The Spy Who Loved Me Retro Review: Blunderball
And we’re back with the James Bond series. Yes, it’s been a minute since we did this. Number one, I really didn’t enjoy the last one, as you can tell from my Retro Review of The Man with the Golden Gun. And number two, I had some personal stuff. (I was trying to irradiate Fort Knox.) Anyway, let’s Retro Review the heck out of The Spy Who Loved Me.
By the way, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then you should start like James Bond does with Dr. No. Essentially, though, this is a series in which I review retro stuff and I’m currently working my way through the James Bond canon. Pretty complicated, I know. Joshua has also legally mandated that I tell you that I knew nothing about James Bond beyond what everyone knows, like the catchphrases and the famous lines–“I want you to die,” etc. On to the love!
Our Love Is Nuclear: A Plot Summary of The Spy Who Loved Me
I know y’all will find this hard to believe, but there’s a madman out there that wants to take over the world. Yes, I know–this is a brand-new James Bond plot. This time, the madman in question is Karl Stromberg (Curt Jürgens). And yes, it feels like they’re running out of good names for bad guys. Anyway, he wants to destroy the existing world with nukes, then rule over Atlantis. Uh, not the ancient mythical city, but one he’s built in the ocean.
More specifically, he wants to nuke New York City and Moscow simultaneously, using captured submarines from the UK and the Soviet Union, respectively. They’ll blame each other, which will trigger World War III, and with it, complete nuclear annihilation. All the while, Stromberg will be safe in Atlantis. Is that scientifically accurate? Well, probably more so than hiding in a fridge.
image via Eon Productions/United Artists
Anyway, MI-6 gets the first hint of this plan when someone starts shopping a submarine tracking system. They dispatch Jim, but he’s not the only one on the case. The Soviet Union sends Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach)–KGB codename: Triple X, OF COURSE–to get her hands on the plans. She is a beautiful, capable, and saucy woman, so I’m sure there will be no improprieties between her and the United Kingdom’s horniest secret agent.
Cut to like, five minutes later, when they’re sparring in Egypt. And by “sparring,” I mean actual fighting, although you should know how this is going to go by now. She’ll be frosty, he’ll keep making single entendres, and the last shot of the movie will be him, checking her mouth for poison. With his mouth.
Bonding Agent: The World of James Bond Continues
Normally, this is where I’d talk about what this movie added to the canon. But as I’ll discuss further in the review section, The Spy Who Loved Me feels largely like a retread. Q is here, for instance, but mostly to make anxious noises and deliver his own catchphrase imploring James to pay attention. However, his appearance in this film is notable for two reasons.
Number one, this is the first time someone addresses Q by his actual rank and name, Major Boothroyd. (Amasova has the honors.) And number two, he delivers a pretty cool gadget. Actually, “gadget” is too small to accurately describe it, because he gives James an underwater car. Named Wet Nellie (in a callback to Little Nellie), it’s a Lotus Esprit S1 that’s been converted into a submarine. And I could tell you who owns it now, but I don’t care to. Moving on.
Maybe the Bondology is where this film distinguishes itself from its predecessors. Because like the Major Boothroyd mention, there’s something special about the theme song, too. That song, “Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon, is the first Bond theme not to share a title with the film. The title is in the lyrics, though: “The spy who loved me/Is keepin’ all my secrets safe tonight.”
And as far as Bond themes go, it’s fine. They are as apparently proud of it as “Live and Let Die,” as like that song, it reappears throughout this movie. But it’s no “Live and Let Die.” It’s really no “You’re So Vain,” the ne plus ultra of Carly Simon songs in my opinion. That tune is packed with clever lines and surprising references–who would ever think a great pop song would mention Nova Scotia? This movie’s song, on the other hand, features lyrics that sound like Kiss rejected them from “Love Gun.” Like, “There’s some kind of magic inside you/That keeps me from runnin’/But just keep it comin’.” (And yes, it’s incredible that there hasn’t been a James Bond movie called Love Gun.)
The Spy Who Loved Me Retro Review
It’s hard to think of things to say about a movie that doesn’t really have that much to say. I know that other critics have been generous with this film–it currently has 81% approval at Rotten Tomatoes, for instance. I’ve also read that it was Roger Moore’s favorite of his Bond films. But ain’t our differences what makes us special?
Because I did not love this one, I say, diplomatically. For one thing, as I’ve already hinted–in bold neon–there’s a sameness to this movie. When I first read a brief plot summary, for example, I saw a blurb about underwater stunts. My first thought was, ah, here we go again. That’s because the underwater shenanigans in Thunderball were one of the things I really disliked about that movie.
Then when I was writing out my own plot summary above, the familiarity struck me. I was like, haven’t I seen a James Bond movie with a nuclear angle? Yes, I have. It was in Thunderball! We’re only ten movies in and we’re already repeating plots. That actually wouldn’t be that big of a deal under normal circumstances. I don’t mind seeing a variation on a theme if it’s interesting. But there’s nothing really new here, including the fact that I’ve already said that in this review.
image via Eon Productions/United Artists
But look, I get it. James Bond movies were still big earners, so I’m sure there was a strong “if it ain’t broke” attitude behind the scenes. However, this movie also brings to mind another well-worn phrase regarding the definition of insanity. (In case you are firmly wedged under your rock, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.)
So, while I can understand that they were hesitant to stray from the formula, I’m not asking for a wild deviation. Just enough to make it fun. Live and Let Die, as well as Diamonds Are Forever, are variants on the basic Bond recipe. Still, they worked for me, because they were engaging. This movie, on the other hand, just goes on.
It feels like they keep billing each subsequent one as the biggest yet, as if that’s a selling point. It’s not. Instead, in this case, at least, it’s bursts of action punctuating a lot of tedium, and it lasts about a half hour too long. Jaws (Richard Kiel) was kinda fun, though. But that’s just my opinion. As always, tell me yours in these comments or on our social media. And join me for the next Bond adventure, which took a cue from Star Wars, which released the same year as this movie, inspiring a dang space story?! They made me sit through a Thunderball redux to see some space stuff??? Aw, man.
The Spy Who Loved Me is available for rent through various platforms.
Give us your review of The Spy Who Loved Me in the comments below and let us know if you’re with Roger Moore on this being your favorite of his films as 007.
featured image via Eon Productions/Universal Artists
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at [email protected]