In 1988 the world was treated to duelling Bonds as Warner Brothers released Never Say Never Again, with Sean Connery returning for a remake of Thunderball, while Eon Productions gave us their thirteen entry in the form of Octopussy, which had a reluctant Roger Moore once more donning a tux and his license to kill, and both of these films I would consider lesser entries in the Bond franchise with both actors too old for the role, yet Octopussy stands out a little more for having a rather strong female co-star and will be the film we are looking at today.
With Octopussy we don’t such as get another “In Name Only” adaptation of a Flemming story, as was the case with Moonraker, but a completely original screenplay that used elements of Ian Fleming works, such as the short story “The Property of a Lady” for the scene where Bond gets his hands on the villain’s Fabergé egg and the backstory of the title character is from the short story collection “Octopussy and The Living Daylight.” In that short story, Bond was assigned to apprehend a hero of the Second World War who had been implicated in a murder involving a stolen cache of Nazi gold, but Bond being a sympathetic secret agent he gives the man the choice of suicide or court-martial, which results in the man taking his own life via the tentacles of his beloved but poisonous pet, that he’d named Octopussy. The movie’s title character is revealed to be the daughter of that late soldier and she actually thanks Bond for allowing her father an honourable death and this puts the character of Octopussy in the category of “good” Bond girls for even though she is the head of a criminal organization she’s not a cold-hearted killer – even her army of women use dart guns to take down enemies – but she will, sadly, end up another sexual conquest of Bonds.
The movie’s plot is fairly convoluted and completely falls apart if any thought is given to it. A Russian general named Orlov (Steven Berkoff) is unhappy with his countries decision to go along with N.A.T.O’s disarmament treaty as believes that Mother Russia should, instead, expand its borders across Europe. Orlov is in league with an exiled Afghan prince named Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) who plans on using his association with Octopussy (Maud Adams), a wealthy businesswoman and smuggler, to sneak a nuclear bomb into an American military base in West Germany. For when the bomb is detonated it would be assumed to have been an accident and blamed on the States which would hopefully trigger Europe into seeking disarmament, which would then result in the borders being open for a Soviet invasion.
Question: If the threat of nuclear retaliation is the only thing stopping the Soviet Union from rolling across Europe’s borders how does this plan take into account the nukes aboard American subs or the ones based in the States and other Nato countries?
But what, exactly, is a wealthy smuggler, one who has her own “Paradise Island” of female warriors, doing working with a crazy Russian general? Well, she thinks they are only using her organization to smuggle jewels from East Germany to West Germany via her circus – she really has a diversified portfolio – and she is completely unaware of Orlov and Kamal Khan’s plan to swap out the jewels for a nuclear bomb, unfortunately, this makes her character not only seem rather naïve and stupid but also fairly unnecessary to the plot. In earlier drafts she was an out and out villain, working with the Russians to smuggle the bomb into an American base, but this change results in her becoming a simple patsy and not only removes her character’s agency it weakens it as well.
It should also be noted that in this film Bond is really really bad at his job. Upon discovering Orlov and Kamal Khan’s plan to sneak a nuclear bomb into an American military base, via Octopussy’s circus train, for some unknown reason he doesn’t immediately make his way to the nearest phone to alert the authorities and have the train stopped at the border. And why doesn’t he? Well, because that’d be too easy for Bond, instead, he embarks on a ridiculous chase across Germany which entails fighting on train rooftops, getting into a duel with trained killers and, for some reason, wearing a gorilla suit. Now, at one point during this cross-country chase, he does try to use a payphone but it’s currently occupied and so he is forced to abandon the idea of calling for help and must go off on his own to save the day. Why Bond didn’t simply yank that woman out of the booth we will never know.
• In the pre-title sequence Bond does the rare thing for him by actually going in-disguise on a mission, none of that “Bond, James Bond” nonsense and he even wears a fake moustache.
• In that same pre-title sequence Bond flies a little jet aircraft that runs out of fuel after about five minutes of flight time – that’s a pretty damn small gas tank – and then he stops at a roadside gas station and requests “Fill ‘er up” but I doubt any such facility would have jet fuel on hand.
• Maud Adams is a resurrected Bond Girl as she appeared in The Man with the Golden Gun and was killed off by Christopher Lee.
• The age difference between Roger Moore and Maud Adams is eighteen years, which isn’t too bad until you consider that most of the later Bond girls in the Moore have around three-decade age differences between them and our hero.
• Like Pussy Galore in Goldfinger Octopussy has an army of female fighters working for her, sadly, any lesbian connotations were left unexplored.
• The bladed yo-yo buzzsaw-weapon in this movie is fairly useless, it pretty much requires your target to remain perfectly still while the blade slowly unravels towards them.
• Bond can apparently teleport into and out of a gorilla costume.
• With Bond hanging off of the outside their airplane Kamal Khan orders his henchman to go out and fight Bond, which begs the question, “Just how loyal is your average henchman?”
With the film Octopussy, we still get a Bond entry that takes us to exotic locals…well, one exotic locale because as aside from dreary moments in East Berlin most of the film takes place in and around Octopussy’s circus train and the only standout location being that of India. Now, the portion that does take place in India provides us with some truly stunning visual scenery, from the majesty of Kamal Khan palace-fortress to the splendour of Octopussy’s floating island but we are missing those marvellous Ken Adams sets that had become a staple of the Bond franchise. The issue of Bond’s rampant sexism is also still a problem, from using a Q gadget to check out a woman’s breasts to forcing his affections on a reluctant Octopussy – which is presented as fine because she eventually enjoys it – but at least in this outing Bond doesn’t get any of the women killed, so I guess we’ll that progress.
Overall, the film does have some truly jaw-dropping action sequences – the small jet plane pre-title sequence being especially spectacular – but one can’t help but notice that Bond is starting to feel more and more anachronistic as time goes on and that the sexist humour, that even back in the 80s wasn’t all that funny, has definitely not improved with age. It was clear that at this point in the series that the tongue-in-cheek aspect was taking over and the spy/adventure element was becoming secondary to one-liners and double entendres, and seeing the great James Bond literally clown around was a bit depressing.
Movie Rank - 6/10
Roger Moore was done with the series a couple of films back but the lure of that fat paycheck kept bringing him back again and again which resulted in a rather lacklustre but not terrible outing