This is the 23rd essay in a 23-part series about the James Bond cinemas. I encourage everyone to read the other essays, comment and join in on the conversation about not only the films themselves, but cinematic trends, political and other external influences on the series’ tone and direction.
Of [In]human #Bond_age_ #23: Skyfall and the Deconstruction of James Bond
Charles Darwin once said, “It’s not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive but those who can best manage change.” Malleability permits longevity. In order to survive, a species… or character must adapt.
00Darwin, Licence to Theorize
I’ve discussed James Bond, Batman and Sherlock Holmes at some length as legendary protagonists that have endured multiple iterations over the course of generations. Born of literary roots, all would go on to experience sustained success in print, film and/or television. Bond, Batman and Sherlock share a tremendous amount of DNA but nothing more strongly perhaps than their persistent pop-culture relevance.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle blessed his Sherlock character with rich character flaws such as serial pomposity, drug addiction and a latent distrust of women. These are timeless traits that have allowed Sherlock Holmes to be a pompous but typically affable wiseass. These flaws make him human and relatable. Though he will always be the smartest man in the room, stoic and calculating, he succumbs to fear and insecurity like anyone else. Perhaps as a result, Sherlock Holmes’ feats of mental dexterity connect with broad audiences whether smugly played by Basil Rathbone or smugly played by Johnny Lee Miller.
The character of Batman, however, is built of symbols and a backstory. The Batman logo, the batsuit, the bat signal, the Batmobile. The actor playing Batman is often obscured behind costumes and custom vehicles. In Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), Michael Keaton spends 22% of the entire film (not just Bruce Wayne/Batman screentime) inside the batsuit/Batmobile/Batwing. The average for all subsequent Batman films hovers just shy of 20%. The question of character for Batman then revolves around his much rehashed origin story of childhood trauma and recovery. Bruce Wayne is Batman because he witnessed the murder of his parents. Batman longs to rid Gotham of the criminal elements that orphaned him at the age of eight.
Bond, like Batman, also boasts a collection of iconic, albeit inconsistent, suits and gadgetry at his disposal, the Aston Martin, the Walther PPK and general Q Branch gizmos. None prove nearly as identifiable as the assorted bat menagerie. Bond’s style and weaponry changes with the times… and with guaranteed promotional dollars. That EON has financed Bond independently made the franchise more reliant upon branding and promotion to pay the bills. Tomorrow Never Dies, in fact, became the first film in history to be completely financed through sponsored product placement and promotion. (more…)
I Know How to Hurt: The World is Not Enough and James Bond’s Shaky Ethics
by Steve Sandberg
In discussions of the James Bond franchise, The World is Not Enough is rarely even acknowledged, and when it is, the talk isn’t usually positive. Treated as more forgettable than an outright disaster, Pierce Brosnan’s third outing as 007, in which his attempts to protect an oil heiress from a deranged anarchist are thwarted by the devious damsel herself, just doesn’t get much respect. I’ve had a rough relationship with TWiNE. I even despised it for a long time, but I’ve come to not only love it, but also believe it’s the most fascinating Bond film of the Brosnan era. I wouldn’t argue too stubbornly with anyone who doesn’t like the movie (as the flaws remain glaring) and few things are more subjective than the quality of individual Bond movies, but I will fiercely defend this film from any Bond fan who deems it an unimportant part of the series.
I believe the popular opinion of Brosnan is that he was a great Bond stuck in mostly mediocre movies. I can’t agree with that perspective, but I can certainly understand it. His embodiment of 007 is his own, but there’s something of an amalgamation of all previous versions of the character in it; he has Connery’s suaveness, Dalton’s harsher edges, Moore’s gift for making the most of bad puns. And like the way his performance somewhat encompassed all that came before, his movies were similar in how they spanned the franchise’s entire spectrum of quality. In just four films, Brosnan’s work reached masterful heights, embarrassing lows, and everything in between. That’s a badge of inconsistency to be worn with pride. In The World is Not Enough, his career hit all of these levels in one single movie.
My first instinct is to discuss the biggest complaint everyone has with TWiNE: Dr. Christmas Jones. I get it, Denise Richards is not a believable atomic physicist, and I wouldn’t trust her to defuse a nuclear bomb any more than I’d trust Bond not to make awful jokes about her inexplicable name. Despite that, I think she’s a lot of fun in the role, giving Bond guff about his Russian cover and attempting to chit-chat about his sex life, which is obviously ludicrously impressive. Many viewers find her insufferable, and that’s cool. She’s not that big of a component of the movie, anyway. TWiNE is all about Elektra King.
Where Dr. Christmas Jones is an average, disposable Bond girl, Elektra King is anything but. The oil heiress central to the film’s plot is not only the Bond franchise’s sole main female villain, as James David Patrick points out in his #Bond_age_ essay “The Tragedy of The World is Not Enough,” but also one of the most interesting, fully-developed female characters of the whole series. King is a tragic villain who subverts expectations, disguising herself as a damsel in distress while manipulating both Bond and her anarchist lover Renard as a means of coping with her bungled rescue years earlier.
Electra and Renard’s relationship supplies TWiNE‘s central theme: the idea of living without fear of death, or its consequences. Renard, with a bullet lodged in his brain, could die at any moment. I don’t know how medically accurate this scenario is, but it makes for a great bad guy. He feels no pain, and does not dread his imminent demise. By acknowledging his own certain death, he becomes more powerful. His philosophy rubs off on Electra, who was kidnapped, traumatized, and changed forever by Renard at a young age. She repeats his mantra (or is he repeating hers?) “There’s no point in living if you can’t feel alive.” This freedom from the nagging burden of mortality allows Electra and Renard to pursue their goals quite effectively, but all their acknowledgment and philosophizing can’t change the inevitable. Their plans are just as doomed as their Stockholm-y relationship, and the only thing the two villains achieve for their grand efforts is the death they refused to fear.
All this Fearless-ness makes me think about our hero, and how he views his life. Does James Bond fear death? For all TWiNE does in attempts to physically humanize him – a shoulder injury sustained early in the film becomes an easily exploitable weakness – he’s still very much an immortal character. 007 never has to be afraid of not returning for another film, and since mortality isn’t an issue, his morality becomes that much more important. If James Bond never dies, how can he live with himself and the many not-so-heroic things he has done?
Bond’s trademark attitudes weren’t always appreciated in the Brosnan era, most notably by Judi Dench’s M, who famously refers to him as “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” in Brosnan’s first 007 adventure. Despite these self-aware criticisms, Bond’s old ways didn’t change much in the ’90s. In TWiNE, released on the cusp of a new millennium he’s up to his usual antics right away, but he’s immediately greeted with visible disgust from the first object of his innuendo. Later, he dons a pair of X-ray specs and scopes out all the nearby ladies’ undergarments, a scene that might have been cheeky fun in Moore’s era, but here feels unjustifiably creepy. The audience is forced to see Bond as more despicable than usual, and this is only the beginning.
The film’s action finale is between Bond and Renard in a submarine, but the real climax takes place just before, in Elektra King’s bedroom. Her death is delivered by 007 himself, as he shoots and kills her, an unarmed woman, in cold blood, when simply knocking her out or otherwise subduing her would have done just fine. It’s pretty harsh. The look of horror on M’s face as she witnesses this says enough. James Bond finally, unquestionably, went too far.
Bond certainly takes full advantage of his license to kill throughout the movie, gunning down quite a few unarmed thugs who don’t seem to require such force, but this murder is the one that feels truly excessive. Why go so far? Elektra’s betrayal probably hurt his tiny emotional center, but she wasn’t one of the rare Bond girls that he actually loved (though when 007 tells her “You meant nothing to me,” I don’t entirely believe him). Could his rage derive from the idea that a woman finally, truly got the upper hand over him? If that’s the case, his vengeance is swift and unsettling, a confirmation that his patented misogyny can’t be labeled harmless. He clearly isn’t happy about killing Elektra, maybe he even regrets it afterward, but he did it, and now he has to live with it.
I think the murder of Elektra King is a huge moment in the 007 canon. It will never be alluded to in future films like the deaths of Vesper Lynd or Tracy di Vicenzo have been, but it’s a pivotal moment for the character of James Bond, and, perhaps more importantly, the context in which he’s viewed. James Bond usually exists firmly in a world of good guys and bad guys, but The World is Not Enough shows him at his most ethically uneasy, building on decades of questionable attitudes and actions, challenging fans who hold him as an ideal. Whether or not that was an intentional choice, it makes the movie a lot more complex and important than it ever gets credit for.
Steve Sandberg (@steevenberg) is a part-time student of film and composition hailing from exotic northern Illinois. He’s slightly obsessed with goofy action and horror movies, and occasionally takes time to blog film reviews at MovieMarathoning.blogspot.com.
First Bond film: GoldenEye (and its video game counterpart) turned me into a Bond fan for life.
Favorite Bond: Since GoldenEye, Brosnan has come to represent all that is 007 to me. Connery is great, too, and I’ll always wish that Dalton had gotten one more shot.
Favorite Bond Girl: Elektra King is unforgettable, her deviousness founded in tragedy is unique, and her being so beautiful I wouldn’t think twice about hijacking a nuclear sub if she asked me to is a big factor. I’m also a big fan of Camilla Montes’ fierce determination and Kara Milovy’s mad cello skills.
How I Discovered #Bond_age_: Most likely a shout-out from @bobfreelander’s Twitter feed made me immediately curious, and I became a fan pretty fast.
This essay on Quantum of Solace is the 22nd essay in a 24-part series about the James Bond cinemas. I encourage everyone to comment and join in on an extended conversation about not only the films themselves, but cinematic trends, political and other external influences on the series’ tone and direction.
Quantum of Solace, a Study in Mehssimism
by James David Patrick
“On Quantum, we were fucked.”
Any conversation about Quantum of Solace must return to the WGA strike. It’s not just that the strike left production with a script found lacking – it’s that there wasn’t a script so much as a bare-bones outline. The “script” for Quantum of Solace has become such a scapegoat in the supposed failure of the film that its ribald villainy overshadows the film’s actual villain, Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric). So what happened with that screenplay?
Let’s start with what we know.
1. At least four screenwriters had a hand in the Quantum cookie jar: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis, and Joshua Zetumer.
2. Production scrapped another outline developed by Paul Haggis when Foster signed on, causing a last-minute rush to develop a new screenplay. But I’ve also read that Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli nixed the Haggis concept. If that were the case one would assume the story wouldn’t have been abandoned and rewritten at the 11th hour.
3. Zetumer arrived on the set during production to do polishes immediately following the resolution of the Writer’s Guild strike but does not own a credit on the film.
4. Their experience on Quantum caused 5-time Bond scribes Purvis and Wade to state that the film would be their last Bond film, but Purvis and Wade haven’t to my knowledge discussed publicly what happened. Craig and Forster don’t acknowledge them in the process. If you read the interviews around the release of Quantum of Solace, you’d never know they were involved, if not for the credits. They talk only about Zetumer and Haggis.
5. In more recent interviews (during Skyfall pre-release press), Craig and Forster have said that they developed the final concept on set during filming based on a second narrative outlined by Haggis and turned over hours before the strike. This is a shift from their statements in 2008 that claimed the script was “fine,” prior to the start of filming of Quantum.
6. Nobody seems to agree publicly about how the Quantum of Solace shooting script came to be. (more…)
This is the 20th essay in a 23-part series about the James Bond cinemas. I encourage everyone to comment and join in on an extended conversation about not only the films themselves, but cinematic trends, political and other external influences on the series’ tone and direction.
Of [In]human #Bond_age_ #20: Inside the Tortured Mind of James Bond: Die Another Day and the Fever Dream
by James David Patrick and Matt Finch
Bond fans will engage at great length in pleasant debate regarding their favorite Bond film. They will champion GoldenEye as their favorite feature while also conceding to a fellow conversant that From Russia With Love is also a respectable choice, despite wholehearted disagreement. There’s an unspoken respect between Bond fans. You like Bond. I like Bond. Let’s be BFFs (Bond fans forever, obviously). It’s secret rule of Bond appreciation 1.97.C-35. Fellow Bond fans can like any Bond movie with impunity.
Tongues of Bond fans become more silver-tipped when discussing their least favorite Bond film. Bad Bonds slept with your mother, rubbed lemon juice in your paper cuts, took the last radish from the crudité. The danger here isn’t crucifying a Bond that someone loves (See subsection 4 under rule 1.97.C-35: Every Bond film has something “objectively lacking”). The danger is not hating a particular Bond movie enough. Oddly, this isn’t covered by one of the unwritten laws or subsections. Pick Diamonds Are Forever as your least favorite pick, prepare for hostility.
“Octopussy! The clown suit!”
“The World Is Not Enough. Christmas f’ing Jones!”
“Misogyny AND racism! Live and Let Die!”
Still, there’s one Bond that passes almost any Bad Bond litmus test. And that movie, as you might expect, is Die Another Day. I’ve been talking Bond on Twitter for a long damn time now. There’s one assertion that’s never, ever met with much resistance (I say “much” because that bold Bond fan Michael Cavacini remains on the front line of DAD defense – he’s the frontline, the entire army and commanding officer). Let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further. Die Another Day is subjectively and objectively the least good James Bond movie. That’s called being diplomatic. Even those that have a more favorable opinion of the film accept that the movie represents a significant transgression in the Bond canon.
But a transgression from what exactly? Bond movies have always performed a tenuous tightrope act – the balance between the real and the surreal. Consider the titles that most often come up in the battles of the worst Bonds: Moonraker. Octopussy. A View to a Kill. Die Another Day. What do they all have in common? The movies most often deemed “the worst” overstep the bounds of acceptable suspension of disbelief. They lose the grounded reality of a British intelligence officer investigating threats to Western interests. (more…)
The Sex Panther Prowls Again: Dalton, Craig and the Promise of a Serious Bond in Casino Royale
by Gregory Sahadachny (@MisterGreggles)
Sitting in a theater, there was a great sense of excitement in me. A new Bond. I had heard that this outing would be a “serious” take on the suave secret agent/action hero we all grew up on; that this installment would set the series apart from the silly, over-the-top, pun-heavy detours of the previous keeper of the flame. Bond has become a work of folklore, of socially disseminated tales and shared cross-culture memory the world over, especially in the West. And, for me, he is a hero just like Batman or Superman. Was I ready for this “serious” take though? Was I going to get the necessities? The shaken-not-stirred martini? The “Bond. James Bond.”? The gadgets? Or was this going to break from formula? What about the one-liners? Was I going to even recognize the Bond I grew up with? That was at least a part of my excitement, sitting there in the theater that night. Then, the lights went down. The opening was memorable. Parachuting in to Felix Leiter’s wedding? The awesome cherry-on-top to a noticeably Hollywood-influenced action scene. (It was like a damn episode of Miami Vice.) But this dark-haired, heavy-browed thug with piercing eyes? I wasn’t so sure about him. This was the summer of 1989. And my Bond was Timothy Dalton.
I never saw The Living Daylights before my dad took me to Licence to Kill, so this was the first new Bond for me that I hadn’t already seen on VHS. James Bond was a character he and I bonded over, like many fathers and sons. I had gone to the school of Connery; my dad’s favorite. I had graduated first in my class from Moore; even taken a semester of Lazenby, which, at the time, I didn’t think much of, little more than a mandatory requirement. Now, in my adult life, I appreciate Lazenby and Dalton for the great interpretations of Bond they brought to the screen, as well as the excellence of their entries. But, yeah, Dalton was a new “serious” Bond. And having mainly accepted Moore in all of his tongue-in-cheek charm, I wasn’t too sure about him. 133 minutes later, I had changed my mind. Licence to Kill was harsh, sweaty, violent, and lacking a lot of the sophistication of Roger Moore’s read on Bond. By all accounts, Dalton was tapping into how Ian Fleming’s writing painted the MI6 operative; a more conflicted, timeless representation of male gravitas. The best analogy is to think, how would you react if you grew up on Adam West’s Batman, then Hollywood plopped a deep, brooding Michael Keaton in your lap? (I joke, but the parallels between Batman and Bond on screen are many. *editors note: see #Bond_age_ essay on Octopussy*) Anyway, I was ready for the Dalton series. A series that never came.
Bear with me. I would not spend two paragraphs talking about my hesitant, then full-on love affair with Timothy Dalton if I did not have a point. Who would have guessed that, in 2006, we would be in the same boat?
The history of Bond, Dalton & Pierce Brosnan is a fascinating game of musical chairs. But, Brosnan is not to blame for what the series had become by 2002’s Die Another Day. It was a joke. Not the Old Man joke of A View to a Kill, but one of “what has this series become?” It was a sex pun, wrapped up in hacky plotting. Brosnan did his best with what he had. Arguably, the last of his two entries undid all the greatness of the first two. Serious? Brooding? None of them were really, but at least the first two were made by competent action directors. Goldeneye’s director, Martin Campbell, especially, knew how to make a Bond movie exciting again. Vying to keep the series a competitive spectacle, Bond’s writers and producers, however, lost their way. And, Bond fans were underwhelmed too.
It was advantageous, then, that Campbell could be wooed over to save the series again in 2006. Injecting new life into Casino Royale was a blond, blue-eyed, young Brit, somewhere between magazine cover model and serious stage actor. Daniel Craig was not the wrapper the public expected for Bond. He did not exude “dark” or “brooding” or even an exquisite level of charm. The one film the masses might have known him from, 2004’s Layer Cake, had Craig playing a smooth, but naïve drug dealer in the London Guy Ritchie reinvented and Matthew Vaughn vacationed in. Based on all evidence, what the hell were we getting?
Any fears audiences had might have been informed also by the landscape of action cinema in 2006. There was no way a straightforward, Cold War spy thriller was going to work in the 21st century, around 15 years after the break up of the U.S.S.R. Goldeneye was lucky enough to benefit from the residual unrest in Eastern Europe, but what would Bond’s world look like now? Who would be the bad guy? We couldn’t just have some maniacal bad guy trying to rule the world, blow it up, or hold it ransom. Bond’s antagonists were getting more comic with each passing entry anyway; I’m surprised Two-Face wasn’t in there. No, the point is, it had to be real. It had to mix Bourne’s grit with Bond’s strategic sophistication. It had to get down and dirty.
I didn’t know prior to seeing Casino Royale how much of a reboot it was going to be for the franchise. In retrospect, it makes sense; if you want to re-imagine the character, go back to the source. Considering that the only adaptation of Fleming’s original book was a flippant, almost proto-Austin Powers outing, the time had come to make CR respectable, to install it in the canonical universe, and not let it stay in the land of parody or slight influence in name only. What is noticeable to any fan of Timothy Dalton’s interpretation is that Craig is doing the same thing. From the writers’ perspective, to make a prequel of Bond is to return him to thuggishness; an unpolished diamond, an unsophisticated murder tool. Dalton was in the wrong place at the wrong time (ahead of it even). The yuppies and decadence of the 1980s didn’t need this Bond, they didn’t deserve this Bond. But, in a post-9/11 world, influenced by the globetrotting political intrigue of the Bourne series, Craig had free reign to make his 007 a violent, spontaneous anti-hero. Craig plays him less like “the man with a plan” and more like “the man affected by the plan.”
If viewers had any doubt about him, Daniel Craig solidified himself in that first black-and-white sequence of CR. The creation of the gun barrel sequence being incorporated into the narrative, and not just a signifying check off the Bond checklist, proved exhilarating. Fans want to let their imaginations run wild with their favorite characters’ pasts. What prequels almost always get wrong is how they devolve into gap-filling and forget about the excitement of surprise. I don’t want something I know already to be destroyed in my imagination by committing it to the screen, or worse, having two characters talk about it. I want to be surprised by Craig, and I was, in the moment he gets his double-O status and creates one of the most indelible, graphical visuals in all of cinema. At that point, I knew I was in safe hands.
Casino Royale is not a perfect movie. It’s overlong; it’s got one or two endings too many. For all of its grounding in reality, it still can’t help some of the series’ extraordinary flourishes. For one, its big bad, Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre, cries blood. Ridiculous but satisfactorily explained. It holds the viewer’s hand during the card games; I actually laughed out loud in the theater when they cut to Giancarlo Giannini explaining to Eva Green (and the audience) the stakes, who had a better hand, and what Bond needed to win. And, the organization’s conspiracy is murky, especially in the last third of the film. A jump in logic about Giannini’s loyalty is confusing, even throwaway.
But, CR nails the beginning and the ending. Craig nails the attractive, pure sex of a dangerous agent. His comic bickering with Vesper, which transitions into psychoanalysis of each other’s hangups is actually a great example of how to do exposition effectively. The action scenes are well shot with Campbell’s direction. The dialogue is snappy, and several line deliveries are memorable (“Skewered”). The music is excellent, including an open title song from Chris Cornell (Best Male Vocalist, Greg Sahadachny’s Childhood 1994-2000). It also delivers on conventions: a new (old) drink & a new Bond girl, while giving Craig his own world to put a stamp on.
Casino Royale boils down to a showcase for a new Bond. Yes, we’re getting a return to Fleming’s novel, the origin point for a whole franchise. But, the story takes a backseat to Daniel Craig. It’s almost allowing us to view him in a cage before setting him free in the wild. We can see how he relates to M (holdover from Brosnan’s years and a major highlight, Judi Dench), see how he handles the action, see how he looks in a tux, see how he moves (like a goddamn panther on the prowl), see how he unveils the real bad guys, etc. There’s emotional complexity behind Craig’s eyes that we haven’t seen in the series in a long, long time. His journey from thug, to Vesper’s ball of clay to mold, to the hardened, focused, emotionally numb agent is a fertile landscape for virtuoso acting. And, boy oh boy, does Craig deliver.
Greg Sahadachny is a filmmaker and podcaster from Maryland. He works for an undisclosed international media company, so, in many ways, he’s just like James Bond…minus the guns, gadgets, charm and good-looking tailored clothes. He hosts The Debatable Podcast, available on iTunes and tumblr: http://debatablepodcast.tumblr.com.
First Bond Movie: Dr. No
Favorite Bond: Daniel Craig (could be what’s recent is the wavelength I’m on, but damn if they haven’t gotten Bond right in my eyes now)
Favorite Bond Girl: Xenia Onatopp (danger orgasms!)
How I discovered #Bond_age_: From the grand twitter web of overlap and retweets
Octopussy: A Sweet Distraction for an Hour or Two
by Adam Slusar (@TapwaterAlice)
Frequently lambasted for its cartoonish excesses, perplexing storyline and – of course – being the only James Bond film to see Roger Moore disguise himself as a clown, Octopussy is generally considered to be one of the weakest entries in the 007 franchise. Like Moonraker, the humor falls flat at times; look no further than one scene in which a Tarzan cry accompanies Bond as he swings across treetop vines. Ten years after his initial turn in Live and Let Die, Moore was ostensibly “too old” to play Bond any longer. And with the revered Sean Connery set to return as 007 in Never Say Never Again that same year, Octopussy was thrown into a “Battle of the Bonds.” The odds seemed stacked against it; film critics already knew which James Bond they preferred, and needless to say, it wasn’t Roger Moore.
But while Octopussy may falter due to its occasional missteps and oddities, it’s actually pretty great. A charming, elegant, and inventive action thriller, Octopussy is superior to Never Say Never Again in almost every way, and is by far the most unfairly maligned of the James Bond films.
While the previous effort, For Your Eyes Only, was a departure from the campier Bonds of the 1970’s, Octopussy retains a comfortable balance between fanciful escapism and Fleming-esque adventure. Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, in collaboration with George MacDonald Fraser, wrote a film that fits Roger Moore like a glove; combining his penchant for casual wit with his occasional ruthlessness (as evidenced by his car-kicking performance in For Your Eyes Only). We get to see Moore deal a few bullets in addition to his fair share of one-liners.
Even with age, Moore still proves perfectly capable of selling his unique brand of 007 in Octopussy, lending a sense of credibility without betraying the overall tone of the film. His performance acts as a nice counterpoint to his passive-aggressive portrayal in Moonraker. Although the vehemently detested “clown scene” is remembered for all the wrong reasons, it demonstrates Moore in an authentic, all-too-rare occurrence of Bond losing his cool as a doomsday machine counts down to its final seconds; much like The Spy Who Loved Me or For Your Eyes Only, this showcases Moore at his absolute finest.
In terms of progressive feminism and gender equality, Octopussy is a considerable milestone in a franchise made popular by its womanizing secret agent protagonist. Leading the charge – and an army of jumpsuit-wearing female acrobats – is Octopussy herself, a neutral entity working alongside the nefarious Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) in a grand-scale jewel smuggling plot. Previously seen as Andrea Anders in The Man with the Golden Gun, Maud Adams lends an air of mystery, assertiveness, and professionalism to role of Octopussy. Odd though it may be for a suggestively-named Bond girl to live on an island inhabited only by women while also running a travelling circus, these sort of extravagancies are part-and-parcel with the 007 franchise, and Octopussy exemplifies the standard of proactive female characters in the Bond films.
Octopussy marks the first (but not the last) Bond film to divide its screen-time between two main villains. In addition to Kamal Khan, we have General Orlov (Steven Berkhoff), the true mastermind behind the theft of a Fabergé egg and an evil plot to overtake Western Europe with a Russian artillery brigade. This is a brilliant plot perpetrated by two sub-standard villains, but Jourdan and Berkhoff do admirably with their otherwise thinly-written roles; Khan is given juicy dialogue to complement his incredibly suave demeanour, while Orlov chews up every scene with intense proclamations.
Filling in for Oddjob and Jaws this time around is the blunderbuss-wielding Gobinda, who gets to take on Bond in some of the most inspired stunt sequences in the film. In a nutshell, the villains of Octopussy leave something to be desired, but are still more colorful and entertaining than your average Blofeld regurgitation.
Clearly inspired by the high-adventure of Raiders of the Lost Ark two years prior, Octopussy contains no shortage of tremendous action scenes. This time around, we get to see Bond pilot a mini-jet while pursued by heat seeking missiles, taking on a thug with a razorblade yo-yo, leaping across train cars while evading dangerous obstacles, and even clinging for his life from the top of an airborne plane. Here, director John Glen demonstrates his strengths as an action director. He would continue to up the ante in his three subsequent efforts. Octopussy, nonetheless, contains some of the finest stunt choreography in the Bond series.
Following the post-disco instrumentals of Bill Conti in For Your Eyes Only (of which I’m admittedly a fan), John Barry returns to the Bond franchise with Octopussy, lending gravitas to the film with a sweeping, romantic score occasionally punctuated by frenetic action cues and exotic flair. His work in Octopussy would pave the way for his return in A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights, and Barry would provide those films with perhaps his greatest work.
If you aren’t a fan of the Roger Moore films leading up to it, then Octopussy may not be your cup of tea. Still, it isn’t the train-wreck that most people would have you believe. I first watched Octopussy late in the game, expecting something utterly terrible but coming away pleasantly surprised but also a little disturbed that so many people failed to see the pure joy of Bond escapism contained within. All the negativity surrounding Octopussy chalks up to needless comparisons to the Connery era and an unusual emphasis on the sillier aspects of the film. And truth be told, it is silly, but there’s just so much more to it.
First Bond Movie: Tomorrow Never Dies
Favorite Bond Actor: Roger Moore
Favorite Bond Girl: Solitaire
How I Discovered #Bond_age_: Nic Suszczyk of The GoldenEye Dossier, who invited me to participate in the Moonraker Live Tweet Session.