21 October 2011

BlogalongaBond- THE SPY WHO LOVED ME Review

"Blimey, that fall goes on for longer than I remembered." That was one of the first thoughts I had, after watching the excellent pre-credits sequence from The Spy Who Loved Me. It culminates with stuntman Rick Sylvester leaping off a cliff, into film history, and the often praised Union Jack parachute reveal. It cements the sequence as the best opener of the entire series, and it's immediately followed by the series' very best theme song.

After the surreal shittiness of The Man With The Golden Gun, this one comes as a breath of fresh air, and possibly the peak of Moore's tenure as Bond. Unusually, the insane plot of the film's villain, Stromberg, is actually the backdrop for a story about espionage. An entente between MI6 and the KGB is formed when a submarine tracking system is put on the market, and James Bond is paired with Anya Amasova, whose lover, one of her colleagues in the service, has recently been killed in action. Three guesses which British agent killed him?

It's a set-up that immediately lends itself to a more developed Bond girl we're used to, in the form of Anya, played by Barbara Bach. If Scaramanga's appearance in the previous film was an obvious binary opposite to Bond, then Anya is a more interesting proposition. It's late in the day when Anya discovers that Bond killed her lover, and swears revenge once their temporary collaboration is over, but that's not to say that she fell into bed with him before that point. As we've discussed before, perhaps I don't get what a James Bond film is meant to be, with my constant complaints about sexism and silliness, but here's where this instalment showed me the way.

There's a scene midway through the film, which would later be aped in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, that sums up 70s Bond for me, in all the best ways. 007 and XXX reach an uneasy alliance, and find adjacent rooms in that least secure accommodation- a train. Normally, Bond would be all over that shit, in a potentially rape-y fashion, but Moore plays it reticent, with a respect for the boundary between them. In the other compartment, Bach is aloof to the super spy's charms, and as characters, they're more equal than unequal. Anyway, she opens her cupboard, and a metal-chompered fucknut called Jaws is in there.

Whatever the Bond movies are to anyone else, I feel like that scene on the train is the most quintessentially Bond thing I've seen on this marathon so far- it's romantic, then it becomes exciting, with just a dash of silliness. For once, Jaws isn't the product of the producers following cinematic trends of the 70s (Spielberg was actually working on Jaws, when Eon offered him the director's chair on this film), but a dopey and yet imposing character, quite admirably performed by Richard Kiel.

This was the first of the Bond movies that wasn't based on one of Ian Fleming's books at all, and in a narrative sense, this is like a grounded version of You Only Live Twice, in which Blofeld twocked a spacecraft in order to escalate the Cold War. However, the script has a villain like Stromberg in its favour, a man who is so barmy as to provoke nuclear war, simply to give the Earth back to its aquatic life. Not for the portentous sum of "One Million Dollars", or indeed, any ransom at all. It's all for the love of fishies. Even the obligatory henchman murder seems to come much more out of afternoon boredom in his hydraulic sea-base, Atlantis, than out of any typical form of malice.

And so when he's finally confronted by Bond, it gives much more weight to his sudden relapse into overkill. We haven't seen Bond kill so vindictively since Dr. No, and his assassination of Stromberg is all the more brutal. Hell, Bond wasn't even this driven to get the guy who killed his wife, with Tracy finally getting another mention in this one. Ditto, with the henchman unfortunate enough to be left dangling by Bond's tie in Egypt. With no specific source material on which to fall back, a refreshingly inventive script serves Moore very well, mixing the much-loved series tropes in with big action setpieces, like the aforementioned parachute jump and the whole Lotus Espirit sequence, and a surprisingly emotional depth

Frankly, I felt The Spy Who Loved Me actually loved me. There's not a single thing I particularly dislike about it, from that opening sequence to the surprisingly well-characterised Navy cohorts in the final fracas. And of course, there's a lot to love. When I say that it's a story about espionage, we're not talking Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy- it's plenty silly, but plenty romantic and exciting, too. As much as you slag off Roger Moore's Bond, Connery was never in a Bond film this good, except, perhaps, From Russia With Love. In any case, this is my favourite outing of BlogalongaBond thus far. Here's hoping that the high standard is kept, in Moonraker! Oh.

#10- "Any man who drinks Dom Perignon '52 can't be all bad." And any man who kills a fish-lover and then drinks the liquor from his escape pod is more of a magnificent bastard than I realised. Kudos, Roger Moore.

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With Moonraker... in November.

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