#19 in my Ranking of the James Bond Franchise.
By my estimation, this is the second Bond movie built almost exclusively around a gimmick. The first was Thunderball and its underwater action sequences. Now, Moonraker comes along as the movie about Bond being in space. It’s the sort of ridiculous that should have worked really well with Moore as Bond, but everything up to the point of Bond going into space (about three-quarters of the film) isn’t in the spirit that the movie needs.
The first hour or so is a serviceable Bond adventure. There’s a shuttle that gets stolen right off the back of the airliner that’s carrying it, a villain with huge resources and a penchant for attractive women, and a tendentious connection between the events of the prologue and the villain. The action moves from California dressed up like France to Venice to Rio in globetrotting fashion. It’s not great, but it’s serviceable. Bond digs around, gets almost killed in a g-force simulator, and beds a couple of women. It’s standard stuff. Why the villain, Drax, makes trying to kill Bond his very first move is a bit thin, but at least it fits with the format of the genre.
The movie kind of falls apart with the re-introduction of Jaws. He is in the opening action sequence (a great sequence, by the way, involving several parties jumping out of a plane and fighting over a parachute), but then disappears until the halfway mark when Drax decides to hire outside help to get rid of the troublesome Bond. In Rio, Jaws shows up and the movie becomes a disjointed series of scenes that have little relation to each other. Logical progression goes out the window, and people start behaving irrationally with curious results.
The moment that drew me completely out of the picture was in Rio when Bond and the girl (Dr. Goodhead…hehe) are in a cable car going down while Jaws is in the cable car going in the opposite direction. The car stops inexplicably and Bond says, “We should go on top of the car. It’s safer there.” Now, the reason they go out on top is to have an action scene (filmed alternatively from very far away and closely in really unconvincing medium shots that show our actors in front of rear projection). There’s no logic in thinking that it would be safer on top of a cable car hundreds of feet up rather than inside. It’s insane.
We then get thin excuses to go deep into the jungle while Jaws escapes death for the second or third time, picking up a small woman as a girlfriend for…reasons. Bond and Goodhead escape certain, but easily escapable, death, knock out a couple of shuttle pilots, and then take their place to pilot (without actually doing anything because its automated) the shuttle to Drax’s secret space base. This sounds much more interesting than it actually is. It’s mostly ridiculous, and not in any sort of fun way. It’s ridiculous in a way that just feels confusing.
The final half hour of the film finally sees Bond in space, and it’s pretty typical Bond villain stuff. Drax explains that he’s going to wipe out all humanity with a plant based toxin released into the atmosphere that leaves plants and animals unharmed. He’s going to create a new paradise for his bevy of supermen and women. He also explains why he stole the shuttle at the beginning of the film, and it’s just the dumbest excuse. He had five shuttles and one of them broke. So, he stole back the shuttle that he sold the US government, attracting all of the attention that unraveled his plan. It’s not like he couldn’t send these reusable shuttles back to Earth to pick up the missing people if necessary. He’s already spending massive amounts of money, so I feel like an extra trip up with an existing shuttle wouldn’t be outside of his budget. If he hadn’t stolen the shuttle in the beginning, he would have gotten away with his plan. Drax is a terrible antagonist.
The problem with the movie isn’t that it’s silly in tone, but that it can’t tell its story very well. It’s problems with silliness extend not to visual concepts or double entendres (of which there are many) but in its characters choices and disjointed narrative. Aside from some fun action sequences, mostly at the beginning, Moonraker is a slog and fails to live up to the promise of The Spy Who Loved Me.