Saturday, 19 April 2014

A View To A Kill

The one thing that really strikes you when watching A View To A Kill (1985) is just how old Roger Moore looks.  

Whatever your thoughts on the relative merits (or otherwise) of Sir Roger’s portrayal of the world’s leading upper-class psycho-thug, you can’t deny that he made the role his own, and to a generation or two, he was Bond. But here, his craggy features and greying hair almost overshadow his 'double 0' swansong. Not that there’s a great deal to overshadow. 

That's because A View To A Kill encapsulates most of what was wrong with ‘classic’ era Bond: dull storyline, terrible humour, whiney, screaming Bond girls and good actors wasted in villainous roles. 

The plot, such as it is, sees Bond uncover a scheme by the usual, foreign sounding bad-guy, Max Zorin. For reasons the film never bothers to explain, he plans to do some unspecified skulduggery having just designed a microchip capable of withstanding an electromagnetic pulse (a plot point the writers liked so much they revived it for Goldeneye). Quite why MI6 consider this a problem is unclear; surely the government would want to cut a deal with the guy for some fat juicy military contracts?

So, Bond is sent to Paris, because he’s never been there before. After mingling with some French stereotypes, he has lunch up the Eiffel Tower (not a euphemism) before watching Grace Jones skydive off the spindly iron landmark and smash up a Renault 5 (the least sexy Bond car ever).  

Later Bond pays his obligatory visit to the villain's mansion and stud farm (fnarr!) and new characters are introduced to advance the plot. Events continue to happen for no other reason than this is a Bond movie.  

Now, I can accept the 007 films have a successful formula, but this is so by-the-numbers it could be a kids TV show: Bond meets a woman, Bond snoops around, Bond fights a henchman, Bond escapes death because someone decides to engineer an elaborate demise rather than simply shooting him, and so on.  

Moore looking every one of his 57 years
But to make matters worse, having exhausted the Gallic scenery the action moves to San Francisco where the whole French section gets effectively replayed: Bond meets a woman, Bond snoops around.... It's like Groundhog Day remade as a spy film.

Which is a shame, because interesting ideas are cruelly dangled in front of us before being quickly whisked away (like the lovely Fiona Fullerton). There’s a mildly diverting interlude where Zorin torches an entire building to kill Bond, but it’s not long before we have another derivative and pointless car chase. Still at least this one gets everyone to the finale, where Bond discovers that Zorin is going to destroy Silicon Valley to corner the market in microchips… seriously. The whole sorry mess ends with Bond and Zorin having a pretty novel fight atop the Golden Gate Bridge (complete with exploding blimp!). 

All told, A View To A Kill just doesn’t work. We are firmly in deus ex machina territory here, so rather than anticipating events or investigating them Bond just finds himself in the right place at the right time, over and over again. 

The whole film is basically an eighties retread of Goldfinger, even down to the ‘hoods convention’ scene complete with rotating diorama, but with none of the charm, innovation and pizzazz of the earlier film. There’s a fair bit of action, but it’s all marred by the inclusion of schoolboy humour: the use of a Beach Boys sound-a-like playing California Girls as Bond snow-surfs away from some baddies is a series low.  

The Golden Gate climax features some fantastic stunt work, as two stuntmen really do fight on top of the bridge (but were forbidden to actually throw punches), but once again the good work is undone by the accompanying dodgy back projection. And the less said about shagger Roge's shower scene with Tanya Roberts the better. 

Still, it's not all bad. Christopher Walken is rather brilliant as Zorin, clearly enjoying, nay relishing, the opportunity to have fun with a character who is so poorly written.  He also produces one of the most truly shocking moments I’ve ever seen in a PG rated movie, as he and a lackey mow down hundreds of mine workers with Uzis.  

Grace Jones: best henchperson of the Moore tenure
Stacey, too, is dreadfully written, but as Roberts is not an Oscar-winning actor, she just resorts to channeling the spirit of Britt Ekland and screaming “James!” whenever the dialogue runs out (which is frequently). The surprise casting highlight is Grace Jones as Zorin’s henchperson Mayday. Easily the most compelling physical nemesis of the Moore tenure (yes, even Jaws) Jones belies her lack of acting depth by producing a genuine character performance, and one which actually progresses throughout the story.

It’s a sad fact that Moore, like Connery before him, and Brosnan would after, went out on a low. It's easy to think A View to a Kill would have been better with another - crucially younger - actor playing Bond. However, given the campy tone, Moore is actually the perfect Bond for the movie. The real problem is this is just an awful movie, and it's tragic that Moore's finale in the role saw him forced to creak his way through so many sub-Benny Hill gags.  

But, whatever the flaws there's still an exploding helicopter to enjoy, and this one's right up front in the film, finishing off the pre-credits sequence. Before Bond can have his first shag of the day he has to escape some goons who are pursuing him through snowy wastes. 

We're treated to a ski-chase which have been a feature of Bond films from as far back as On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Having shaken off most of his pursuers, a circling helicopter causes our hero some bother. Finding himself without a weapon Roge improvises and fires a flare gun at the whirlybird. As it cockpit fills with smoke, the pilot loses control and crashes into an icy cliff wall.   

Artistic merit 

It’s a nice combination of miniatures, full-size and composites, with the explosion itself towering over a Siberian (actually Icelandic) vista. 

Exploding helicopter innovation  

The Bond producers like to boast about they always try to give the audience the familiar, but in a way they’ve never seen before. It’s fair to say that in 1985 using a flare gun to blind the helicopter pilots was pretty original. Bond also discovers a new element: bulletproof snow. 

Do passengers survive?  

Not a chance, even though they had a couple of opportunities to jump out, as the helicopter bounced around the ground a few times. Maybe they were taking tips from Bond himself, who failed to leap from the Blofeld-controlled chopper at the start of For Your Eyes Only when he had the chance. 

Positives  

The whole snow bound sequence, despite not being anywhere near the best in the series, is the highlight of the movie, comedy musical accompaniment aside. John Barry also effectively recycles his theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, creating a brilliant, exciting recurring theme for the movie. 

Negatives  

I never had a problem with Bond mowing down hordes of faceless boiler-suited goons, but when he’s murdering people who are just doing their job in their own country (Bond kills a couple of Russian soldiers) it leaves a sour taste.  

Given the diplomatic brouhaha he caused by storming an embassy in Casino Royale, I would imagine killing troops in their own country would get him something more than a slap on the wrist. It’s also not the most secret way for a secret agent to behave. 

Favourite line 

“You amuse me, Mr Bond”. Not so much the line, but Walken’s delivery is exemplary. You can tell he’s waited his whole life to say dialogue like that. 

Interesting fact  

The producers’ first choice for Max Zorin… David Bowie. That could have been brilliant, but it means we would never have had Walken.

Review by: Joe Scaramanga

You can read more of Joe's work on his own website Now, That's What I Call A Music Blog as he journeys through 30 years of Now compilations. 

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