James Bond is back back back in his tenth adventure, this time being forced to team up with a Russian counterpoint, Agent XXX, on the hunt for a microfilm with information on some missing nuclear submarines.
Bond, in fact more often than not I put him firmly as the bottom of that list. This stems from the last time I watched any of his movies being a pseudo-marathon of sorts, wherein I watched all the Bond movies (22 at the time, this was between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall) in the space of a couple of weeks, and towards the end of Moore’s run I couldn’t get to the end of A View To A Kill fast enough. Looking back, all I can think of are the horrendous one-liners, the overflowing arrogance and bravado he brought to the character, along with easily some of the worst disguises (the clown, anyone?) and a comedic touch that I rarely found humorous, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this viewing. However it turned out that amidst the mire of my Moore memories I had been unable to distinguish any positives, of which The Spy Who Loved Me definitely has plenty.
For starters, the opening sequence, in which Bond (Moore) flees down an Austrian mountain on skis as some anonymous henchman chase after him, has become one of the most iconic action sequences in the whole franchise, if not British cinema, as the chase climaxes with Bond leaping off a cliff and briefly free falling, before activating his Union Jack parachute. Your ability to look beyond how ludicrous this sequence is – why did the goons wait until Bond had left his isolated cabin before killing him? was he planning on parachuting off the cliff even if he hadn’t been chased? surely there’s an easier way off the mountain? – will determine your capacity to enjoy this film, as at time it is very, very silly. The overall villain for example, Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens), wants to annihilate all life on Earth so he can live in his custom underwater lair. Why? It’s unclear, other than he likes fish – he keeps a pet shark for disposing of his enemies – and he’s got webbed hands. Similarly, his henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) is a giant man with metal teeth, who has a penchant for biting people in the neck until they die. If that all sounds like fun rather than too stupid for your time, then congratulations, this is the film for you.
At times it does go a little too far for me though. The car in this outing is the Lotus Esprit – which looks like it was drawn on a particularly low resolution version of AutoCAD – and it has the ability to, when driven into the water, become a submersible. As Bond gadgets go, that’s just a little too silly for me. I much preferred the flat-pack DIY jetski Bond rides near the end. The traditional Q-branch scene, wherein the entire Research and Development department seems to have relocated to Cairo, is also full of ideas that just don’t quite tickle me the right way, which is odd because Q and his gadgets are often amongst my most enjoyable aspects of a Bond movie.
Character-wise Moore is pretty much as I remembered him. It’s rare that a remark or action isn’t followed by some quip from him, regardless of how relevant it is to what has just previously occurred. He remains suave and charming, but I always feel he somehow thinks he’s even more suave and charming than he actually is. Unfortunately everyone he encounters, especially the numerous beautiful and scantily-clad women, seem to agree with him rather than me. Stromberg is fine if a bit understated as the villain, although this film was a response to the poorly-performing The Man With The Golden Gun, in which Christopher Lee’s three-nippled Scaramanga was much too over the top. Also on not-great form is Barbara Bach as Agent XXX, the Russian spy Bond is forced to team up with. Bach is not exactly what I’d call an actress, and here she proves that to no end. It’s a shame, as her character could have been one of the better Bond girls, in that she seems equally as capable as Bond, if not more so, but she is severely let down by an appalling performance. I also think the name Agent XXX is terrible, as though the screen writers literally wrote “XXX” with the intention of coming up with something to fill the space later on, hence why I refer to her as Agent Placeholder.
Fortunately any negative comments I have regarding Bach are far outweighed by just how wonderful Richard Kiel is as Jaws. He remains the only Bond henchman to return for a second film (spoiler alert: he survives this one) and that’s mostly due to Kiel’s insistence that the character have an element of humanity to him. Yes he’s 7’4 and has teeth that can bite through anything – at one point he literally picks Bond up and just beats him several times against the ceiling, making Moore and his stunt doubles look like children in his arms – but he also adds a great deal of comedy and colour to the role. When Bond gets away at one point, Jaws picks up a rock to throw after him, but accidentally drops it on his own foot. It doesn’t sound like much, but Kiel plays it wonderfully.
Speaking of action scenes, the ship-based climax of this film is incredible. It features a small prison escape, so I was on board immediately, but there are also dozens of extras and stunt men essentially fighting a small war occurring within a submarine-eating ship. I didn’t much care for the bomb diffusing sequence, in which Bond must remove the detonator from a bomb carefully without touching the sides or it will explode – think of it as a high stakes game of Operation – as we absolutely know that Bond will survive the scene, and it’s not even visually interesting as it’s literally just watching Bond slowly pull something out of a hole. I’d have liked different stakes, or for it to involve a more exciting method of extraction, but it remained a waste of a scene that the film wouldn’t suffer from losing. I did appreciate the great deal of model and set work in creating the effects throughout though, even if some of them looked very fake by today’s standards.
All in all I had a very enjoyable time watching this film. It has been described as the most Bond-like a Bond movie can be, in that it ticks every single possible Bond movie cliche, but it does so in a highly entertaining fashion. There’s a reason that a lot of the ideas in this film have become tradition within the franchise – if it works, keep on doing it!
You can listen to the Lambcast episode on the film here.
Choose Film 7/10