The most hilarious PG ever. Back in 1977, I'm sure the print wasn't that good. I remember my VHS copies and thinking that this was as good as it got. Then I got the high end DVDs. Those were even pushing it. Then the Blu-ray came out. Oh geez. What used to be obscured nudity is just straight up nudity. I'm not even talking just about the Maurice Binder bits. There's pornography on the wall of the submarine. Barbara Bach takes a shower and that's pretty clear what's going on there. Blu-ray has turned the PG into a hard R. Also, why did my parents let me watch these movies as a kid?!?
DIRECTOR: Lewis Gilbert
I'd like to think that my tastes are maturing. I don't always believe that. I think I've added a lot of snobbery to my list of movies. But I used to love The Spy Who Loved Me. When people would dog on Roger Moore, I would point to The Spy Who Loved Me as classic cinema. What happened? Something in my brain completely 180'ed on this movie and I found myself almost annoyed with this film. Part of the issue is that I used to be a ride-or-die James Bond fan. I guess I can kind of still say that I am. Honestly, if they dropped a trailer for a new Bond movie tomorrow, I'd go back to being obsessed. But right now? It's been a while since Spectre. I've had this box for a while. Maybe I can now analyze these movies objectively for the first time.
The Spy Who Loved Me...is not great. I read the novel by Ian Fleming. It's not my favorite of the Bond novels, but I do like it for one very cool reason. It's the "Blink" of James Bond. The story doesn't focus on James Bond. Rather, the entire mission in the novel of The Spy Who Loved Me takes place from the point of view of a random bystander who gets caught up in a Bond mission by accident. She doesn't know any of the spy stuff. She's just caught up in a world that is way bigger than her. The movie...isn't any of that. It's actually so wrapped up in James Bond formula that is almost lacks anything original. This is the movie that introduces Jaws. We all love Jaws. He's the quintessential Bond henchman, tied maybe with Oddjob. He's a tank. He can't really be killed. He's got a metal mouth. Richard Kiel is just a monster of a man. But The Spy Who Loved Me looked at what other Bond movies were doing and kind of just made everything extreme. Like I mentioned, Jaws is just an extreme Oddjob. Odd job was tiny and threw a hat. Jaws is big and bites people. The film Jaws came out in 1975. In a movie where the bad guy has people killed by throwing them into shark tanks, of course they are going to have a bad guy who can out jaws Jaws. Richard Kiel, at one point in the film, bites a shark to death. Yeah, that's a commentary. That's kind of telling of where the franchise would go with the next entry. There were certain TV shows that I absolutely loved. I'm currently wearing a Smallville jersey because it is jersey day at our school. But Smallville would regularly have non-mythos episodes that were complete filler in the season. They would have a Fast and the Furious themed episode. They would have a Saw themed episode. They even had a Date Night themed episode. They would take the template of their show and graft whatever element that was trending into that story. That's what is starting to happen with the Bond movies, unfortunately starting with Live and Let Die. Live and Let Die, as much as I really dig that movie, is playing up the Blaxspoitation card, undeservedly I might add. As much as Jaws worked, it taught the producers the entirely wrong lesson on what a franchise should do when it hits stagnation. I don't believe that I never saw it before, but The Spy Who Loved Me is just You Only Live Twice with Jaws. That's pretty shameless.
I hate to say this, but Barbara Bach is way worse than I thought she was. I remember when I was a kid thinking that Agent XXX (yup) was the answer to Bond. She was a powerful Bond girl because she could match wits with him and keep him on his toes. When she finds out that she has to kill him, I was honestly concerned for the story. Again, I was a kid who didn't understand that there's a way to tell that story and make it work and then there's what happens in The Spy Who Loved Me. I'm going to throw Ringo's wife under the bus here and state that she's really bad in this. She's Giallo bad. At no point while watching this did I believe that she was a confident Russian spy. A fair share of that is not her fault. But her performance is rough in this. Everything is said in a soft sultry voice. There's not a hint of range to the character. The voice isn't even close to anything close to anything that could be considered Russian. She might be right on par with Denise RIchards for worst performance in the series. I'm so sorry, Barbara Bach. I really don't want to bully your performance...but geeeeeeeezzzz. Okay, now comes the biggest problem with the character and it really isn't Bach's fault: the movie is entirely about tell and not show. General Gogol tells that he is sending his best agent, Anya Amasova, to hunt down Stromberg (I'm skipping a lot of steps). The first scene we see is her sleeping with the guy who gets killed by Bond. It's not like she is seducing someone and then gets the drop on him. Nope. We just know that she's ready to strike. Think about knowing that Black Widow has all these abilities and the movie is just going to tease these out until she actually strikes. But the movie has one of the worst Chekhov's guns with Agent XXX. She keeps getting what she wants through the easiest means necessary. Like, anyone could be Agent XXX. What would happen is that Bond would go through all of these hoops to get something. Bond doesn't talk about how amazing he is. One of the few things that he plays close to the vest are his abilities. But then you have Major Amasova. Major Amasova keeps getting talked about, but all she does is take the easy way out. Bond steals something, almost dies. He puts it down and points a gun at him. This happens over and over and over again. How is this giving the character any agency? This actually can be proven by the end of the film.
SPOILER: The end of the movie has both Bond and Amasova captured by Stromberg. They are separated because apparently Stromberg is Bowser. He takes Amasova with him to be his bride under the sea or something. I actually don't know what his long-term plan is. He's not thinking this one out, but let's shut our brains off. Bond is being led by guards and he takes them out, frees all of the soldiers, has his You Only Live Twice style attack on the base. Meanwhile, Amasova has to worry about a boat full of four people, one of whom is an old man. The majority of people are on the Liparus. The people on the Liparus have a ton of guns. Oh, and grenades! Don't forget about the grenades. There are so many grenades on that boat. But Bond breaks through an impenetrable shield and nukes two submarines. Meanwhile, Anya has done nothing to free herself. She is tied down and put in skimpy clothing. Did someone dress her? She's supposed to be Russia's number one spy asset and she's just acting like she's a damsel in distress. This is completely the production team's fault. It's so lazy. Bond is expected to save the woman, so this character that they claim has agency is completely helpless at something that should be in her wheelhouse. We get way better at this with Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies, but even that's a little bit weak. The Spy Who Loved Me might be the film to watch to understand how backwards our attitude towards women was. The easy route would be to make Agent XXX as amazing as they say. Instead, the movie has to find reasons to make Bond the center of attention. Instead of just having two amazing cool sequences of two people taking down the bad guys, we have Bond and another character who says that she could do this. Which leads to the biggest unfortunate moment for the film. There's actually a compelling moment in the story that is worth some drama. Again, this all boils down to telling and not showing. But when Anya discovers that he lover was killed by Bond at the beginning of the film, she vows to murder Bond once the mission is over. That scene happens. Like normal, Bond does the heavy lifting and he throws his gun within reach of her. She pulls the whole, "I'm going to shoot you" thing. He pops the champagne cork and she laughs. They make love. What? There's male fantasy and wish fulfillment, but no one 180s that hard about this stuff. She was going to murder him before he popped the champagne cork and then they're having a grand old time afterwards. Are they advertising the champagne? That's the stuff of television commercials, not the resolution to a tense dramatic sequence. Why was this promise made in the middle of the film if only to take it back? Any kind of character that we were promised was composed of lies. Other characters have had major personality shifts, but those were character choices, kind of. Honor Blackman's character in Goldfinger makes a 180, but it came down to the lives of innocents being at stake for that to happen. Yes, he change is also absurd, but at least there's something on the line for it. XXX is just terrible.
The Spy Who Loved Me is a movie that is bookended with good parts and a really boring middle. I had this movie memorized at one point in my life, but I had an epiphany the other day that I don't know if I completely understand the rationale of the events that get them from place to place. One of the generic conventions of a Bond movie is that there are all these exotic locales. I remember that a whole bunch of stuff happens at the pyramids in this one, so I tried to follow the logic of why the pyramids were in this movie. The seller of the '77 equivalent of GPS was at the pyramids meeting with a buyer...apparently for hours. He blocked a lot of time for that brief meeting. But then I don't understand why Jaws drives them out in his van to a site. That's a long drive to nowhere. Amasova falls asleep it is so far away. It has gone from night to day. But then, why does Jaws just go and hide instead of just murdering them both. I know, I'm not the first guy who mentioned "Why doesn't the villain just kill Bond?" Scott Evil has the best breakdown of this. But that's why I realize that the more formulaic entries in the series don't really have a rationale for their location choices. It makes the movie boring. Really, the motivations for a lot of the things going on in The Spy Who Loved Me are really really lazy. Stromberg himself doesn't really have a reason for doing what he's doing. Between The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, we have two villains who want to eliminate life on Earth just to live somewhere weird. You know, no one is really stopping you from living underwater, Stromberg. It seems like Stromberg actually likes the finer things in life. How is he going to enjoy all of those fancypants things if he nukes the planet? The Spy Who Loved Me is a movie that I don't hate, but it is what happens when a movie completely stops trying and settles on what works. It took me in for years. But gosh darn it, it is boring because I'm just watching action set pieces and Bond tropes.
Also, "Bond '77" as an instrumental piece is inferior to every other Bond score.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.