James Bond Retrospective: Review of OCTOPUSSY

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

I fell asleep when I saw this at the drive-in back when I was almost 7.  I distinctly remember the pre-title sequence.  I’ve seen this one only a few times.  It was never my favorite, though I don’t remember ever dis-liking it.  It’s been at least 20 years since I’ve seen it in its entirety, so I was looking forward to it, especially since I’ve enjoyed that last 2 Bond films.

Bond is investigating a fellow agent’s death that somehow involves a fake faberge egg. This leads 007 uncovering a Jewel smuggling operation led by the mysterious woman Octopussy.  Working for her is a man named Kamal, and she’s also in cahoots with a Russian general.  But it turns out that Kamal and the General have other plans as they are using the smuggling ring as a decoy to plant a bomb at an American military base.  Bond and Octopussy must work together to stop them.

It opens with a rather good pre-title sequence, which along with GOLDFINGER and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, is one of the few that actually has nothing to do with the main plot.  It’s like its own little mini-movie.  007 steals some intelligence or something (not really important) from the enemy.  He gets captured only to be rescued by a beautiful woman, who distracts the guards by showing her sexy legs.  Bond gets in the back of what seems to be a trailer with a horse in it.  But then the horse’s ass pops up, and 007 rolls out in a small, compact jet.  He flies over to the bad guys hanger, fires a missile and blows them up.  It’s pretty cool.  But then, just in case you weren’t sure that this was a Roger Moore-Bond film, he runs out of gas, lands the plane, pulls over to a nearby gas station and asks the attend to, “Fill her up, please.”, said with his smarmy British charm.  It’s sort of cute and did manage to bring a slight grin to my face, as I rolled my eyes.  But then we get probably one of the weaker songs in the series, sung by Rita Coolidge.  I don’t mind ballads, and the song itself is fine, but it just seems a little too soft for Bond.  The only thing this song has going for it is that Seth MacFarlane used it as a running gag in TED.

As I watched the first 25 minutes or so, I was kind of digging it.  The introduction of the Russian general and Kamal were good, Moore seemed to be in form, and we are introduced to a new M.  It opens with a suspenseful and well constructed chase, featuring a pair of knife throwing twins following a secret agent disguised as a clown.  They knife him as he falls into a river.  I also liked the auction scene, with Bond bidding for the egg against Kamal.  But then the movie can’t decide which direction it wants to go in.  And that becomes a major problem.  On one hand, it has some dark elements that are  grounded in reality like FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, but on the other it has some really slap-yourself-in-the-face silly moments that belong in MOONRAKER.  Now, I liked BOTH of those movies, though very different.  But by putting those two very different tones together in the same movie was a wrong move.  One minute, you’re on the edge of your seat with suspense, the next minute you’re watching Bond swing on rope in the jungle as the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan cry is heard on the soundtrack.  What?!?  That’s stupid!  It’s just too jarring when the movie shifts dramatically different tones that quickly.

I will tell you what I liked:  I enjoyed the saw blade yo-yo.  Like I said, the pre-title sequence.  Louis Jourdan makes a rather slithery villain.  I love Steven Berkoff (because of RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II) as the Russian general.  Moneypenny introducing a new assistant was a cute scene.  There’s some thrilling stuff on top of a train when Bond is trying to get to the bomb (including a stunt that was used later in THE FUGITIVE).  And the climatic scene with Bond on top of Kamal’s private jet thousands of feet in the air has some of the most impressive stunt work in the entire Bond series. Oh yeah, and it was kind of neat seeing Q dosome field work this time, though it was kind of silly.

Now to the negative stuff:  I wouldn’t say Roger Moore gives a bad performance, but it definitely doesn’t have the energy of the previous films.  He just doesn’t look like he can be an action star anymore.  He looks old, tired and out of shape, though he can still deliver a sly remark like no other Bond.  Maud Adams as Octopussy looks absolutely dreadful.  Now, she was fine as another Bond girl in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, but here, even though only 9 years have passed, she looks like she’s aged about 25 years.  Also, her character didn’t make much sense to me.  She’s built up as the main villain, but as soon as Bond meets her she’s not threatening at all.  immediately she sleeps with Bond, in one of the worst seduction scenes in the series, but then when Kamal is trying to kill him after that, she doesn’t seem to mind so much.  I just didn’t really understand her character at all.  Besides the good action scenes I mentioned, the rest of them aren’t very exciting.  The street chase in India is uninspired as it tries for humor, and fails.  The finale at the end doesn’t feel as big as it should have, with all of Octopussy’s women running around, pretending they actually know how to shoot.  It does have 007 sliding down a stair railing, shooting the thing at the end so he doesn’t hit his nuts, but there’s just something underwhelming about most of the action.  And the jokes don’t work, mostly because they don’t mesh well with the more serious action scenes.  That Tarzan yell is brutal.  And what was with Bond acting like a 12-year-old boy when Q was briefing him this time?  He’s usually a bit of a smart ass, but this time he just seemed immature.

This was Director John Glen’s second stab at directing, and I honestly can’t tell you what went wrong here.  He proved with FOR YOUR EYES ONLY that he can make a gritty Bond movie.  Was he pressured into adding more humor this time, thus having the awkward shifts in tone?  I wonder.  The story isn’t written very well, especially since nobody seems to know what to do with the title character.  Also disappointing is John Barry’s score.  He returns again, after skipping the last one, and delivers his worst score.  There’s nothing specifically bad about his work, it just seems recycled and lazy.  No new themes to play with.  In fact, it almost sounds like he really didn’t write anything new, as it all sounds like stuff from previous films.  Disappointing.

I love the poster for this, and maybe with some of the silly moments this could be a guilty pleasure for some people, but the duel-personality that the film possesses drags the film down.  So far, this is possibly my least favorite Bond, next to THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.  At least this features 2 stand-out action sequences, and couple of other decent moments of suspense, but for the most part, it’s an overlong, sluggish, and schizophrenic entry in the Bond series.    ★★ (out of ★★★★)

– Rated PG but would be rated PG13 today for violence (including a head shot, which usually gets and R in most films), and some sensuality/innuendos.

– Running time: 2hrs 10min.


Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews

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1 reply

  1. The pre-title scene was great, I loved it, and laughed at the gas station. Indeed the ballad is too soft for Bond films, thanks for the Ted reference! What I appreciate about this movie is that 1- the Russian political scene is not boring, but very clear and insightful to the background of the story. 2- that the writers found an original ethnic location for the film to take place in, considering they have already used so many different nationalities and locations. And 3- that the villain in this film at least admits that they do not want Bond dead. Every film they say to kill Bond, yet when they bring Bond to the villain, they keep him alive. This time, the guy suggests he immediately be killed for being dangerous , and Octopussy says no. There is no recognition of this in the other films. I had gripes with the Tarzan cry and swinging, it was more dumb than silly. And Bond getting into the alligator or crocodile was dumb. He should have stayed with Octopussy, it is way too unrealistic a scenario. The instance you are referring to of Kamal trying to kill Bond, Octopussy didn’t know it was him. She asks, “did you recognize him?” He says no. The guy with the gun comes in before she turns around to see the knocking on her train window. Otherwise she would have gotten up to let him in. And on the plane, she tries to save him. She always cared for Bond. Moore is older but his energy still seems high, he can’t help his physical aging and lack of swiftness, even athletes his age could not be smooth. It was only distracting in the previous film For Your Eyes Only, not really this one. I did not really notice it, or the change in tone you are talking about. The silliness of him hitchhiking and being a clown is similar to what people love about Craig- a non-comic book character with realistic troubles. It also makes this film good instead of great. This had so much potential just like the others, action was intense, fine characters, just too loose a plot. I definitely enjoyed this more than the previous film. This Moore film falls next to Live and Let Die to me, both below The Spy Who Loved Me.

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