Bond fans tend to look askance at Roger Moore’s reign in the role – still the longest with seven films – which always struck me as a little cold-hearted. Yes, Connery remains the definitive Bond, and we’ve thrilled to Daniel Craig’s hard-as-nails reboot of the character. But on some level, we need the occasional reminder that these movies are supposed to be fun. Enter Moore, who represented the character throughout the go-go 70s and upbeat 80s, and found the perfect tone for Bond’s campier excesses in the process. “Dude, lighten up, I’m a superspy! Jet packs for everyone!” You couldn’t do it now, nor would you want to, but for that time and that place, he was who we needed Bond to be.
That was never truer than with Octopussy, Moore’s second-to-last adventure that inexplicably ranks among the more reviled. It goes uproariously over-the-top at times, starting with the ridiculous title and running the gamut from an island of all-female jewel smugglers to a razor-sharp death yo-yo carried by one of the bad guys. At age 55, Moore was too old for the part, though he has a game spirit and his slightly creaky man-on-the-make routine only adds to the film’s wonderful silliness.
And that silliness doesn’t detract from a marvelously inventive premise and a host of other sterling elements in its corner. Like what, you ask? We’ll start at the beginning, when a circus clown scales the Berlin Wall with a Faberge egg in his hand, pursued by assassins and ultimately expiring at the feet of the British ambassador. As a hook, it’s the most potent since the three blind men in Dr. No: penned by Flashman author George MacDonald Fraser and connected to a fiendish plot that actually has some grounding in a plausible reality.
To it, we’ll add Maud Adams, to date one of only three two-time Bond girls, and easily the most prominent of the bunch. As the titular smuggler queen, she proves every bit Bond’s equal: dictating the terms of their encounters, dispatching his false bravado and even calling in back-up when he gets in over his head. Her wild background (the only thing culled from Ian Fleming’s original short story) seems to match Bond’s perfectly, and we get the sense that the two could actually have a long-term relationship instead of a one-time fling. Assertive Bond girls are par for the course these days, but back in 1983, they were pretty hard to find. Maud’s take-charge adventuress really felt like a proper match instead of the shallow lip service we got in the likes of The Spy Who Loved Me.
More traditional Bond elements worked exceptionally well too, from the gorgeous Indian setting to Louis Jourdan’s lounge lizard villain Kamal Khan. He and Moore first throw down over the backgammon table in a scene lifted from Fleming’s novel Moonraker, which delivers both Bond’s best gambler’s risk and one of the franchise’s more marvelous bad guy retorts. The chase scene that follows is flat-out absurd – something you could say about more than a few in this film – but it can’t detract from a couple of truly amazing sequences that put more modern efforts to shame. The climax sets a man on top of an actual airborne Cessna, hundreds of feet in the air and looking for all the world like he’s about to get blown off. We simply don’t see this kind of daring anymore – today they’d all do it on the computer – and the verite provides some grit that aptly balances out the more outlandish sequences.
And Moore himself actually lends the character a harsher edge than we might expect. Sure, the Simon Templar playboy routine doesn’t change, but watch his coldness as he dispatches the killer of another MI6 agent, or his genuine fear at being unable to stop a nuclear bomb. We rarely saw such concerns in Moore, but they make for a bracing tonic form his usual nonchalance… and more importantly, still feel completely at home with the romp that constitutes the rest of the film.
We’re tough on romps in this nihilistic age, especially those featuring a star past his expiration date and a franchise that has supposedly moved on to better things. But like Adam West’s Batman, Octopussy isn’t any less legitimate simply because it no longer fits with the times. It explores a side of the character that may never return, and does so in a way that balances our current down-and-dirty Bond with the arch free-for-alls that preceded it. For Your Eyes Only pulled off a similar trick, but with less daring than this one, and while Moore clearly went a film too far with A View to a Kill, this one makes an apt curtain call for his uniquely ebullient tenure in the character. Bring on the death yo-yos! The party just wouldn’t be the same without them.