The worst of the James Bond series, worse than "Moonraker," even, "The Man With the Golden Gun" is an essay of how not to do a Bond movie. It almost sunk the series. After it, Harry Saltzman, half the team that had been producing Bond since the beginning (with Dr. No in 1962), left, and the film was a commercial failure. The Bond series had yet to prove it could be a viable franchise without Sean Connery.
To start with, we have the least interesting precredits sequence in the entire series. A really clumsy spy (he looks more like a business man) gets thrown into badguy Scaramanga's fun house where stupid things pop out from dark corners and prerecorded cackles of laughter ring out at random. Scaramanga shoots him.
Then we have the worst theme song of the series, sung by Lulu, who makes a pathetic attempt to sound like Shirley Bassey (who sang the theme songs for Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker). The song is a hopelessly dated disco fling with the least sophisticated lyrics imaginable. ("When you wanna get rid of someone! The man with the golden guuuun! . . . He'll shooooooot anyone! . . .")
Following that is a slow bore of a spy story with a rock bottom budget that shows. There's a very dated plotline about the seventies energy crisis and a solar powered plant, but it's not treated with any kind of sophistication or complexity or even sincerity -- it just seems to be thrown in to hide the fact that the story is no more complicated than "Bond has to find Scaramanga and kill him."
I concede that Scaramanga isn't a terrible villain. You can do a lot worse than Christopher Lee, and "Scaramanga" is possibly the best *name* for a villain in the whole series. But Lee is wasted in the role. There's no depth to his character, no wild eccentricities (none that are intriguing, anyway), and there is never a sense of danger when he's present. (The villain in the previous film, Kananga in "Live and Let Die," had this quality -- when he and his henchmen have Bond by his little finger, there is the very real sense that things could go for the worst.)
Nick Nack is Scaramanga's henchman. He's played by Harve Villechaize, from "Fantasy Island," and needless to say he doesn't exude any more menace. His disposal at the very end is an embarrassing attempt at comic relief.
The Bond girls are similarly ineffective. Maud Adams plays one of them -- she's a decent actress, but her character plays a minor part. (In a wise casting move, she returned later in the series as Octopussy.) The main Bond girl is played by the talentless Britt Ekland, whose wooden acting causes physical pain. Besides the bad acting, her character is whiny, incapable, irritating, and flat.
Even the character of Bond gets a raw deal. The script makes his character alternately nasty and cartoonish. Throughout the series, Bond has been interpreted in a number of different ways, but using multiple interpretations in the same film is jarring.
Among the embarrassing stupidities in the film: (1) two girls come out of nowhere and beat up an entire advanced karate school class, (2) Redneck sheriff J. W. Pepper (from "Live and Let Die") just happens to bump into Bond while vacationing in the Far East, then sticks around to insert slapstick comedy just where it isn't needed, (3) the big stunt consists of a car jumping a river and spinning upside down and then right side up again -- to the film's credit, the stunt is legitimate, but the slide whistle sound that plays during it is laughable, and (4) the "climactic" finale consists of Bond nonchalantly shooting Scaramanga, once, killing him.
It's hard to imagine how this James Bond series entry could have gone more wrong. I'm happy they got the act together by the next film (if the next film had failed too, the series would have ended right there), but "The Man With the Golden Gun" remains the black sheep of the lot.