It seems inevitable that the James Bond franchise would eventually go into space. The franchise does, after all, seem to maintain its popularity partly by following whatever trend is popular, and one can’t deny the appeal of space films in the late 70s and early 80s. Moonraker, then, is the franchise’s answer to this fad. In all honesty, there’s not much to say about it. It’s not the worst of the Bond films – that honour is still reserved for either Thunderball or Live and Let Die, I haven’t quite decided – but neither is it up in the upper echelons of Bond films. More than anything, it’s forgettable and bland.
Moonraker finds Bond (Roger Moore) investigating the theft of a space shuttle. His investigation leads him to the headquarters of Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), the shuttle’s manufacturer. There, Bond meets Dr. Goodhead (Lois Chiles) and a host of other people, all of whom seem keenly interested in wiping him out.
There isn’t anything particularly bad about Moonraker, though the villain’s plot is most definitely laughable at best. Jaws returns as well, played once again by Richard Kiel, but serving this time more as comic relief than an actual villain. Indeed, the fact that Jaws is comic relief is one of the sole memorable aspects of the film, with his manipulation by Bond being one of the more humorous aspects.
However, on the whole, even the usually clean and exciting fight scenes feel a bit dull and formulaic. The impression that a cynic might get is that the producers of the film were banking on the novelty of it being set in space to sell it rather than any particular aspect of the plot, characters, or action. Happily, I am not that cynic, and will say that the producers were also likely relying on Moore and Chiles and the novelty that their interactions bring. That said, even Chiles’ character makes very little sense, and doesn’t add much to the traditional Bond girl role, even given that she’s a professional woman. If anything, Dr. Goodhead comes off as an attempt to repeat the relative success of Amasova from The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s nowhere near as successful.
Really, the whole film feels like it’s being borrowed from other Bond films, and not even better ones at that. The plot, villain, and love interest are all heavily borrowed from The Spy Who Loved Me, with Jaws being an even more direct inclusion from that film. The only real difference between the films is the decision to set this one ostensibly in space.
In making the claim, though, that Moonraker is borrowing heavily from The Spy Who Loved Me, I’m also forced to confront the fact that these films have all been borrowing liberally from each other and from other genres entirely. In some instances, it works, and something new and interesting is created. It shows that there’s nothing inherently wrong with recycling old plots, at least as long as something new and interesting is added. The trouble in this instance is that nothing new is being added. Beyond going to space, the film relies on a tired old formula to sell the film when this formula is no longer sufficient. What little is new seems to border on self-parody rather than being anywhere close to the enjoyable fun of a film like The Man with the Golden Gun or the spectacle of Goldfinger. Somehow, we’ve come a long way from both those films, and it’s not entirely clear that the franchise is able to go back.
Because it is so blended with the other films, Moonraker is neither good nor bad. If I had to choose, I would put it in the bad half of the Bond films, most definitely. However, as it stands, it’s largely forgettable. Even the otherwise memorable Jaws just feels shoe-horned in in this film, as if he’s been put in because he’s marketable rather than because he in any way improves the film. At some point, the films no longer seemed to be descending into self-parody, but rather, seemed to be descending into utter and complete mediocrity. I suspect that Moonraker represents the clearest instance of that descent.Return to Bonding with Bond: Janneke Parrish Investigates an American Icon
June 28, 1979
2 hr. 6 min.
Action Adventure, Crime
Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale