Logline: 007 investigates the hijacking of a space shuttle and discovers a plot to commit global genocide.
The end credits of The Spy Who Loved Me read “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only.” However, after the global phenomenon that was Star Wars (1977), producer Albert R. Broccoli decided to cash in on the science fiction craze and instead, chose Moonraker as James Bond’s next screen adventure. Costing nearly twice as much as its predecessor, Moonraker earned over $210,000,000 worldwide, making it the highest grossing Bond film until Goldeneye was released in 1995. Moonraker is ridiculous and silly but loads of fun. It is often considered one of the worst entries in the series but I could not disagree more. Bond films are purely escapism and Moonraker stands as one of the most action-packed, unabashedly entertaining films in the franchise.
The film opens with an astonishing pre-title sequence, in which Bond gets pushed out of an airplane without a parachute. This thrilling skydiving scene is yet another example of the amazing stuntwork on display in the Bond cannon. The title song, performed by Shirley Bassey, is very good. It was the third and final time Bassey performed a theme song for the series. Even though it does not pack the same punch as Goldfinger or Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker is a strong tune in its own right. Johnny Mathis was approached before Bassey and had begun work with composer John Barry on the track before abandoning the project. Bassey was hired just weeks before the film’s U.K. release. The film also features an excellent score from composer John Barry and ranks among his best work.
Moonraker is most commonly criticized for its comedic tone and critics often point to the scenes in outer space. However, Bond does not go into space until the final half hour. Everything that proceeds this is no more outlandish than earlier Bond films. I actually enjoy the scenes in outer space but could have done without the absurd laser battle. The film’s big budget definitely shows on screen. There are striking visuals, visionary set designs from series regular Ken Adam, and impressive effects. The film also makes great use of its locations, which include Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Venice, Italy.
Bond girls can be either hit or miss. Holly Goodhead, played by Louis Chiles, is a strong Bond girl. She is sassy and does not fall for Bond’s charms at first. Michael Lonsdale plays Hugo Drax, who is a great villain. In one scene, he quips, “Mr. Bond, you defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you.” Moonraker is also notable for being Bernard Lee’s final appearance as Bond’s superior, M. Lee was always a welcomed presence in the Bond films and had been with the series from the beginning.
Moonraker is a non-stop thrill ride. The film is filled with great action set pieces. Highlights include the gondola chase in Venice, the fight atop a cable car in Rio, and a wonderful fight scene between Bond and an assassin. The film’s biggest flaw is its treatment of the henchman Jaws, who appeared in the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me. In that film, Jaws was a threatening presence but here, he is played more for laughs than anything else and can be quite cartoonish. Jaws falls in love and has a sudden change of heart, which feels like poor writing. There is a great scene in Rio though, in which Jaws, dressed in costume, slowly approaches a woman working with Bond.
Flawed as it is, Moonraker remains one of the most underrated films of the series and is not nearly as bad as many critics would have you believe. If viewed with an open mind, then I think it can be enjoyed immensely. Moonraker is not a great film but it is certainly great fun.
Rating (out of ****): ***1/2