VHS Revival attempts to revitalise a cruelly maligned addition to the Bond Canon
A View to a Kill gets something of a bad rap.
Sure, there are plenty of things to decry in regards to Roger Moore’s seventh and final outing as the irrepressible James Bond, but there is also a lot going for the movie, and in my opinion a large percentage of those critics who panned it beyond salvation are invariably children of the 1950s — those who can’t look past Sean Connery as the one and only 007. Moore’s Bond had been criticised before, in spite of appearing in some of the better instalments, but by the time Roger creaked his way to his final appearance they finally felt justified in pushing him towards retirement. After more than a decade of hemming and hawing, the majority of critics had finally gotten their wish.
In terms of staying loyal to Ian Fleming’s version of the super-spy, Connery is undoubtedly the superior Bond. Suave and unforgiving in equal measures, his particular suitability will likely never be matched, while the actor also had the privilege of starring in superior efforts such as From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. Most crucially, Connery had the advantage of playing Bond while he was still very much a novelty, helping to establish the kind of franchise never before undertaken, and never to be seen again.
By the time Moore finally took the mantle the Bond formula was becoming a little tired, as was Connery’s enthusiasm for the role, and the prospect of imitating a much loved and overexposed cultural icon would have been tantamount to career suicide for the actor formerly known as The Saint. Physically Moore was cut from a silkier cloth. Slight and smarmy in demeanour, he would never be the hard-edged Bond of days gone by. For that reason the series took a more ironic approach, but this was also due to the changing times. By the 1980s audiences had matured along with the action movie formula, and people would find it increasingly difficult to accept the grandiose caricatures that were central to the Bond recipe. Critics were perhaps just as repelled by the necessity for change as they were their leading man.
Of course, by the time A View to a Kill came around the joke was growing just a little thin, and if 1981‘s For Your Eyes Only was aware of the increasing age of its star actor, making a point to depict him as too old for the young and persistant Bibi Dahl, what chance did we have of accepting the same man canoodling with the avante-garde Grace Jones almost five years later? Roger was 58 when he finally drew the curtain on his Bond career, and 007’s salacious antics were becoming a little bit embarrassing, stooping closer to the lecherous granddad than the sophisticated stud. Equally embarrassing were the various battles and stunts we were expected to swallow. All I can say is, it’s a blessing that the monstrous Jaws had hung up his suspenders by the time Roger began to creek just that step too far.
James Bond: Well my dear, I take it you spend quite a lot of time in the saddle.
Jenny Flex: Yes, I love an early morning ride
James Bond: Well, I’m an early riser myself.
As Bond plots go, A View to a Kill also featured one of the weakest. When ranking the most extravagant schemes for world domination, the flooding of Silicone Valley for the purposes of dominating the microchip market is hardly the most striking of spectacles, which is a shame because the movie features potentially two of the most interesting villains in the series. We have the freakishly strong May Day (Grace Jones) and Christopher Walken’s deliciously insane Max Zorin, the latter the product of a Nazi experiment that developed steroid-fueled super-children who possessed the kind of extraordinary intelligence that can only lead to world domination—or regional domination in this case. In spite of what he had to work with, Walken bounces around with a mad effervescence and flip sense of entitlement that gets the best out of Moore’s Bond, and in spite of the usual repertoire of cheap double entendre and smug eyebrow-raising, Moore is untypically serious this time around, particularly when his faux-servant and CIA cohort Sir Godfrey (Patrick Macnee) is ruthlessly murdered.
Bond’s love interest is the positively smouldering Tanya Roberts (Stacey Sutton), the granddaughter of an oil tycoon locked in a lawsuit with Zorin. Sutton may not be the greatest actress, but she is dazzling enough to fit the bill, maintaining a conservatism that keeps Moore’s ageing sexuality firmly in the shadows as the two escape a burning City Hall and set off on a fire-engine-led high-speed chase through San Francisco, one that features a typically ignorant police captain and a closed bridge pile-up that proves a lot of fun in spite of its obvious attempts to cover up our leading man’s dwindling mobility.
Another winning element of A View to a Kill is it’s titular theme. Performed by 80s pop mainstays Duran Duran, the track was produced by one time Chic bassist and super producer Bernard Edwards. Known for his ‘chucking’ bass technique, Bernie would become a real-life mentor to Duran Duran bass player John Taylor, and his style is evident in one of the freshest Bond themes ever produced, a heady mix of synthetic urgency and funky mainstream pop which offered the franchise something entirely new, while at the same time sticking to the glamorous formula of old. Like all of the greatest Bond themes, A View to a Kill is successful both as an accompaniment and as a standalone track. Bond legend John Barry was once again the man responsible for writing.
James Bond: My department knows that I’m here. When I don’t respond, they’ll retaliate.
Max Zorin: If you’re the best they’ve got, they’re more likely to try and cover up your embarrassing incompetence.
James Bond: Don’t count on it, Zorin.
Max Zorin: [laughs] Ha ha, you amuse me, Mr. Bond.
James Bond: It’s not mutual.
If we were judging A View to a Kill on its first two acts, I genuinely believe we would be talking about one of the better instalments in the series. Not only do we get May Day parachuting from the Eiffel Tower after fleeing the scene of a butterfly-orientated assassination, we get Bond pursuing her in the front half of a taxi, before crash-landing a boat-based wedding and fleeing the wrath of some machete-wielding French caterers. Bond’s stay at Zorin’s country mansion is also a lot of fun, featuring an unlikely late-night rendezvous with Moore and Jones, and a heavily rigged steeplechase of ferocious whipping and sly booby traps. Even the chase with the fire engine has all of the action/comedy balance of classic Bond.
However, it’s that pesky final act that damns the movie to mediocrity in the minds of many. Bond is all about the final act — the elaborate spectacle to cap it all off — but the movie just seems to fizzle out without any real enthusiasm for the plot or its characters, with mundane sets, pseudo-spectacles and a final battle that moves along with the pace and predictability of a worn out snail. Who thought it would be a good idea to have a near 60-year-old man edge along the Golden Gate Bridge in a battle which consists of the occasional scratch or slip? Whose idea was it to film the movie’s climactic scene in an underground mine away from any potential victims, asides from those idiots who the maniacal Zorin would inevitably double cross? This traitor deserved the meanest, most elaborate death in the series, and instead we watch him plummet into the bay with little more than a whimper, sparing us from one of the most underwhelming battles in the series.
In the end, the movie only has itself to blame, but if you are one of those who condemned A View to A Kill long ago and have refused to revisit the film as a consequence, go back and give it a second chance. It is much better than most give it credit for.