Sunday, February 17, 2013

In Defense of 'Moonraker'

'Moonraker' has somehow, over the years, become reviled as an example of everything that went wrong with the Roger Moore era of James Bond (which has, in turn, become reviled as everything that's wrong with the Bond franchise, but in this case that's more or less correct so I won't call that out.) It's supposedly an example of relentless camp and bad comedy, nothing but a blatant attempt to cash in on the 'Star Wars' fad by putting James Bond in space. Even 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' commented on it in Season Six, when the Trio use it as an example of why Roger Moore sucked in their running argument as to which Bond was best. (Which is something of an irony when people use the claims raised in that argument, as it's intentionally placed there as an example of people who get into silly and pointless arguments where there's no real "right" and "wrong".)

In fact, it feels like most of the people complaining about 'Moonraker' really just saw that scene in 'Buffy', because the camp that most people complain about is actually pretty seriously toned down compared to 'Octopussy' (probably the campiest of the Moore movies.) Really, the movie hangs together pretty well; Bond is saved only once by an improbable gadget (the gondola that the Trio complain about) ...which is about on a par with 'The Spy Who Loved Me', universally held up as an example of the best of Roger Moore's Bond work.

And while 'Spy' is good, 'Moonraker' is a step above it simply because this is just about the only Bond movie where the female love interest is demonstrated to be intelligent, capable, and isn't also the peril monkey. It's not perfect--we get Corinne Dufour, who's victimized in a pretty misogynist scene--but Holly Goodhead, the scientist/CIA agent, is smart and every bit as competent as Bond and plays a key role at the end instead of just sitting there and going, "OK, James, it's time for the man to step up and be heroic!" And she's played by a smart actress, which isn't true in 'Spy'. Barbara Bach is wooden, vapid, and utterly cannot do her part justice, and is the weak link in that film.

And 'Moonraker' has some great action sequences--the opening skydiving fight is spectacular, the swordfight is great, and while it does require some suspension of disbelief to imagine that there are space Marines in the Bond universe, the battle itself is staged incredibly well. Jaws is well used from his opening appearance through to his hiring as Drax's replacement heavy ("Oh! Well, if he's available...") to the end. I've always liked Jaws; he feels like he's a character from another series of films about a morally-ambiguous indestructible cyborg mercenary that just didn't get made in our reality, and he's used well here.

And Hugo Drax is awesome. I repeat--Hugo Drax is awesome. He is the best Bond villain in the whole Moore era, a visionary idealist who's clearly unimpressed with Bond's suavity and charm, and handles the whole bother with dry wit and skilled managerial delegation. I love his every scene and every line, and he's actually better than Goldfinger, which is not easy.

Of course, there are quite a few other Moore Bond films, but I immediately disqualify 'Octopussy', 'Live and Let Die' and 'The Man With the Golden Gun' on the grounds of cringeworthy racism, 'A View to a Kill' suffers from the fact that Moore is clearly too old to be playing the part by that point, and 'For Your Eyes Only' criminally misuses Julian Glover, one of the best actors to ever be a Bond villain. Really, the only competition is 'The Spy Who Loved Me', and 'Moonraker' beats it handily.

So yes, if you can't accept laser guns alongside jetpacks, invisible cars, lasers aimed at your Bond movies, I don't think I'll be able to convince you of how good 'Moonraker' is. But I know which of us is missing out.


Jeff McGinley said...

I have to say, every time I watch the Bond films, I'm pleasantly surprised at how good a majority of Moonraker is.

I think the sillyness at the end is what sticks with people.

It's also easy to forget that Moore's first string of movies are all tributes to other genres: Live and let Die-Blaxploitation, Man with the Golden Gun-Kung Fu, Spy Who Loved Me-remake of Thunderball, Moonraker-70s Sci Fi.

Ivan said...

I could never understand the Moonraker hate: I saw it opening weekend and sat through the film twice, totally absorbed, totally entertained.
While Star Wars may have pushed the "space" angle, if anything, I think Moonraker is like some lost Gerry Anderson film--a feeling reinforced by the extensive (and wonderful) miniature and optical work by Anderson vet FX director Derek Meddings, and the flick's relentless pace.

Anyone who's interested in old-school effects needs to listen to Meddings' commentary: absolutely no computers were used, and to keep everything "original negative" often the film would be rewound and reshot many, many times.

Just discovered your blog, and I'm loving it; thanks!

Beachfox said...

I am an unabashed fan of "Live and Let Die". For all the wrong reasons.

The attempt at blacksploitation is hilarious (Watching Felix straightface the line "Get me a make on a white pimpmobile!" will never get old). Baron Samdi is criminally underused and steals every scene he's in. The whole needless "Disguise yourself as a crime lord" gambit, the fact that every single African save one is in on the vast conspiracy, Dr. Quin Medicine Woman mooning her way through the required daterape...
And the puns. Oh dear god, the horrible horrible puns.

It is the worstbest Bond movie without question.

Though Jaw's lovestory in Moonraker made me unironically happy the first time i saw it.