And lo! there was Moonraker. Regarded by many to be the lowpoint of the series, this installment of 007’s adventures is, perhaps not coincidentally, the apex of camp in the franchise. Curiously, at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, it was promised that James Bond would return to the screen in For Your Eyes Only next. But a funny thing happened on the way to the box office. Specifically, Star Wars happened. And Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Audiences went space-mad, causing producers to put FYEO to the side in order to send 007 into space in Moonraker. And to be fair, it was a hit. This would be the highest grossing Bond film for another twenty years, until Goldeneye was released. The problem is the movie itself. And it’s a terrible shame, because the book this was adapted from is actually great (read a comparison here). Even if you’re a fan of camp, this is just awful. I don’t usually do full recaps, but this needs to be experienced to be believed.
The revolutionary Moonraker shuttle disappears without a trace. Bond is sent to gather evidence at the home and corporation of Hugo Drax, an incredibly wealthy man who built the Moonraker as part of his mission to conquer space. There, improbable things start happening. Bond makes sexist jokes at the expense of the female scientist who designed Moonraker, who is (of course) named Dr. Holly Goodhead. There’s an attempt on 007’s life that he doesn’t seem all that concerned about. Drax is absolutely incapable of concealing his sinister intent, and yet Bond finds a clue that takes him to Venice and he leaves the most evil man on the planet behind. After said evil man tries to have Bond shot with a sniper and Bond just walks away.
In Venice, 007 runs into Goodhead, continues to insult her, and partakes in a truly ludicrous boat chase through Venice’s famous canals. I mean, he appears to get in a gondola at random. Then he gets attacked by a knife thrower in a coffin on a funeral barge (I’m not kidding). Then he activates a secret motor on his apparently-not-so-random gondola to lead them on a wild chase. Then the gondola turns into a hovercraft so he can drive onto land, through a palazzo, and get away.
What. The. Fuck.
Let’s see. From there we go to Brazil, where 007 runs into Goodhead again and enters into an uneasy alliance with her, then faces off with Jaws (who has recently been hired by Drax) and nearly dies in a fight on top of a cable car. Jaws falls in love at first sight with a woman who looks like a twisted version of the Swiss Miss lady. Goodhead vanishes from the plot for no apparent reason and James almost gets blown up in a boat chase on the Amazon. He rather improbably sees the woman who worked the desk at a glass museum in Venice (what the hell is she doing in Brazil??), and of course follows her into an ancient temple where he (of course) is nearly eaten by a python. Oh, and it turns out this is Drax’s hidden lair. Drax explains why he felt the need to steal his own space shuttle, but it doesn’t make sense so who cares?
Turns out Goodhead is also being held captive in Drax’s Amazonian lair because reasons. Drax leaves Goodhead and Bond in the path of Moonraker’s rocket launchers so they’ll burn up during the launch sequence–but apparently he’s never seen a Bond movie because just like in all cases when the good guys are left to die unattended, they escape. Then they board a Moonraker shuttle and head into space with Drax, because ‘Bond in space’ was too much for producers to resist.
They meet up with Drax and the other Moonraker shuttles on a space station and finally get to the bottom of his nefarious scheme. Eugenics! Drax wants to create the perfect human race (Hitler in space, anyone?). He just needs to get his chosen specimens into space, kill human life on earth, then come back and repopulate when earth is ready. By the way, good news! Jaws was able to sneak Swiss Miss on board. Unfortunately, as 007 so astutely points out, she doesn’t fit the criteria for Drax’s eugenics experiment, prompting Jaws to defy his boss long enough for James to hit the oh-so-very-convenient “Emergency stop” button. From there, it’s a ZERO GRAVITY LASER GUN FIGHT!
Naturally, Drax gets shot into space and the good guys narrowly escape the exploding space station. Jaws and Swiss Miss are still on board when it blows, but it is quickly reported that the American astronauts who came to fight rescued them somehow. Which leaves us with 007 and Dr. Holly Goodhead in a Moonraker shuttle for some serious ZERO GRAVITY SEXY SEX. Which gets patched into NASA headquarters, the White House, and Buckingham Palace because M will never learn.
Disco version of the theme song and fade to black!
Notable Moments: You mean aside from the zero-g sex? Well, Jaws becomes the first henchman to appear in two movies. And he speaks for the first (and last) time. This will also be Bernard Lee‘s last appearance as M (he would pass away shortly before filming of For Your Eyes Only began).
Gadgets: A hypodermic pen and an explosive watch. Pretty tame for a space battle movie.
Ally/Bond Girl: The aforementioned Dr. Holly Goodhead, played by Lois Chiles. The good news for her is that she’s mildly credible as a scientist. Barely. There will be far more outrageous attempts to pass off a Bond Girl as a scientist. The problem is really in Chiles’ acting ability. She had actually turned down the role of Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me to respond to criticism of her acting ability by taking some time off for acting classes. Maybe that should have been a hint to producers. She’s so flat–monotone and one dimensional. I suspect producers were trying to recapture some Pussy Galore magic in Goodhead’s relationship with 007, but Lois Chiles is no Honor Blackman. There’s no chemistry and precious little appeal.
Supporting Bond Girl: Pffff. Throwaways. Corrine Dufour, played by Corrine Clery, is barely in the film before she gets killed off. And she’s a victim of perhaps the worst dubbing a Bond film has ever produced. Considering how many of the early Bond Girls were dubbed, that is quite an achievement. Bond also has an assistant named Manuela in Brazil (played by Emily Bolton), but she helps him with one investigation before vanishing completely.
Villain: Michael Lonsdale may be a grand British actor, but Hugo Drax is a big ol’ dud. First of all, he’s the least under-the-radar bad guy imaginable. How could anyone not know that this guy is scheming to kill everyone on earth?! And while there’s nothing wrong with not being one of those cartoonish Bond villains, Drax lacks panache. He’s so reserved. Yes, it’s obvious he’s evil, but where’s the menace? He’s so cold and dry.
Henchman: They really should have left good enough alone when it comes to Jaws. A little went a long way. In this outing, he improbably turns up right and left (even in the opening credits sequence). And he just will. not. die. He’s the Jason Voorhees of the 007 franchise. Throw him out of a plane, steer his car off a cliff, crash him into a control room, send him off a waterfall, and blow up a friggin’ space station. The guy won’t even have a scratch on him! Talk about overstaying your welcome.
Theme Song: Another dud, which is incredibly disappointing considering they got Dame Shirley Bassey back for the third and final time to sing “Moonraker.” Think of it as the musical version of Holly Goodhead: relatively inoffensive, but dull as dishwater. The disco version that plays over the end credits is livelier, but also forgettable.
On another note, the naked lady silhouettes doing gymnastics was kind of fun when they did it in The Spy Who Loved Me. Time to tread some new ground, producers.
Iconic Moment: You’ve got to give it to the zero-gravity sex. Q even makes a ‘re-entry’ joke. Is it painful? Yes, of course. But it’s also one of the most repeated Bond jokes.
Grades: Movie: 1.5/5; Bond Girl: 2.5/5; Villain: 2.5/5; Henchman: 2/5; Theme Song: 2/5