After both of their countries lose track of nuclear submarines, the KGB and MI6 send their best spies, Anya Amasova (Agent Triple X) and James Bond, to retrieve microfilm that will point them in the direction of the villain who stole the submarines and the rockets that they hold.
Bond, James Bond:
Roger Moore returns for his third of seven appearances as James Bond and he is still doing wonderfully. This one is a bit more toned down from the previous two films, but he is still able to shine and, in fact, probably gives his best performance as the character. The romantic plotline of this movie allows him to show a softer side that had not been present in the previous two films, especially when you consider how he has treated women in them (tricking them into having sex with him, being violent towards them).
His performance is at its high point when he is confronted by Anya when she deduces that he is the one who killed her former lover. Here, Moore is able to convey a concern for the pain that he has caused the first woman he has seriously fallen for since his wife was murdered (if you are following the canon of this series, which I have mentioned as being difficult in the past). But, he also is able to counteract that pain by calmly explaining that he realistically had no choice but to kill her former beau, because he was trying to kill James. Also, the business of being a secret spy is a dangerous one, and that is something that James knows and that Anya should know, and he is able to calmly, yet confidently tell her, that her boyfriend knew that as well. It’s the emotional climax of the best plotline that the film has, and Moore’s performance carries it.
This is also the first time that James does not frustrate me on a deep level. Although he is not perfect (there is a scene where he mocks Anya’s driving as being typical of “woman drivers,” even though he is the one who caused the dangerous situation that they are in by not giving her the keys quicker), he does not feel overly cruel. This is the first time that I have liked both the actor’s performance and the character of Bond in the same film since, probably, From Russia with Love.
Carly Simon follows Lulu in the string of artists performing James Bond songs with this film’s “Nobody Does It Better,” which marks the first time that the name of the song does not match the name of the film (although she does sing “The Spy Who Loved Me”). This is yet another example of a song that works on just about every level, from the soft pleasant instrumentation and Bond-centered lyrics (it’s refreshing to hear a Carly Simon song where you know who the subject is). Although I can’t agree that nobody does spywork, or anything, for that matter, better than James Bond, with opening lines like “Nobody does it better/Makes me feel sad for the rest/Nobody does it half as good as you/Baby, you’re the best,” this song makes you want to believe that James truly is the best. The fact that this song is attached to the first actor to portray James Bond in an Eon-produced film to pass away gives it a little extra emotional heft as well, as this song was all over social media when Moore passed away earlier this year.
Curd Jurgens plays Karl Stromberg in this movie, and I really just don’t have a lot to say about him. He is a man who is tired of the world as it is currently in and who wants to destroy the current world order in order to create an underwater utopia. Jurgens performance, and the way the character is written, are both rather bland, and I just don’t really care for anything that he has to say or do. If I wanted to see someone who would rather live underwater than on Earth, I’d watch The Little Mermaid.
Although Stromberg has a female henchperson named Naomi who tracks Bond’s car via helicopter, there is only really one woman to talk about in this movie, and she’s a genuinely strong character, really for the first time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Amasova is an excellent spy, who frequently corrects Bond when he gives slightly inaccurate information during a meeting with MI6 and KGB leadership. Having her frequently be on the same page, if not ahead of Bond, is nice to see, especially after the sequence of well-acted damsels (Solitaire and Andrea) and morons (Tiffany Case, Rosie and Mary Goodnight). It’s also nice to see that Bond respects her for the most part (with the exception of the brief sequence in the car suggested above). Also, the fact that she spends the last quarter of the movie wanting to kill Bond after she discovers that she is the one who killed her boyfriend three weeks prior, although she still puts the mission first (something I’m not convinced Bond would ever do).
She also, eventually, falls in love with Bond, but is plotted in a way that it feels genuine, which is not something I can typically say of these movies (with the exception of Tracy). Their first truly romantic encounter does not happen until around the halfway point of the movie, even though Bond tries to cozy up with beforehand (I’ll touch upon that a bit later). By the time the encounter happens, it feels real and earned (even if the timing of the scene, compared to when Anya’s boyfriend dies, is a bit troubling).
The only negative thing I have to say about this character is more about how she is performed by Barbara Bach. It’s a somewhat bland performance, never really ranging from the same kind of bored sounding delivery. However, this might not be entirely her fault. If Wikipedia is to be believed (which I hope it is, because that’s my main source of information for these posts and this blog), she was not cast in the role until four days before principal photography began, and, even then, she auditioned just for a general role in the movie, but was instead given the female lead. Losing rehearsal time could be the cause of the lackluster performance, so I won’t entirely blame Bach on this one. Either way, it is a shame that we do not get a strong performance to go along with one of the better written characters the franchise has had.
The MI6 triumvirate returns in this movie, although I do not really remember Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny doing much in this one (the only thing that I remember her doing in this movie is when we find out that she booked James and Anya, undercover as a married couple, a suite with two bedrooms, for which she isn’t even on screen). Desmond Llewelyn gets another great moment of being annoyed with James, as he tries to explain the rules of Bond’s new car. After Bond interrupts him with “Have I ever let you down?” Q slams the car door shut while exclaiming “Frequently!” Finally, Bernard Lee’s M gets a good amount of screentime, although he doesn’t seem as frustrated with Bond as he typically does. In fact, my favorite moment of his is when he compliments Bond in front of the KGB boss, only to have Anya correct the information that James just gave.
Although Stromberg is a boring character, the villainous side of this film is saved by one of the franchise’s most famous henchpeople, Richard Kiel’s Jaws. Richard Kiel was a physically imposing man, standing over 7 feet tall, and has a good amount of muscle to him as well. The fact that they give this character let another terrifying feature, of metal teeth that can bite through chains, makes him all the more threatening. It’s rare that a henchperson actually scares me, instead of just being either odd (Wint and Kidd) or otherwise forgettable. But every time that Jaws was onscreen, I was genuinely a little afraid for Bond. During a fight scene, Jaws is choking Bond, and his hand easily covers the entirety of the front of Bond’s neck, to the point that I believe that he could easily snap our hero’s neck. It’s amazing, and he is alive at the end of this film, which was done intentionally enough, that it should not be surprising that he will be in the next film. I’m so excited to see him again.
This is a fairly-heavy gadget movie, and most of them are memorable in really good ways. There’s one quick sequence in Egypt when we just see Q and his men hard at work and we get to see a decapitating tray, an ejector pillow of some kind and a hookah gun.
There are a few gadgets that we see in action as well, including a ski pole gun, which Bond uses to kill a chasing spy (I believe it is Amasova’s former beau). My favorite use of a gadget might be when Amasova uses a cigarette to knock out Bond. This is at the end of a scene where she and Bond are flirting with each other at a point where I feel like the movie has not truly earned it yet, and to have it be revealed that she is only doing it so she can get his guard down and knock him out is a hugely satisfying little moment.
There are a few vehicles that act as gadgets as well. First, one of Stromberg’s henchmen (whose face we never see) has a motorcycle sidecar that is actually just a rocket propelled bomb. The bomb blows up a pillow truck, causing feathers to fly out and distract the motorcyclist, who then falls off a cliff (Bond’s quip of “All those feathers and he still can’t fly” actually kind of made me laugh). The other vehicles are “Wet Nellie” (a callback to You Only Live Twice’s Little Nellie helicopter) which is an adorable little jet ski that he uses to get back to Aquarius to save Anya.
Finally, probably the most significant vehicular gadget in the franchise so far is the Lotus Espirit. The car seems to be just a regular, fairly sleek looking white car until Bond is forced to drive it off of a dock. When it lands in the water, Bond presses a button and it fully converts into a submarine. Not only is it a functioning submarine, but it includes a missile that can launch from the car into the sky (to blow up a following helicopter) and smoke screens to lose following swimmers (which gave me negative Thunderball vibes). Finally, Anya presses a button that releases a bomb, killing the last remaining henchman. When Bond asks how she knew about that button (a question that I shared), she reveals that she had stolen the blueprints to the car two years prior. It was so nice to have an entirely competent female character again.
Having a bland villain kind of makes his entire plan bland by association. Him wanting to create an underwater utopia could be interesting but I feel like there had to have been an easier way to get access to nuclear weapons than kidnapping two submarines for many weeks. I never understand why he kidnaps the third, American submarine, other than the fact that we need James on the ship to confront Stromberg. It’s all kind of confusing and strange.
However, the other side of this story is excellent. Top MI6 and KGB agents working against each other in a race to get the same information is an interesting and fun, and then the way that they slowly fall for each other is plotted in a well-earned way. These movies rarely get the female characters right in such a way that I’m genuinely excited to see them on screen interacting with Bond and here they get Anya so right that, alongside Jaws, the film is able to counteract a bland villain and an uninteresting plot.
Miscellaneous Spy Business:
-Bond skiing off at the end of the cold open, to reveal a British flag parachute is an all-time moment for this franchise. It’s excellent.
-The fact that there is an agent in this movie called Agent XXX and that she is neither Vin Diesel nor Ice Cube was a genuinely upsetting moment.
-This movie’s score so frequently sounds like disco, which is very much a product of the 70s, but there is nothing about this movie screams disco.
-James finds a dead due and then puts an out-of-order sign on his body, which seems wholly unnecessary, but it makes me smile enough that I’ll allow it.
-As much as I like Anya, there’s a scene where she and James and tracking Jaws and she does not have a gun drawn, When she and James turn a corner into each other, and each have a defensive reaction, she goes to karate chop Bond. Reminder, the person she is actively tracking is a seven-foot human being with metal teeth.
-While wandering through the desert, the film uses the score from Lawrence of Arabia. It’s so on the nose, not particularly funny, and adds nothing, so I’m not entirely certain why this happens.
-Stromberg’s base is more interesting than he is. Aquarius is an interesting-looking design, and acts as a decent way to introduce his love for living underwater.
-Stromberg’s death is so odd. He and Bond are sitting at opposite ends of a very long table. On his end, Stromberg has the trigger to a very long gun, the exit of which is immediately in front of James. However, Stromberg telegraphs that he is about to shoot Bond, and the gun makes such a loud noise that Bond is able to jump out of the way. Follow that up with James putting his gun at the end of the tube and basically tell Stromberg that he is going to shoot him, only to have the villain do absolutely nothing. He just kind of accepts death but not in a way that I think he wanted to die. It’s just…so strange.
-I’ve said it before, but all these movies feel like two hour setups to James Bond and a girl having sex in some weird mode of transportation. This one is another example of that, with Bond and Anya together in an escape pod from Atlantis, and Bond closes a curtain as a weird old-timey musical version of “Nobody Does It Better” plays.
This movie is a pretty obvious reaction to the absurdity of The Man with the Golden Gun, and it is a proper reaction. This is a subdued film in many ways, and it finds James at his most likeable on a human level since Lazenby’s brief stay. A bland villain and a (somewhat understandably) bland performance from the lead girl stop it from being one of the all-time films in the franchise, and Moore’s first might end up higher up on the final list, but this one works in a lot of good ways. I’ll give it a solid 006.5/0010.
TJ Hizer will Return With: Moonraker
References Spy Who Loved Me Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spy_Who_Loved_Me_(film) Spy Who Loved Me Gadget Page http://www.universalexports.net/Movies/spylove-gadgets.shtml Richard Kiel Height Google Search Photo Credits Cover Photo https://i.pinimg.com/originals/85/52/b5/8552b5779e17d762fa015d92cf09b475.jpg Moore http://cdn-static.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeek/files/styles/main_wide/public/1/48//movies_50_years_of_bond_gallery_10.jpg?itok=ukh8BXFR Sebastian https://media.giphy.com/media/13uaMxgBhGP9ba/giphy.gif Anya Amasova https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/it/thumb/d/d2/Anya_Amasova.png/520px-Anya_Amasova.pnghttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/it/thumb/d/d2/Anya_Amasova.png/520px-Anya_Amasova.png Jaws Choking Bond https://enjoythecrawl.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/screen-shot-2014-11-14-at-2-51-28-am.png?w=676 Jaws https://pmcvariety.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/richard_kiell.jpg?w=670&h=377&crop=1https://pmcvariety.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/richard_kiell.jpg?w=670&h=377&crop=1https://pmcvariety.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/richard_kiell.jpg?w=670&h=377&crop=1 Lotus https://www.digitaltrends.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/LotusTopBig.jpg Aquarius http://cdn-static.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeek/files/1/43//atlantis-base-spy-who-loved-me.jpg
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