2 December 2011

BlogalongaBond- FOR YOUR EYES ONLY Review

Wrap up warm, Grandpa Bond...
You can say what you like about Moonraker... and that, incidentally, is why I chose to say that it was insane, egregious, intergalactic bullshit. But while you can say what you like about Moonraker, at least it was committed in its laser-fighting, space-faring, pigeon-surprising shite. If the series had crashed and burned on its sequel's return from the outer space lunacy, that would have been far more interesting than the gentle thud made by For Your Eyes Only.

The problem, as I see it, is entirely to do with the fact that it's another reboot. All of the elements that remind you of a James Bond film are here, and it's a palate cleanser, after the previous instalment. However, an attempt to recast Bond didn't pan out, and so Roger Moore ambles on through another plot where some bastard or other twocks something from the Royal Navy, in this case, their submarine communication system, ATAC. Upon investigating the theft, Bond encounters Melina Havelock, blazing a trail of vengeance across Europe, after her parents were murdered in a fly-by shooting.

This marks a year of BlogalongaBond, and reviewing films once a month since January has brought me to this twelfth outing, past the halfway point. The inherent problem with resetting and repeating in this series is not even down to the fact that they're wearing thin now, but the fact that the Bond films doesn't have much of a rogues' gallery, to speak of. Jaws would be the exception from the last few films, and of course, Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the only real running villain in the series. He makes his less than triumphant return in this film, getting hilariously and unceremoniously dumped down a chimney. At least this asinine opening sequence remembers that Blofeld killed Tracy Bond, which is more than any of the previous five films have done.

But when your one recurring villain is as iconic as Blofeld, a character who is recognisable despite being played by different actors in practically every appearance, the arbitrary invention of villains, or their selection from the Fleming canon, just doesn't cut it. Julian Glover, who has played deliciously villainous or threatening characters in three of my favourite series- Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Indiana Jones- has nothing to work with as Aristotle Kristatos, who comes as part and parcel of the plot, airlifted from the otherwise unfilmed Risico. Michael Gothard is a distinctive looking henchman, but I honestly couldn't tell you his character's name without looking it up.

The other big problem with For Your Eyes Only is that Melina is so much more of an interesting protagonist than Moore's Bond. Carole Bouquet is fiery and intense, and Moore, who was 54 at the point this film was released, spends most of the film trying to calm her down, seemingly so he can keep up. For some reason, it's written as if James Bond takes issue with killing people. He keeps telling Melina not to seek revenge, basically vag-blocking her much more interesting subplot to the point where she doesn't get too cool to slip into bed with him at the end.. They're actually writing Moore as Grandpa Bond at this point, as evidenced by his excruciatingly embarrassing scenes with 23-year-old Lynn-Holly Johnson, as horny ice-skater Bibi.

As the first Bond film of the 1980s, you could suppose that the series was entering a new era at this stage, which would have been all the more reason to recast the lead role. The country from which this masculine, patriotic superhero originated was, at this point, run by Margaret Thatcher. As Bond observed of Dr. Goodhead in the previous film, "a woman", and the ending demonstrates an awareness of that by suggesting she could confuse a man's voice with a parrot's, the dopey cow! Despite his best efforts, he already feels emasculated, and sidelined. We're easily diverted by the character of Melina, the crucial importance of her pet parrot, and the redonkulous Tomorrow's World wonder of the Identigraph machine. OK, maybe not that last one. Worst. Gadget. Ever.

Aside from this, there are a few saving graces to be had. The action is better than it has been in much more warmly regarded Bond outings, at least in the building of tension, if not spectacular execution. For one thing, there's the gleefully unglamorous car chase, as Bond is forced to make his escape in a yellow Citro├źn. The film is full of standout sequences, such as the assassination attempt on Melina in the square, the chase on the bobsled track and the final assault on the mountaintop monastery in which Kristatos has, of course, decided to hole up. The tension is really ramped up in the preamble to that scene, in which one of those nameless henchmen, of the type that must surely be endangered by this point in the series, almost drops our hero to his death.

It's interesting that another of the film's highlights, in which Kristatos keel hauls Bond and Melina through shark-infested waters, was omitted from an earlier adaptation- Live And Let Die, to be exact. This one just feels so routine, more like a greatest hits package than any other entry in the series so far. Richard Maibaum, who was involved with pretty much every Bond script, apparently worked with a committee on this one, and shared credit for the writing with producer Michael G. Wilson. The scripts have seldom been inspired or world-beating in this series, but the writing just seems boring and bored, in this instalment. This brings down the more exciting sequences considerably.

Although the film is packed with exciting setpieces, For Your Eyes Only feels like a real slog. When it crosses the finish line, it hand-waves the plot away in such a way that is cavalier, even for a goddamn Bond film. As bad as Moonraker was- and golly, was it bad- at least it was a relentlessly watchable kind of bad. The goal was obviously to scale back the bonkers excess of previous films, but in not putting the entire world at stake, it barely gives us any stakes to worry about at all. Perhaps fresh blood could have helped that, but as it stands, the good intentions only shine through in brief, heady action sequences.

#12- This Christmas, a delicatessen of stainless steel is not the way to say "Sorry I Assassinated Your Wife On Your Wedding Day And Tried To Murder You With A Remote Control Helicopter."

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

The Mad Prophet Will Return In The New Year, With (shudder) Octopussy.


Atom said...

Thanks for pointing up that FYEO was envisaged as a reboot. This seems central to understanding where the film was coming from.

Newbie director John Glenn seems to have had more than half an eye on the last reboot, OHMSS. Ski chase, inaccessible mountain lair and crime syndicate ally anyone?

Sad when even a reboot was derivative!

On the plus side, this is Moore's best performance by a mile as he's forced to reign in the eyebrow.

jayce76 said...

And I also never got the sence that F.Y.E.O. was a reboot of any kind. Simply Silver Age Bond's homage to F.R.W.L. trying to go a more straight route after Moore trip to Star Wars CooCoo land in Moonraker.

But great blog, wonderful read. F.Y.E.O. is one of my favs and one of Moore's best outing in my opinion.