The Spy Who Loved Me Review

For more The Spy Who Loved Me thoughts, watch this week’s That Bond Show here.

After the unmitigated mess of The Man with the Golden Gun and with the breakup of the Broccoli/Saltzman producer duo largely resolved, Eon productions and the team behind James Bond sought to come out swinging in the next Bond title to help secure the future of the film series. The Spy Who Loved Me thus had a lot riding on it and yet somehow managed to meet all expectations in delivering a fantastic new direction for James Bond.

At the heart of The Spy Who Loved Me is a desire to slow things down and deliver a more spy-focused Bond story. Thus the movie would draw much of its inspiration from the style of From Russia with Love and the early Connery era films. Yet, the genius of the movie lies in how it ultimately pulls from so many of the prior Bond films and almost acts as a celebration of the series; a natural thing for the 10th film in the Bond canon. 

Whether it was the Bond and Anya love story having shades of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or the final action-packed last act and opening of the movie being very clearly inspired by You Only Live Twice there are so many small touches to the earlier films in the Bond series found throughout this movie. 

The Spy Who Loved Me also features what I feel is Roger Moore’s strongest turn as James Bond. Moore utterly nails the balance between dramatic and comedic here, refusing to veer too far in either direction in delivering the definitive performance of his Bond era. Still looking superb and sharply dressed and playing off so well with Barbara Bach’s Anya, Moore delivers a grounded, witty, sharp, and at times emotionally understated and complex Bond that captures the spirit of Sean Connery’s Bond while updating it for Moore’s talents. 

Truly enough praise can not be given to Roger Moore who is excellent throughout the entire film and is so clearly out to deliver something special and his own. This is coupled with Barbara Bach’s Anya being arguably the strongest female lead the series had seen up to that point. Subverting so many of the built in expectations of what a Bond girl should be and flipping them on their head as the tough, talented, and utterly skilled Agent XXX who can more than hold her own against Bond and even manages to outplay him at times. 

The chemistry between the two is great and she builds off the legacy of prior strong female leads in the series and the work of characters like Galore and Tracy. The only downbeat in the film for her character is within the last act where it feels a little like they couldn’t figure out how to incorporate her into the action and thus pushed her aside for much of the ending. It is an unfortunate ending to an otherwise great character. 

Elsewhere The Spy Who Loved Me is similarly great. Of particular highlight is the film’s excellent lighting and cinematography. There were numerous scenes where I was struck by just how beautifully framed the characters were or how stunning the landscapes looked. The entire sequence at the pyramids at night during a light show is simply the cherry on top. Wonderfully staged and timed, with characters disappearing or coming into focus with the timing of the light show, it captures a wonderful mix of tension, fear, beauty, and was a brilliant introduction to the character of Jaws, as well as Anya and James’ first meeting. This is easily in the running for being one of the most beautifully crafted Bond films both at the time and all these years later. There is a lovely deft touch and arty feel to many of the shots.

The music of The Spy Who Loved Me is also a standout. From the Bond 77 version of the Bond theme, that perfectly captures the disco infused era of the film, to Carly Simon’s excellent opening theme (more on that later), the entire film has a score that is both very much of the era and also slightly timeless.

All of which is a nice buildup to talk about the film’s action show pieces. Lewis Gilbert was a master of the big final act battle sequences as seen by his three Bond films and here in Spy Who Loved Me it is no different. A massive sprawling fight inside a tanker, that required the building of the world’s largest soundstage to house it, the finale of the film is grand and a wonderful reflection of the ending of You Only Live Twice. While some may argue it feels out of place in what has hitherto been a much slower and understated film I think it is a great close to the film. 

Gilbert’s mastery of action scenes, though, is actually probably best showcased in the film’s car chase in the second act. Involving motorcycles, cars, and famously a helicopter, it is a textbook showcase for how to stage and direct a great piece of action. At the time it must have felt like it was from another world and even four decades later it is still one of the series’ very best chases. It helps that at the heart is one of the very best Bond cars in the Lotus Esprit. Beautiful, almost futuristic looking, and utterly one of a kind; it was the perfect fit for this movie. 

The Spy Who Love Me sought to take things back to a more grounded and less over the top Bond story, drawing very clear inspiration from films like From Russia with Love, yet it also sought to marry that with a literally bombastic and action packed finale. It possibly shouldn’t have worked. Yet, it very much does. Thanks in large part to a career defining performance by Roger Moore, Lewis Gilbert’s best turn in the director’s chair, and one of the tightest scripts of the Moore era, The Spy Who Loved Me triumphs and succeeds at not all, but definitely most of what it sets out to do. What a fitting 10th film in the series.

Best Moments: 

So many excellent moments to choose from on this one. From the stellar Pyramids light show that was a showcase of the film’s technique and skills, to the iconic and all-time classic pre-credits sequence with the Union Jack parachute jump to of course the stellar and expertly crafted car chase. 

Ultimately for sheer spectacle alone though I feel like I have to pick the massive and overstuffed battle sequence. 

That car chase is real good though. 

The Villain: 

I’ve always thought Stromberg was cool if not the most exciting Bond baddie and that’s largely where I stand now. If anything I think it’s a shame because there is the potential for a really outlandish and fun villain given his admittedly absurd plan. That’s not the route they go though and ultimately Stromberg is another member in Roger Moore’s line of fine but forgettable baddies. 

It’s even more pronounced given the fact that the movie has one of the most iconic and famous henchmen in cinema in Jaws. Richard Kiel somehow threads the needle between cartoonish and genuinely scary so well in this movie and the almost terminator level with which he wipes out everyone he comes into contact with makes him a genuine threat. 

Jaws is great and Stromberg is fine. So the villains get a 7/10.

The Music: 

God bless Carly Simon. 

Simon could have been singing “Happy Birthday” and I would love it, but here we get one of her most famous and well crafted songs and one that speaks right to the heart of the story The Spy Who Loved Me is trying to tell with a quieter and more human Bond at its center. Stellar stuff. Roger Moore’s era got such a weird and fun mix of genres for the music and this is an easy highlight. 10/10

Final Review: 

The Spy Who Loved Me is a largely quieter and softer Bond film. One taking clear inspirations from films like From Russia with Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice. Featuring a series-best turn by Roger Moore and possibly the best female lead he would get to work with his entire era, the central love story at the heart of the film is an excellent and subversive twist on the typical “Bond girl” template. Anya more than holds her own and the slow gradual relationship that develops between the two feels more real than any other in the series at this point with the possible exception of Tracy. There is genuine warmth between the two leads. 

Jaws is an iconic baddie and the plot, while quieter and slower than some Bond films, delivers some of the very best action set pieces in the entire series, from the pre-title sequence through to the giant battle aboard the tanker at the end. 

While not quite at the heights or level of fun of Goldfinger or Live and Let Die the movie easily stands as one of the series’ finest and more than earns its place within the halls of the series’ most important films, considering its role in helping to save the film series. A wonderful return to form for James Bond. 9/10

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