Moonraker: The low-point of the 007 franchise
James R | On 17, Sep 2021
Moonraker. A film that actually manages to make less sense than its meaningless title song. Following The Man with the Golden Gun, it fell to Lewis Gilbert to try and up the stakes and spectacle from The Spy Who Loved Me – and the result was the most bombastic Bond film of them all, only topped many years later by Pierce Brosnan’s Die Another Day.
Written by Christopher Wood, the film is more concerned with sex, one-liners and lasers than anything resembling a plot, and it shows – the main thing you remember about the script after the end credits roll is the way it shoehorns in references to The Magnificent Seven and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The result is a string of incoherent action sequences and, while Richard Graydon and Jake Lombard’s stuntwork is astonishing stuff, it never offers any emotional pay-off – each time Bond escapes a life-threatening situation, you’re not surprised, elated or even relieved, and, unlike many other Bond outings, you’re not particularly enjoying it either.
The lack of stakes is established from the off, with Roger Moore falling out of a plane without a parachute and (spoiler) not dying – even with the interference of Richard Kiel’s Jaws, returning to reprise his scene-stealing role from The Spy Who Loved Me. But if that sets in motion a non-stop one-upmanship – including a rather absurd jaunt through Venice – it does at least pya off with one of the most memorable endings of a 007 film. Yes, the ending that actually sees Bond go into space.
Ken Adam once again proves the saving grace of Roger Moore’s Bond, crafting some of the most massive sets ever built in France and there’s something undeniably satisfying in seeing them being blown into smithereens. Any potential for peril, though, is swiftly undermined by the decision to turn Jaws into a good guy, as he falls in love with another henchperson, Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), and they end up getting their own escape pod away from the space station. It’s undermined further by the relentless string of one-liners that are a little too cheesy, even by Roger Moore’s standards, right up to him “attempting re-entry” with Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) – a NASA scientist and CIA agent who nonetheless is objectified despite her smarts, and despite Moore’s increasingly apparent old age.
There’s certainly something very intriguing about Moonraker – it’s one of the rare instances when the Bond franchise is visibly influenced by what else is going on in cinema at the time. Like Casino Royale responding to the rise of Jason Bourne, Moonraker was directly influenced by the box office success of Star Wars two years earlier (with the originally planned For Your Eyes Only instead pushed back to be the next Bond film). Even the death of Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) – a megalomaniacal space tycoon with plans to kill off the human race and preserve a small group of people he deemed genetically superior – sees him ejected out the airlock in a manner not dissimilar to Alien, released in the same year. But rather than focus on what 007 does best, the need for Bond to compete on the blockbuster stage only sends this misguided sci-fi mash-up drifting out into orbit.