Bond Girl: Re-Watching and Re-Evaluating Moonraker
Moonraker isn’t exactly an original movie.
It feels like it pulls from too many places at once so what should be a standout movie feels too much like the Bond movies before it.
You have the focus on genocide and repopulating the world to exacting specifications that was the villain’s motivation in The Spy Who Loved Me and then the space scenes are highly reminiscent of ones from You Only Lived Twice. Even the comedic aspects feel recycled and a bit clunky with Jaws retooled from a mainly menacing to a goofy guy who, in the end, only wants to be with his lady love.
So here we are on our eleventh Eon Productions Bond film (and Moore’s fourth in the franchise). For me at least, Moonraker is a forgettable movie. Its plot revolves around Bond’s attempts to investigate the theft of a space shuttle made by Hugo Drax. It also deals with Drax’s desire to wipe out the world’s population and sort of seed the earth with a master race that he’s designed, and Bond saving humanity from a mass extinction event.
Like the films that came before it in Moore’s run, Moonraker was filmed to take advantage of a current genre that was sweeping the box office.
For this film, it was the science fiction genre in the wake of Star Wars completely blowing everyone’s minds and getting amazing reviews. You can see the influence in things like the soundtrack and the setting in space.
This movie is just very derivative for me and it’s not a good feeling because James Bond movies are two hours long.
Two hours are a lot of time to spend watching overused tropes in a plot that we basically explored in the last movie. This is honestly the first of Moore’s movies where I kept checking the clock and hoping that it was almost over because it was in turns boring and annoying.
How is this one of the highest grossing Bond films?
Normally, I can find a ton of little things to make the Bond experience worthwhile. Even when the films I’m watching have serious issues, I can usually look to something in the film to make me kind of remember that I like these movies. Moonraker didn’t make that task easy.
First of all, for the first time since Moore took over the role from Connery, I found myself feeling as if I was just going through the motions. With Connery, I frequently felt as if I was bogged down by his movies. They felt slow-paced and I wanted the end to come sooner than it did. Even with the Moore movies that I’ve disliked in this franchise, I never wanted them to hurry up and end the way that I did with Moonraker.
There’s something about the combination of pacing, the tired plot, and the crew’s mixing comedic and sci-fi elements into the spy film that made this film a major miss for me. It’s not more or less problematic than previous films (and in contrast to many other films/books about villains wanting to create a so called ‘master race’, Michael Lonsdale’s Drax has a relatively diverse setup), but the sum of its parts left me waiting for the end on every single rewatch I did.
I do know that the entire “master race” plotline makes up a huge part of why I didn’t like this movie and a huge chunk of that is because Drax’s plan has major issues to it.
First of all, the science doesn’t make sense at any part of it. There’s no way to ensure that pretty people will have pretty kids or perfect ones at that. Just because Drax has this crew of “genetically perfect” people waiting to repopulate the earth, that doesn’t mean that they’re actually going to succeed.
What’s he going to do when the kids need braces or something? Shoot them off the earth? There’s no way to ensure perfection in people and the idea that playing god can get you a “perfect” human every single time a couple gets together is ridiculous.
Also: what about the fact that eventually every single person on Drax’s new earth would be related? And it would be pretty soon at that because he didn’t have that many people as starters for his master race. By the time the world was repopulated to any real extent, everyone would be related and not in a good way, but in a Hapsburg Dynasty kind of way.
What about the plan for killing off much of the human race?
The nerve gas globes that Drax planned to launch into the atmosphere would kill everyone on the planet. At the time of the film’s release in 1979, the earth’s population was over four billion. In this film, Drax was planning on killing off four billion people with a nerve gas that doesn’t also encourage rapid decay.
How long would the nerve gas last once exposed to the air? How long is Drax planning to stay up in space with his new race?
Space is no place for babies after all so they’ll have to come down at some point but there’ll be dead bodies everywhere. Legitimately everywhere. Some of them partially eaten because somehow the nerve gas that Drax has developed doesn’t affect animals and so they’d just gorge on all of the food lying around them. Let’s also not forget the fact that there’d be possible pockets of killer nerve gas just drifting around waiting to strike.
Did Drax actually think this plan through?
It’s not a very good plan at all. Sure, short-term it works and everyone is happy in space and whatnot, but in real life it wouldn’t go very well. I mean, there’s only so much disbelief that I can suspend and I think I ran out about two movies ago. Why couldn’t he have bought a country or something and just fenced it off?
Trying to make sense of Drax’s mad plan makes my head hurt.
Another thing I’m not okay with in this film is how the actresses are used and misused. Aside from Lois Chiles’ amazing Holly Goodhead, most of the film’s female character get the shortest possible end of the stick.
The first female character we’re introduced to turns out to be a villain trying to seduce Bond and winds up dying.
Next we have Drax’s personal pilot Corinne Dufour who of course falls to Bond’s charms. He goes out of his way to be charming to her, letting her know that he finds her attractive while at the same time he also wants to get information Drax’s operation. I actually don’t mind the way that their relationship plays out as much as I mind what happens to Corinne because of it.
There’s a scene where Drax invites Bond to go pheasant shooting with him. That’s played out for laughs and is generally not a bad scene up until the moment where Corinne pulls up to join Drax as well. Essentially, Drax tells her off for “giving” Bond his secrets (which isn’t even true because James Bond is an intelligent character and the safe wasn’t that well hidden) and then has his bodyguard Chang sic dogs on her.
Talk about something that I never ever needed to see in my life.
It’s like something out of a horror movie. Corinne takes off running through the forest while two dogs that look like Rottweilers chase her down. It’s implied that they tear her apart and okay, that’s seriously one of the more messed up punishments for a woman in this series.
Again, this is all tied into punishment. Even if the scriptwriter and director didn’t see it that way, there’s definitely this air that these women are absolutely being punished for giving into James Bond. In many of these films, you do get the feeling that essentially unless you’re the designated Bond Girl TM, having sex or any kind of intimacy with James Bond is a prelude to the worst kind of pain.
I couldn’t even look at the ladies in this film for those small moments that makes everything else about their portrayal something I can ignore. That’s how bad it was.
Out of all of the women in this film, only Holly is even remotely well written and fleshed out.
Despite her unfortunate name (and Bond’s requisite giggle over it), Holly is a great character and you can see how in the wake of The Spy Who Loved Me, female characters in Bond films were allowed to evolve. She’s a capable CIA agent with experience enough to pose as a loaner astronaut and scientist under Drax’s employ.
Holly has more gadgets than Bond and knows how to use them for maximum pain. She keeps up with him and they’re once more on equal footing. I love the fact that you don’t feel an inequality in their relationship. As with Amasova in the previous film, setting Bond up with a rival spy works because they strive to out do one another in the narrative and so their relationship doesn’t come across with any weird notes to their relationship.
I like that she’s actually kind of known for her dialogue and how she basically doesn’t let Bond get away with anything. Look at this fabulous bit of dialogue from their first meeting in Drax’s lab:
Bond: Excuse me my name is Bond, James Bond. I’m looking for Dr. Goodhead.
Dr. Goodhead: You just found her.
Bond: A woman!
Dr. Goodhead: Your powers of observation do you credit, Mr. Bond.
Good for her right? She manages to call out Bond for his perceptions within seconds of seeing him and dealing with his sexist assumptions. And she does it all while looking almost exactly like Milla Jovovich. Like how could I not like her, you know?
Now, in last week’s recap post I talked up the villainous character Jaws. He was a huge deal in The Spy Who Loved Me, set up as the scary villain that literally takes a bite out of everyone that comes across his path. He’s this indestructible bad guy who freaking bit a shark to death in the most epic scene in this franchise. Of course I gravitated to him.
In some ways, he’s a bit of a parody of himself in this film. He’s a mercenary for hire now, someone who Drax snaps up as soon as he can to help handle his James Bond problem. The weirdness starts when the attempts to humanize him come in. In reaction to how many people enjoyed Jaws in the previous film, there’s an attempt to humanize Jaws by giving him a love interest in the form of Dolly who put me in mind of Harley Quinn from the get go.
There’s a sense that we’re looking at a Beauty and the Beast subplot with them, with Dolly changing Jaws from the side of evil with only her love. It’s interesting because for the most part in this franchise, women are the ones who succumb to love and switch their sides. There’s potential there but at the same time I feel like they just went for the easiest way out to turn Jaws into a good guy more halfway through the movie.
Chances are, if the Eon Production folks had estimated Jaws’ appeal and planned the storyline in advance, this wouldn’t have felt as weird as it did in the film. However, I don’t think anyone could’ve expected how many people liked Jaws. He’s a villain among villains, there’s nothing really special separating him from the villains that came before him but yet he’s consistently ranked high on Bond villain lists to this day. You can see the lack of oversight kind of getting the Eon folks with the scramble to rebrand him and how, well… how rough the transit was.
What really frustrates me about Moonraker is about how close it was to every thing that I like about Bond films.
The fight scenes were almost there. They were fast and there were funny moments but there was something missing.
The plot was over the top but at the same time, it was lacking something integral that would allow me to lose myself in the strangeness.
Everything about the film was just a hair away from what I wanted to see and yet it just didn’t click. It’s not necessarily a bad movie either. I was largely free of righteous rage throughout my rewatches, focused more on trying to figure out why this movie left me feeling incredibly unsatisfied. No matter how I looked at the film, I still can’t stop looking at it as this ridiculously boring film that was never quite at the level I needed it to be at.
Thankfully the next film on our roster, 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, is one of the more interesting films in Moore’s run of the franchise. Even though I know it’s going to be a rant-worthy film for some of the more annoying tropes that reoccur, at least I know I won’t be bored!
What I’m looking forward to:
For Your Eyes Only is supposed to be a return to the more “realistic” films in the Bond franchise. That usually means that the director and producers try too hard to make us think that James Bond’s adventures are entirely plausible. That’s always fun to watch because they never quite manage to do it and there’s always a disconnect between the world that Bond lives in and our own.
This is also our last reference towards SPECTRE in canon until this year. We don’t get much because of the Thunderball lawsuit going on at the time the film was made, but in this at least, I’ll take what I can get.
A huge thing to look forward to is the James Bond film I’m watching after For Your Eyes Only. Sean Connery’s last Bond film is a non-Eon one and Never Say Never Again is the non-canon Bond film of my dreams. It’s miles better than that horrible Casino Royale comedy bomb from the 60s and stands up well as a film that wraps up Connery’s Bond run.
Zina Hutton writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories. Find her on her blog or on Twitter.
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