Monday, December 1, 2014

Moonraker


  Moonraker, the eleventh 007 outing feels more like a joke than a serious spy thriller. Mainly because it's simply not a serious spy thriller. It knows how to craft spectacle and generate excitement, but it fully succumbs to the not-so-subtle silliness that had been peeking through Moore's movies so far. The opening of the movie is exciting, with Bond being tossed out of an airplane, mid-flight, and with no parachute to boot. It's in free fall that he ends up grappling with Jaws, a most popular character who's steely trademark might very well have been responsible for this ill-conceived trend. A notion which makes more sense than half of this silly spoof of a movie.

  I suppose that after free falling a few thousand feet (or more) and landing on a circus tent isn't enough to kill Jaws. Nor is sending him over a raging waterfall. These are scenes that feel like they were ripped straight out of Looney Tunes. You could never make stuff like that feel at home in a James Bond movie.  As if expecting filmmakers to take things seriously was too much on this 11th outing. Granted this is the same franchise that simply recasts it's protagonist when the actor gets too far up in age, rather than retiring the character. Is James Bond immortal? Is Roger Moore's 007 the same character as Sean Connery's 007? Do they exist in the same timeline? These are questions that few people ever like to think on. It's best ignored, and the character taken for granted.

  The same cavalier mentality towards Bond's apparent immortality was applied to every aspect of this movie. Jaws keeps returning from the most creative would-be deaths ever. It was silly at first, and was just painful by the second time. It's these things, and things like it that drag Moonraker down. Bond is loaded to the teeth with gadgets, which seem so perfectly suited to each situation he encounters that it takes you out of the movie completely. There's no logic to why you need a hang-glider built into the roof of a speedboat. Unless... you plan on driving it off a waterfall. Which, Bond does. The sheer spectacle of it is neat, but once you realize how silly and impractical it is, you wonder just how well prepared Bond could actually be. The gadgets in this movie aren't unlike the shark repellent from the 1960's Batman: The Movie, or the ice skates in the boots from Batman & Robin.

  This isn't to say of course that Moonraker isn't often entertaining in it's own ridiculous way. It's big, it's fast, it's chock full of hot women and explosions. There's killer snakes, laser shootouts in space, the aforementioned free falling fiasco, and some clever scenes between Bond and his American female counterpart, Dr. Holly Goodhead. Just when you thought it didn't get any better than "Pussy Galore". There's no missing the innuendo in Moonraker. One critic drew many comparisons between this and Goldfinger, illustrating how much from that movie was recycled, character archetypes, subtle plot points, etc etc. The real shame is that Moonraker never manages to be one tenth the movie Goldfinger is. All the same ingrediants, just too much of them. It has no restraint, and didn't know when to quit. Much like Moore, ending his stint as Bond at 58 years old, or Jaws who keeps plummeting to cartoonish deaths, only to come lumbering back.

  If there are any saving graces to this movie, it has to be in the few rather serious action scenes sprinkled throughout, the fantastic production design, the gorgeous scenery, and Roger Moore's smile. Yes, that's right, his smile. Somehow his take on Bond seems at it's most honest and enjoyable when he smiles. It seems as if for a moment, he too is aware of the absurdity around him. When Jaws reappears for the billionth time (or so it seemed) he and Bond trade coy smiles for a second or two. It's easily my favorite scene in the movie. Beyond all the scripted innuendo, the ridiculous fights, and absurd stunts, there's Roger Moore and his smile. A highlight not only of the movie, but of the franchise. There's a real camaraderie between Moore and his cast mates, and I can't help but feel some of that leaked into the characters.

  Somehow, he makes even the weakest of his 007 outings worth watching, which is something that can't be said for any other actor to play the role. I have only the worst, ill-conceived, revisionist notions to return to the likes of Die Another Day or Quantum of Solace (even though I will for the sake of this marathon), but I could see myself enjoying Moonraker again several years from now on a fancy free Saturday afternoon. It's not a good movie. In fact, I'd argue it's one of the weakest in the franchise. Bottom five and all that, but it has a certain glee about it. It revels in it's overkill. It succeeds more as a 007 spoof than anything, it's worst crime is not being something else. Something... better. I suppose the franchise had to hit this point, just as Superman had to have his Quest for Peace before Man of Steel, and Star Trek had to breach The Final Frontier.

  There's always a Moonraker in every franchise. It's no crime to enjoy it, but lets all be grown ups and recognize that it's quite bad, all things considered. After all, you wouldn't judge a Superman movie on how good of a comedy it is- because it's not supposed to be one. If it makes you laugh, intended or not, it had entertainment value. Yet objectively, since it utterly fails in what it set out to do, and doesn't evoke the feelings and reactions it was meant to... it's a bad movie. Moonraker is no different. It expects ooh's and ahh's but gets facepalms and chuckles instead. Sure its fun, but it's also really disappointing. It's not the plot, it's not the story, or even the villain (who although has some neat moments, is largely forgettable) it's just the over the top sense of humor, which infects everything from the gadgetry, to the innuendo, and unfortunately even the action scenes. Nothing is sacred at this point, all we can do is knuckle down and wait for the next one.

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