Plot Quality: For Your Eyes Only has a strong story. It begins with a British fishing trawler, the St. Georges, striking a mine and sinking. This trawler also happened to be a spy ship, and it sinks before the crew is able to destroy a communications system (the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC)) which would let the Russians redirect Britain’s Polaris submarines if they had it. The British send noted marine archeologist Sir Timothy Havelock to search for the ship while pretending he’s examining ancient underwater ruins. He gets killed. Naturally, Bond is sent in to investigate.
In fact, For Your Eyes Only signals that this is what it’s doing right in the opening. The film opens with Moore escaping an assassination attempt from Blofeld, who uses a remote control helicopter. Bond turns the tables on Blofeld. And right before he dies, Blofeld spits out a truly stupid line: “I’ll buy you a delicatessen... in stainless steel!” Bond then dumps him down a chimney stack to his death. Roll credits, begin the film. This feels like a statement. A lot of people see it as a shot at Kevin McClory, who claimed ownership of the Blofeld character, but really this feels like a statement that the ridiculous Bond was finished. All the silliness got tossed down that chimney and from here on out, there would be no more clownery... Bond would become a serious spy in the mold of the best Connery had to offer. And that is exactly what happens. Observe.
Bond Quality: This is Moore’s fifth film and it’s the first one he took seriously since Live and Let Die. And in the scenes where he’s playing the spy opposite Kristatos, Columbo or Locque, he does an excellent job. This time, he doesn’t come across as prissy or snippy. Instead, he plays the character in a relentless, professional manner that is reminiscent of Dr. No. And for once, he’s physical. You also actually believe he can kill someone in cold blood in this film. And in fact, he does that to Locque, in a scene that’s unlike anything in his prior films as he mercilessly pushes the man over the cliff. He is what Connery was in Dr. No... suave and cool, but also professional, cold-blooded and merciless.
Villain Quality: Julian Glover is an accomplished actor at playing villains in big budget films. He was Gen. Veers in The Empire Strikes Back and Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He even tested for Bond before Moore got the role. And he does an excellent job as Kristatos. Kristatos is a well-connected Greek businessman and informant for MI-6. His loyalty appears beyond question, yet Glover injects just enough ego into Kristatos that you wonder what he’s really up to. There is also something off in the way he acts toward Bibi and her handler, which belies the grandfatherly proclamations and suggests a villainous core. These acting choices give real depth to the character, something you rarely have in Bond villains.
His scheme is highly believable as well. Indeed, just as with From Russia With Love, this is exactly the kind of thing audiences think spies are busy doing all the time. And the stakes, though probably phony, are presented as sufficiently high and sufficiently believable to present the audience with a good deal of tension: “If the Russians get this, then they can launch British nuclear missiles!” Those are big stakes, and the film does an excellent job of making the action which underpins the plot feel believable as well. This time, there is no army of unexplainable henchmen, no volcano lair, no nonsense plan to destroy the planet, and no insanity in Kristatos’s character. He is simply a smuggler and a traitor who wants to recover something the Soviets would want very, very badly. That makes him an excellent villain.
But they didn’t. And that’s why this film sits at No. 007 of 0023.