The Spy Who Bored Me: Moonraker

Like The Spy Who Loved Me, MOONRAKER (1979) lives up to my memories.
Unfortunately, my memories were that it sucked. And rewatching it confirms I was right.
The original Ian Fleming novel involved a British aerospace tycoon who’s secretly an ex-Nazi plotting to launch a nuclear-powered rocket at London. The updated version has Bond (Roger Moore still) called in when someone steals the Moonraker space-shuttle that the USA was loaning to the UK. Bond, somehow deduces that the first place to check is the vast aerospace complex owned by the shuttle’s manufacturer, Drax (Michael Lonsdale). Needless to say, he’s right (Drax confirms it by trying to kill him) and leaves Drax’s estate with mysterious plans to Something. Figuring it out requires visiting Venice and Rio before discovering Drax’s Big and Evil Plan: Bombarding Earth with a gas that will wipe out humanity without killing animals. Drax and his collection of the best and the brightest will then descend from his orbiting space station to repopulate the Earth and build a perfect society.
Both License to Thrill and Man With the Golden Touch see this as Cubby Broccoli’s response to the smash success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Space adventure was in, so Bond would go into space. The space shuttle was also new and very cool at the time: The idea of a rocket that could fly into space and back seemed absolutely amazing—the next step to the lunar colonies and Mars manned missions we all knew lay ahead (sigh …).
The results come off like a remake of Spy Who Loved Me, which also featured a megalomaniac plotting to wipe out the world and paired Bond with a foreign female agent; in this case, it’s Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), a CIA agent who actually has skills Bond does not. She’s a fully trained astronaut, so he has to rely on her to pilot the shuttle up to Drax’s space station (as I noted in writing about The Spy Who Love Me, at this point the Bond girl is becoming a more important character than the villain).
The end result of trying to rip off the previous film and Star Wars combined? Crashing boredom.
I think it starts to go wrong with the opening sequence in which Drax reclaims his shuttle. Stealing a nuclear sub in the previous film is alarming: Someone with a boatload of nukes is automatically a menace. Stealing a shuttle? Not terribly scary. As a result there’s no real excitement until about 30 minutes in, when Drax’s hunting dogs rip an employee Bond seduced into tiny pieces.
Lonsdale himself comes off as a stuffy, put-upon middle manager rather than a man about to commit planetary genocide (a minor problem is that since his ubermenschen come from every nation and race, they just look like a bunch of models rather than having, say, an all-Aryan look). Holly is potentially a good character, but Chiles delivers every line in a monotone whisper that adds to the boring.
And then there’s Jaws (Richard Kiel), returning from the previous film. There, he was menacing, if slightly absurd; here, he’s just absurd. At one point he sees a cute little nerd girl and falls instantly head-over-heels. Later, when he realizes Drax’s perfect race will have no room for her, he turns against his employer and sides with Bond. Why, oh Lord? It’s not like he couldn’t have realized he’s hardly master race material himself, or Bond could have found a way out without him.
In fairness, Broccoli obviously knew what he was doing: Moonraker set box-office records for the series. I still hate it.
I just hope For Your Eyes Only was as much of an improvement on this one as I remember it. We’ll see.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Spy Who Bored Me: Moonraker

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