Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Spy Who Loved Me

  After the previous 007 vehicle, which needless to say was quite inert... it seems that the powers that be took notice and decided to do it right this time. Despite having a few minor nitpicks, The Spy Who Loved Me was a fantastic and marked improvement. A real step up for the franchise. Of course, it's still a Roger Moore Bond film, which means that it will have it's tongue planted firmly in it's cheek, but provided you know that going in... you're in for a treat. The movie clicks along at a great pace, taking us all over the world to stunning locations and involving Bond in a deadly adventure. One that will take him from Egypt to "Atlantis". Not the underwater city of myth, but rather a man made marvel. Owned by marine biologist and megalomaniac villain, Karl Stromberg, the Atlantis is a massive structure that can surface and submerge under the ocean at the touch of a button from his control panel. Clearly this villain means business.

  He can pretty much do it all from his little control panels while watching on his tiny closed circuit television screens. Granted, it's somewhat of a staple for Bond villains... but somehow, it just works here. Curd Jurgens as Stromberg may not be memorable in the long run, but that doesn't mean he's not serviceable. His menacing scowl and his cold, calculated speeches make him instantly recognizable as a maniac to be reckoned with. He's also not interested in anything so trite as money. He has bigger plans. He plans to change the course of the history. He's quite the foe for Bond, even if he sortof seems like a Blofeld-lite. No matter- Stromberg's henchman, Jaws, more than makes up for this and with gusto. Actor Richard Kiel plays Jaws not just as a huge scary guy with metal teeth, there's a quiet glee behind those chompers. Jaws seems to enjoy his work, flashing a menacing smile far more often than his trademark scowl.

  He's a frightening adversary as he seems to be impervious to just about everything. Bond puts him through the ringer, subjecting him to a hundred would-be demises, including some that have worked on many of other unfortunate baddies. Jaws is rarely phased, simply dusting himself off and continuing the pursuit. The movie doesn't have much downtime with a villain like Jaws on the heels of our protagonists. Speaking of protagonists, the Bond girl this time around is far from forgettable.  Barbara Bach plays Anya Amasova, a.k.a. Agent triple-X. A Russian spy who has to work with our man Bond as a result of a temporary truce between the British government and the Russian. Yet despite this, they still seem to have a competitive spirit around each other. Which is quite fun to watch. Moore and Bach have real chemistry. It helps that Anya is developed beyond your standard pretty face. Not only is she beyond capable in every way that Bond is, including sex appeal and sharp wit, she has something of a complicated history with Bond.

  As it turns out, in Bond's flashy opening gambit, a high-speed ski chase he kills several of his gun-toting pursuers... one of which was Anya's lover. Bond has to confront this fact at one point during the movie. Moore handles the scene incredibly well, calling upon acting talent that he had not had to use in the movies thus far. It's a brief scene in an otherwise flighty and fancy free movie, but it's a powerful scene with palpable emotions running high. It's a glimpse into what a less tongue-in-cheek era of Bond films might have been like with Roger Moore. 007 might not have descended into self-parody over time, and we might have gotten more moments like this. It's hard not to think about, yet fortunately it's also hard not to have a blast with this movie just the way it is.

  Bond himself has some iconic and gutsy moments in this one. A gritty rooftop brawl with another of Stromberg's henchmen in Egypt, a stunning underwater battle featuring the classic Lotus Espirit submarine-car, and a gigantic climax in vein of You Only Live Twice and Thunderball (which is never a bad thing in my book), yet managing to be somehow even bigger. The Spy Who Loved Me is full of absolutely fantastic set pieces like this, and in trademark James Bond fashion, they all take place on remarkable sets. The sheer size of the set for the climax is just jaw dropping. As I'm recalling the climax, I realize I've neglected almost entirely to mention the plot. Which I won't dive into. It feels like a stock plot, but perfect for a Bond movie. It's simply a vehicle to get Bond and Anya onto a globe trotting adventure, taking them through stunning scenery and explosive action scenes. Simply put, once you get past or at least accept it's shortcomings, the movie is a blast.

  Despite all it's improvements though, it still has a sense of humor that sticks out like a sore thumb.  Even if it's only a trace element. Some gags are slight and off the cuff, those are great. Some are a little more in your face, significantly less subtle, and thus rather annoying. Nothing to the extent of the obnoxious sheriff J.W. Pepper from the previous two movies, but still. There are moments that seem to descend into self-parody. It's rather lamentable given that as a character and as a franchise, 007 could be so much more intense and engaging if they curtailed the shenanigans every once in a while. However, this is what the Roger Moore era is known for. Some people absolutely love that about these movies. Specifically, a friend of mine remarked that 007 movies are supposed to be silly and mindless. I couldn't disagree more, but to those who enjoy them that way, there's plenty to dig into.

   For me? I'll stick to the ones with a more serious edge. Nevertheless, if it wasn't for the hokey final scene and the obnoxiously dated and bouncy score by Marvin Hamlisch (which I seem to be alone in disliking), The Spy Who Loved Me might even be one of my top 5 favorite 007 films. As it is, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to rank it in my top ten. There's no denying though that this one is a sleek, sexy, gadget-filled, well-acted spy romp that fans of the franchise shouldn't miss. Even casual fans, occasional viewers, and newcomers should be directed towards this entry as essential viewing. You really can't go wrong with The Spy Who Loved Me. Undoubtedly, in Moore's seven movie stint as the titular double-o agent... it's one of his best.

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