More noise than signal

The Spy Who Loved Me

I am perhaps going to do The Spy Who Loved Me a disservice, especially because it is one of the rarest of beasts, one which I perhaps thought was mythical – a Roger Moore Bond film that I like, without any caveats. However, I am quite ruinously exhausted for a variety of reasons not sufficiently interesting to examine, so this may perhaps sound a little more perfunctory and less enthusiastic than it deserves. My apologies.

The British and Russian secret services must swing into action when each country has a nuclear submarine go missing, no doubt related to the sudden black market auction of a system that tracks the movement of said subs. Bond (Moore) is initially in a mildly antagonistic relationship with his opposite number Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), codenamed Triple X long before the ill-advised Vin Diesel attempt at establishing a modernised Bond franchise, but before long they’re on the same page trying to figure out who’s behind this plot. Perhaps someone who has seen You Only Live Twice, from which the plot borrows heavily.

The main force working against our AngloSov Alliance come in the hulking, brutish shape of Jaws (Richard Kiel), the metallically-beteethed monster who can rip cars apart with his bare hands, and for whom the movie of the same name was more of a serving suggestion than a tense, terrifying thriller. He certainly provides a memorable and iconic wall of muscle for Bond to bounce off of, although he’s not going to be stunning you with his rapier wit. He’s more of the very strong, very silent type.

Throwing in an essentially invulnerable, at least as far as this film presents him, villain to square off against the essentially invulnerable Bond is an interesting idea, although in practise it just means that in the situations that would have dispatched lesser henchmen for good merely causes Jaws some slight inconvenience, and requiring the dusting off of his horrendous power blue sports jacket.

This, to my mind, is the first of the Mooreian Bonds that has its own character, rather than desperately trying to co-opt others. The franchise has never been above borrowing elements from contemporary popular culture, but the prior blaxploitation and kung-fu fever influences of Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun felt like desperate, needy attempts at relevance. By focussing on something more akin to the Great Game of From Russia With Love, combined with the more bombastic supervillain schemes, we get something close to the best of both worlds in The Spy Who Loved Me.

There’s not much I like about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but The Spy Who Loved Me at least pinches the most remarkable element by introducing a Bond Girl that’s portrayed as being as competent as Jimmy himself, although it can’t resist falling back to last act damsel-in-distress-isms which tarnishes its feminist credibility somewhat.

My only problem with The Spy Who Loved Me is the ultimate villain of the piece, Curd Jürgens’s Stromberg. Certainly, he’s thinking big. Destroying civilisation and restarting under the sea is a fittingly over-the-top scheme, although I would perhaps have had more invested in the character if I was given any inkling as to why ol’ Stromberg’s so peeved with the world that he wants to blow it up. Blofeld might have only been looking for money, but as The Way Of The Gun teaches us, at least money represents motive with a universal adapter. Regardless of genre, it’s always less satisfying when we know whodunnit without knowing whytheydunnit.

I shouldn’t dwell on the only real negative, as there’s a number of nice touches and details throughout the film, to the extent of even caring about some of the disposable redshirts assaulting Stromberg’s control rooms. The (very) junior officer of the British sub, having just been informed of the death of his captain, volunteers to take on a head-on assault that looks exactly like the suicide mission it turns out to be, but for perhaps the first time in the franchise I felt sorry for the cannon fodder pseudo-sidekicks rather than finding some amusement in the act.

The scripting appears to finally have got to grips with Moore’s take on Bond, and plays to the strengths of his incarnation. The locations used are suitably exotic, and give a globe-trotting feel that’s been a little lacking over the previous few flicks. While by today’s standards the compositing effects are a shade shonky, I’m probably seeing some worse effects work in cinemas today. What this may lack in execution it at least makes up for in scope, and in that sense at least compares favourably with more recent, shinier, completely soulless exercises in pixel-pushing. I refer you to, well, any of the godawful retrofitted 3D brigade we’ve seen of late.

Perhaps the odd thing about The Spy Who Loves me is that when coldly analysing the constituent elements of the film, it reads like a wholly derivative mix of elements of prior art. That’s not the way the film comes across at all, and would do it a grand disservice. It’s a wholly enjoyable movie, and while it’s not close to reaching the giddy heights of ‘Best Bond Ever’, it’s certainly in the uppermost basecamp. Well worth a look.

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