My James Bond Retrospective: Moonraker.

One of the more endearing elements of a 007 movie is the line at the end of the credits, “James Bond will return…” In many of the earlier films, the ubiquitous tagline gave audiences the title of the upcoming Bond movie, and The Spy Who Loved Me was no exception.

The 1977 film ended with the words, “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only.” However, that’s not what happened. Following the immense success of Star Wars, Albert Broccoli & Co. decided they wanted to cash in on the “space rage” that was beginning to hit pop culture. So instead of the classic spy thriller, audiences were treated to an episode of “James Bond in Space.”

Moonraker boasts the biggest budget of any Bond film from the start of the franchise to that point. In fact, it had a bigger budget than the budgets of the first six Bond films combined. The film was a massive undertaking.

It paid off too. Despite receiving mixed reviews, Moonraker became the highest-grossing Bond film of all time until the release of GoldenEye in 1995.

The film begins with the hijacking of a Drax Industries Moonraker shuttle on loan to the UK. MI6 sends Bond to investigate, and he begins at the estate of Hugo Drax, the owner of Drax Industries. There he meets Dr. Holly Goodhead, the main Bond girl of the movie. He faces off with Drax’s henchman Chang, survives an assassination attempt in a centrifuge chamber, and picks up a lead that takes him to Venice.

When he arrives in Venice, Bond encounters Dr. Goodhead again, who explains that she’s giving a lecture for NASA. During Bond’s investigation, he stumbles on a biolab that’s producing a lethal nerve gas. He discovers that Drax is moving his operation to Rio de Janeiro, so he begins to make preparations to follow him. He meets up with Goodhead again and discovers that she isn’t a NASA astronaut trainer at all; she’s a CIA agent investigating Drax as well. The two agree to work together, but after sleeping together, they both walk away from the other and follow their own leads.

Bond heads to Rio, where he once again meets up with Goodhead. They decide to work together, but just as they do, Jaws (who is now working for Drax) shows up, and the pair end up captured by Drax’s henchmen. Bond escapes, but Goodhead remains trapped. Shortly after his escape however, Bond finds himself captured by Jaws.

Bond and Goodhead are reunited at Drax’s base and make their way onto his super secret space station that no government has ever discovered yet, despite the fact that it’s over 200 meters wide. Together they foil Drax’s plan to destroy the human population on earth.

Moonraker is far from a perfect film, but I think it may have garnered an unnecessarily bad reputation. Yes, it’s a reactionary piece of filmmaking thanks to Star Wars, and yes, it employs a number of extremely corny elements, but I found that all the cheese was tastefully done. Unlike in Live and Let Die and further in The Man with the Golden Gun, the comedic elements of the film were simply nods in the audience’s direction rather than full-blown parodies. For example, the use of themes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Magnificent Seven were cute, but not kitschy.

Lois Chiles did well as Holly Goodhead, but she wasn’t stellar. Clearly a much better actress than Barbara Bach, and far more believable as a foreign counterpart to 007. I really enjoyed her character and found her to be smart, cunning, and alluring. Not as compelling as Tracy di Vincenzo, but really, who was? There were a few moments where I felt like she was a bit stiff, but overall, her performance was spot on, and frankly, she’s not all that bad looking either.

Drax was an unusual villain, and I found myself wanting to enjoy his performance, but he just felt so heavy and overstated. He just wasn’t believable to me. He came across as somewhat impish, but he was too physically imposing to really sell that kind of performance. His interactions with Bond were tough to buy, and I really just wanted him to not be a part of any further scenes.

All in all, the film wasn’t horrendous as I’d thought it might be. This is one of those movies that I don’t have fond memories of, so going back to it this time around was a bit of a chore, but I’m glad I did. Not a great Bond film, but certainly not unenjoyable. That said, anymore of this over-the-top “Bond in Space” style of film, and I might be sick. Here’s to seeing what comes next…

Up next, For Your Eyes Only.

(Click here to go back to the list.)

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