Moonraker stars Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, and Michael Lonsdale and was directed by Lewis Gilbert, his third and final Bond film. Loosely based on Ian Fleming’s 1955 novel of the same time, it finds James Bond, played by Roger Moore, sent on a mission to investigate the disappearance of the Moonraker space shuttle. Moonraker’s an odd one, especially your first time watching it. I remember the first time I saw it I had an inkling of what was to come, having heard many non-specific, mostly negative things about it over the years. I had mentally prepared myself for an absurdly terrible and spoofy sci-fi romp, but that preparation wasn’t really necessary cause Moonraker wasn’t at all what I had expected. Okay… mostly wasn’t what I had expected.
The opening sequence, although not as strong as that of The Spy Who Loved Me, has a great aerial stunt whose goofy conclusion sets the stage for what’s to come in this film. The stunts are a bit of a mixed bag throughout, but the more intense ones are truly exciting. The title sequence isn’t as good as the last few movies either and it doesn’t exactly have my favorite theme song, but I can’t really be unhappy with my girl Shirley Bassey, now can I? Beyond the opening stunts, this movie also features the second (and third) best boat chase of the franchise so far and it was nice to see the beach wine guy from the last film make a similar brief and humorous appearance here.
There’s also a double-taking pigeon and a sardonic dog, both of whom are absolute scene-stealers, bringing much needed realism and character depth to the film. This eleventh Bond movie is goofy, plain and simple. It loses the delicate story/humor balance of its predecessor and dips into some pretty ridiculous spoofy humor. At times, it almost seems to be poking fun at itself, but the first two thirds of the film are actually decent and not as over-the-top or cringe-inducing as you might anticipate. Jaws makes another appearance here and becomes much more of a comic relief character than before, assuming the role of Wile E. Coyote to Bond’s Road Runner.
The plot takes a dumbed down backseat, but this movie manages to be inoffensively fun for the most part. And then they go to space. To be honest, for a movie called Moonraker, they don’t do all that much moon raking. The space bit that comes fairly late in the film is silly, but even it doesn’t start out terribly. The story’s somewhat laughable, but the space sequence begins tamely enough and is about on-par with the rest of the film. But then we reach the inevitable large-scale shootout that accompanies the ending of most Bond films (complete with blaster guns this time) and things go off the rails.
Good thing this is the first Bond film in a while without a shark of some sort cause some leaping could’ve easily led to the downfall of this franchise. Moore clearly has fun with his role in this film, though the delivery of his humor is sometimes played a little too straight, giving the movie a somewhat self-serious tone at points which wildly contrasts with the true tone. I actually really liked Dr. Goodhead and the sarcastic banter between her and Bond was a nice addition. She’s got one of the more crassly suggestive names in the franchise, but it’s nice to finally have a Bond girl that isn’t afraid to throw some attitude back at James. This was also the first time in a while (maybe since From Russia with Love?) that I noticed the title of the film visually integrated into the beginning of the movie which was nice little throwback.
There’s a lot that can be used to put this film down, but I have to admit I kinda liked it. It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, it’s sort of dumb, but it’s not terrible. If this were to have come out immediately after From Russia with Love, then maybe I could understand the outrage and general panning of the movie, but this isn’t exactly a giant leap for Bondkind at this point in the franchise. The Moore films (and even the late Connery ventures) all had meshed goofy humor with espionage, so this is only one small step in that same direction. I can see how this could be disappointing if you didn’t know it was gonna be silly, but you can’t say it’s not an entertaining film. After all, nothing says adequate astronaut training like synchronized courtyard calisthenics. Alright let’s talk about the pros and cons.
The only real pro of this movie is how fun it is. It’s incredibly silly and there’s definitely a downside to that which I’ll talk about in the cons, but as long as you embrace the ridiculousness, it’s very entertaining. If you go in expecting something profound, you’ll be disappointed, but if you kinda mentally prepare yourself for goofiness, you’ll likely get a kick out of it. It’s clear that Roger Moore and the gang had a lot of fun with this and that really comes across if you give it a chance. On the con side, the first issue is the other side of that fun coin ñ it’s so campy. Now, that’s sometimes part of this franchise’s charm. Honestly, it’s sometimes part of this movie’s charm. But there are some sequences that just get so randomly weird and humorously played up that it just goes a little too far. There’s a lot of cartoonish physical comedy here and it feels at-odds with the story sometimes.
This movie’s got some really fun stunt sequences, but then it’s got some that seem like they’re almost intentionally bad. For instance, the use of miniatures during the cable car sequence always makes me laugh. It’s got this really rudimentary Wes Anderson stop-motion feel to it and it’s just so campy. Con number two is space. Originally I was gonna specify the space battle, but after rewatching it, I realized the whole space sequence falls into that same dull 3rd act trap that has plagued the franchise since the very beginning. Like I said before, the space component of this movie is far more diminished that you’d expect, given the film’s name. But it’s also far more dull than you would expect from Bond in space. For the most part, it’s just exposition and Bond and Goodhead wandering around the station in semi-slow-motion simulating anti-gravity. And when the action actually kicks inÖ oh man, it’s rough.
They were obviously trying to capitalize on the success of Star Wars two years earlier, but it honestly reminds me of the underwater finale of ThunderballÖ just with blaster guns instead of harpoons. The third con is kinda minor compared to the other two, but there were some moments of very weak dialogue. And I’m not talking about the Bond puns that always make us roll our eyes, but rather just normal dialogue. It wasn’t super apparent throughout the entire movie, but there were a few lines that came across really weird. Like Bond’s line ìHis name is Jaws, he kills people.î Goodhead also had some equally obvious and weirdly written lines in the 3rd act too. I’m sure part of it was due to the delivery, but I don’t knowÖ it was a little iffy at times. I’m gonna give Moonraker 3 out of 5 paws.
I know this is widely regarded as one of the worst movies in the franchise, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t kinda enjoy this one. I would recommend Moonraker to fans of the goofy Bond movies. If you put humor and campiness above espionage and story, this is the movie for you. I’d say it’s probably the silliest installment in the entire franchise and it’ll definitely leave you perplexed and laughing in disbelief at the ridiculousness. If you’re looking for a full-blown space adventure though, you might be pretty disappointed cause the space stuff honestly isn’t that great and it’s a pretty small part of the movie. If you liked Moonraker, I’ve got a few recommendations for you that in any other context, I couldn’t see myself actually recommending, but thematically they’re in line with Moonraker.
If you want another Bond movie involving space, you’ll want to check out the 5th Bond film: You Only Live Twice. Bond doesn’t actually get to space in that one, but he does find himself getting caught up in an evil space plot that requires him to impersonate an astronaut. If you enjoyed the space fight, you’ve gotta watch Thunderball, the 4th Bond film. The final fight is just as ridiculous (and lengthy), plus there are some other very similar story points regarding the villain’s plans. And if you liked the idea of a goofy sequel that randomly takes its characters to space, you might want to watch Airplane II: The Sequel.
It’s a huge step down from the first Airplane movie, but while that first film was a spoof of the disaster franchise Airport, Airplane II almost feels like a spoof of MoonrakerÖ which in itself feels like a spoof of the Bond franchise. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Moonraker? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite sequel that suddenly takes its story to space? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.