Remembering Roger Moore
My Introduction to James Bond
Roger Moore was never my James Bond.
I became a fan of James Bond in the late 90's and early 00's when Pierce Brosnan had converted the spy into a full-fledged sci-fi action hero. I was 11 years old when Die Another Day came to theaters. If scientists could reverse engineer a James Bond movie from what 11-year-old boys like, it would be Die Another Day. Space lasers, car chases on ice, Hallie Barrie, this film ticked all the boxes. It was also terrible. But I didn't mind. I was 11.
For the next four years, until I was 15, I became a Sean Connery man. I dabbled with Roger Moore, and I thought his movies were perfectly enjoyable. But I liked the idea of being a purist. I worked my way through most, if not all, of the Bond cannon between 2002 and 2006, and Conery felt right to me. My friends were all Roger Moore fans, and it made me feel good and smug to tell them that Connery was a superior 007. That he'd done it first, and that Moore was only ever trying to be Connery.
And if I liked that line of argument, you can imagine how insufferable I was when I discovered Never Say Never Again. Connery! Playing Bond in 1983! I look back on this and blame my age for my naiveté. I didn't know about that MGM and Eon had with Kevin McClory, which lead to McClory making Never Say Never Again. Certainly, I didn't understand the ass-backwards nature of claiming to like Connery for purist sentiment and then endorsing Never Say Never Again. But I didn't understand a lot of things. I was a child.
Bond, in the time of Daniel Craig
In 2006 Daniel Craig became Bond, and the world turned upside-down. I was 15, and apprehensive about this light-haired 007 and how it fit into the story. Hollywood hadn't explored the idea of a reboot yet, and I was too hung up on it. This movie seemed to be undoing all the films that had come before it. I didn't want to like it, only for that reason. But it was too good. I was hooked. For nine years I cried to the heavens about Daniel Craig and the new age of Bond.
And then, in 2015, it happened. I went to see Spectre on opening night. And I was furious. It was as far a cry from everything I enjoyed about Craig as possible. I wanted the grimdark, the menace, the urgency that MGM had crafted so well in the previous films. I was perfectly indignant that, while I had spent years defending The Quantum of Solace, MGM and Eon had betrayed me in Spectre.
To be fair, there was a lot wrong with Spectre. It was an imperfect film, tasked with following up the impossibly good Skyfall. But the problems with Spectre weren't the problems I was so upset about in 2015. The problems were that the plot was too contrived and the execution was poor. The reason I was upset, however, was because it was silly.
Finding Roger Moore
In my youth, this had always been my condemnation of the Moore era. His films were silly and therefore less worthy of a place on the mantel. His were the most absurd villains, the most absurdly named women. He was the one with a parachute that looked like the Union Jack. And now, Daniel Craig was falling out of a building onto a perfectly placed couch. I had never been able to abide this kind of tom-foolery when I was 13, and I was certainly not going to abide it now, thank you very much.
For some reason though, when I should have been at my most viscerally defensive, I made an odd choice. I could not for the life of me try and explain it to you today. But after seeing Spectre and deriding it for being "a Roger Moore Bond movie," I decided to watch every Roger Moore Bond movie.
Starting with Live and Let Die, I worked my way through the entire Moore catalog. By the time I had finished A View to a Kill, every opinion I had held had changed. And not just my views on James Bond. But my views on cinema as an art form.
Understanding Roger Moore
The thing I learned from rewatching the Roger Moore Bond movies was that I had never disliked them because they were silly. I had disliked them because they were fun. Something about being a certain age at a certain time, watching certain movies had taught me that "good" movies had to be serious films. I had thought that having any fun detracted from the quality of a movie. It must have been the comparison of the Connery and Craig films to the Brosnan ones. That must've been the inception point for this frivolous idea.
In revisiting Moore's canon, I understood how silly all that was. Of all of the men to ever play 007, Roger Moore was the most like a super spy. Of course, his villains were absurd! That's why they were a job for Bond and not some lesser spy. Of course, his parachute looked like a Union Jack, because he did everything with 100% more panache than another man would. Moore's Bond loved being Bond.
On top of that, Moore's Bond solidified what it meant to be Bond. Under the guidance of a lesser actor, the longest running film franchise in history would have withered up and died in the 70's. Connery had fit the model, but Moore broke the mold. Without him, there would never have been a Dalton, or Brosnan, or Craig.
I regret that it took me the better part of 25 years to understand the importance of Roger Moore's James Bond. I am sorry even more that today, on the day of his death, I can only memorialize him as a man who played James Bond.
But I am proud that tonight or any night between now and the end of my own time, I will be able to sit and watch The Spy Who Loved Me. And I am proud that I will lift my martini glass in a toast of uproarious laughter when that Union Jack parachute pops out. And I am proud that I will think to myself "That's what being a spy is all about." Because when it comes to being a spy, nobody does it better...