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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1985)

14. A View to a Kill

As the eighties rolled on, Roger Moore returned for his seventh James Bond movie. This put just him ahead of Sean Connery, at least as far as the official series is concerned, for most appearances as the character. Moore had played the secret agent for over a decade. When “A View to a Kill” came out in summer of 1985, most everyone agreed that, at 57, he was too old to play the character. Unsurprisingly, it would be his last go-around as Bond. For this reason and more, “A View to a Kill” is regarded as one of the weakest films in the series. Even Sir Roger himself has trashed it. Does my opinion differ from the consensus in any way?

James Bond tussles with some Ruskies in Siberia, stealing a microchip back from a dead double-0 agent. The chip is traced back to technology industrialist Max Zorin. In order to parse out the connection between Zorin and the Soviets, Bond heads to France to spy on the guy. Bodies pile up, thanks to Max’s henchwoman Mayday, and the villain quickly discovers the agent’s intentions. In actuality, Zorin’s master plan is unrelated to the Soviets. He plans to set off a massive explosion in a mine he owns, destroying Silicon Valley in a massive flood/earthquake combination. His plot being dismissed as a natural disaster, Zorin will have a monopoly on the microchip industry. Teaming up with the daughter of one of Zorin’s enemies, Bond sets out to prevent this mad plot from succeeding.

Welcome to 1985! Maurice Binder’s opening for “A View to a Kill” features super models in day-glo body paint and facial accessories, all of them glowing brightly. Many of the girls have feathery, hyper-permed hair-dos. They hold similarly glowing guns, which shoot flashing laser beams. In accordance with the film’s snowy opening, most of the girls feature a skiing motif. At one point, a life-size ice sculpture of a woman puts in an appearance. It later bursts into flames. The opening is, of course, completely ridiculous. However, it’s certainly not forgettable. In its own way, it’s even giddily entertaining. The accompanying song follows a similar trend. The last four Bond themes were love ballads, a few of them overly sappy. Duran Duran was brought in to provide a hip theme song. Since the song was a number one pop hit, I’d say that worked. If you have a taste for the pop music of the day, you’ll probably dig it. The song’s synth lasers come off as ridiculous today. However, the melody is driving and exciting, the lyrics are dynamic, and the delivery is dramatic. It’s not my favorite Bond theme but it’s a great pop song. I’d certainly take it over Rita Collidge any day of the week.

The most problematic aspect of “A View to a Kill” is its inconsistent tone. The action genre had changed by 1985. This was the year of “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Commando.” The age of Arnold and Sly was beginning. Suddenly, movie heroes were hyper-violent, piling up bloody body counts. At times, “A View to a Kill” attempts to emulate the style of eighties action. The villain is a harsh psychopath, gunning down his own men with an uzi. The action is a little bloodier then usual, the tone slightly darker. Meanwhile, the plot, of a corrupt microchip executive, screams mid-eighties. Yet James Bond himself remains unaffected. Roger Moore continues to crack campy quips. The action is often self-consciously ridiculous. The times have changed but Moore is going about business as if it’s still the seventies. The result is a film that feels uncertain about its own tone.

The question everyone was asking about “A View to a Kill:” Was Roger Moore too old for this shit? Moore’s age was already beginning to show over his last two films. By this point, he’s more wrinkled and leathery then ever before. Moore is still trying, and arguably seems more interested here then he was in “Octopussy.” However, his stunt double seems to be doing a lot of work this time around. The days of Moore’s Bond kicking and punching his way out of trouble have passed, for the most part. Perhaps because of Moore’s advancing age, Bond spends a lot of time in “A View to a Kill” investigating horse doping. The age differences between Moore and his co-stars doesn’t go unnoticed. Was Moore too old to play James Bond at this point? Yeah, probably, but so was Sean Connery when he quit. Moore still has the charm and a way with the one-liners. His talent for the character hasn’t faded any, even if he’s gotten long in the tooth.

The best thing about “A View to a Kill” is its villains. Long before Christopher Walken was a parody of himself, he was an Academy Award winner with the ability to create mentally disturbed, intimidating, unnerving characters on-screen. Max Zorin is a odd character to begin with. (Playing up his eccentricities, the part was first offered to David Bowie.) His blonde hairs and blue eyes hint at an Aryan background. The film later confirms that Zorin is the result of Nazi eugenic experiments and has a weirdly close relationship with the doctor that created him. Zorin is also a cold-stone killer, willing to murder thousands to make himself rich. Moreover, he seems to enjoy the pain he causes. He grins with sadistic glee, chuckling evilly, while executing his own men. Christopher Walken is perfectly cast in the part. He creates a character distinct from the comic book supervillains of the last few Bond flicks. Instead, Zorin is a frighteningly plausible sociopath and madman.

Zorin also receives a memorable henchman. Or henchwoman, as the case may be. May Day is Zorin’s body guard, trainer, personal assassin, and possible lover. She takes people out with a hooked butterfly on a fishing wire and parachutes from the Eiffel Tower. Also, for no discernible reason, she has superhuman strength, tossing a grown man overhead. As ridiculous as that is, Grace Jones seems like she really could toss guys around. Grace Jones is terrifying, of course. Her figure is Amazonian, her bone structure is harsh, and she has an incomparable set of crazy eyes. Adding to this, the movie dresses her in bizarre, ridiculous outfits, emphasizing how intimidating she is. (When she jumps in bed with Bond, you honestly fear for the guy’s life.) The part is right in Jones’ wheelhouse, even if she ends up switching sides and heroically sacrificing herself.

Jones’ screen presence successfully overshadows all the other Bond girls in the film. Former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts, last seen on Film Thoughts showing off her lovely figure in “Tourist Trap,” plays Bond’s main squeeze. Stacy Sutton at first appears to be the spy’s equal. She resists her charms at first and appears to be plotting against Zorin. However, as the film goes on, Sutton reveals herself to be less capable. She freaks out over dropping some files and is mostly dead weight around Bond’s neck. By the end of the film, she’s been taken captive by the villain. Roberts is appealing but she doesn’t have the hottest chemistry with Moore. A little better is Fiona Fullerton as Pola, the Soviet agent sent to spy on Bond. She can’t resist his charms, of course. The conversation the two have in a hot tub rolls out decently and Fullerton is lovely. Disappointingly, the character doesn’t contribute much to the plot.

The uneven tone of “A View to a Kill” is most evident in its action scenes. For the third time in his run, Roger Moore has an action sequence in the snow. The beginning has him pursued on skis by Siberian agent. When he looses one ski, like in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Bond jumps on a snowboard. This is absurd enough but then “California Girls” plays over the soundtrack. A car chase through the streets of Paris begins well enough. However, the car is slowly reduced in size by collisions, until Moore is driving half a vehicle around. I’m pretty sure that’s not possible. After pissing off some police, Bond jumps in a firetruck, leading the local cops on a chase. This chase doesn’t add much to the plot and concludes with the bumbling cops attempting to drive up a folding bridge. About the only action scene that works is when Bond fights off some goons with a shotgun. It’s the only time in the film when Roger Moore is kicking, punching, and judo chopping his enemies. The campy, comedic tone of the action scenes defuse any tension the moments might have had.

By now, a Bond film isn’t complete without the agent falling into some death traps. A fairly ridiculous horse chase scene has Bond dodging various obstacles. Afterwards, he’s plopped into a car that’s dropped into a lake. He escapes by sucking the airs out of the tires. Later on, he gets stuck in a tube as a turbine whirls below, slowly drawling him towards it. Probably the best death trap occurs when Bond is locked in an elevator that’s been set aflame. It’s a decently tense moment, with 007 climbing out of the lift just as the cables burn through. These moments of peril are more convincing then any of the action scenes Moore participates in.

“A View to a Kill” features its fair share of gadgets. Refreshingly, they aren’t designed to get Bond out of specific scraps. The iceberg shaped submarine is the only example of that. The gadgets don’t add much to the plot at all, actually. There mostly used for – get this – spying. While camping out in Zorin’s chateau, Bond searches his room for bugs with a detector hidden in an electric razor. He zooms in on secret meetings with a pair of specialized sunglasses. He records conversations with the bad guy via a microphone hidden in a jacket button. The most visible gadget is also the least essential. Q has a little robot he directs around a few times. Its big eyes and antenna make it look like a robotic puppy. It’s cute but adds nothing to the plot.

“A View to a Kill” at least makes good use of its international settings. There’s a mildly exciting chase scene through the Eiffel Tower between Bond and May Day. Can you believe that 007 is just now making it to the Eiffel Tower? Most famously, the film’s finale takes place above the Golden Gate bridge. Hero and villain wrestling atop one of the bridges’ suspension cables makes for an unforgettable image. For that mater, the zeppelin floating above the landmark is a great image too. Though not a world-famous sight, the underground mine is a fairly clever setting for an action set piece. It’s surprising that, fourteen films into the series, Eon is still finding new places to stick Bond in.

I generally think “A View to a Kill” is slightly better then its reputation suggests. It’s got a great pair of villains and a mildly diverting plot. However, the action is step down from the series’ usual standards. The film can’t seem to decide what type of action movie it wants to be. As Roger Moore’s swan song, it’s less forgettable then “Octopussy” but comes nowhere close to the delirious heights of “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker.” I wish Moore had quit after “For Your Eyes Only.” That would have been a good note for him to finish on. His final round as James Bond is just above mediocre. While far from horrible, it’s nothing to kill for either. [Grade: C+]


[X] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

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