In the comments on my Diamonds Are Forever post, there was some controversy over my statement that Moonraker is the dumbest James Bond movie ever. A couple of people pointed out that that title should go to Die Another Day, and they have a point, but here's my rationale: I cannot watch Die Another Day enough to really know how dumb it is. I know it's dumb. But it's also unwatchable, so the full extent of its stupidity is not accessible to me, because I can't get through the whole thing. Whereas Moonraker is entertaining, so I can watch it and drink in its beginning-to-end dopiness, from the bird doing a double-take to Jaws finding romance (as Mad magazine pointed out, we're apparently expected to forget that he viciously murdered several people in the last movie) to the disco version of the theme song. So let's say that Moonraker is the dumbest Bond movie that you can actually stay awake through.
As you can tell, I have a real fondness for Moonraker even though I know it's bad. Unlike Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker doesn't have a plot that makes no sense; the plot is simple, not hard to follow, and exactly the same as the last Bond movie. The success of The Spy Who Loved Me was important for the franchise: not only was it the best and most successful Bond in several years, it kept the series viable in the new era of blockbusters, it finally restored the series to the cutting edge in at least some areas (stunts and set design), it showed Roger Moore finally coming into his own as Bond, and it proved that Cubby Broccoli could continue the series without his ex-partner Harry Saltzman. So, wanting to repeat the success of TSWLM, Broccoli and the TSWLM team -- headed by director Lewis Gilbert, the only Bond director of the Broccoli era who had made a major hit movie before Bond -- made the same film, beat for beat, while eliminating even the slight bits of substance or toughness that TSWLM had. Of course, even TSWLM was essentially a remake of Gilbert's You Only Live Twice -- villain captures American and Russian spaceships/submarines and brings them to gigantic lair with jaw-dropping Ken Adam design, plans to launch all-out nuclear war between America and Russia -- but most of what it takes from Twice, it does better, which is reason enough for doing it again. But really, all three of Lewis Gilbert's Bond movies have exactly the same plot and the same opening, and if you don't believe me, look at this little video I made:
But back to Moonraker. It doesn't even pretend to be an actual movie, insofar as an actual movie has characters and conflicts and tries to integrate its set-pieces into the plot. Instead it has the bare threads of TSWLM's plot, and uses that as a pretext for set-pieces that just sort of come out of nowhere and end without much rhyme or reason.
It doesn't even have some of the fringe benefits of other bad Bond movies. Except for the opening skydiving sequence, the stunts are not up to the best of the series. Nor does it have the kind of T&A compensation that other Bond movies do; this is one of those Bond movies where the women in the posters are more seductively dressed than in the film itself. (Poor Lois Chiles, already struggling with the problem of disguising her Texas accent -- if you've seen the DVD special features, have you ever noticed how much better and less stilted she sounds when she's using her own accent? -- is also saddled with some really unflattering jumpsuit-y outfits.) The special effects are okay, but space battles have the same problems as the underwater battles in Thunderball, except worse: slow battles by floating people aren't inherently exciting. And the final video-game zap-the-barrels sequence may be the most unsuspenseful climax ever, and, of course, it's yet another ripoff of TSWLM, which also had a scene like that (but had the sense not to make it the very last bit in the film). Except for the bit early on where you're wondering if the stuntman is going to be able to strap his parachute on, there is not a single moment in this movie that's even remotely suspenseful or gripping; it's just a two-hour parade of Ken Adam sets, like a fashion show with bad costumes where you're focusing on the excellence of the runway instead.
But, like I said, it's still watchable, unlike Die Another Day. Partly because it's the last Bond movie designed by Ken Adam, and there just isn't any substitute for Ken Adam at his most extravagant. (I think even movies as good as From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty's Secret Service suffer a bit from Adam's unavailability.) It's also in my opinion John Barry's last really good Bond score, including his last use of his wonderful "007" theme, and that helps pull me through it. And it's just so very good-natured and unpretentious in its desire to do anything to entertain; it wants you to like it so badly and will do anything to be liked, whether it's repeating the plot of a movie made two years earlier or turning a psychotic killer into a kid-friendly romantic comedy lead. I can't help but be a little charmed by a movie that's so anxious to be loved; today, when a blockbuster movie is bad, it's just loud and obnoxious, demanding our attention rather than giving us beautiful things to look at. Moonraker is like Lewis Gilbert's home movies reel of cool stuff Ken Adam built; that's enough to keep it out of Die Another Day purgatory.