Moonraker and You Only Live Twice have a lot in common: both are the follow-ups to unprecedented smash hits, both seem to be insecure about that fact, and both try to bury that insecurity with a lot of money and explosions. Moonraker’s insecurity is more damaging, though. For one thing, it doesn’t just push Bond to the side, it also pushes aside any attempts at interesting supporting characters, villains, or storylines.
Perhaps its biggest oversight, however, is Moonraker’s failure to realize that far worse than empty spectacle is unoriginal, empty spectacle. Moonraker is action-packed, but it’s action is derivative and familiar. There’s a carnival chase lifted directly from Thunderball and two seperate boat chases that look a lot like the ones from Moore’s first two outings. The moment when Bond’s gondola turns into a hovercraft and floats through the streets of Venice seems original, at least until you remember that Bond’s submersible car from The Spy Who Loved Me was written and filmed in a nearly identical manner.
The one exception, of course, is the final battle, which takes place entirely in outer space. It, at least, is unlike anything we’ve seen in any past Bond movie. It is an admittedly thrilling fifteen minute conclusion to a two-plus hour film. However, while many of the external special effects are as impressive as those in Star Wars, many of the internal shots — including the attempt to portray “zero gravity” by simply having the actors walk slowly and lift their arms over their heads — are unintentionally funny in their awfulness.
Speaking of Star Wars, Moonraker was often accused of ripping it off, and given that the Bond franchise has spent the majority of Moore’s tenure awkwardly aping hot genres of the moment, Moonraker’s similarities to the biggest movie of all time are probably not coincidental. Moonraker lacks any of Star Wars’ sense of wonder though, and treats outer space as just another gimmicky locale. When Bond himself blasts off into space, his only reaction is to arch his eyebrow and crack a joke. Also, in a development that should embaress the makers of this picture, Moonraker wound up costing more to make than Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back combined.
The film is also the most gadget-intensive Bond movie so far, but the equpiment is introduced without wit and used with no sense of timing. With the exception of a wrist-mounted dart gun, Q doesn’t explain any of the gadgets, and we rarely even see them until they’re used. The effect is that it seems no matter what situation Bond is in, he somehow happens to have the exact right device for that moment, which in turns robs the audience of those thrilling moments when your brain clicks, realizing a gadget we saw earlier will do just the trick right about here.
Roger Moore continues to do his thing and vehemently refuse to take anything seriously, but for the third time in four films, the movie’s tone actively works against him. Despite the outlandish story material, the movie feels airless and staid, dragging scenes out past their breaking points and inexplicably filling the most exciting scenes with silence on the soundtrack. That Moonraker and the effortlessly light-footed The Spy Who Love Me share a director boggles the mind.
It makes a bit more sense, though, that Moonraker and You Only Live Twice also share a director. Those movies have one more similarity: by reaching an unprecedented grandiosity and unintended emotional emptiness, they forced the franchise to step back and re-evaluate matters.
VerdictMoonraker is an unexciting adventure devoid of heart or originality, a fact which it unesuccessfully tries to conceal behind an abundance of special effects.