Yes, it’s time we take our classic film eye and turn it to an entry in the Bond films, and not just any, this one is the Octopussiest of them all!
A little context is in order. Octopussy is the 13th Bond film, from 1983. It’s also Roger Moore’s 6th film as Bond, and Moore had previously tried to exit out of his contract and retire himself from the character. He was convinced by the studio to come back, as that same year Sean Connery returned as James Bond in the non-official remake of Thunderball, Never Say Never Again. Got that? So, Moore is brought in as the long running current Bond, and get this- Octopussy actually made more money than Connery’s remake, so the studios saw it as a win. Sadly, the film is anything but “win.”
Let’s start at the beginning. After a lackluster opening sequence (usually the calling card of the franchise) we find ourselves immersed in the opening credits. These too are very much a signature of the series, all with dazzling visuals and some sort of intensely dramatic song. But, this one is all wrong.
Feel free to stop it early. I did, before it put me to sleep. I mean, this is a James Bond film. You need to step it up a little here, opening credits. It sounds more like a romantic ballad, even the chorus, of “We’re an all time high” smacks of snuggling and smooching. You’d have to be high to think this song belongs anywhere near a James Bond flick. But really, this song perfectly encapsulates the film as a whole. In two words: Pretty and Lame.
And without wanting to relive all the details suffered through the ordeal of watching this film let’s just stick to generalities. The biggest problem with this movie is that it tries to change things up a little. And not in the “should we make Bond less of a perve and more of a badass?” type of changing it up. He’s still a perve, and with Moore over fifty years old when he made this film, it’s hard to see the debonair Valentino-esque quality of 007.
Though, it's hard to argue with that.
No, the changes here all are periphery, yet crucial miscues in the storytelling. You see, the “James Bond film” is a dance with very strict steps. And in the attempts to change the routine, Octopussy trips all over her 8 left feet. Consider that instead of playing poker, Bond and his nemesis, the sniveling little Kamal Khan (Khaaaaan!) partake in a high stakes game of … Backgammon? Consider that Bond never orders a martini in this movie, or that at one point he is rescued by tourists. You see, all of these little petty and stupid moments lead to a completely petty and stupid movie!
Consider that instead of a fancy roadster car chase we get a souped up Tuk Tuk ride through the streets of India’s…actually I don’t think they ever tell us where in India. But that doesn’t matter right? This same action sequence also shows Bond’s contact in India literally beating a guy with a tennis racket.
Consider that the role of the silent killer henchman, usually in the form of the hat throwing Odd Job or metal mouthed Jaws, is in this film simply a googly eyed guy with a musket. A musket? Why? There’s a fine line between original and stupid sometimes.
At this point, the film has turned into a robust comedy full of caricatures and gags. The plot is irrelevant. If you must know, it starts as a jewel caper centered around a Faberge egg. And While Octopussy could make for a fine villainess and her all-woman army could be great fodder for pervo Bond, that’s not how it plays out.
She is simply a pawn in the end, double crossed by Khan (Khaaan!) and eventually sat on the sidelines while the boys play roughhouse. After a while this jewel heist gets mixed up with some crazy renegade Russian General’s atomic bomb heist and trust me it makes no real sense, but at least Bond has something of value to worry about.
The movie’s problem again is it’s desire to show you something you’ve never seen in a Bond film. This bomb, that the Russians have planted at an American Army base in Germany, this bomb that when exploded will kill thousands and surely result in the Soviet Union eventually taking over the world, this bomb is smuggled into the base via a circus.
That’s right, you’ve never seen Bond at a circus have you? So now our climactic scene has to play out in a tent. You know what else you’ve technically never seen? Bond dressed as a clown. Take it away movie.
But that’s not the worst of it. There’s a gorilla costume, twin knife throwing brothers (trust me they’re dumb), jungle vine swinging complete with Tarzan yell, basically all the rules of Bond just being thrown out the window at every turn. We’re made to laugh at this hero, one whom children find amusing and adults find harmless. It’s a trite and ultimately unpleasant film, and while it’s memorable in a lot of ways, none of them are complimentory.
Final thought: Roger Moore would only play Bond once more, but his time on the series was not all farce. And while his Bond is often considered inferior to Sean Connery’s cool and collected assassin, Moore simply portrays an older, more relaxed version of James Bond, as he himself was much older. His Bond was just unfortunately put in declining scenarios and faced with lesser villains. Like a seasoned veteran, his Bond is more of a playboy at ease in the world, for whom the work of the British Secret Service is routine and done almost without thought. And while that portrayal is flawlessly performed and certainly unique of all the actors to take the role, if you put an affluent playboy spy in a fucking clownsuit, he’s just a fucking clown now isn’t he?