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Non-Review Review: A View to a Kill

This post is part of James Bond January, being organised by the wonderful Paragraph Films. I will have reviews of all twenty-two official Bond films going on-line over the next month, and a treat or two every once in a while.

A View to A Kill is not fondly remembered. In fact, it frequently finds itself listed amongst the dregs of the Bond films when the time comes to rank the worst of the British secret agent’s on-screen adventures. Truth be told, I find that rather harsh – I’d argue that it’s a significantly stronger effort than The Man With The Golden Gun, at least – as well as possibly Octopussy and Moonraker. After all, both Roger Moore and Christopher Walken look like they are having such a ridiculously good time.

Not quite a towering accomplishment…

The primary problem with the film is that it doesn’t really have a plot. It’s just plot tangents built upon plot tangents. Bond begins investigating Zorin’s company, then his breeding stables, takes a brief timeout to seduce a Russian agent, and then saves Silicon Valley. None of these elements really feeds smoothly into the next, and large portions of the film seem to exist just to eat up the mandatory two-hour runtime expected of a Bond film.

There’s a sense of fun about the whole film, from the way that it opens with the staff of MI6 effectively going on an outing to the races or even Bond’s iceberg submarine (complete with swinger’s pad). This is the last film to feature Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, and I don’t think I’ve acknowledged the work that she’s done on the franchise over the years. Even as she reached middle age along with Roger Moore, there was a charm and wit about her which worked quite well (and, to be honest, has never really been matched with her successors). So there’s a sense that the movie is essentially one last joyride for Moore.

Taking it to the Max…

It isn’t helped by the fact that Roger Moore himself is clearly getting quite old. Apparently he was horrified to discover that he was old than Tania Roberts’ mother. Still, much like Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever, perhaps it’s not a bad thing that Moore is getting on. In looking at him, we can appreciate that the movie might be slowing down for him slightly – as it is certainly one of the more pedestrian Bond adventures. If Moore were younger, it would seem a waste of his talents, but instead it feels like a casual stroll that the actor has earned through his dedication to the role.

Moore has, in the years since the film, also come out against the violence of the film. He’s remarked that he feels slightly uncomfortable with his work on it, due to the sheer volume of carnage involved. “That wasn’t Bond,” he remarks, and voices similar concerns on the commentary as the movie’s villain starts machine gunning his own men for the sake of it. Being honest, I’m not entirely convinced – it introduces high stakes into the Bond movies again, and is certainly nowhere near as violent as, say, Licence to Kill.

Grace Jones does a lot of dramatic heavy lifting…

In fact, it helps the balance the movie. Given that the introductory sequence features Bond snowboarding down the side of a mountain to the tune of California Girls (which might be the campiest moment in the franchise), the movie has quite a bit of work to do to convince us that Bond is facing a real threat or that there are consequences to the villain’s evil plot beyond Bond getting just a little bit wet.

However, despite these foibles, I have to admit a certain fondness for the film.Admittedly a large amount of that love comes from the movie’s duo of villains, Max Zorin and Mayday. It’s interesting that the movie opens with a disclaimer assuring us that Zorin and his company don’t exist, lest we confused them with any genetically engineered steroid babies with dreams of flooding Silicon Valley. Apparently, the disclaimer only exists because, at the last minute, the producers discovered a “Zoran Corporation” operating in the United States.

Jonesing for a good Bond villain?

Anyway, Zorin and Mayday – as played by Christopher Walken and Grace Jones – make for a particular freaky set of villains. There’s something distinctly unsettling as to how the movie plays with their relationship – making out during a wrestling session, Zorin sending his girlfriend (who is more than willing) to bed with Bond, and holding hands with her as they attempt to drown Bond in a car (which is perhaps the stupidest manner of execution I’ve seen in quite a while, but I admire the fact that it’s relatively straightforward compared to some of the other methods of dispatch Bond has faced).

I remember being slightly disturbed on originally watching the couple, and I only came realise why as I grew older. The movie features (for the time) relatively high quantities of both sex and violence, and Mayday and (especially) Zorin link the two in the most perverse fashion. It’s never as explicitly implied as with, say, Xenia in GoldenEye (who climaxes from a machine gun round), but Zorin seems to find violence pleasurable. As in really pleasurable. He might not be screaming in orgasm as he kills the miners, but it’s not too hard to imagine where he “gets his jollies” (or whatever slightly less disturbing metaphor you want to use). That’s why he has such potential to be an interesting foil for Bond – our protagonist has always mixed sex and violence. Unfortunately, we spend an hour investigating horses instead of setting up an interesting dynamic.

Bond is always Russian in there when there are women involved…

Walken appears to be having the time of his life as the villain Max Zorin, and – even though the villain himself is nothing special – I can’t help be think of the role when I try to picture the archetypal Bond villain. The role was reportedly written for David Bowie (not that it should be too much of a surprise when you see how Walken plays the industrialist), but I don’t think the performer could have brought the same chutzpah to the character. Walken utters the line “you amuse me, Mister Bond” as if he’s been waiting his entire life to say it. It doesn’t matter that we’re assured Zorin “speaks at least five languages, no accent” and still sounds like Christopher Walken.

He even enjoys the movie’s Goldfinger-inspired villain exposition scene, complete with models. “We are now in the unique position,” he advises the assembled group, “to form an international cartel… to control not only production… but distribution of these microchips!” Hell, even when challenging Bond to the even-more-Goldfinger sporting bet complete with cheating (woe betide Bond on the horse-racing course… of doom!) he still looks like he’s having a great time. And then, of course, there’s this gem:

Howe: What have they done?

Max Zorin: You discharged her, so she and her accomplice came here to kill you. Then they set fire to the office, to conceal the crime but they were trapped in the elevator and perished in the flames.

Howe: But that means I would have to be…

Max Zorin: Dead! [shoots him] That’s rather neat, Don’t you think?

James Bond: Brilliant. I’m almost speechless with admiration.

Max Zorin: Intuitive improvisation is the secret of genius.

There are awkward moments, of course. It’s kinda cool that Zorin owns a fleet of blimps, even if we can see him being held inside the thing by a safety harness at the climax.

Roger Moore is hanging on in there…

Despite the fact that the final confrontation, on the Golden Gate Bridge, isn’t especially inspired, there’s an energy to it which has been missing from the past few films. Sure, there’s a lot of blue-screen work, but the location shots are absolutely awe-inspiring. The practical stunts are always effective in these films, and it’s nice that they make the effort. I don’t think the stunt crew get enough credit for the work that they do. I love the shot of Zorin laughing as he prepares to fall to his death.

Grace Jones as Mayday is an inspired addition, one of the most notable hench-characters since Jaws. She’s not the strongest actor in the world (not that she needs to be), and I’m not sure I buy her redemptive arc – but there’s just something very strange and stilted about the way that she’s portrayed. The “romantic” scene between her and Roger Moore might be my favourite Roger Moore love scene, if only because it’s so deeply weird and almost disturbingly uncomfortable. You get the sense that Bond is as uneasy here as we are watching Bond bed women half his age. And it’s always nice to see a woman on top when it comes to Bond.

Strange bed fellows…

Tania Roberts gets a lot of flack for her role as this movie’s Bond girl. Sure, she adds nothing to the plot except to serve as a woman for James to save and a warm body to hop into bed with, but it’s not as if she’s lowering the bar. She doesn’t stand out as especially pointless when compared with (for example) Tiffany Case, Mary Goodnight and Christmas Jones. I’m not arguing that she revolutionises the role of the Bond girl, nor that she comes to mind when I think of a Bond girl, but she’s not actively terrible. I know that’s damning with faint praise, but she doesn’t quite deserve the level of hatred she’s attracted over the years.

Even the theme song seems aware of the nature of the film. It’s nowhere near as elegant or sophisticated as the best Bond themes, but it has a lot of energy – and that has to count for something, right? It’s catchy, trashy eighties pop – but it’s unashamedly so. Hell, it’s one of the few Bond tunes I catch myself humming without realising that it is a Bond theme.

Walken has style, he’s got Grace…

I’m fonder of the film than most. It’s not a fantastic Bond film, nor a great one – however, I’m far fonder of it than the vast majority of Moore’s run. It’s a fond farewell to the actor in the role, and it manages to capture a lot of the spirit of Moore’s time in the role. It’s still undoubtedly campy (especially earlier on, with the chase through Paris), but it looks like the cast is actually enjoying the camp, rather than struggling with it. Walken is perhaps the best Bond villain since Christopher Lee, and he’s relishing the opportunity. Provided you’re willing to go with it, it’s actually quite an enjoyable little film.

We have complete reviews of all of the Roger Moore films available, if you are interested:

The following bloggers have reviews of this film as part of James Bond January:

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5 Responses

  1. good man! View to a Kill is one i kinda like – and i HATE most bond movies. great ending, great song

  2. I gave this one a higher rating than “Moonraker” but I had a lot more fun watching that film. Personally, “View to a Kill” is one of the last Bond films I watch by choice.

  3. My only objective to the violence was I found it boring!

    I see where Zorin attacking his workers would be horrifying. The problem is, I’m conditioned by these movies not to care about anyone in a jumpsuit or hard hat. Mooks are mooks — and it’s Bond’s job to mow them down.

    Like you said in the opener, the juxtaposition of Bond’s role onto the villain is ass backwards. He’s doing all the traditional things Bond likes to do, for no purpose. Other than the “how cool would it be if Bond were evil?” theme we keep seeing.

    • “A View to a Kill” is my “I know it’s terrible, but I love it anyway” Bond film. Everybody’s entitled to one film like that, whether Diamonds are Forever or Octopussy or whathaveyou. It’s just wrong in so many interesting ways, as if the production team were trying to make a Bond film, but have none of the ingredients and so used whatever happened to be to hand at a given moment. Christopher Walken as a Nazi baby! Grace Jones as a Bond girl! A KGB subplot for some reason!

  4. Ummm….it isn’t just Goldfinger inspired villain exposition – it’s a lousy 1980s flavoured remake of Goldfinger (silicon valley as Fort Knox), just as FYEO (Moore’s best for me) was From Russia with Love and TSWLM (2nd best) was You Only Live Twice – certainly the most obvious remake – and the film where Bond stopped being a trendy or even trend setting part of the pop-culture zeitgeist (as it undoubtedly was from 1962 through to 1967 and remained ‘with-it’ through to 1974) and shifted gears to became a beloved piece of nostalgia – no doubt a canny commercial move at the time – but also the point where the series atrophied, pretty much frozen in time until (briefly) Casino Royale. TMWTGG – clumsy non-event that it is, was the last of the Bond films to be a truly contemporary (1974 contemporary) piece of film. It didn’t do well, and was followed by what, at the time, was the longest gap between films ever (perhaps the producers were doing a bit of soul-searching) – and when it came back, the route forward had clearly been determined as one of deliberately looking backward to the glory days. The later films made passing references to the periods they were made in (primarily via product placement and emphasising current technology), but in every other way were, intentionally, period pieces.

    I was a young kid at the time of TSPWLM; Moore was ‘my’ Bond; it worked at the time (Hell, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed Moonraker the first time. Only the first time). But,as you correctly point out, time hasn’t been kind to the Moore era. Deservedly so.

    For me this and Octopussy are equally dire – but where that one was ridiculous and forgettable, this one was ridiculous and, above all, tired. It really, really showed. Other than Christopher Walken it doesn’t look like anyone involved wants to be there.

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