The statement praising For Your Eyes Only as the film that “brought 007 back down to Earth” after the excess of Moonraker rings true in more ways than one. Gone was the massive “save the world” plot, gone were the gadgets, and gone was the immense concentration on spectacle that took James Bond all the way out into outer space. Instead, for Roger Moore’s fifth turn as 007, For Your Eyes Only centers around a rush for an ATAC device after it sinks with a British ship off a Greek coast. It is one of the long-running series’ last Cold War plots, with double crosses, illegal deals, and uncertain identities in tow.
While For Your Eyes Only’s efforts to “bring Bond back down to Earth” are often pleasantly effective, with Roger Moore delivering a splendid turn, blending his suave, established 007 persona with a harder edge, there is also an undeniable sense of something lost. Gone is the double-take pigeon, but also gone is the extravagance and spectacle of the Lewis Gilbert era. Cinematographer Alan Hume’s work looks bland and lifeless in comparison to Jean Tournier’s lush and vibrant visuals, and the lack of Ken Adams’ legendary production design and John Barry’s ethereal music is sorely felt.
This turn into the 1980s brought with it a director change as well. John Glen, an editor on previous Bond films, entered the scene as a workmanlike director with his focused firmly placed on action, eschewing stylistic flourishes for practicality and tight, thrilling action sequences. Indeed, the film’s action, following the plot from Spain to Italy to Greece, stands as some of the strongest in the series. The finale, featuring Bond climbing an angled cliff to reach a villain’s hide out, rivals the most suspenseful moments of the franchise. Glen also paces the film briskly, although a snooze-inducing extended underwater sequence involving battle subs breaks the pace, and not even Bill Conti’s lively time capsule of a music score can revive it. Nevertheless, although the film begins with a tasteless Blofeld cold opening, Glen stages an astonishing helicopter sequence depicting Bond hanging onto the outer frame as it soars around London.
In a way, this opening sequence is emblematic of the film as a whole. Although screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson construct a firm plot with interesting characters (Topol’s Colombo ranks as one of the series’ finest supporting players) they seem unwilling to commit fully to their own idea of re-grounding James Bond. Thus, occasional flashes of silliness spring up jarringly, and John Glen is unable to effectively balance gritty tension with levity. Nonetheless, while Glen’s first crack at Bond fails to reach the franchise’s heights, For Your Eyes Only stands as a superb 007 Cold War thriller, full of suspense and Roger Moore at his best.