3.5 of 5 stars
After 1979’s Moonraker launched Agent 007 into space to use the Force to save the world, 1981’s For Your Eyes Only was back to the basics and demonstrated admirable restraint. Bond makes do without Q’s fancy gadgets and takes on a relatively minor mission to retrieve a guided missile system before it falls into the wrong hands. The story makes use of intrigue and red herrings. Neither Bond nor the audience know who to trust. However, the overall production is rather insipid as the movie lacks the flamboyance of the earlier Bond films.
It all kicks off with Bond visiting the grave of his murdered wife, Tracy. He’s then abducted by none other than Ernst Stavro Blofeld, last seen 10 years earlier in Diamonds Are Forever. However, Bond turns the tables and captures Blofeld as he attempts to flee in his wheelchair. He then officially offs Blofeld by dropping him to his death from a helicopter down a smokestack. This was played for laughs. The producers decided to get rid of Blofeld easily as production was beginning on Never Say Never Again, Kevin McClory’s renegade remake of Thunderball, which would bring back the Blofeld character and star Sean Connery. However, this leaves fans disappointed. We deserved a more satisfying conclusion to Bond’s archenemy. (Bond actually strangled Blofeld to death at the end of Fleming’s book You Only Live Twice.)
The movie takes a 180-degree turn from the pre-title sequence. Sheena Easton’s theme song, like the remainder of the film, feels both dated and bland.
Bond’s called in on a mission to retrieve the ATAC system, which controls Britain’s ballistic missiles. The ship carrying the system has mysteriously sunk off the Greek coast. The British government has hired a marine archaeologist to help them locate the ATAC, but he and his wife are murdered by Cuban hitman Gonzales. Bond tracks Gonzales to his villa in Spain, where beautiful women frolic by his pool.
Gonzales’s men capture Bond, but before they can execute him, Gonzales is shot in the back with an arrow. Bond uses the ensuing confusion to escape and runs into the woman who killed Gonzales—Melina Havelock, daughter of the marine archaeologist Gonzales murdered. They make their getaway in an exciting down-hill chase in the only car in the Bond series I could actually afford.
Bond then jets off to Northern Italy and then Greece in search of whoever hired Gonzales. This leads to some of the best set-pieces in the Roger Moore films, including a chase through a Winter Olympics course, a close-quarters underwater fight, Bond and Melina dragged from a boat through shark-infested waters, and the scaling a cliff face to the bad guy’s hideout—a suspenseful sequence in which we actually feel like Bond is in real danger. (Fun fact: Cassandra Harris who played Bond girl Lisl was also a Bond girl in real life—she was Pierce Brosnan’s wife.)
But the movie hits some wrong notes as well. There’s a talking parrot added for comic relief that’s just irritating. Melina reacts to the tragedy of her parents’ murder about as strongly as a child would react to receiving an Almond Joy on Halloween. Bond also interferes with Melina’s avenging her parents. He tells her in the beginning, ‘The Chinese have a saying: “Before setting out on revenge, you first dig two graves.”’ At the end, when Melina has her parents’ murder at her mercy, Bond steps in front of her and says, ‘No, Melina, that’s not the answer.’ This comes off as hypocritical rather than high-minded. Didn’t Melina save Bond’s life at the beginning when she shot Gonzales? Didn’t Bond himself kill a physically handicapped man in the pre-title sequence in revenge for killing his wife? What about the hitman, Locque, who 007 kicks over the side of a cliff while he’s helpless in revenge for killing Bond’s colleague? This attempt at sounding moralistic is almost as misplaced as the scene in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when Bond visits a public high school in London to give a seminar on safe sex.
At 53, Roger Moore was too old to play Bond. While Sean Connery would play Bond once more at the age of 53, Moore carried himself as an old man. His movements were cautious and hesitant. When Bibi Dahl, a fresh-faced ice skater played by 22-year-old Lynn-Holly Johnson, throws herself on Moore and kisses him full on the lips, not only does the viewer not believe it, they also find it disturbing.
While For Your Eyes Only would bring Bond (literally) back down to earth, it also drained some of the joy out of the series. Someone wandering into this film would be unlikely to mistake it for Thunderball.