More noise than signal

For Your Eyes Only

I have been caught slacking on the Bond front for a couple of weeks. I shall try to rectify this as best as possible before the looming duelling responsibilities of a holiday and covering the Edinburgh International Film Festival get the better of me.

However, I’m going to be put at an immediate disadvantage by For Your Eyes Only, the twelfth Bond outing, having apparently been so forgettable it has already faded in my memories. Over the course of this ill-advised experiment I’ve made reference to all of the Moore era Bonds merging together in my mind. I’d assumed this was just a function of the time since I’d last seen them, but it appears that the root cause is simply that few of them are memorable.

So, Wikipedia assures me that the main through line of this piece is the need for the British government to recover a missile command system from an accidentally destroyed spy vessel. This is also exactly the sort of thing the Russians would like to get their hands on, so the race is on to retrieve the dohickey. This leads, after what’s close enough to an investigation, to Bond being placed in the middle of duelling Greek crime bosses, one still sympathetic to British interests from wartime resistance efforts, the other having made a career of betraying his compatriots.

I guess the first thing you’ll note from the above potted recap is that no portion of it requires Space Marines, or a plot to kill everyone in the world, or suchlike. Why, if you squint a little, it’s almost plausible! It’s said that ex-Bond editor John “not an astronaut” Glen’s directorial stint for this and the next four “official” Bond films was part of a move back to reality from the fanciful plots and pitched battles of prior films. It’s partially successful, with a relatively sensible plot and characters that, from some angles, approach at least 2.5D rather than the cardboard cut out characterisation we’ve been treated to over the past few films. Some of these guys even seem to have motive for their actions! Wild concept for a Bond film, I know.

For Your Eyes Only‘s problem in this regard is that for every step forward it takes, it walks into a lamp-post, staggers back, falls over, hits it head and soils itself. It’s not starting from a position of strength either, with hands-down the dumbest and least explicable pre-credits mission yet, as Bond foils another attempt by a wheelchair bound Blofeld to kill him in a remote control helicopter, turning the tables and dropping him down a chimney (!) while Blofeld bargains for his life by offering to buy Bond a delicatessen in stainless steel (!!).

If you were looking for your take on the series to have a patina of believability, why on earth go to the bother of resurrecting a happily dead villain to kill him in such a daffy way? Perhaps it’s an attempt to symbolically bury the excesses of the SPECTRE-esque grand designs on the world, but if so it’s undercut by the both the rest of the film and the means of dispatching Blofeld. Walking up to him and shooting him, point blank, would send a message that there’s a new Sheriff in Bondsville. Picking up his wheelchair from a helicopter and dropping him down a chimney – that’s sort of business as usual, but much worse than usual.

Of course, we can’t be sure he’s Blofeld and not just some other cat-stroking psychopath with a grudge, thanks to the ongoing legal wranglings over film rights that resulted in Never Say Never Again, but we’ll deal with that when we get to it.

The rest of the film is a curious mix that’s not altogether unpleasant to watch, although all of the memorable elements in the film are memorable for entirely the wrong reasons. Why is this massively annoying, largely superfluous teenage skater given any screentime? Why are there ice-hockey playing assassins? Why must we have the a supposed KGB spy/assassin break cover by leaving during a cross-country skiing race to take a shot at Bond? Did we really need that bobbins bobsleigh bit, especially considering the human cost? Why film cliff climbing scenes with an actor who’s afraid of heights, and have to fake “underwater” scenes because the actress can’t go in the water? Assassins in beach buggies?

Now, while perhaps it’s damning it with faint praise, this is my second favourite Moore era Bond thus far, after The Spy Who Loved Me. Despite the uneven mix of striving for sensibility at the same time as embracing the ridiculous, For Your Eyes Only is an enjoyable watch. Just don’t expect to remember any of the reasons you found it enjoyable a few weeks down the line.