This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which we get an Indian Cultural Showcase, a confusion of villains, and Q gets out into the field!
Alex: aaaaand we’re back to crappy Moore films. Once again a film takes us two sittings to get through. If we’d had popcorn I would have been throwing it at the screen.
See what they did with the film poster? I see what you did there!
The prologue starts in what I think is meant to be Cuba, at a horse race. There’s definitely a Castro analogue. Bond gets busted trying to blow something up, and captured; his lady accomplice distracts his guards by being very sexy. Bond gets rid of them by pulling their rip cords, because for some reason these soldiers in a jeep are wearing parachutes. Then he gets into a horse float… which turns out not to have a horse in it, but a folding plane.
This prologue was an omen of things to come. Bad things, confusing things, and eye-rolling things.
The plot of Octopussy is confusing because it’s unclear who the villain is. In For Your Eyes Only, there’s a twist to the villain, and that’s quite clever and neat. Here, there are several potential villains, all vying against each other, and the actual point of their villainy is sometimes confused. I have no problem with messy films that are trying for real-life verisimilitude. In a Bond film, however, it is out of place – and this is just messy, not clever-messy. Let me try to lay it out:
1. The Russians are fighting. General Gogol – head of the secret service? – is trying to convince the top brass that going along with NATO’s ideas of compromise is sensible. General Orlov, however, says nyet! (… sorry…) – because he’s a frothing-at-the-mouth expansionist. He may be my favourite character. Orlov has been selling Russian jewellery in the decadent West to fund his ventures, including – at the start of the film – a Faberge egg. He has a cunning plan to explode a small nuclear device on a US base in Germany, which will be confusing because there will be no trajectory! So NATO will be forced to completely disarm because they’re scaredy cats!! and Russia will take over the world!!! For this he needs…
2. Octopussy. Leader of a smuggling ring that has branched out into, among other things, circuses (…?!?). Orlov will use Octo’s circus trains to get the bomb to the base. But Octo doesn’t know this; she thinks she’s just smuggling jewellery. Their connection was set up by…
3. Kamal Khan. Suave, debonair, meant to be Indian but played by a French actor. (Sigh.) Kamal’s motives are… unclear. I think he’s ultimately just into money, because he’s never shown to be a true believer in the Soviet way or even especially interested in changing the world.
So at first Bond thinks he’s up against Kamal, because he’s chasing the origin of the Faberge egg that comes up at Sotheby’s (with a marvellous moment of egging the bidding on, giving his friend from the government a heart attack). Then it seems like Kamal is taking orders from a lady, with whom Bond ends up in bed. But then we see Khan reporting to a mysterious woman in a dressing gown with an octopus on the back – and we know she’s mysterious and powerful because we don’t see her face at this stage. We see Orlov and Khan chatting together so clearly they’re connected… then Bond goes to check out Octo’s island… and look. This is just confused, right? The villains are playing off against each other. Frankly I think this would be a better movie if it was entirely focussed on the villains and Bond just wasn’t in it. In fact, that would be an AWESOME movie.
Race: well, I was mighty sad Khan was played by a French dude. I really liked Louis Jourdain, don’t get me wrong – I think he’s delightful – but it’s not like there was a shortage of Indian actors (even Indian-American or Indian-British, I would have guessed) in 1983. It’s a throwback to Dr No. Bond has an awesome Indian sidekick, Vijay, who gets some great lines and is delightfully engaging – and then he dies. Dead brown man alert! And then there’s that delightful line from Bond, when he’s spreading around some largesse: “This should keep you in curry for a few weeks.” Ho ho! The film does its cultural showcase thing with India as it has done with some of the other Exotic Locales the franchise has visited. When Bond arrives there’s a lingering shot of the Taj Mahal, which I’m going to guess is entirely incongruous from a geographical perspective. And then there’s the equivalent of the Winter Olympics scene from the last film: during a chase, we see a man lying on a bed of nails, sword swallowing, fire walking, fire twirling, and ‘gurus’. And then there’s hunting scene – hunting a tiger, on elephants, in the ‘burbs – where Bond swings on a vine and does the Tarzan yodel. I’m serious.
Gender: Octopussy only gets that name, and it’s a nickname from her father. The first main woman, Magda, is only named some minutes after Bond sleeps with her. Bond goes to visit Octo’s island after hearing that it’s women-only, to which Bond responds: “sexual discrimination! I’ll have to pay it a visit.” Way to go negating a real issue, film! Octo and Bond appear to be working on the same level for a while… until Octo says “we’re two of a kind” (hello theme song reference), and appears to be offering Bond a job. Bond gets snippy, Octo gets offended by his sanctimonious attitude and storms out – and Bond follows her and forces her to kiss him. She fights a bit and then gives in. Because it’s soooo sexy when a guy forces you to do something you don’t want! Also, we get a short scene with Moneypenny – and Moneypenny’s assistant, who is young an glamorous and whom Bond chats up and then realises it’s not Moneypenny. Oops. Moneypenny does a lovely line in snark, at last, and the assistant says somewhat drily that she’s been warned about him. Of course, when he leaves the room they both have a little sigh.
Also, there’s this:
James: You gentle reader might expect me to write things about a balloon with a Union Jack on it (and Q in it), or the TV watch which Bond uses to ogle a pretty young thing in Q’s lab, but the truth is … ZzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz…….. I fell asleep in this one… Slow, confused, no truly great gadgets or cars. My favourite part ? This.