Directed by John Glen
Written by George Macdonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, and Michael G. Wilson
United Kingdom, 1983
1983 presented a unique challenge for the Bond franchise. For the first time since Ursula Andress strolled out of the water, there were going to be two Bond films in theatres in the same year. As if that wasn’t enough, Never Say Never Again was also going to see Sean Connery, the first man to ever play Bond and who had handed the reigns off to the current incarnation, reprise the role once again, pitting the two men most known for playing Bond, Connery and Roger Moore (George Lazenby’s one-time outing as the agent notwithstanding) against each other. It is against these conditions that Octopussy was made, with the necessity of having to prove itself anew. Fortunately, the movie delivers on several fronts, making for a thrilling film, albeit one with a curious third act.
One of the highlights of James Bond films has always been the spy’s jet-setting nature. Even in 2006’s Casino Royale, which was touted as a new beginning for the MI-6 agent, and was a more stripped-down, raw version of the character, saw Bond fly off to Monte Carlo, and spend some time in the Caribbean, proving that some things are intricately tied to 007. Nowhere is this more evident than in Octopussy, which sees the titular agent, played by Roger Moore, travel to Germany, India, and an island populated entirely by beautiful women. In doing so, the movie very effectively shows the thrilling aspect of being Bond in a very succinct manner.
Interestingly, the movie also manages to provide a look at India that isn’t a caricature or offensive. From local agents who are competent and do not have thick accents, to a chase through the city streets that doesn’t go out of its way to display poverty-stricken areas, the film manages to portray the country as just another in the various stops Bond makes. It doesn’t become another character in the story, but it’s not cringe-worthy either.
The way the various villains were juggled is also a strength of this movie. With three people standing in somewhat direct opposition to Bond, it would have been very easy for some of them to get overshadowed, or for motivations to feel underdeveloped, but to the credit of the writers, the villains all manage to feel like distinct entities, easily distinguishable from each other. The antagonists also feel distinctly realized in their motivations, each one striving for something different. In addition, General Orlov’s storyline, despite getting a limited amount of screentime, presents a very interesting Dr. Strangelove-esque idea of achieving domination in the arms race by forcing a disarmament of the primary opposing force. It’s an interesting idea, and one that would have benefitted from further exploration, but is nonetheless bigger in scope than Bond movies usually tend to tackle.
Which leads to the primary issue with the movie; Bond, for large stretches of the film, seems like a secondary character, which is a very odd situation to see the 007 agent in, especially considering he’s the one heading up the franchise of which this film is a part. The third act takes an abrupt turn that sees Bond practically sidelined as the major action occurs significantly far away from him, necessitating odd cuts from the suspense of watching a bomb tick down to see Bond try, and fail, to get hitchhikers to give him a ride, try and fail to cut in front of a tourist for use of a phone booth, and be confused for a clown by various circus performers. Bond almost feels shoehorned into his own movie at this point, which is a stark contrast to the role of primary saviour he has inhabited in his other films, and even at the beginning of this one. While the fully realised villains turning on each other makes the third act compelling regardless, it’s still an oddity.
Overall, however, this is nonetheless an exciting film. Vijay Amritraj’s character, despite all odds, was actually fun to watch, particularly as he delivers tennis-related puns for nearly his entire screentime. Maud Adams and Kristina Wayborn both look ethereally gorgeous throughout, and Kabir Bedi’s Gobinda is right up there with the likes of Jaws as an effectively menacing henchman who doesn’t say much, but who nonetheless cannot be underestimated. The extended fight on the train is a thrilling sequence to watch, and the film as a whole moves along at a brisk pace. This is a film, however, that in the end delivers when viewed as an action thriller, but not as much when viewed as a Bond film. Whether that’s good or bad is dependent on the viewer.
– Deepayan Sengupta
This article is part of our 007 marathon. You can find all the entries by clicking here.