Review: Octopussy

Welcome to my review of Octopussy, the thirteenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, For Your Eyes Only, here. Spoilers follow.

Octopussy
(dir. John Glen, 1983)

Octopussy trailerWhen I first started this challenge, I wrote in my introduction that “I love Daniel Craig as 007 … but I can’t watch Octopussy and mark it down for not having the same gritty semi-realism.” I’d never seen Octopussy, but I had a certain preconception of the Roger Moore-era Bond films, and figured that with a title like Octopussy, I was on fairly safe ground that I wasn’t going to be watching anything realistic.

Well, I was mostly right, it turns out: Octopussy is not realistic. It is, however, relatively gritty in places, at least as far as the Moore films go. In fact, I found myself really enjoying Octopussy… until the filmmakers decided that they really, really needed to be funny.

Sigh.

The plot is vaguely nonsensical. Everything is kicked off when 009, dressed as a clown, is killed over a fake Fabergé Egg, revealing a smuggling ring of faked jewels. Bond is sent in to locate the source, and he discovers that the smuggling ring (run by a woman called Octopussy, natch) is being double-crossed by the wealthy Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), who might be the smuggest Bond villain in the series so far, and nationalist offshoot of the Russian military, headed by the traitorous General Orlov (Steven Berkoff).

So there’s a circus, which is Octopussy’s smuggling front, and that’s all quite strange and fun… except for Octopussy (Maud Adams) herself, who considering she runs an international smuggling ring is a bit of a wet blanket. She does nothing that significantly advances the plot, and indeed appears to have very little awareness of her own operations. Aside from the cheap innuendo, I have no idea why the film is named after her.

The name is actually quite off-putting. I’ve avoided the film in past years almost entirely based on the name and the lead actor, but I’ve been unfair to do so because in many ways Octopussy is a pretty good film. It has some good action set-pieces, not least the pre-credits flight in an Aerostar Mini Jet and the later battle on top of another plane. As mentioned above, Octopussy has moments of honest-to-God grit: Bond is much more trigger-happy here than he has been in any of Moore’s other films, and we get the impression that he is quite willing to kill anyone who stands in his path.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the comedy is so wildly out of place. We’re back to the Man With The Golden Gun and Diamonds Are Forever vein of humour—crass and obvious—but the darker tone of Octopussy’s action sequences bring a sense of schizophrenia to the film. Referring to the pre-credits sequence again, the amazing airborne stunts are followed by a rubbish joke about filling the plane up with gas. Cultural stereotypes abound, notably a German couple who give Bond a lift and keep offering him bratwurst and basically everything that occurs in India, culminating in the incredibly squeamish line, “That should keep you in curry for a few weeks”, which made me rewind the film to make sure I’d heard it correctly.

Such a pity, then, because I kept finding myself actively enjoying the film only to be dragged back to my preconceptions every time someone cracked a joke. The fact that Roger Moore is really starting to look tired doesn’t help; the only girl he flirts with who looks anywhere close to his age is Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), who’s been with the series from the very beginning. Still, at least we don’t have to put up with Bond being hit on by a sixteen year old girl this time around.

Title song: Rita Coolidge gives us the passable All Time High; not one of my favourite songs, but at least they didn’t try to shoehorn the title of the film into it.

Greatest moment: The crap joke about filling up the gas aside, the pre-credits sequence is actually pretty cool.

Worst moment: I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure rolling a double-six doesn’t automatically win when playing Backgammon.

Best gadget: The Aerostar Mini Jet at the start of the film.

Best quote:
Vijay: Is [Bond] still there?
Q: You must be joking! 007 on an island populated exclusively by women? We won’t see him till dawn!

Most obvious product placement: Bond’s Seiko watch gets a fair bit of screen-time, but nothing compared to Fabergé, around whom the whole first half of the plot is based.

Verdict: Well, I didn’t hate the film, which is much more than I was expecting. I just wish that they hadn’t bothered trying to make me laugh, because it didn’t work. Coupled with the smugness of the villain and the ineffectiveness of the title character, Octopussy gets stuck in behind The Man With The Golden Gun on the league table.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
  2. From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
  3. The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977)
  4. Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
  5. Live And Let Die (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
  6. For Your Eyes Only (dir. John Glen, 1981)
  7. Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
  8. You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
  9. The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1974)
  10. Octopussy (dir. John Glen, 1983)
  11. Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
  12. Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
  13. Moonraker (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

One Roger Moore film left; join me soon for my review of A View To A Kill!


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