So, The Spy Who Loved Me ends with “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only.”
And then Star Wars came out. So EON finally makes the movie Ian Fleming had wanted to make since 1955, Moonraker. The original novel involved Hugo Drax as an ex-Nazi messing with rockets. Fleming wrote the book with an eye toward making a movie. He would come closer Thunderball and eventually succeed with Dr. No.
The bones of For Your Eyes Only were already in place in 1979, with the short story and another, “Risico” being combined for the script. But EON wanted to cash in on the Star Wars hype. So, the Moonraker project got resurrected more than a decade after Fleming’s death.
It opens with a space shuttle on the back of a 747 (a common sight in years between Skylab and the maiden launch of Columbia in 1981. The shuttle is hijacked. M calls Bond. Bond jumps out of a perfectly good airplane and has a midair fight with Jaws, the giant, metal-mouthed henchman-for-hire.
For most of the movie, the basic premise of the novel Moonraker is intact. Drax, an obsessive billionaire rather than an ex-Nazi, is builoding Moonraker shuttles, one of which was lost when NASA loaned it to the British. Bond goes to Drax’s headquarters to investigate what happened to the missing shuttle. There, he meets Dr. Holly Goodhead, a NASA scientist on loan to Drax’s company., who turns out to be a CIA agent. They team up tracing strange doings by Drax from Italy to Brazil to the Amazon. All the while, Jaws chases them, a giant one-man squad of Keystone Kops stalking Bond.
And then it ends with a laser battle in space.
And therein is why Moonraker will never crack most people’s top 10. For starters, it’s a rehash of the well-executed The Spy Who Loved Me, which itself was a sort of remake of You Only Live Twice. Drax is not Fleming’s rocket-obsessed villain. He’s an angora cat shy of being Blofeld.
Holly Goodhead, played by Lois Chiles, is one of the best Bond girls. But the silly script, coupled with the worst name since Plenty O’Toole, really blunts her performance. Jaws, on the other hand, functions has comic relief. EON received so much fan mail for the character that they opted to turn him to Bond’s side at the end.
Moore’s performance is not bad in this, despite some cringe-inducing situations. Particularly good are his interactions with M, stilted and painful to watch in The Man With the Golden Gun, they are probably the most natural sounding moments in a movie that’s otherwise contrived. Which is good. This is Bernard Lee’s last turn as M before his death in 1981.
Moonraker is not the worst of the Bond’s. Golden Gun, A View to a KIll, and Die Another Day can compete for that honor. But for everything Spy showed was great about Moore’s tenure, Moonraker shows the worst of it – silly, flip, and more parody than an Austin Powers movie. All we need to do is give Drax a cat.