Growing up I'd always liked "The Man with the Golden Gun" and considered it to be among the more iconic "Bond" films. Being named after its gold-inclined villain, it certainly seemed like it belonged with "Goldfinger" and "Goldeneye," which was the first "Bond" film of my youth – whose corresponding video game featured the Golden Gun, which was very, very desirable in multiplayer shoot- outs. Revisiting the "Bond" films in order, it's clear that Eon Productions "Bond" film No. 9 is a film desperately clinging to a formula that it's grown very tired of.
"The Man with the Golden Gun" marks the third straight "Bond" for director Guy Hamilton and writer Tom Mankiewicz – three films in four years. Original "Bond" screenwriter Richard Maibaum also did work on the film, his seventh of what would be 13 "Bond" scripts. At some point, even the most comfortably tailored tuxedos start to wear down.
Based on Ian Fleming's last published "Bond" novel, "Golden Gun" sends 007 (Roger Moore) after the million-dollar assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), known for his golden gun (and never missing a target). His whereabouts are unknown, but an unusual bullet with Bond's name on it leads him to China, where he meets Scaramanga's mistress (Maud Adams), rendezvous with fellow agents including Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) and eventually ends up in Thailand after getting mixed up in a complicated plot revolving around a device that can harness the power of the sun.
"Golden Gun" has that classic globe-trotting goose chase feel of previous entries. The shooting locations are more stunning than usual and the production design (including a half-sunken ship that serves as a secret MI6 base) is top notch. But what moves Bond from A to B to C lacks a sense of urgency, clarity and purpose. "Diamonds are Forever" struggled similarly to link all the action set-piece pearls with an effective narrative thread.
"Golden Gun" features another boat chase on the Thai Klongs, another car chase with a wedged-in daredevil stunt and a pointless formal martial arts fight scene in an attempt to draw fans of '70s kung-fu movies. None of these are poorly done, but they lack for excitement. And there are not one, but two appearances by J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), an embarrassing blemish on Moore's first two "Bonds."
Learning that "Golden Gun" was made as producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli were having a falling out and that it was their final collaboration makes a degree of sense. The exotic locations and sets of "Golden Gun" hold a certain promise, yet there's a fierce clinging to the series hallmarks and formulas, a checking off of boxes, if you will. Ekland and Adams are stunning Bond girls, though Ekland's Goodnight is an utter ditz and the butt of a lot of jokes. Considering she's an MI6 agent, you'd think she'd be more guileful or an equal of Bond's. In one scene she claims she doesn't want to be his next "passing fancy" and the next she's in his bed.
Scaramanga is another missed opportunity. Although the great Christopher Lee makes him more interesting than the typical "Bond" villain, the chance for him to be the dark equal of Bond – who Bond could have been – is out there for the taking and even discussed, but by and large he gets treated like all the other "Bond" villains. He even has an unusual henchman by his side in Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize), a little person clearly in the mold of Oddjob from "Goldfinger" though half as menacing (that's not a size joke).
"The Man with the Golden Gun" has the feel of a "Bond" with a lot of potential squandered in the name of sticking to procedure. It's inoffensive and has a lot of nice pieces, but doesn't make the effort to be a standout entry, something a franchise can ill afford nine films in.
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