Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Best Bond? The Spy Who Loved Me Might Well Be It!

The Good: Decent acting, Overall plot, Moments of character, Some good lines
The Bad: Very typical plot progression for a James Bond movie
The Basics: James Bond goes toe to toe with his Soviet equivalent in The Spy Who Loved Me, which ends up being a charming Bond movie without truly reinventing the franchise the way one might hope.

As I make my way through the entirety of the James Bond franchise, there was one Bond movie I was actually still legitimately excited about watching. In fact, the fact that I was eagerly anticipating watching The Spy Who Loved Me makes it almost inconceivable that I missed it when I was watching the films in order (I accidentally skipped it and watched Moonraker recently). Rectifying that mistake, I spent the cold afternoon watching the spy film and the movie actually lived up to being one of the better Bond movies.

Unfortunately, it was not actually all I had hoped for. My sense of anticipation came from the fact that The Spy Who Loved Me was based upon the book of the same name and that remains, to date, the only James Bond book I’ve ever read. The novel was one I read over two decades ago, yet there are elements of it that I remembered. I recall enjoying the fact that it was not told from the perspective of James Bond and, unfortunately, that led to some of the anticipation I had that went unfulfilled. The Spy Who Loved Me, despite giving Bond a Soviet sidekick/adversary, is very much a typical James Bond film. Unlike the book, where the female spy was the main protagonist, James Bond is very much the hero of The Spy Who Loved Me and Major Amasova is more of a supporting character.

Opening on a British submarine, the British navy is thrown into chaos when the nuclear sub loses power and goes missing. Moscow recalls its top spy and James Bond is recalled as well, narrowly averting death at the hands of thugs who ski after him. Bond and Agent XXX (the Russian spy who has just learned her fellow agent and lover has been killed) are both made aware of a submarine tracking system that has been put on the black market, a tracking system that has left both government’s vulnerable. When the villainous Karl Stromberg learns that a third party is selling the technology he had developed, Stromberg kills the developers and the traitor within his own organization. In Cairo, Bond learns of the middleman he has to go through to get to Stromberg. He is too late to get to the middleman at the Pyramids, but there he encounters Agent XXX (Major Amasova).

Both Bond and Amasova are hunting the same microfilm for their respective governments. To that end, they track Stromburg’s hired assassin Jaws (named for his powerful metal teeth that allow him to bite through virtually anything) across Egypt. After Bond returns to the secret facility in Egypt, having been betrayed by Agent XXX, he is informed that the KGB and British Intelligence are working together to recover their respective submarines. Partnered with one another, Bond and Amasova sublimate their ambitions and desire for revenge in order to aid their respective governments. Having learned that Stromberg is using his submarine laboratory to menace both governments, Bond and Amasova set out for Sardenia to stop him.

In The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore is completely comfortable and competent as James Bond. By this point, he owns the role; he is confident, charming and seems like a credible super spy in the film. He does not rely entirely on the gadgets Q provides, though they are present and help him survive, as one might suspect.

For all the talk a few years back about how Halle Berry was a whole new “Bond girl” and that Bond had finally met his match, it is hard not to look back and see her performance and character as derivative of Barbara Bach’s Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me. Bach has the articulation, poise and strength of character to be a completely credible female-version of James Bond. She is not the typical Bond “damsel in distress” and she is played by Bach to deliver her tongue-in-cheek quips with the same sense of charm as Moore. The potential gambit pays off: Barbara Bach steals her scenes in The Spy Who Loved Me and makes the viewer wish she were in more of the franchise. Bach is able to emote with her eyes that Amasova is scanning her “partner” and gleaning as much information as Bond typically does. Barbara Bach breathes some new life into a franchise that has become pretty stale by this point, even if she does not completely redefine it.

Karl Stromburg is a pretty typical James Bond villain; he is a millionaire industrialist who employs powerful dimwits (sadly, Jaws is a murderous thug who does not get much humanity or intelligence until Moonraker). His fabulous wealth makes it credible that he could employ the scientists needed to develop the sub-tracking technology and afford to have the laboratory where much of the action occurs built. Curg Jurgens makes the ocean-loving villain credible, despite the way he utilizes sharks, helicopters, and lionfish to kill his adversaries. Jurgens has a stern look to him that makes him seem particularly coldblooded.

Ultimately, The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the most engaging James Bond films. The fight scenes are good, the performances are decent and, despite the ultimate over-the-top plan of Stromburg, it remains one of the more grounded films in the James Bond franchise. If wanted to watch only one James Bond film with Roger Moore and get all the gadgets, car chases, and big-eyed Bond vixens, The Spy Who Loved Me might be the best, most substantive one to watch!

For other James Bond films, please check out my reviews of:
Dr. No
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Diamonds Are Forever
Live And Let Die
The Man With The Golden Gun
Die Another Day
Casino Royale
Quantum Of Solace


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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