The Good: Most of the acting is good, Great banter, Fun characters
The Bad: Editing issues in stunt scenes, No real character development
The Basics: In one of the more fun James Bond films, Bond follows a trail of art forgeries to India where he encounters an all-woman cult whose henchmen are funneling money to the Russians.
As I trundle through the James Bond film franchise, I have been finding the films to be increasingly monotonous and repetitive. I’ve been surprised, actually, at how erratic the franchise can be. There are any number of Bond films that start off good, but take an unfortunate turn for the absurd in their later half. Octopussy is not one of those; it’s actually a fun James Bond film that has good banter, enjoyable reversals and a self-referential nature until it turns serious in the last third of the film. Director John Glen and the actors in Octopussy pull it off, though, so the film does not seem at all erratic, it seems like a film that logically progresses.
Octopussy is a trip back to Cold War thinking, executed with all of the trappings of Cold War filmmaking. What I’ve been noticing about the late-70s/early-80s James Bond films is how very poor the stunt editing was for these action movies. While Octopussy brilliantly plays off the paranoia and conspiracy theories of the 1980s as far as Communist domination went, the execution of the stories is a bit more visually erratic for those who pay attention to the films they are watching. Octopussy bookends a story of Soviet warmongering with a detective story involving all the murky characters and fun one-liners one might expect from a James Bond movie.
After using a woman as a distraction to destroy a Cuban military installation, James Bond is called back to England. In East Berlin, a clown (actually an MI-6 Agent, 009) is killed getting a Faberge egg to the British Embassy. Bond is assigned to find who is selling the Faberge eggs, as British Intelligence believes it is an attempt by the Russians to raise capital. At a top secret Kremlin meeting, the warmongering General Orlov argues in favor of a strong military strike against non-Communist targets, but is kept in check by Gogol and the Premier. Attending the art auction, Bond bids up the real egg (which he swaps with the counterfeit) to draw out the culprit who is funding the Soviets. That puts Bond on the tail of Magda, who pressures Kamal Khan into buying the egg. Exposing Kamal Khan as a cheater in the casino, Bond is hunted by Gobinda (Khan’s thug) and willingly seduced by Magda, who steals the real Faberge egg with a tracking device in it.
Tailing Kamal Khan to India, Bond works with local intelligence agents to discover who is behind the counterfeits and sale of actual Russian artifacts. This leads him to Octopussy and her woman-filled island. While Octopussy is raising an army of empowered women, Kamal Khan and Gobinda are using her traveling circus as a front to acquire a Soviet nuclear weapon from Orlov. As Bond tracks the clues and exposes Orlov’s agenda to detonate a nuclear bomb to lead to disarmament in Eastern Europe (leaving it ripe for conquest), he must figure out who his allies are and work with them to stop the Soviet plan.
Octopussy is fun above all else, but when Octopussy herself comes into the film, it becomes a little murkier. While Orlov, Khan, and Khan’s agendas are completely clear, Octopussy’s role in the conspiracy is a bit more opaque. In many ways, Octopussy is a supporting character and a witless pawn in the movie that bears her name, which is unfortunate. Octopussy plays herself off as a female version of James Bond and after strong female supporting characters in The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only, the idea that Octopussy is a dupe is disappointing. That Octopussy comes through in the end is refreshing, but it’s a long way to go to truly appreciate her character.
That said, Maud Adams plays Octopussy well. She is strong, confident, and not as obvious as Kristina Wayborn’s Magda (who has an immediately more substantive role in the film). Roger Moore’s penultimate outing as James Bond has him energetically running, shooting and reasoning his way through the conspiracy. Moore plays Bond with credible charisma and it makes the editing all the more unfortunate. James Bond is witty and vibrant in the movie . . . so when one notices how poorly the stunt sequences are cut, it seems extra sloppy. One of the stunt doubles for Moore, who does a Tarzan yell while swinging from vine to vine in India is especially obvious given his hair is not even the same color!
That said, Octopussy is one of the more enjoyable James Bond films; one that has character (if not character development), a plot that is much more grounded in the real world with real-world motivations and one-liners enough to reinvigorate a pretty tired franchise.
For other James Bond films, please check out my reviews of:
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
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only
Die Another Day
Quantum Of Solace
For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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