The clown era of Roger Moore’s run on James Bond begins in more ways than one with the slapstick spy outing Octopussy.
Considering Bond gets disguised as an ape, a crocodile and a clown — and that’s not even accounting for the Tarzan yelling scene — the film has a lot more to be embarrassed about than its title.
After crafting a solid throwback Bond film with the streamlined For Your Eyes Only devoid of gadgets, puns and over the top spectacles, Director John Glen and screenwriters Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson and George MacDonald Fraser bring them back big time for Octopussy.
Creatively, the film took too many steps back instead of maturing to match the distinguished aura of its leading man. Had Octopussy thematically been more in line with FYEO, it could have been another worthwhile 007, but we’re left with one of the series’ weakest installments. Even the theme song, “All Time High,” by Rita Coolidge is underwhelming.
Instead, it’s overwhelmed by an excess of goofy moments that make Bond more of a punchline than the world’s coolest spy.
The pre-credits sequence is one of the film’s highlights as Bond bombs an undisclosed Latin American country’s airbase to knock out its radar system. It’s a fun sequence of aerial wizardry showcasing a Bond skill that hadn’t been overdone by this point.
Bond’s latest assignment has him traveling to India to learn what information Agent 009 found that led to him being killed. 009 was clutching a Faberge egg made for the Russian royal family, but in actuality, he was carrying a fake and Bond’s investigation leads him to wealthy Afghani exile Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan).
Khan’s henchmen including the sword-wielding Gobinda (Kabir Bedi), a pair of knife-tossing assassins (David and Tony Meyer) and a yo-yo buzz saw expert give him one of the more visually interesting assortment of lackeys. While neither Khan or his crew are memorable enough to be Top 10 Bond villains and henchmen list, they’re at least formidable opponents for Bond.
Aiding the cause is Khan’s alliance with Orlov (Steven Berkoff), a Russian general who wants to stoke the flames of the Cold War by bombing a U.S. airbase.
Orlov probably would have made a decent enough villain on his own as Berkoff plays the scheming war zealot well, but the whole evil Russian villain angle had been covered extensively in the series. At least this allowed Walter Gotell’s recurring character Gogol, the “reasonable” Russian general to make another welcome cameo.
Bond soon encounters Octopussy (Maud Adams), head of an all-female smuggling assassin’s guild that double as performers in her circus.
Considering she’s the titular character, Octopussy should be the most dynamic and unforgettable cast member. Instead, we get an underdeveloped, bland character and Adams just doesn’t have the screen presence to help make Octopussy stand out. At least she’s a bit closer to Moore’s age bracket so typical Bond love interest is believable. Were it not for Magda (Kristina Wayborn), one of Octopussy’s agents, the film would earn a negative Bond Babe score.
Another annoying aspect of the film is the incessant product placement. The credits may as well have read “Ian Fleming’s James Bond in Octopussy brought to you by Seiko Watches” for as often as the timepieces are on display.
India is a nice departure from the typical Bond locales and Glen makes good use of the setting. In one of the better action sequences, Bond flees from pursuers on safari with 007 as the big game as he evades the hunting party, snakes, tigers and alligators.
Moore’s age was starting to become a liability at this point. He wasn’t exactly a credible ladies’ man who could woo any woman with a disarming smile and the obvious use of stuntmen is prevalent throughout. The hand to hand combat sequences suffer as Glen can’t convincingly shoot Moore as a competent combatant at this stage in his career.
Moore had essentially aged out of the role, but with Sean Connery working on a rival studio production of 007 in Never Say Never Again, Moore was called back to action.
Any new Bond would be lacking any kind of connection with audiences and wouldn’t have a fair shake at making the role their own going against Connery’s Bond. And to his credit, Moore dutifully does his best, but clearly he needed better material befitting his version of 007 that didn’t just make him a joke.
One telling moment has Bond trying to hitch a ride and getting fooled by some teenagers getting a laugh at his expense. Earlier Bond films definitely would have had 007 getting some form of payback later on, but there’s no followup at all. Bond just got punked.
On the bright side, at least Q (Desmond Llewelyn) got in on the action this time aiding Bond during the climactic fight scene at Khan’s base. The big battle is a bit of a smokescreen as Octopussy’s brigade leads the charge while Bond bats cleanup.
What we’re left with is a tired Bond effort that feels dated and a throwback to everything that didn’t work under Moore’s stint as 007.
Similar to the pre-credits sequence gag, there wasn’t much left in Moore’s Bond tank by the time Octopussy rolled out. Moore never got his due from 007 fans still pining for Connery and this eye-rolling effort did little to turn the tide in his favor.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10
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