conspiracy to blow up his own mine and flood the bay area, is pretty hated by Bond fans, but personally I didn’t mind her so much. Okay, so she cocks up a bit, and screams a lot, but as a Doctor Who fan, shrieking lassies don’t even register for me anymore. Bond meets Stacy Sutton by (how else?) breaking into her home and attempting to seduce her. However, Sutton shoots down Bond’s inept flirting and Bond shifts gears into ‘considerate stepdad’ mode.
Although Moore being paternal is still uncomfortable (getting Stacy’s clothes off is clearly his main objective after all) he is actually quite sweet to her, making her a quiche (which he insists on calling an omelette for some reason) and taking an interest in her: things which Connery would have blanched at even considering. Stacy explains that her family are in oil, but that Zorin has stolen all her assets and driven her to a squalid life as a successful scientist living in prime real estate. How relatable.
Bond and Stacy team up and infiltrate Zorin’s mine, but they completely fail to stop him detonating some TNT and starting a chain reaction that floods the mine. However, they do manage to defuse the bigger bomb that will flood the valley, and May Day has a complete moral flip-flop and dies saving the day. I’m not sure why Zorin didn’t just blow up the most important bomb first and flood the mine after, or why he didn’t aim all those bullets he expended on his staff at Bond. Maybe he left the stove on at home and was in a rush to get back?
Anyway, because Stacy’s bimbo condition has steadily worsened over the course of the film’s runtime, she completely fails to stop a giant zeppelin coming up behind her, and ends up being kidnapped. However, Bond clings onto a rope and ends up being taken half a mile up into the air. This leads to a climax where Christopher Walken tries to kill Roger Moore on top of the Golden Gate Bridge while his wee Operation Paperclip mate throws dynamite at him from a balloon.
It’s climaxes like this that make me appreciate that old axiom that, while plenty of art is unjustly forgotten, no art is ever unjustly remembered. Is this climax completely bonkers and unrealistic? 100 percent. But is it an impressive one? You betcha!
So Zorin is defeated, the day is saved, and Bond and Stacy float back to her house. Now since James has been all ‘cool daddy’ this whole time, I was half expecting Bond to accept that he was too old to be chasing skirt, and bow out gracefully … but no, within minutes of getting back to the Sutton pad, Bond starts necking with her in the shower. Then there’s yet another scene where Q and M catch Bond in the act, using a small robot dog that looks like a shiter version of K9. I’m not sure why the Bond franchise seems to think that I’ll enjoy these comedy voyeurism endings, but I cannot make it clear enough how quickly they become tiresome.
So that’s A View To Kill – not bad, but not great either and pretty unnecessary. It had a lot of potential. This could have been Moore’s last hurrah: a story where an aging spy realises he’s reached the twilight of his career, vanquishes a younger upstart, and retires with some class. But instead it opts for midlife crisis wish fulfilment, and ages far less gracefully. I guess ‘Less is Moore?’ Yeah? Geddit?
Make no mistake though, from this point onwards, the movies will make a conscious shift in tone, style and maturity. Somewhere out there, an angel heard my prayers for dark intrigue, moral ambiguity, and grounded realism, and decided to answer them. Farewell Roger Moore, and hello Timothy Dalton…