Live and Let Die: When I’m on a plane, I usually just want to tune out and pretend I’m literally anywhere else until the plane lands again. The cramped space, the sweaty passengers, crying babies- I hate all of it. I can’t even pass the time playing games on my phone, I find it so hard to concentrate. No Fair Go casino bonuses on the go for me, sadly.
Short of taking Valium, I usually like to download my own movies onto my phone/tablet/laptop, and just check out of reality for a while. But WHAT to watch? There are only certain kinds of movies that I can sit through on a plane. I find it hard to take serious dramas seriously when I’m so uncomfortable and cramped. Horror movies lose their effect when I’m surrounded by so many people. The solution? Something light-hearted and cheesy.
James Bond is a bit of a controversial character in this day and age. You’ll find fans that absolutely adore him, to haters that despise him, to people that simply feel he reflects a different time. I sort of fall into that last category. This is mostly because of what James Bond is and what he represents.
The character is an archetype of extreme masculinity. He’s smart, resourceful, dangerous, and cool. He constantly puts his life on the line to stop dangerous men in the name of queen and country. He’s confident because doubt and hesitation could lead to his death. He lies, cheats, and kills to get the job done. He’s enigmatic, fit, with a dark core underneath the veneer of British charm.
Most appealing of all (or most deplorable, depending on who you ask) is his way with women. Jame’s Bond is an absolute horndog, and his unflappable confidence (combined with the inability to take ‘no’ for an answer) leads him to have one of the highest lay counts in fiction.
Jame’s Bond embodies a lot of what men dream of being. Confident, cool, and good with women. Although, as much as I love the character, I do have to admit that he may have a habit of walking into just a few too many random women’s showers throughout his career. For the character’s detractors, this is a perfect example of “toxic masculinity”- a nonsense term that usually means that anything manly is bad. If you want to say James Bond is a bit rapey, just say that. Don’t make up new terms for it.
Anyway, rant over. I recently decided to put on an old favourite of mine, “Live and Let Die”. Rewatching it made me realize a few things: One, the movie is completely politically incorrect in every way, to the point where even I have to point it out. Two, it’s so bad it’s hilarious and redeems itself in every way. And three, this is a blacksploitation film, from the Roger Moore era when James Bond was willing to try anything (Moonraker came out right around when Star Wars did…)
The plot begins with the murder of three MI6 agents within 24 hours of each other. James Bond is brought to New York in order to investigate and team up with the CIA to track down and stop the men responsible. All three agents were involved in a case investigating Dr. Kananga, a dictator of a small Caribbean island called San Monique.
The island hosts a resort where tourists can come and enjoy voodoo shows and contortionists and fire eaters, which is neat, right up until the part where all the black guys on the island genuinely believe in it all and run around in robes and loincloths.
The trail leads James Bond to Harlem, where he discovers a crime boss named Mr. Big and runs several restaurants. The question is, what do Mr. Big and Dr. Kanaga have in common with one another?
In their employ is the enigmatic fortune teller, Solitaire, named in the standard blunt way that Bond women are. She’s a tarot reader, capable of predicting the future by drawing cards. As in, she really can predict the future. For real.
Until she loses her virginity. And with James Bond around, that’s more of a matter of “when” rather than “if”. Dr. Kananga uses her foresight to stay ahead of the police and MI6, to continue his operation with Mr. Big- whatever that may be, and keeps her in line by threatening that if she disobeys, he’ll personally, ehm, “remove her power”.
I suppose the bottom line is, do I recommend this James Bond movie over others? Obviously, there are a lot of James Bond movies (over 25, if I’m not mistaken), so that question has a lot of leeways. I’d certainly recommend it over Moonraker, Spectre, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
However, it’s far from being a “good” movie by objective measures. The dialogue is corny, as typical of Roger Moore’s James Bond. However, this one is particularly bad (although I love it for it). The plot, like a lot of James Bond plots, can be at times overly-simplistic and confusingly intricate at the same time. We again have the recurring problems of villains spending a billion dollars on secret lairs to perform a scheme to acquire a million dollars. Classic bond villain, in other words.
In this movie, the scheme is that Dr. Kananga and Mr. Big are working together to produce heroin. Kanaga grows it on his island, then moves it to the United States, where Mr. Big distributes it. For some reason, this requires an underground, tricked-out cave system with a monorail network.
Live and Let Die is a perfect example of a studio jumping on the blaxploitation bandwagon of the era, where movies used black actors and historically black locations in an effort to encourage black viewers to spend at the box office. This isn’t really a problem when done well, although the only examples I can think of off the top of my head are Luke Cage and Black Dynamite. To be clear, blaxploitation isn’t just a film about black people, but one whose sole purpose is to be so black that (hopefully) black viewers will flock to see it.
Live and Let Die is very much in the latter category. The problem is that this movie gives the impression that every black person in America (aside from one, who works for the CIA) is a criminal involved with either Kananga or Mr. Big, from random taxi drivers to shoe shiners, to Kananga himself and all his minions on the island of San Monique (aside from Solitaire). It’s actually kind of hilarious, which is part of this movie’s stupid charm. It’s fun watching this movie, realizing that EVERY BLACK GUY IN AMERICA is part of the plot. It’s so funny.
Is it a bit racist? Uch, I hate that term. It’s been so overused that it’s almost lost meaning. However, in the actual definition of the word… yeaahhh. Does that mean that some people could take offense? Eh, probably. Does that make Live and Let Die a bad movie?
Ehhhhhh, that’s subjective. If you find this sort of thing humorous, this movie is a fun one to take the piss out of. Maybe you could even make a drinking game out of it. Take a drink every time a random black guy is revealed to be part of the villain’s crew. You’ll be dead past the opening five minutes, where an entire parade of people in New Orleans work together to murder a secret agent and hide the body.
But don’t worry, this movie doesn’t just rely on BLACK stereotypes! Wait until you meet the South Carolina sheriff and his brother Billy Bob. And guess what? He’s one of the only recurring characters in the James Bond canon, making a reappearance in The Man with the Golden Gun… which makes Live and Let Die one of the only James Bond movies to hold any sort of continuity, which just adds to the absurd appeal of this movie.
Normally, when I review movies and books, I like to delve into the characters. Good characters can make up for bad worldbuilding and plot, but not vice versa. By that rule, a movie like “Live and Let Die” lives or dies on whether or not you like James Bond going around being James Bond.
The villain also rides or dies on this. Do you enjoy watching Bond villains in their absurd lairs, orate about their schemes to get rich or take over the world? Although, as a side note, Mr. Big actually impressed me as one of the most competent James Bond villains in this regard. Bond attempts to introduce himself, and Mr. Big takes one look at him and replies with this amazing line, “Name’s is for tombstones, baby. Take him outside and waste him.”
No oration, no small talk. He just orders his minions to grab Bond and shoot him. While he doesn’t keep up this level of intelligence throughout the film, the fact that this is his first instinct upon seeing Bond makes Mr. Big far more competent and dangerous villain than most, if not all, of James Bond’s other infamous nemeses.
The other characters are barely even worth mentioning, though. There’s TeeHee, a villain with a claw arm that’s strong enough to crush metal. He’s fun. Then there’s Solitaire, whose only useful skill is removed five minutes after being alone with Bond. There’s Rosie, the most incompetent secret service agent since Johnny English. There’s Whisper, who can’t talk loudly, and is fat. Then there’s Baron Samedi, who contributes literally nothing to the overall plot or to Kanenga’s plan and may or may not be the avatar of an actual death spirit…?
The Biggest Win
However, better than everything else combined has got to be the soundtrack. This movie is worth watching, if for no other reason than to hear the music for this one. It’s so distinct and unique that it’s stuck around in my head for years after I’ve seen this movie. I guess that’s what you get when George Martin (not the Game of Thrones guy), who worked with the Beatles extensively, is in charge of the music.
6 / 10 Worth watching once because it’s hilarious. And racist. And hilarious. Will definitely take your mind off your annoying travel conditions for a couple of hours.
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