In this exciting edition of the James Bond retrospective, we:
• Examine Moore’s final Bond film and have a final perspective of his legacy.
• Look at the failures of the film in its attempts to modernize that plant the film in mediocrity.
• See the best Walken impersonation the english language could capture in prose.
This week, the film is…
A View to a Kill (1985)
Moore thinks of this as his worst Bond film, and while I think his own personal attitudes carry into that this film never ascends to a higher enjoyment. This is a lower quality Bond film with some unique and praiseworthy shine. More importantly, it’s an examination of the franchise’s growing pains. The producers knew Bond was in a cyclical rut and increasingly growing outdated as time weathered the brand. They’ve flirted with youthful distractions before, but the eagerness to market is what weathered the film. Let’s dive in.
The Soviets are copying microchips from defense contractor Zorin industries and Bond is sent to investigate. Owner Max Zorin has been aggressively growing the company and suspicious actions surround him. In France, he prepares and auctions prize racing horses that he fixes with special steroids. A deadly female bodyguard named Mayday never leaves Max’s sight. They attempt to kill Bond after he discovers the horse plot and they escape into America.
Bond follows them into San Francisco, where he meets CIA operative Chuck Lee. Lee explains that Zorin might very well be the product of Dr. Carl Mortner, a Nazi scientist responsible for attempting to engineer super children from forcing steroids on pregnant Jews during the holocaust… Look I’m with you here, we’ll talk about it later. This experiment was successful but at the cost of the child’s sanity.
Bond investigates Zorin’s oil operation and discovers an absurd amount of seawater being flooded into the oil refineries. He beds a KGB agent who is an old flame and tricks her into leaving him Zorin’s tape recording hinting towards his true plan.
Bond recognizes a woman at city hall who attended Zorin’s party and tries to get information from her. Her name is Stacey Sutton, a geologist who inherited a company Zorin “aggressively” (illegally) acquired. They team up to get records from city hall but Zorin kills the CIA agent and sets fire to the building. Bond and Sutton escape.
Bond and Sutton infiltrate Zorin’s mine and discover the true plan: He’s going to bomb the San Andreas and Hayward faults, flooding Silicon Valley and opening him up for takeover on the chip industry. This is literally a slightly different plan to Lex Luthor’s in Superman: The Motion Picture (1978). Jesus.
Zorin betrays his workers by blowing up the mine and leaving Mayday for dead. Sutton escapes separately but Bond and Mayday team up to stop the bomb and Mayday heroically sacrifices herself. Sutton is kidnapped, Bond saves her and blows up a zeppelin hovering atop the Golden Gate. Bond and Sutton sex it up in the shower. End.
A Closer Look
Moore detests this film. Most people detest this film. This is an easy film to dislike.
I think what actually kills this film, ignoring the petty faults that are going to be mentioned in the later section, is a general lack of effort. There’s two major locations in the film: the Seine in France and minor areas in San Francisco. This stretches the definition of globetrotting, and it also stretches the audience’s patience.
The writing is not sharp at all, and most of the film’s solutions for suspense feel half-baked. A majority of situations in the film are minor chases or death defying escapes from a death trap. These are all well and good, but they also feel relatively trivial in contrast to prior films. Just last movie in Octopussy (1983) we had tennis racquet fencing in a tiny Indian taxi. The absolute closest to proving me wrong happens at the start of the film in Siberia. Ooh! Skiing again? That must at least be third time, if not fourth. Bond abandons his skis to have a makeshift snowboard while the Beach Boys sing “California Girls” out of nowhere.
That joke doesn’t work and jokes like it were not part of the Bond film lexicon and I think that’s emblematic of the film as a whole. It wants so desperately to be good and appeal widely, but this film knows it needs to be better than it is and just fails miserably. It’s like me, and I hate that.
This was Lois Maxwell’s last performance as Moneypenny. She had about an hour’s worth of film with her in it in total for the franchise. After this only Desmond Llewelyn’s Q will remain from the classic cast, and he wasn’t in Dr. No (1962). Maxwell’s role as Moneypenny lessened in quality as the years and films went on. I’d urge everyone to see her at her best from Dr. No to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Those films have her as a sharp work associate of Bond that flirts with him and reminds him of his professional duty.
And for Moore? Moore seems disinterested in the role visually for the first time in any of the films. Given how many he did in such a time it’s remarkable he didn’t get tired sooner. Moore will always be remembered as the goofy Bond, the guy that was there too long, and the true gentleman spy. His movies and material certainly limited him, but his screen charisma and general enthusiasm was so easy to attach yourself to onscreen. Like it or not, even if fifty years pass and five more Bonds come and go, Roger Moore will always be James Bond.
This film stays mostly in a grounded tone. I mean, there’s exceptions, but they don’t ruin the film in concept. For instance, Bond doesn’t use any crazy Q gadgets for his adventure. Q has a robot dog (the craziest of his stuff so far) meant for surveillance, but Bond gets out of the many traps in the film through his own wits. See the contradictions? The plan isn’t to take over the world, but it’s still a plan fit for Superman to foil. The film is filled with this kind of thing.
Grace Jones as Mayday is a strong henchwoman. Her bold black look is visually stunning in contrast to her other females in the film, or even the typical Bond roster. Physically, she poses a strong threat and she emanates a powerful aura. This is a much bigger improvement from the last time Bond tried to seduce a black woman in Live and Let Die (1973).
Speaking of villains, Christopher Walken is the main villain! For the first time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service we actually get a villain with a charismatic actor and proper screentime. Bad character? Certainly, but his energy is needed and appreciated here.
Oh time for the promised Walken impersonation: “Ahve Goht a prescrepshun, and the only cuor is more Jaymes Bahnd. See, it’s all in the cadence, of how he talks. It’s real good. Nobody can take that away from you now.”
I’m sorry for that.
I have no idea what common consensus is but now I’m a Duran Duran fan and the song is great. Rock songs are usually safe to go to because of their lyricism and the pace of the song usually encourages a fun outlook on the film going in. The opening is evolving into something with great visual flair, clearly learning from the rising popularity of MTV. The highlights of red and blue in the darkness give hot and cold vibes.
Okay so this movie isn’t fun or funny. It’s mostly boring with some interesting stretches. The jokes never land, Bond throws less one-liners so now the jokes rely on bystanders or visual or editing gags. All of these play very poorly in contrast to everything else.
It was previously hinted at, but Moore’s performance is at its worst. I think a lot of it has to do with age, but he also seems genuinely repulsed by Grace Jones’ behavior. Good enough for a villain, but Bond also sleeps with and sympathizes with Mayday. Mayday is at the front of most promotional material for the film. More chemistry here is sorely missed. Not to mention Moore’s physicality means the combat in this film (which there is a lot of) leaves a lot to be desired. There are limits to how impressive a stuntman can be.
The villain backstory sucks and even the locations we go to are big yawn-factories. I don’t care about horses and there is like forty minutes dedicated to horses. The mines are visually ugly for a fortress, and everywhere else in San Francisco feels unimpressive. I’m sorry I just don’t need to see the inner workings of city hall or an empty rich person’s home. These just don’t make for anything compelling.
This isn’t even to mention bizarre concepts pushed by the production company because they thought they would look cool. That Nazi super baby thing is really only addressed in a few lines of dialogue. When you hear about it in the film, you get a huge YIKES. Maybe Bond fighting a fancy Nazi monster would be cool, but this film only mentions it a handful of times and for the large majority Zorin is just a standard cliche.
I never thought we would get here, but Roger Moore is done. We have two Timothy Dalton films, four Brosnan films, and four Craig films. We are over the major hurdles and are entering a new, modern era of Bond.
What I Drank
I drank vodka in honor of the start of the film. Vodka is a wonderful mixer, normally I use gin for a Tom Collins but this Vodka Collins was pretty great. You want 1 1/2 ounce of vodka, 1/2 ounce of simple syrup, 1 ounce club soda, and garnish with a fruit, preferably an orange slice.