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. But times change, and, as they would one day discover, so would the actors who went on to play cinema’s best-loved super spy. As a universal concept, it doesn’t get much bigger than Bond, and with a few minor tweaks the character would transcend generations, tapping into the various fashions, cultural movements and sociopolitical issues along the way. Like any secret agent worth their salt, 007 was wired to adaptation.
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 those critics finally felt justified in pushing him towards retirement, and very few of us could argue otherwise. The series has a knack for passing generations by, and the same was the case for those who were fortunate enough to bring the character to life. Playing James Bond is the ultimate emblem of cool, one that guarantees actors the kind of lavish persona they are tasked with portraying, and regardless of how burnt-out those actors may become, it must be difficult to relinquish that status. However, time catches up with everyone, and after more than a decade of safari suits, ludicrous Star Wars rip-offs and ridiculous clown suits (and his fair share of outstanding moments too), it was finally time for Moore to move on.
Everyone has their favourite, but 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 persistent 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 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), a cultural enigma ready made for the Bond formula, and Christopher Walken’s deliciously insane Max Zorin, the latter the product of a Nazi experiment that developed steroid-fuelled 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 despite the usual repertoire of cheap double entendre and smug eyebrow-raising, Moore can be 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, her character may come across as somewhat helpless and weak willed, 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. John Barry’s superlative score also lends Sutton a sweeping elegance, particularity an orchestral variation of the movie’s title track entitled Bond Meets Stacey (A View to a Kill), a sumptuous and befitting introduction to the character and a reminder of just how important Barry was to Bond’s glamorous reputation.
Even more notable is A View to a Kill‘s left field titular theme. Performed by 80s pop mainstays Duran Duran and written by Barry, the track was produced by one time Chic bassist 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, embracing the MTV new wave and a then pioneering sense of glamour further punctuated by the inclusion of Jones to the marquee. Like all of the greatest Bond themes, A View to a Kill is successful both as an accompaniment and as a standalone track.
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, with more than one foot in the evolving action genre of the mid-1980s.
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 only seems to highlight Moore’s advancing years. 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 (albeit it a wonderfully deranged one). Barry’s score does a fine job of raising the spectacle, and the sight of German geneticist and Zorin ‘father’ Dr. Carl Mortner flapping after a bundle of dynamite is a deeply satisfying one, but it all seems just a little conservative.
The likelihood is, this was all a result of Moore’s dwindling mobility and the measures that had to be made in order to conceal it. In many ways, this was Moore throwing in the towel, a fact punctuated quite literally during the actor’s final scene. There is also closure in the form of the similarly departing Lois Maxwell, her teary-eyed final appearance as Miss Moneypenny proving rather poignant. Some may feel that none of this was necessary, that Moore should have retired quietly and gracefully, 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. Moore may have been well past his suitability for the role of a deadly philanderer, but the movie is much better than most give it credit for.