Arguably the best of the “Roger Moore as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007″ films, this entry has MI6′s golden boy racing against an equally adept Russian spy to attain a code-breaking microfilm from a mad genius. The teaser is exceptional, even by today’s standards: we get international intrigue, a disarming female counterpart for Bond in Agent XXX (not kidding), and a thoroughly kickass ski-chase with an absolutely dynamite (and practically achieved) climax. And that’s just before the credits. Once the story starts going, we see the two spies bounce around Egypt, immediately achieving a mutual chemistry that overwhelms their patriotic allegiances. After thwarting a mysterious, towering henchman together, their governments decide that they must become allies, which they accept with little resistance as they venture to Sardinia. They flirt, spy, and kill in equal measures, and the film culminates with an assault on an underwater lair which plays like a straight-laced version of Austin Powers 3 (it’s more interesting than it sounds).
As ridiculous as the film is, the reason it takes my top spot for Moore Bond films is how straight they were willing to go with this one. Moore’s trademark shtick, puns and all, is present, but there’s an underlying cynical edge to him that is not present in the preceding Man With The Golden Gun or the following Moonraker. There’s a scene where XXX mentions Bond’s former wife and what happened to her, eliciting a sharp change in behavior from 007; she drolly coos, “You are sensitive,” and he, without the slightest hint of irony, darts back “About some things more than most.” Perhaps there are more intense, stand-out moments like that in the Moore/Bond oeuvre, but I can’t think of any. The main crux of the film is not on the threat at hand, nor international espionage, though, of course, both are prominent, particularly in the final act, but rather the interplay between the two spies. The heightened emphasis on the relationship with Bond and his tougher-than-most Bond Girl (she, like Bond, is first seen in bed with another lover) gives the film a signature vibe amongst not only the Moore Bonds, but the whole series as well. I can only think of a few Bond girls that can match up to Barbara Bach’s sexy, thoroughly capable XXX (namely Pussy Galore, Honey Ryder, and Xenia Onatopp), but none of them have the dignity, prominence, or gritty, Bondian charm of Mrs. Ringo Starr’s badass brunette. Her presence is so good in the film, Moore’s trademark grandfather puns (upon being offered a woman in an Egyptian harem, he mentions something about “plundering the treasures of Egypt”) come off as desperate posing rather than tough-guy witticisms, which, actually, is the key ingredient to making them work without eliciting groans from the audience.
There are other terrific, unconventional touches. The emphasis for gadgetry and spectacle are, until the end, eschewed for emphasis on the relationship between Bond and XXX (though an early scene has a delightful trick ski-pole). One of my favorite touches in the film is the requisite Q scene; as opposed to utilizing his “Pay attention, 007″ role for sheer exposition, his explanation of Bond’s new car is seen silently through the eyes of a far away XXX, so when Bond shows off the features of his toy in action, we are just as surprised and impressed as she is. The use of locations is also quite striking; over the course of the film, we go from the snowy Alps to the home base in London, then the deserts of Egypt, culminating in the waters in and around Sardinia, all of which are captured with majesty and awe.The action in the film is, again, mostly devoid of the gadget-heavy trends of this era of Bond films (the following film climaxes with a massive laser-gun battle in space, I shit you not), instead utilizing close quarters combat and gunplay to heighten the visceral tension. The inevitably explosive climax, while a cornball deviation from the more interesting romantic elements at play, is still grand in scale, and tough, with convincing machine-gun battling ruthlessly taking the lives of several characters. And Bond has a great final showdown that embraces the more nihilistic trends of the decade than its popcorn ones.
The primary villain, a filthy rich psychopath by the name of Strumberg, is not really given an ample amount of screentime. There was a notorious lawsuit preventing the producers from using SPECTRE or Ernst Blofeld in the series anymore, so they hastily reworked the villain (and his organization, now a self-made enterprise) into a new, but still elusive character. For much of the film, the main threat is posed through his primary henchman, the legendary Jaws, played by Richard Kiel. As noted as he is in the pantheon of Bond villains/henchmen, not enough can be said about Kiel’s presence in the role. Huge, lanky, and silent, with his hideous rows of metal teeth, his mere image is iconic before he even swings his first punch. The comical running joke, carried over to Moonraker, that Jaws cannot be killed conventionally, is, initially, terrifying; in my favorite scene of the film, Bond and XXX leave Jaws for dead under a pile of rubble, before he unexpectedly (the interruption of Moore and Bach’s banter is priceless) lands on the roof of their car and begins viciously ripping it apart WITH HIS BARE HANDS. That he is the only on-screen villain to ever appear in two Bond films (and multiple video games) attests to the undeniable menace, iconography, and charm of his character (plus, in Goldeneye 007 for N64, Jaws was just a liiiiittle bit taller than all the characters, giving him the advantage over everyone but the diminutive Oddjob).
Highly Recommended for fans of the Bond series, Moore or otherwise; he outdid himself on this one, and the other films of his Bond run I like (Moonraker, A View To A Kill) work for camp value, rather than the genuine high-water-mark thrills of this one.