3.5 of 5 stars
In Octopussy first-class stunts and extraordinarily executed action sequences come together to create a rather unremarkable Bond film. Octopussy is probably the most derided of the 007 films (the title is partially to blame), but despite a level of campiness unusual for even a Roger Moore film, it’s actually a pretty good little number if you can forgive or mentally edit some moments.
Agent 007 is tasked with investigating the death of Agent 009, who was murdered while fleeing East Germany with a forged Faberge egg. The real egg is up for auction in London, and Bond gets into a bidding war with an Afghan prince, Kamal Khan, who ends up paying an outrageous sum for the egg. Bond follows Khan’s trail to India, where he somehow manages not to shit his pants from “Delhi belly” and discovers the prince’s connection to a mysterious cult leader named Octopussy (Maud Adams, The Man with the Golden Gun). Octopussy also runs a circus (which seems to be a motif in the Bond films) that’s actually a front for an international jewel smuggling operation. Unbeknownst to Octopussy, Khan and Orlov, a mad Russian general, have replaced the jewels onboard Octopussy’s train with a nuclear weapon, set to detonate during her circus on an American air base in West Germany. Bond and Octopussy must team up to stop Khan and Orlov.
The best thing I can say about Octopussy is it does everything a Bond film should do right. The action set pieces are thrilling and deftly edited. In the early ‘80s, filmmakers had the know-how to create amazing action sequences, but were limited in what they could do with technology, which made for exciting moments we don’t see the like of much today. In the pre-title sequence, Bond outruns a missile in a tiny, highly maneuverable airplane. Later he drives a car onto a train track, pulls up beside a moving train, then jumps from the car onto the train just as an oncoming locomotive smashes into the car. Today a director might take a shortcut by editing the shots quickly together to cover the flaws in the sequence’s execution. The plane and the missile would be CGI and the audience would be bored.
The film also manages to do suspense well. The ticking clock sequence where Bond has to gain access to an American air base before an atomic bomb goes off is truly exciting. Petty moments that would bring laughs in a romantic comedy (a woman elbowing her way past Bond into the only available phone booth, a group of teens pulling over for Bond, only to drive away laughing as he gets close), add irony and suspense to the scene.
Having said that, the film falls flat when it comes to the secondary things audiences expect. A lot of time is spent focusing on Kamal Khan while General Orlov was the more interesting villain who really drove the plot forward. Khan should have been a henchman who was dealt with and forgotten after the second act, and the movie could’ve ended after the circus scene. Instead, the movie goes on about 20 minutes too long focusing on a secondary villain.
While Maud Adams and Roger Moore were well matched, she wasn’t the greatest actress. When Octopussy and Bond first meet, she explains her father was a war hero named Major Smythe, who Bond had once been sent to arrest. Instead of arresting Smythe, Bond gave him 24 hours to get his affairs in order, during which time the major committed suicide (this was the plot of Ian Fleming’s short story “Octopussy”). Octopussy explains she had always hoped to meet Bond. Bond asks, ‘To avenge him?’ Octopussy replies, ‘To thank you for giving him an honorable alternative.’ To my millennial ears, Adams’s delivery sounded sarcastic, but this was meant to be sincere.
There are a couple other bizarre missteps in the film, not the least of which is Bond’s Tarzan yell. While Bond is escaping from Khan’s hunting party, he swings away to safety on vines hanging from the trees and stupidly draws attention to himself by ululating like Tarzan. This style of cornball joke was common in the Moore films. I think this was added as a “double fuck you” to all the people who complained about the slide-whistle sound effect added to the car stunt in The Man with the Golden Gun.
In an early scene, the fourth wall is broken when 007’s Indian contact, Vijay, plays the Bond theme on a flute.
That brings me to the most cringe-worthy moment in the film. In order to slip past the guards into Octopussy’s circus tent, Bond disguises himself as a clown. Keep in mind an atomic bomb is ticking down inside the tent with only minutes left to go. It normally takes me a good 20 minutes to apply my clown makeup when I’m preparing for a kid’s birthday party or trying to get out of jury duty. But 007 steps into a trailer and steps out seconds later in full clown costume and makeup. Grandpa Moore’s approach to Bond was always a bit clown-like, but Bond should never actually dress up as a clown.
Octopussy is a good Bond film trapped inside a bad one. With the exception of the clown bit, this movie could have been saved in editing to make for one of the strongest of Roger Moore’s movies.