I’ve shared many of my thoughts on Roger Moore’s weaknesses and faults as James Bond and the era with the character that he defines throughout these reviews. Yet, it isn’t really until here in Octopussy and its succeeding film that we finally get the image of Moore that most seems to have stuck to the larger culture.
Octopussy is a film that exists at the crossroads of both what makes Moore so good and bad at being Bond. Fifty-five years old when the film came out, Moore is definitely getting long in the tooth but also seems to be having his most fun filming a Bond movie since The Spy Who Loved Me by the looks of things.
Jovial, goofy, and deadly serious at brief times, Octopussy can be a jarring tonal experience and while the movie certainty doesn’t pull it off all the time I do think Roger Moore largely does, delivering a solid if silly performance that totally seems fitting with the movie he’s in. Roger Moore will always be a take it or leave it Bond in many ways and while I have made my issues with him clear by now, when he is on point he does deliver such a cool and clever James Bond.
The movie also features one of Moore’s strongest female leads in Maude Adams, as the titular Octopussy. While her name is perhaps the most outlandish of all goofy-laden Bond names, Adams herself really imbues the character with a lot of depth and emotion. It doesn’t hurt that this is Adams’ second Bond film with Moore and thus the two have wonderful chemistry together. The biggest downfall of Octopussy as a character is the strange choice to delay her reveal until an hour into the movie and then when we finally get Bond and Octopussy working together, the movie has Bond fake his death and split the two up again for essentially the entire rest of the movie, which, suffice to say, is a disservice to the character.
One particular point of both joy and disappointment with the movie is in its settings. The first two acts of the film that take place in India are beautifully depicted and there are some great shots of the country. Indeed getting a Bond film set in this location is an inspired choice in many ways and provides a nice change of pace from the usual Bond locales. The film, though, does suffer from not being entirely sure how to handle the Indian populace as a whole. While Vijay is a great joyful character who is a great addition to Bond’s team, the larger population and culture is treated very much more like a gimmick at times, and the movie can’t help itself from a Temple of Doom-esque shocking dinner scene. On the whole though I was impressed by the Indian setting.
This is carried over to Octopussy’s climax, set in the divided East and West Berlin. Really the first Bond movie at all concerned about the cold war since at least The Spy Who Loved Me, I loved the film’s cold war tension and pay off, with General Orlov being a particularly wonderful cartoon villain.
While the film by no means needs Orlov and Khan as co-villains, both deliver fun performances and this has always been a set of villains I find more interesting among the larger slog of Moore era evil-doers.
Octopussy is a movie that straddles the divide between fun and overly silly, between serious moments and moments of utter camp. It by no means always pulls this off but it’s also going for a lot of different things. I appreciate the ambition of the movie even while noticing its many stumbles. It’s definitely a step up from the past two movies in the series, if ultimately a rather fine Roger Moore Bond film.
Yet, the cracks are really showing by this point in the Moore era, really in the James Bond series as a whole. Everything just has the feel of a transition era, with not just Moore, but Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny and even behind the scenes veterans like John Barry, Maurice Binder, and more all entering the final few movies of their runs with the series. Even Albert Broccoli himself is recruiting his step-son and eventually daughter as heirs to the EON legacy. Like with most transition products this film suffers in parts.
But dang if Octopussy isn’t a mostly fun, if fine experience. I’ll take that, particularly over the knock-off Bond flick Never Say Never Again that came out the same year.
The opening with the mini jet is an over-the-top but fun sequence that is a great way to kick things off. I enjoy the entire run of James racing to stop the bomb from going off at the circus, even including Bond’s disguise as a clown which I think is fine and not terrible. Honestly the race to the bomb is probably one of Moore’s stronger climaxes.
I really do like Steven Berkoff’s General Orlav and Louis Jourdan’s Kamal Khan, even if it is totally not needed to have both. They are silly and fun Bond villains and have heaps more personality than most of Moore’s rather forgettable set of baddies. Ranking them collectively I’d give them a solid 7.5 / 10.
Maybe the most gadgets shown off in years here. The earpiece is used to great effect in the film and I love the fact that Magda using her hair dryer causes static while Bond is using it. The whole sequence of Bond and Vijay walking through Q Lab’s together looking at everything is good stuff. A solid 7/10.
Octopussy in its own way epitomizes so much of the Roger Moore era of James Bond. Swinging wildly in quality and tone throughout its runtime, while delivering its moments of laughter and levity. I can think of no better place for it then smack in the middle of the rankings right now. It is neither the very best or the very worst of the series, the spitting image of mid-tier. 7/10