With Black Widow coming out this week, and giving a loving nod to Moonraker, this feels as good as time as any to write about my love for this movie. Look, it’s kind of weird being a Roger Moore Bond fan. I will not even attempt to argue he’s “the best James Bond” (though, to me, he is) because Roger Moore is kind of his own thing.
Moore was my first James Bond. And there’s always going to be sentiment for the first person you saw play the role. And, yes, I’ve heard the argument: “He doesn’t act like James Bond.” Well, when I first saw him in on cable in For Your Eyes Only (also a great movie), I had no idea who James Bond was and this fellow was telling people he was James Bond. So, guess what, he’s James Bond. And then when my grandmother took me to see Octopussy in theaters, it cemented my Roger Moore love. (Also, in retrospect, the idea of my grandmother having to say, “Two for Octopussy” is a very strange thought. Also, I remember how much my grandfather hated Moore and would tell me Sean Connery was the only “true” Bond. To which I remember thinking, “Oh, wow, is this Sean Connery guy even more hilarious?”)
But, over time, as I got older, the idea of a “darker and grittier” James Bond was appealing, I suppose.
But then pretty much everything became “darker and grittier.” It became the default movie tone. An aspiration for every filmmaker, it seemed, was to make a dark and gritty project. It got to the point “dark and gritty” became an easy applause line at Comic-Con panels. Let’s say someone was announcing a new movie starring, I don’t know, the cartoon cat, Heathcliff. Well if it were announced that Heathcliff was going to be dark and gritty, this would cause a Comic-Con standing ovation. “Do you know who Heathcliff is? No, but if he’s dark and gritty, sign me up!” Personally, I’ve gotten pretty tired of dark and gritty.
I hadn’t just sat down and watched the Roger Moore Bond movies in a very long time. A friend of mine, who, before the pandemic, was “action movie deficient,” noted that hadn’t really seen any James Bond movies. So I decided, why not, let’s start with Roger Moore. To which my friend responded, “Oh, I heard those suck.” So for some strange reason we started with A View to a Kill because it came out in 1985 and was most in line with the years a lot of our other movies had come from. Yeah, I made a mistake. All the elements are there but the plot of A View to a Kill is a disappointment. (Somehow Christopher Walken as a Bond villain is boring.) But, my friend loved Moore. “If only the movie had been better.” So that’s when we watched Moonraker.
To put it bluntly: Moonraker rules. It is the opposite of “dark and gritty” and it’s kind of amazing how fun a movie can be when it’s not worried about being cool. (This is a movie that features a pigeon that does a comedic double-take, so it is for sure not worried about being “cool.”) There’s a Fast and Furious vibe to the whole proceedings where the theme seems to be the more indulgent the plot, the better. (And not to mention both movies now, inexplicably, send their characters to space.)
Moonraker opens with a pre-credits stunt scene involving a fight between James Bond and the infamous Jaws – played by 7’2” Richard Kiel, who we had met in the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me (also, if you’re not an Ian Fleming expert and want to read something wild, check out the history of The Spy Who Loved Me novel) – in mid-air after both had jumped out of a plane. It’s a stunner. And this scene is somewhat re-created in Black Widow, only with CGI instead of humans actually falling through the air. (Speaking of Richard Kiel, I love Jaws, but his greatest cinematic moment will always be in Happy Gilmore telling Shooter McGavin, “No, you can count, on me, waiting for you, in the parking lot.”
For being “the James Bond movie in space,” there’s a lot more globetrotting in Moonraker than you might think. Which probably disappointed me when I saw this on VHS around the time Octopussy came out, because I just wanted to see “space fights.” But now it adds to just how gorgeous this movie is. I’m not going to try to convince you this is the “best Bond movie,” but it’s sure my favorite Bond movie. If you can’t love Moonraker, then you can’t love joy. This is a movie that literally ends with James Bond having sex in space.
The friend I mentioned earlier, the funniest thing about his recent adventures with Roger Moore is that it’s created a whole new perspective on the Austin Powers movies. There are scenes in the later Moore movies that, if they were jokes in an Austin Powers movie, we’d think, okay, that’s a bit too over the top. Keep in mind, Roger Moore pulled his own Austin Powers first. Moore literally played a “secret spy” character that was “secretly Roger Moore” in The Cannonball Run, which was released when Moore would still go on to make two more actual Bond movie. Roger Moore knew what he was doing. And Moonraker is pure fun. Moonraker deserves its due. Moonraker rules.
You can stream ‘Moonraker’ (and all of the other Bond films) via Amazon Prime. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.