Bond Reloaded – A look back at For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Ahead of the release of SPECTRE this autumn, the Bond Reloaded series takes a weekly look back at each film in the iconic James Bond franchise. This week, Roger Moore does his best Sean Connery in For Your Eyes Only.

Roger Moore climbs to great heights in For Your Eyes Only

After the crazy outer space exploration of Moonraker, Bond producer Albert R Broccoli opted for a slightly more grounded, serious spy film. He also promoted the series’ second unit director, John Glen, to the rank of director for the first time – a role he performed for this and the next four films in the series throughout the 1980s.

With a plot focused around Cold War paranoia rather than explicitly saving the world, For Your Eyes Only was a notable shift in the franchise. In terms of tone, it was almost a conscious return to the days of Sean Connery, albeit with an ageing Roger Moore wielding the iconic Walther PPK.

It’s by no means a perfect Bond film, but there’s plenty to enjoy in For Your Eyes Only.

 

Greeks bearing gifts?

After a bonkers pre-credits sequence in which a comedy version of Blofeld completely fails in an attempt to kill Bond, we find 007 on the hunt for a crucial missile MacGuffin stolen from a sunken ship. He joins forces with Melina (Carole Bouquet), whose father was killed before he could salvage the system himself. The trail eventually leads the pair to sophisticated Greek businessman Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover), who soon proves himself to be far more of a hindrance than a help.

It’s worth commending For Your Eyes Only for its bravery in moving away from the tried and tested formula of the last few Moore Bond films. The villain here is a manipulative business brain looking to earn a fast buck at any cost, not a sinister megalomaniac trying to reshape and take over the world. This gives the film a grittier edge, but it also sheds the palpable stakes that gave The Spy Who Loved Me such a potent central narrative.

 

Ari Kristatos proves to be the major villain in For Your Eyes Only

"Bind that wound. We don’t want any blood in the water."

 

Kristatos proves to be an interesting villain, but also not a memorable one. He never manages to make a real impact, particularly given how late in the day his villainous status is revealed. Kristatos’ assassin henchmen, played by the likes of John Wyman and a pre-Tywin Lannister Charles Dance, are infinitely more menacing in the film’s myriad impressive action sequences.

The issue is that, despite boasting some of the best action in the entire Bond franchise to that point, there’s nothing to string it together. The central investigation is a bland one and the characterisation is severely lacking. As a result, For Your Eyes Only almost seems to hit the pause button in between its action moments and often drags.

In fact, the grittier tone of For Your Eyes Only, which was commonplace during the Connery era, is rather ill-fitting for Roger Moore, particularly given the star’s advancing age at this point. Moore was 53 when the film was released, which rather alarmingly puts him 30 years older than his main female co-star. At this point, a more campy and exaggerated Bond was just about the only way Moore could be believed in the role.

There’s a clear and obvious disconnect between the way Moore plays Bond – as a breezy, fast-talking quip machine – and the way the character acts in the gritty environs of For Your Eyes Only. Nowhere is this more clear than in a scene in which Bond pushes a man in his car off the side of a rock verge, quipping on the way down. It feels really tonally wrong and Moore has since gone on record as saying that he objected to the scene at the time of filming.

 

Forgettable females

In general, For Your Eyes Only fails to provide any depth to its female characters, who are the epitome of generic “Bond girls”. Carole Bouquet gets very little to chew on as Melina, despite a promisingly badass start, and is eventually relegated to a mere hanger-on as Bond and a band of men mount an assault on Kristatos’ hilltop lair.

 

Lynn-Holly Johnson plays irritating flirt Bibi in For Your Eyes Only

"You get your clothes on… and I’ll buy you an ice cream."

 

Faring even worse, though, is Lynn-Holly Johnson as ice skating protege Bibi, who is one of the worst female characters in the history of Bond. With her grating accent and the alarming jokes about her age and virginity, the character serves no purpose to the narrative and does little other than shed her clothes and hop into bed.

It’s a real shame that, only two films after the terrific Agent Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me, the Bond franchise has regressed to the bland and ineffective female characters that were so common in the early days of the franchise.

 

Critical orbit

On its day of release in June 1981, For Your Eyes Only broke the all-time record for an opening day at the box office at any cinema. It eventually grossed in excess of $50m, becoming the second highest-grossing Bond film after its predecessor – Moonraker – which seemed to vindicate the grittier approach taken in the production of the film.

At the time of release, The Guardian criticised the film for being “too long” and moving far too slowly in between the stunts and action sequences. The Daily Express were also critical of the film, but also admired the “touch of credibility” that had been absent from other recent Bond films. Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail despised the film, calling it “repellant” and putting it on their list of the year’s worst films.

More recent reviews continue to focus on the forgettable nature of the film, with Empire’s Ian Nathan giving it only two stars in 2011. Den of Geek described the film as a post-Moonraker “palate cleanser” and criticised the unmemorable villain. Danny Peary called the film “standard Bond fare” with only some “exciting moments” in Guide for the Film Fanatic.

 

Bond drives a Lotus in For Your Eyes Only

"I’m afraid we’re being out-horse-powered."

 

The film is certainly a step up from Moonraker, which remains one of the worst Bonds of all time, but For Your Eyes Only deserves credit for its commitment to grounding Bond a little more in reality, even if it proved somewhat ill-fitting for a lead actor who was really beginning to show his age. Unfortunately, that’s not something that would continue in future instalments.

Next time, Roger Moore dresses as a clown in Octopussy.

 

What do you think of For Your Eyes Only? Does Moore’s Bond suit a grittier, Connery-esque tale? Let me know in the comments section and keep your eyes peeled for an early new Bond Reloaded this week.

You can read my look back at Moonraker here and find other Bond Reloaded articles here.

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