Roger Moore’s 007 got in touch with his serious side for For Your Eyes Only, but he returned to his tongue-in-cheek campiness with Octopussy. It didn’t entirely work for me.
Even as someone who hadn’t seen any of the Bond movies, I was always aware of the existence of Octopussy. I remember giggling about the title with my peers in grade school, even though few of us had any idea what it was about. I was, therefore, looking forward to satisfying my admittedly subdued curiosity about this famous entry in the Bond franchise, and having been warned of its campy content, I sallied forth, finally to throw some context behind a childhood joke.
Before I get into Octopussy, however, I feel I need to share a minor epiphany I experienced while watching it. Much has been made of the silliness of the Roger Moore movies, and what I’ve seen so far has only confirmed those claims. For me, at least, I think the reason why I generally didn’t mind the goofier aspects of the Connery films as much was because I felt they were mostly unintentional — by-products of the outdated production quality and spotty acting. By comparison, the Roger Moore films are quite self-aware, embracing the lighter tone with joy, and a little too “cute” at times. As a result, while they are certainly on the campy side, they haven’t quite tickled my funny bone in the same way. It’s almost like watching a comedian laugh at his own jokes.
In Octopussy, the camp is ramped up, but it doesn’t really get bad until Bond lands in India, where he’s immediately greeted by a snake charmer, his Indian contact, playing the James Bond theme music on his flute. Some time later, the pair is engaged in a tuk tuk chase wherein a tennis racquet is wielded as a weapon, and nearby onlookers swivel their heads left and right as if watching a match. That chase culminates in a fistfight that takes place among such characters as a sword swallower, a hot coal-walker, a man who sleeps on a bed of nails, and a fire juggler, all of whom come into play as Bond summarily defeats his pursuers. Not too much later, 007 is chased through the jungle, where he not only tames a tiger by telling it to “sit,” but also swings through the trees literally screaming like Tarzan. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, ladies and gentlemen.
Maud Adams (aka Andrea Anders from The Man with the Golden Gun) resurfaces here as the title character, and at first I thought, “This is refreshing; a female nemesis!” This seemed to be reinforced by the fact that she was identified only by her voice in her first few scenes, similar to him-whose-name-we-shall-not-utter. But of course, she merely turns out to be a pawn for the true villain, much in the same way that Colombo was in F or Your Eyes Only, and at the end of the day, she’s just another dame with a crush on 007. I thought this was unfortunate, as I saw it as a wasted opportunity to explore a new angle for Bond villains.
Let’s talk about the real bad guys, then. Louis Jordan plays Kamal Khan, who gets the most screen time of all the villains but is probably the dullest one. Then we have Khan’s henchman Gobinda, who also does very little besides crush dice, sneer at Bond, and furiously escort him from room to room (he does swing a sword and kill people off screen from time to time, but it’s very unexciting). Much more interesting are the peripheral villains: the knife-wielding circus twins, who look like Martin Short’s deadlier cousins; the yo-yo saw wielding thug-for-hire; and the rogue Russian general who’s always on the brink of an aneurysm. They add a spark of danger whenever they appear and, in my opinion, effectively contribute to the chaos of the movie.
The story here is somewhat negligible and, as with many of the others so far, only serves as a backdrop for witty banter and expansive action sequences. It’s just unfortunate that I didn’t find the action to be particularly memorable, save for the amazing stunt work atop Khan’s plane. The tuk tuk chase is a bit too silly to be exciting, the jungle hunt seems slapped together, the train sequence — while an interesting setup — is slow and laborious, and the final battle between Octopussy’s acrobatic female army and Khan’s underlings would feel just as much at home in The Naked Gun.
There isn’t a whole lot to love about Octopussy. Sure, there’s an abundance of bizarre and/or inane moments that had me grinning and shaking my head, and yes, the women are all nice to look at. But at the heart of it, even a silly movie needs a decent story to support it, or the interest simply will not hold up. This one unfortunately spends too much time on goofy gags and subpar action to keep me munching my popcorn.
Favorite line: “Go out and get him.” — Khan says this to Gobinda, as Bond is clinging to the top of their plane. Good help is so hard to find.
Favorite moment: Q getting some love from a gaggle of Octopussy’s femme fatales after he lands a hot air balloon on a baddie who had a gun trained on them.