I think everyone can agree that, while it wouldn’t be the last time, with Moonraker the Bond films got a bit silly. If a long running action spy series sends its heroes into space then you know they are demonstrably unable to answer the question ‘what on Earth can we do to make these films better?’ Moonraker was actually Fleming’s third 007 novel but the story of that one never leaves the planet. It doesn’t even leave the UK, being almost entirely set in and around Dover.
So like Casino Royale following Die Another Day later, the James Bond movies needed to become more grounded. Step up first time director John Glen with For Your Eyes Only. Glen had an impressive resume. He followed this with four more Bond films; the last two Moores and the two Daltons, but he had already worked as second unit director on Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and get this, Superman and The Italian Job. His time with Bond produced varied results but take out A View to a Kill and it was a pretty good run.
As well as being entirely Earthbound, For Your Eyes Only also reigns in the nature of the mission. No one is trying to destroy the world in this one; the aim is simply to retrieve a missile guidance doohickey and stop it falling into the hands of the Russians. The opening scene, where 007 drops a man who appears to be Blofield, the bad guy from four earlier Bond films, off a helicopter is clearly trying to draw a line under what came before. (The character couldn’t actually be named as Blofield for complicated legal reasons that were resolved in time for Christophe Waltz to play him 34 years later in Spectre.)
As it is, For Your Eyes Only might lose something in all of this. For good or for bad it does feel smaller than other Bond films, not yet finding the balance between ambition and action achieved in Licence to Kill and Casino Royale. Another thing it is missing compared to those films is character development. Carol Bouquet’s Melina Havelock, whose own mission coincides with Bond’s, is a little one dimensional, as is Topal’s Milos Columbo. Robbie Coltrane does more in ten minutes of screen time as the tentative ally in two of Brosnan’s films than Topol manages as third billing in this.
In lots of important respects Melina is written well though. A lot of female characters in Bond films get one moment where they knock the gun out of the hand of someone about to kill our hero before getting pushed to the floor and that is their lot. Melina though, while a little bland, is proactive and formidable all the way through. There is a good moment where on their first meeting Bond takes her by the hand as they run from danger but then when his car blows up and they have to use hers, she takes him by the hand and leads the way. There is also a nice beat in the subsequent chase where her usual stony expression breaks into a laugh which could be a sign of her remaining cool under pressure but I suspect is Bouquet briefly breaking character and it not getting cut out. It is also of note that at the start, when their objectives do not align, it is Bond who fails in his mission not her. It isn’t as if the man has not been caught out by a lady before but how often does he screw up an assignment? She is objectified on occasion; her wet suit has half the material of Bond’s, but this was still 1981. You can’t have everything.
There is also very little romance between them, they don’t actually get together physically until the very end and even then you don’t see them in bed together. Depending on how you want to read the images that play beneath the closing credits, they might have just gone for a swim. The other woman Bond doesn’t sleep with is Didi, the excitable charge of bad guy Kristatos. It seems she is too young for him which is a laugh because when has that ever stopped him and actually at 23, actor Lynn Holly Johnson was only a year younger than Carole Bouquet. Roger Moore incidentally was 54. No, this has to be a deliberate attempt to show some restraint on the part of the man because previously he has had sex with every woman that has been paraded in front of him, and sometimes they were literally paraded in front of him, (see my discussion of From Russia with Love and the Spy Who Loved Me). No, Didi’s big moment is knocking the gun out of the hand of someone about to kill our hero before getting pushed to the floor.
We have to talk about Julian Glover as Aristotle Kristatos too. This actor is an evil legend. Sure, he’s played good guys as well but in his career he has faced off against Bond, Indiana Jones and Doctor Who. He tried to destroy the Rebels on Hoth, he ordered his spider children to eat Harry Potter and he plotted against Daenerys Targaryen. I don’t think anyone can touch him when it comes to being a nemesis to genre heroes. Blofield? Pah!
For Your Eyes Only is one of the better Bond films then, if not perfect. I particularly like how the Olympic marksman and secret KGB agent can’t actually manage to shot Bond from twenty feet away. There is plenty to appreciate here tough and of course, it has the best theme song.