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“Haha, you amuse me, Mister Bond”; The James Bond blogs: ‘A View to a Kill’ (1985)

18 Jun

I’m more liable to give A View to a Kill a more positive opinion these days than I once did, but it’s still one of the weaker Bond films. It wasn’t quite the high point at which Roger Moore should have left the series, but I still think it’s a better film than most people would have you believe. Both this film and Octopussy have long had quite poor reputations, but they are far from without merit. If it wasn’t for the inappropriate humour, I’d marginally consider Octopussy to be the better film, because in A View to a Kill there are some moments were Bond’s adventures start to resemble an uninspired TV movie.

But despite any positive points, Octopussy was seriously marred by Moore’s fatuous portrayal of 007 and his performance here is an improvement. While he’s not as good here as he was in For your eyes only, he still displays more of his wit and sly charm than his silly side. In this film he leaves all we loved (or loathed) about his Bond to posterity. I still think he was a great James Bond, but very much a Bond of the 1970s and early ‘80s. His tenure is a right mixed bag of the sublime (The spy who loved me) and the ridiculous (the worst parts of Moonraker and Octopussy) with lots of shades in-between. He played the role with his tongue firmly in his cheek, but there were moments where you could tell he was capable of playing Bond with a bit of gravitas. But, as his View to a Kill co-star Patrick Macnee commented, Moore was great at light comedy. Sadly, this could often degenerate into a whimsical portrayal that seemed at odds with the character created by Fleming and later brought to life by Connery and Lazenby (or even early pre-cinema Bond actors Bob Holness and Barry Nelson). Fleming purists might resent Moore for that, but he certainly made the role his own for 12 years.

Up the Eiffel Tower in a tuxedo. Like you do.

A View to a Kill starts promisingly with Bond on a mission in Siberia. Those pesky Russians are soon pursuing him, and the time is right for some ski action. Sadly, just when you think this film might be a triumphant return to form we get a blatant example of the kind of unwelcome cheesy humour that marred Octopussy. As he shoots down the slope on one ski, a blast of The Beach boys replaces John Barry’s music just in time for Bond skirting across an expanse of water. We’re meant to be laughing, but most of us will be groaning. Then we have a ludicrous looking mini-sub, disguised as an iceberg. Or at least ice bergs that look like plastic resin. In side, Bond’s colleague sets a course while James pours her some champagne. Why the inside of an MI6 issued sub is fitted out like Hugh Hefner’s bedroom is beyond me, but this is a Bond film after all. What rescues the film at this point, and grabs my attention, is Duran Duran’s energetic theme song. It’s a nice return to the more ‘rockier’ style of song, as opposed to the ‘easy listening’ direction of most themes. The title sequence is a bit of a mess though. As if to compliment the music, the titles look like an early Duran video- all day-glo paint and dated electronic effects. Not Maurice Binder’s finest moment. But, whatever you think of the first part of the movie, it’ll probably grab your attention and you’ll probably be keen to see where Roger Moore’s swansong will take him. However, there are times in A View to a Kill where Moore looks like he’d be quite happy having a sit down and a cup of tea. He doesn’t always cut a dashing figure in this outing, and he was wise to call it a day. Saying that, he looks in his element earlier in the film. This is when he infiltrates the villain’s horse auction. He’s charming, witty and cunning. Roger at his best.

Zorin and May Day- both definitely two currants short of a fruit cake.

We also meet Tanya Roberts’ character, Stacey Sutton, whose father had been one of the villain’s financial victims. She’s a Bond girl who looks like a slip of a girl next to Moore’s more mature 007. Not the greatest piece of casting, although Roberts does her best. She’s not the most interesting Bond girl, though, and reminds me a bit of the worst ‘70s ‘bimbo’ Bond girls. The pairing also throws into relief how much better Maud Adams and Moore looked together in Octopussy. The Bond villain this time is Christopher Walken, who I’ll happily watch in anything. He’s also the only actor to previously win an Oscar, who went on to play a villain in a Bond film, if that counts for anything. Like Christopher Lee’s turn as Scaramanga, over a decade before, Walken is the villain in a below-par Bond adventure and is actually one of the best things about it. At times Walken’s performance actually lifts the film, and it would have been far worse off without him. His character, Max Zorin, is a rich industrialist who carries on the tradition of wealthy lunatics, which were a hallmark of the Roger Moore years. Zorin is also a touch psychotic, and the scene where he guns down his dispensable employees pretty much sums up the character. He’s charming and likable as well, and never seems to get angry. If things take a turn for the worse he either gets more ruthless or seems to find the situation utterly amusing. It’s this flippancy that makes him dangerous, and Walken plays him very well (not that this kind of role is a big stretch for him). The role of the villain’s henchman is redefined quite originally for this one. The statuesque presence of Grace Jones adds a touch of novelty, and Grace is actually very good. She’s as hard as nails, but there is some depth to the character. Later in the film, Zorin (her lover) double-crosses her and her reaction is an understandable one of anger and hurt. Still, the idea of Grace Jones and Roger Moore in bed doesn’t quite gel in my mind. Luckily such relations aren’t dwelt upon for long!

Another breath of fresh air in this film is Patrick Macnee, who adds a touch of class to many a dog-eared production. I still smile at my Dad’s appraisal of the film one time, when he exclaimed “They’re all in this one!” By “all” he was referring to those icons of ‘60s spy cool, Simon Templar from The Saint and John Steed from The Avengers, the other roles Moore and Macnee played respectively. The two are old friends and work colleagues, and the on screen chemistry is very warm. Macnee plays Sir Godfrey Tibbit, who helps Bond out on the mission. The scenes where they both go undercover, and Tibbit poses as Bond’s butler, are very amusing. Apparently a lot of the dialogue was adlibbed by Moore, who has far more talent that we usually give him credit for. Sadly, time was no longer on Moore’s side, as there was a distinct feeling that the times were changing. The pairing of Moore and Macnee reminds us of the kind of stylish screen heroism that had been eclipsed by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan, Mel Gibson’s Mad Max or Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. As if to drive the point home, Macnee’s character is swiftly disposed of by Grace Jones’ May Day, less than half way into the film. Yet, the film bottles out here as well. By giving us a strong female (physically and mentally) in May Day, we are almost promised a showdown between Bond and Day. This never really happens, and May Day meets her fate by teaming up with Bond and letting herself be blown up to save the day. It’s almost as if having Bond get his backside kicked by a woman was never going to be acceptable. On the other hand, a ‘heavy’ like Jaws would probably live to make another appearance. It speaks volumes about the gender roles, for better or worse, in a Bond picture.

The story involves Zorin’s plan to flood ‘Silicon valley’ in California, by setting off a gargantuan earthquake. The plot has several points in common with Goldfinger. Goldfinger wanted to ‘destroy’ Fort Knox so the value of his own gold would increase; Zorin wants to destroy Silicon Valley so that he can corner the world market in microchips. Bond is also working alongside the CIA, as in Goldfinger, and there is a Communist presence lurking in the shadows (Goldfinger was backed by Red China, Zorin is ex-KGB). However, the presentation is nowhere near as inspired or lavish. The chase through San Francisco in a fire truck, with lots of police cars getting smashed up, somehow feels too pedestrian (no pun intended). It’s here, and when Bond escapes from a burning lift shaft, that A View to a Kill doesn’t feel much like a Bond film at all. As I said before, the impression is of a well-funded TV movie. Fortunately, this impression doesn’t last too long.

The scenes that form the film’s climax are nothing short of breathtaking and vertigo sufferers should be warned. High above the Golden gate bridge, Zorin’s air ship ends up tethered to one of the beams. A lot of the fight scene was done on a 3’ high replica of the bridge top in Pinewood studios. You would never know. Apart from one instance of not quite convincing back projection, the whole segment looks like it was filmed above the real bridge. Some scenes were, admittedly, and they are the majority of the ones including the air ship’s arrival. John Glen is rightly very proud of the work done here, and it’s one of the film’s high points (no pun intended again!)

I’ve started to quite like A View to a Kill in recent years, despite its below-average reputation. It’s a tighter story and easier to follow film than Octopussy, and the humour never gets quite as silly. Some fans do actually consider Octopussy to be Moore’s best film, believe it or not. I’m sure this is mainly down to the interesting story. A View to a Kill also gets given a very positive assessment from some quarters, but I would never say it’s one of the best Bond films. It does feel a bit uninspired in places, but a good villain and an audacious scheme give it a bit of worth. But if the film’s promotional posters asked “Has James Bond finally met his match?”, the answer seems to be ‘no’ in the context of the film, but in the real world the series may have met its match in the form of audience apathy. Within little more than 18 months, both Connery and Moore had said their last goodbyes to the role of James Bond, and the hunt was on for a new actor to play the part. As predicted by the media at the time, A View to a Kill was not as sizable a hit as other Bonds, the previous four films having all been bigger box office draws. Re-invention was the only way forward, if the series was to survive.

The franchise was going to have the living daylights scared out of it.