Friday, November 28, 2014

The Man With the Golden Gun


  Out of this entire marathon so far, this might be the one movie in which my opinion of it, has changed drastically. The ninth James Bond outing has the titular double-o agent trying to find an infamous assassin named Scaramanga, who apparently is out to kill Bond. This would've been a great story, if they had stuck to that premise at all. It quickly descends into an 'energy crisis' plot, which ALSO would've been fine, if Bond had actually really... done... anything worth anything. He doesn't. As far as I can tell, everything he does is moot until the last 20 minutes. Which is different than a movie with actual struggle. In any story you inevitably have a "back to square one" scene in which the protagonist's efforts are reset in order to add another wave of drama and tension to the story. In The Man With The Golden Gun, I'm hardly convinced Bond ever left square one.

  Don't get me wrong, there are some great scenes. Particularly one where Bond goes to a gunsmith to find information on Scaramanga. Bond resorts to threatening the man with his own gun, one made for a man with only three fingers. A fantastic Bond moment, followed up by a scene in which he nearly breaks a woman's arm, twisting it for more information. It's dark, physical, and a little violent. It was nice to see this from Roger Moore's 007 as he seems more inclined to just "charm" the information out of the women. I heard Moore himself didn't like that scene, funny that it ends up being one of the better moments in the movie. Yet for all of the information gathering scenes, it never feels like Bond learns anything useful. Everything is a double cross on top of a double cross. He's going nowhere and getting there fast. It's frustrating.

  Even Bond's plan to impersonate Scaramanga in order to gather information from one of his employers backfires. According to Bond this would work because Scaramanga never meets his clients face to face, yet we quickly discover that the joke is on Bond because the real Scaramanga was there in the flesh all along. This isn't shocking because by contrast it just makes Bond look inept. Every idea, every plan, and every single thing Bond does is undercut and backfires. Which makes for an annoying story overall. By the midway point we even realize that Scaramanga wasn't even planning to kill Bond at all, and in reality Bond was dragged into this by Scaramanga's mistress who wanted Scaramanga dead. It's an important reveal, and it should feel important but it doesn't. It feels... inert. Like most of the movie. There's some thrilling chase scenes, and some suspenseful moments, but this movie seems content to throw women at the screen at an alarming rate, pad it out with Moore's one liners and call it a night.

  Bond only even kills one person in the whole movie. I'll let you guess who. The last 20 minutes or so of the movie is interesting and fun, but it hardly makes up for the silliness that came before it. Even if the story wasn't inert, there's way too much emphasis on humor which robs the movie of the impact it generated with it's darker moments. The annoying redneck sheriff from the previous movie is back. Unfortunately. He serves no purpose either. He seems to be included just for laughs, but only ever registers a few groans. Same thing for Bond girl Mary Goodnight, played by Britt Ekland. She's an annoying throwaway character who fills a role that could've gone to a capable character, but no, she's bumbling and whining comedic relief. Which makes me think that nobody in charge of anything with this movie had any idea what sort of humor works in a James Bond movie.

  The movie's (almost) saving grace has to be Christopher Lee as Scaramanga. He manages to be one of the most interesting villains to grace the franchise since Blofeld's first appearance in You Only Live Twice. He has his own moral code in which he seems him and Bond on the same level. Equals, the only difference being that Bond works for "peanuts, and a hearty 'well done'-" whereas Scaramanga has made a fortune from being a hitman. Enough to have a private island fortress that runs entirely on solar energy. Leading us to the macguffin Bond has been after for about half of the movie. A little gizmo called the Solex Agitator. Which could apparently solve the ongoing energy crisis. It's never really that interesting, and is just a thing for Bond to chase around. I suppose this story might've seemed more relevant in 1973, and it probably should seem more relevant nowadays, but it doesn't.

  It's not an environmentally conscious 007 movie. It just uses the energy crisis backdrop to give Bond a gadget to track down. Because the notion that a super spy like 007 could single handedly solve the energy crisis seemed like a good idea at the time I guess? I don't know what was going through the filmmakers heads. There certainly have been better third acts in the franchise, though few set on an island as gorgeous as Scaramanga's. If only we spent more time out in the sun, rather than inside his wacky fun-house maze. Which isn't nearly as dramatic or scary as it would have us think it is. For all the trap doors and trick mirrors, it doesn't feel threatening at all. Bond manages to win the day, and I'll be honest, his little trick at the end was really cool. Then you remember that the main Bond girl was Mary Goodnight, and we'll have to see her again before the credits roll, and suddenly the movie loses some of it's charm.

  Ultimately, The Man With the Golden Gun is skippable 007 fare. It's not awful, but it's far from great. I can see how it might register with some as a guilty pleasure, and that's cool... but it's not one of mine.

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