Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: No Time To Die won’t be hitting theaters, but you can still enjoy some vintage 007 action.
With a title like that, the producers of the James Bond franchise must have known they were setting themselves up for derision. Octopussy easily ranks as the silliest name of any of the Bond films, and Albert G. Broccoli and Michael Wilson could’ve been forgiven for leaning hard in a more serious direction as a way to compensate. Instead, they went the opposite route: Released toward the end of the period when the British secret agent was played by Roger Moore—an actor who had already transformed the nature of the franchise with his sly, winking performances—Octopussy features what might be his campiest turn in the tux. It also features some very silly gadgets from Q, and a tone that walks right up to the edge of self-parody without tipping over into complete ridiculousness. All of which makes it one of the most enjoyably over-the-top outings of mid-period 007.
Although the title comes from Ian Fleming’s short story collection Octopussy And The Living Daylights, the plot barely recalls the source material. It’s outlandish right from the start, as Bond escapes Communist soldiers by disappearing behind a fake horse butt in a moving animal trailer and exploding out of it in a miniature plane. (Yes, really.) Even the basic facts of the story beggar belief: After MI6 agent 009 collapses dead in the home of the British ambassador to Berlin, clutching a fake Fabergé egg, Bond is dispatched to investigate an auction selling the real thing. He tracks back to India an exiled Afghan prince, Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), whom he discovers is working with Soviet General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) to expand Russian control in Europe. They’re selling fake riches like the egg to finance the operation, in tandem with a wealthy businesswoman named Octopussy who lives on a floating palace populated only by women. Soon, Bond is dressed as a clown and infiltrating a circus to disarm a nuclear weapon before it explodes, which everyone somehow assumes would trigger disarmament, leaving Europe’s borders unguarded and ripe for invasion.
All of that absurdity belies just how delightfully engaging the whole thing is, as a series of increasingly ludicrous set pieces that volley the roguish spy from one close call to another, like a dapper, slightly tipsy Indiana Jones. The film doesn’t even bother to try and sell Bond’s sexiness or strength, instead having Moore (already 55) lackadaisically amble through the narrative without the slightest concern that any woman would find him anything but deadly sexy, despite a literal clown suit and a profound lack of action-star vigor. The why-not approach peaks with a climactic sequence in which Octopussy’s followers attempt to secretly infiltrate Khan’s compound, only to have Bond and Q fly into the middle of the action in a hot-air balloon bearing the Union Jack.
As the embodiment of James Bond at his most cartoonishly audacious, Octopussy is basically the forbearer of the current Fast & Furious franchise, a universe where logic and realism is jettisoned in favor of the most rollicking good time imaginable by a creative brain trust intent on consequence-free adrenaline rushes at the expense of all else. Moore would only assume the moniker one more time (in the not-quite-serviceable A View To A Kill) before Timothy Dalton took the series in a more serious direction. But this Bond escapade fits the mold of the Hollywood blockbuster as Spielberg and Lucas had just refashioned it, turning formerly suave Brit cool into over-the-top adventurism.