While “Moonraker” took Bond to the stars, and “For Your Eyes Only” took him back to Earth, Octopussy sort of is more of a middle-of-the-road Bond, mixing a complex plot involving Jewelry smuggling and rogue Russians with more of the globe-trotting and gadgets of Bonds like “You Only Live Twice” and “Spy Who Loved Me”. It also features another return to tradition with traditional Bond composer John Barry. It does share a few common links with it’s predecessor though-they’re both directed by John Glen who directed all the 1980’s Bond films, and also are indebted to Bond short stories, most notably Property of a Lady and the title story, Octopussy (Which also formed part of the backstory for “Spectre” as I’ve detailed elsewhere).
Like with the earlier Roger Moore’s, there seems to be a bit of pop culture influence with the locales seeming even more exotic than usual; in this case, the Indian setting of a good chunk of the film. The film also has sort of a self-deprecating sense of humor at times.
Moore plays the role once again with charm but it’s of course fairly obvious at this point he’s stretching believably as Bond, as he’s about 56 at this point. Although thankfully, it’s before the plastic surgery that made his eyes look kind of weird in “View to a Kill”. Originally, oddly enough, Moore wasn’t the first choice for Bond in this one, as they considered replacing him with actors such as James Brolin(!).
Thankfully, this is kind of offset by Maud Adams as the main-and title!-Bond girl, Octopussy, who is nearing 40 and seems more age-appropiate for Moore at this point. Maud previously appeared in another Bond film-The Man With the Golden Gun-as Scaramanga’s girlfriend (a different character), but she gets a much more prominent role here.
Although younger and therefore not quite as fitting for Moore’s elder Bond, I think Kristina Wayborn did a good job as well. There’s some slight ambigouity as to whose side she’s really on at points (more so than Octopussy) although when she realizes she’s being played later on she’s fully loyal to her.
Kamal Khan’s an interesting Bond villain, not quite as nutty as Drax or Stromberg, and has a mix of charm and menace that seems to be somewhat akin to the 1960’s era Bond villains like Dr.No, Goldfinger, and Largo with a bit of Blofeld (He even has a similar chinese suit).
His henchman, Gobinda, is another “strong and silent” type, and even smashes Bond’s dice in a similar way to Oddjob smashing Bond’s golf ball in “Goldfinger”.
Kamal’s co-conspirator, the rogue Russian General Orlov-played by Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo Villain Steven Berkoff-is quite over-the-top though!
The plot is a bit over-the-top; after the death of a fellow 00 (something which seems to happen a lot in these films) Bond is assigned to discover what the connection was to an Indian Jewelry smuggling operation. Turns out that Kamal and Orlov are planning to use Octopussy’s legitimate circus and jewel smuggling pipeline to smuggle a nuclear device onto an air force base where the circus is playing so Orlov’s forces can invade Europe.
This actually leads to one of the film’s most controversial scenes, where Roger Moore’s Bond goes undercover as a clown to sneak into the circus and defuse it before it’s too late. While some think it’s kind of stupid to see Bond in this kind of look, there’s a few things that are considerable about the scene:
- There’s sort of a sense of foreboding here, since Bond’s fellow 00 agent ended up dead in a clown suit, launching the plot in the first place.
- It’s actually a very tense scene, as nobody’s taking Bond’s warning’s seriously, convinced he’s either just a clown or crazy. It actually takes Octopussy’s recognizing that she’s been duped for Bond to save the day with literally seconds to spare. There are also many civilian families around in addition to the military personnel.
The film also makes a few minor changes to Bond’s supporting cast. We get a brief scene with Moneypenny introducing her replacement miss Smallbone. However, this is short-lived, as Lois Maxwell would still play Moneypenny in View to A Kill before being replaced with the younger Caroline Bliss in “The Living Daylights”.
Somewhat more permanent-at least until 1989-is Robert Brown as M. It’s not quite clear if he’s meant to be the same M as Bernard Lee, or another in the same position (He previously played an Admiral in the Spy Who Loved Me, and it’s assumed by some that this admiral is the new M).
Q actually has a slightly larger role this time around in India, keeping watch on Octopussy’s island and helping in the raid on Kamal’s fortress at the end of the film. He even helps Magda and a bunch of the other Octopussy circus girls from being shot via his Union Jack hot air balloon. Bond and Q are also given a fun-but unfortunately short-lived-sidekick with Vijay (A real-life Tennis star turned actor).
Octopussy of course has a bit more silliness than “Eyes”. Octopussy’s “Octopus cult” group of smugglers/jewel smugglers/female commandos is a bit on the goofy side.
Especially since I can’t help but think of this with their outfits:
And of course much has been made of the famous Horse’s ass entry of the acrostar jet:
and after Bond’s mission is completed, him stopping at an old gas station to “Fill ‘er up, please.”
and most notably the jungle safari scene, where Bond manages to tame a lion, do a tarzan swing (complete with the yell), and tell a snake to “hiss off” among other things. Still, it’s bellied with a bit of tension kind of like the clown scene earlier.
The film’s also more gadget heavy. In addition to the Acrostar and Union jack balloon previously mentioed, there’s also Bond’s Seiko watch with a tracking device, and this Indian taxi-in fact a “company car” used by the Indian branch of MI6. There’s also an alligator sub which is briefly used
The Indian setting’s cool too. The German setting is a bit less exotic but does allow for some laughs, and one of those ‘what the?” onlooking scenes that the Roger Moore films tend to have, as Bond drives Orlov’s stolen car on the train tracks.
Overall, Octopussy is more of a return to a traditional Bond, but a very enjoyable film all the same-if you can get past it’s sillier aspects.