Finally. A Bond movie that has figured out the kinks in the chain and tries to repair them. It doesn’t shoot for a complete overhaul; it identifies problems of the franchise and steers in the opposite direction. The Spy Who Loved Me is an example of how a movie can be changed, not with an actor, but with the director. When Roger Moore came on board in Live And Let Die, he boarded a ship that was already sinking, and he couldn’t fix it. Now, with Lewis Gilbert (You Only Live Twice) taking over from Guy Hamilton, everything seems new again.
The plot is as preposterous as always — a megalomaniac wants to destroy the world in order to create a paradise city in the ocean — but it is handled as if it could really happen. This is due in large to the fact that the villain, Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens), is as normal as normal can be. He has no scars, no third nipples, no hunger for gold or world domination. He is a simple man. Wealthy and delusional, yes, but simple. He has put his wealth into an enormous underwater fortress that looks like an overgrown version of a Star Wars droid, and has filled it with the same endless flow of henchmen that seems to populate every Bond villain’s lair. The scenes that take place inside this fortress are among the movie’s best. There is a large dining hall that is lined with massive tapestries that can roll up to reveal equally massive windows. There is the standard issue shark tank, complete with a booby-trap lift. And there is a wonderful little chamber of operations where Stromberg carries out the usual Bond villain routine of looking unblinkingly into security camera monitors.
And what of the good guys? They are given little trinkets of their own. We get the Lotus Esprit, famous for diving head first into water and then sprouting rudders and propellers. I remember a special Bond episode of “Top Gear” that recreated the Esprit and actually had Richard Hammond driving underwater in a submarine car. It worked perfectly for a while, before water started to seep through the aircon vents. Still, it was amazing to watch, and even more amazing to realise that the Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me is not without a sense of realism. There is also a scene involving a cigarette that emits a sleeping gas. When the cigarette is seen again later on, we wonder if the gas will be seen too.
This is Roger Moore’s third outing as 007, and he finally looks comfortable in the role. He isn’t overwhelmed by the action and stunted by the double entendres like he was previously; he is in control of everything he says, everything he does, and every emotion his face conveys. The double entendres still come fast and furiously, of course, but they are not without intent, and possibly reason. The chemistry between him and his co-star, Barbara Bach, may not be the most convincing, but there is enough crisis and drama surrounding them to create the illusion that they belong together.
Bach plays Agent Triple X, the female, Russian counterpart to Bond. She is called into action when a Russian submarine disappears (Bond is summoned when a British submarine simultaneously disappears). Sexy but deadly. That is how her character is meant to be portrayed. She isn’t all that successful with the second part, though. She finds herself in more trouble than she can handle, and instead of bringing Bond into a competitive arms race, she follows him around like a shadow. Where are her mad skills, her initiative? She can fight, I’m sure, but we never see her do it. She can shoot a pistol straight and true, but she never does. She should have gadgets to rival Q’s, but all she has is her wardrobe. Her character sacrifices the promise of a deadly agent for a Bond girl who has seen how Bond girls of the past behave, and uses this knowledge to deliver much of the same. This is particularly upsetting because Tripe X is introduced as someone to be feared.
We later find out that the submarines have been abducted by Stromberg, who plans to load them with his nuclear missiles and fire them on Moscow and New York, thus beginning global destruction that will benefit his grand scheme. Everything happens for a reason; action scenes are not constructed for the sake of being action scenes. The villain doesn’t have weapons and contraptions that appear when needed and then disappear afterwards. The story progresses, logically, and it validates the action. This is something none of the earlier Bond movies did.
Then again, The Spy Who Loved Me isn’t like the earlier Bond movies. It is more mature, sharper, and more cohesive. Could Triple X have been better utilised? Sure. She could have really made her partnership with Bond something of a marvel. But who cares? Bond is back, and he’s more Bond than he’s been in a long time. Remember how I said that the franchise was becoming repetitive? Well, The Spy Who Loved Me is a great first step at something new.
Best Moment | I’d have to choose Triple X’s introduction. Very clever in the way it’s staged.
Worst Moment | Stromberg’s death, anti-climactic? Possibly.