Home The Film LabReviewsFeatures
Oscar 2013TIFF 2012What's Happening?NewsI Love YouTubeGenre Jam The Great DebateWhat's The Deal?Top 5Toronto After Dark!HotDocs 2012Feature ArchiveCommunity
Reviews > From A to Bond: The Spy Who Loved Me
tederick | 1 Nov 2012 | 769 Views | 2 Likes | 0 Dislikes
From A to Bond: The Spy Who Loved Me
Which one is this? The one with the underwater car.
Who’s who in this one? Moore (Bond); Lee (M); Llewelyn (Q); Maxwell (Moneypenny).
Where did you first encounter this one? Actually, I first encountered this one in toy form, when my next door neighbour gave me Bond’s submersible Lotus Esprit with flip-out submarine fins. Then I saw the movie on TV a few years later, aged 9 or 10.
Who’s the bad guy, and what does he want? Curt Jürgens as Stromberg, who wants to nuke all life on earth so that a new civilization can form… under the sea.
Who are the Bond girls? Barbara Bach as Agent XXX, Bond’s opposite number on the KGB side.
Opening number? The first example of foregoing title-driven lyrics (though the words “the spy who loved me” still appear in the refrain) in favour of a “Bond is so great, let’s sing about Bond!” song, here called “Nobody Does It Better” and crooned by Carly Simon against a Maurice Binder backdrop of airborne male/female silhouettes on trampolines.
What’s memorable about this one? Underwater car. Jaws. The most magnificent ski jump in movie history, and the Union Jack parachute that follows.
What did you rate it out of ten, from memory? Meh, 6? I remember thinking it was stupider the last time I saw it than the first time I saw it.
What do you rate it now, having seen it again? Nope, let’s knock this sucker down to a flat 3. It’s quite silly, but worse, it’s dull.
If 2008's Quantum of Solace was an outlier, one could argue that The Spy Who Loved Me represents the warm gooey centre of a completely opposite kind of Bond movie. We're in 1977, and everything that would come to define the Roger Moore era - good and bad - hits its epicenter with the tenth official Bond picture. You can blame the wild success of The Spy Who Loved Me for Moonraker, which follows; but more significantly, you can blame Spy for what we nowadays consider the Roger Moore “thing.” Moore, who had turned in two credible performances in Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun, flips the dial completely here, and the film flips along with it. The Spy Who Loved Me is essentially a comedy – and the joke’s on all the movies in the franchise thus far.
Nearly at the bottom of From A to Bond, what I’ve realized is this: there are two types of Bond fans (and these categories extend into the people who make the films, too). There are the people who think Bond is cool – who do, or can, take his world seriously, regardless of whatever fantastical stuff takes place there. And then there are the people who think Bond is stupid: that the indestructible secret agent and his bags full of gadgets are inherently silly, and that the Bond universe itself is therefore also silly. When The Spy Who Loved Me is name-checked by Roger Moore, and Roger Ebert (and John Glen, who would go on to make a very different series of Bond pictures in the ‘80s), as the best film the franchise has ever produced, these statements identify the camp (no pun intended) into which these men fall. The Spy Who Loved Me is the product of a creative team who doesn’t, and can’t, take the idea of this superspy seriously, and based on its wild success at the box office and critically, we can assume that a large portion of the audience feels that way, too.
I admit, I was quite fond of The Spy Who Loved Me when I was growing up, but it’s time for me to cut my sentimental ties. This is the entry where the film series turns mawkish. The opening sequence may contain what remains the whole franchise’s defining stunt – Bond skiing off a miles-high cliff, into freefall – but it immediately undercuts the stunt with a dumb gag, as Bond’s parachute opens to reveal a big “fuck you” Union Jack. (Bond trivia, Canadian fans: the jump was filmed at Mount Asgard in Nunavut, to date the only Canadian location to host a Bond production.) In Spy, the filmmakers have made the conscious decision to treat the tropes of Bond’s lifestyle as figures of fun. So we see hard cuts to Bond loping across the desert in full Lawrence of Arabia getup, and introduce the notion that MI6 has embedded field offices – complete with Moneypenny’s secretarial desk – in every foreign city in which they are operating, hidden inside local monuments.
It is admittedly fun to watch secret agents 007 and XXX operate in tandem or in parallel, in spite of unconvincing East vs. West banter throughout. When both superspies are sleuthing their way around Egypt in their evening-wear – Barbara Bach’s low-cut gown is certainly an all-time high, to coin a phrase – it’s doubly entertaining. Not to be crass, but Bach’s breasts nearly deserve top billing in The Spy Who Loved Me, so consistently and attractively are they placed on foreground display. Bach herself remains one of the most beautiful of the Bond girls, but in a disturbing From A to Bond trend with the heroines to whom I was most attracted growing up, it turns out the lady cannot act her way out of a paper bag. This is too bad. There’s some potential juice in the basic story structure here – Bond and a Russian agent, falling in love – that can never be extracted by either performer.
You know who else can’t act? Richard Kiel. Jaws, the metal-mouthed mashup of Frankenstein and Dracula, remains a standout of the entire series for many Bond fans, but the truth is that as a villain and a screen presence, Jaws is as ineffective as he is iconic. Kiel looks like a dope and seems confused by his own stage directions, a trend not helped by moronic writing and direction, which tends to wrongfoot him at every turn. (Jaws’ idea of an offensive strategy when attacking Bond and XXX in a van is to rip the siding off the van a piece of a time, rather than, say, ripping a door off and grabbing the people inside.) Jaws is a dumb joke that goes on far too long. I’m sick of him by halfway through Spy, to say nothing of his loathsome return in Moonraker.
But I cannot help myself on one aspect of The Spy Who Loved Me: I love that car. The white Lotus that shoots opaque goo out of its tailpipe, fires vertical rockets from its spoiler, and – when all else fails – can dive neatly off a pier and become a submarine, is one of my favourite gadgets in the whole run of films; and yes, I still have the toy, from all those years ago. Whatever else might not be firing in The Spy Who Loved Me, the Lotus car chase works just fine, for all its silliness – especially when the motorcycle with the rocket sidecar, and the sedan full of villains, have been dispensed with, and Bond and his car go head-to-head with a helicopter.
Otherwise, the film is unattractive and flaccid, and so bloodless that everything is devoid of tension, or even intention. There is little purpose to The Spy Who Loved Me beyond its inflated self-awareness of its status as a James Bond movie – and as it goes along, you can hear the air leaking out.
From A to Bond counts down the Bond movies, in alphabetical order, every day of the week leading up to the release of Skyfall. If you live in Toronto, The Spy Who Loved Me is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on November 4, December 22, and January 17. If not, the entire series is available on blu-ray.