The Roger Moore era of James Bond has always been one that is defined by its wild swings and inconsistent nature and just taking a tour of his first four movies seems to epitomize this. Bouncing from some of my very favorite Bond films in Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me to two of my all-time least favorite films in the series in The Man with the Golden Gun and Moonraker is a head-spinning ordeal.
Moonraker in particular is all the more disappointing because of how much the series and Roger Moore had course corrected in the prior film after the mess that was The Man with the Golden Gun. For them to then put out this plodding, lackluster, and meddling film right after is a disappointment. For them to take the last act of the story where they do is a series low that is still a punch line and cringe inducing bit of film the series would take decades to get away from.
I’ve talked on That Bond Show about how Roger Moore as James Bond threads a fine line with his casual, laid back, and charmingly cool self. If the balance isn’t right it can veer into a bored and lazy performance and that’s largely what we get here. It’s hard to blame Moore entirely for it, given what he has to work with, but the cracks of the Moore era are already beginning to show.
It’s a shame too because Lois Chiles gets to basically play out the role of Anya in this movie and does have a fun energy and chemistry with Moore, just one that the film gives far too little screen time to. While Holly Goodhead is an absurd character name, her actual character is just as sharp and witty as Bond and the entire scene of the two of them trading quips back and forth as Bond discovers she’s a spy was fun stuff; it’s just sadly one of the only scenes of its kind.
The Bond and Holly dynamic provides some of the only sparks in the film. Richard Kiel is back as Jaws but is played utterly for laughs this time and after one great creepy introduction is never taken as a serious threat again and instead becomes this cartoonish demigod of a man who can’t die. While in Spy Who Loved Me Jaws was a menacing figure, here he comes across as more of a buffoon almost and the less said of his 11th hour conversion to the side of the good guys the better.
In many ways Jaws is a symptom of larger issues with Moonraker, given its frantic production behind the scenes, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that they pulled from prior films in the series, but Moonraker is almost a beat for beat remake of the film directly before it and almost always does it worse. Whether it’s Jaws, the world destroying plot at its heart, the love story between Bond and a female agent, or the main villain themselves, Moonraker is just copying The Spy Who Loved Me’s homework and still getting it wrong.
The only real area where it builds off of its predecessor is with Hugo Drax being a stronger baddie then Stromberg and even that is largely down to just giving Drax more time on screen than we ever got with Stromberg. Drax is still ultimately another forgettable Moore era villain.
And so it goes for 2/3rds of this film. A competent if utterly uninspired film that lacks any real momentum or energy for broad stretches and can’t really ever seem to get out of first gear. That could have been enough to have a mundane two hours at the cinema, but then the last act happens.
I will spare readers much of my disbelief and anger I still feel at the movie’s decision to go to space and less jump the shark than rocket over it, but suffice it to say I regard it as one of, if not the, worst creative decisions and sequences in the entire series. It is as if all the sudden the filmmakers had stitched on a D-list sci fi movie where the ending of a James Bond film should have been. Awful, cringy, utterly breaking any suspension of disbelief and reality the series had created, it is the worst and I hate it and just…sigh…it’s awful every time I get to it.
And that’s Moonraker. A fine and decent enough Bond movie with a brutally bad ending. While Moonraker isn’t as bad or offensive as The Man with the Golden Gun it is still a genuinely bad James Bond movie, when it’s even trying to pretend to be one at all. It escapes being last but it almost never comes close to exciting.
Honestly the pre-title sequence jump out of a plane without a parachute is great and a marvel of stunt work and probably my favorite scene in the movie. Even there though, the cringe humor and the film’s mistakes are present with Jaws unneeded appearance and tumble into a circus tent. The movie just can’t get out of its own way.
Hugo Drax is better than Stromberg but Jaws is awful here. Chang is in a nice fight with Bond but has no personality at all. A bland and forgettable batch of baddies is perfect for a largely bland and meh movie. 5/10
I can’t think of a single note of the Moonraker theme. They brought back Shirely Bassey which is great, but even she is removed from her best and most iconic work. 5/10
Moonraker is 70’s camp but without any sense of fun. The goofy and silliness of the super campy Diamonds are Forever is replaced with this mild mannered film we get here. It is cheesy and cringy but without any accompanying wink at the camera to go along with it. Moonraker the film doesn’t seem to know what kind of a movie it is.
And the movie it is, is a tepid, lukewarm affair for most of its runtime. There is a changing of the guard afoot with the Bond series, with this being famed production designer Ken Adam’s last film as well as Bernard Lee’s final film before he passed away and this sort of gray staid blanket weighs over the film.
By the time the final act is upon us and Bond is up in the stars we have hit crisis territory. For all the grief that the series would get with some of Pierce Brosnan’s reliance on gadgets, nothing in any other film in the series would come close to the blue laser fight in space at this film’s climax. Poor all around. Prevented from being bottom by the disaster and also boring mess of The Man with the Golden Gun. 5/10