The James Bond franchise operates with a pretty predictable oscillation between fantastic and goofy. Generally, there will be one or two really good entries, then an OK entry, and then a terrible one, and so on. It makes for a very inconsistent series, but it’s sort of a double-edged blade–it may be the reason the series has lasted for as long as it has. It appeals to a very wide audience. Moonraker, Goldfinger, and You Only Live Twice are great family movies. From Russia with Love, Thunderball, and Live and Let Die are good action/spy thrillers, and the rest are good popcorn movies. The goofy movies often give way to a fantastic follow up, and so Bond audiences are often more forgiving of the sillier entries.
It’s unfortunate that Roger Moore’s final Bond movie is one of the latter, but it’s not without precedent. Diamonds are Forever was weighed down by its own camp factor as well, and yet Sean Connery’s reputation as one of the greatest James Bond actors remains untarnished.
In many ways, A View to a Kill marks the end of an era. It is Moore’s last Bond film. It’s Lois Maxwell’s final appearance as Miss Moneypenny (a role she had been playing for 23 years). And it’s the end of the so-called Classic Bond era. After this, we’ve got a two-movie transition into the sleeker Modern Bond era which encompasses everything from 1995 onward. I call it a transition because it feels more mature than the Classic Bond films, but not quite as polished as the Modern Bond films, but we’ll get to that later.
In this entry, James Bond (Roger Moore) must stop the maniacal Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) from destroying Silicon Valley in a plan to overtake the microchip industry. Along the way, Bond must rescue the lovely Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts) from Zorin’s thugs while evading the lethal May Day (Grace Jones), Zorin’s part-time lover/part-time assassin.
It’s a very simple plot, given the illusion of depth by a few sprinklings of character exposition and some side quests that feel very shoehorned in (such as a chance encounter with a giggly Russian spy whom Bond steals a piece of evidence from). The rest feels a bit familiar. Zorin’s lavish estate recalls that of Hugo Drax. The ski chase that opens the film hearkens back to any number of iconic ski chases, most notably the one from The Spy Who Loved Me. Not even a Beach-Boys-accompanied interlude on a handmade snowboard makes the scene feel anything less than a moment of deja-vu. Overall, there are few truly iconic moments that make this one stand out among the crowd, save for one exception.
The opening credits are fantastic. Duran Duran’s pounding theme is still a pop culture classic, and Maurice Binder’s clever use of black light makeup, fire and ice imagery, and synchronized skiing (it sounds weird, but it works) works in a way we haven’t seen since Live and Let Die. Binder has been designing these opening credits sequences for over twenty years at this point, and this entry proves that he hasn’t lost his touch. I don’t know if I’d gush to the point of calling it a work of art, but it definitely feels like a standalone music video with its own cohesive artistic sensibility. It’s one of my all time favorites in the series.
I wish the rest of the film had been given the same quality. It opens strongly, but the middle act drags like a child’s blanket, and the final act is uneven, swinging from Zorin laughing while machine gunning down his workers to May Day sacrificing herself for no reason. It’s no surprise that Moore has publicly stated his dislike for this one. He felt it was too needlessly violent and that he was too old to play the part (he was 57 at the time, though, to his credit, he doesn’t look it at all). The violence by today’s standards is very tame, but I can see where Moore was coming from. The Bond of the 70’s and early 80’s was an optimistic one, fun and family friendly, and viewers can tell that the powers that be were pushing for edgier violence in this one.
Moore also stated that he felt he had no chemistry with any of his costars. it’s no secret that Grace Jones and Roger Moore hated one another, and it translates to the screen, making their moment together seem incredibly, painfully awkward (made all the stranger by an unfortunate jump cut in which Bond lifts up his covers and May Day just kind of appears in bed next to him). Stacey Sutton is also quite a bland character. She serves no purpose to the story except to offer up a teeny bit of exposition at a crucial moment. For the rest of the movie, she screams out “James!” and is rescued over and over and over. Tanya Roberts is lovely, but her character feels so flat and window-dress-y that she comes across more as an object than a woman. Coming after Octopussy which features some of the strongest women we’ve seen in the series thus far, Tanya feels too much like a throwback. The only character who works with Bond well is Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee) who pretends to be Bond’s valet during an investigation of Zorin’s stables. The two have some lovely Laurel-and Hardy-esque moments when Bond takes the oppressive employer role a bit too seriously. Other than that, every character feels a bit lost, not really connecting with any other character in any sort of meaningful way.
I like Christopher Walken and Grace Jones in this, but only when they’re apart. Max Zorin is a great character, the result of Nazi Eugenics and KGB training. He’s basically Khan from Queens (though his trademark accent is quite muted for this role), swinging from restrained civility to maniacal brutality with the ease that only Walken can pull off. Also, Grace Jones is spectacular, practically dragging all eyes to her in every one of her scenes. Her avante-garde hair and fashion and her brutal physicality shine well in this movie, making her a really fun and memorable character. The problem is that, when the two of them are together in a scene, they’re so over the top that it becomes awkward. The big moment at the end when Zorin betrays May Day just doesn’t have much heft because they never felt like they were actually friends, or even lovers. So when May Day growls out “I thought that creep loved me!” the audience is left to sort of smile awkwardly and think to themselves, “What? When did he ever love you?” It just doesn’t work.
But odd as this one is, it paves the way for the more mature and intelligent Bond films that follow, so don’t fret. There is a new Bond and a new horizon coming up.
-Q’s “micro comparator” was probably something he threw together ten minutes before the meeting. Knowing Q, he probably just talks about it as if it was a thing that everybody already knows about just because he doesn’t want to draw attention to his mad skills. That’s also why he has stuff “malfunction” in his lab when people are walking through. He doesn’t want the pressure of being Britain’s greatest inventor. He just wants to have fun and make stuff for MI6 on the side.
-May Day’s outfits are glorious.
-I like the Moneypenny as Liza Doolittle moment, though she stops before she says “ass” because she’s a lady. We’ll miss you, Lois Maxwell!
-Bond’s contact in Paris is so French, he really should be an animated caricature. He’d seem more believable.
-The whistling butterfly lady baffles me.
-James St. John Smythe is the worst alias. Ever.
-Pola Ivanova is completely pointless. All I can remember of her is “Oh! Ze bubbles tickle my…TCHAIKOVSKY!”
-Bond apparently makes a mean quiche. He dismisses it as just “an omelette,” but we know better. Ina Garten herself couldn’t make a better quiche.
-Stacey is too damselly and distress-y
-“Moar! Moar powah!” There’s that accent you’d been hiding all along, Walken!
-Bond is given the Order of Lenin.
-Gogol’s crack about stealing western ideas amuses me.
-They don’t end this one in a boat. womp womp.
Join me next week as we welcome the next Bond actor, the fantastic Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights!