BOND: Revisiting A VIEW TO A KILL - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal cooks an omelette.

With 1983’s Octopussy having won “the battle of the Bonds” at the box office at least, work began on the next big-screen adventure for James Bond. Roger Moore, now in his mid-50s, had tied with noted predecessor Sean Connery in doing six Bond films for EON productions. Moore, however, would do a seventh Bond film at the age of 56, 1985’s A View To A Kill. It is something we might be thankful for since, if there had been a new actor in the role, Bond might well have come to an end in the mid-1980s.

Looking at the film, it’s clear that Moore was well past his prime, having seemed to have aged quite a bit in a couple of years between making Octopussy and this film. He looks much older, and not in a good way, looking laughably out of place both in action scenes (where he isn’t visibly being doubled that is) but especially in scenes with his much younger female costars. It's hard not to see Moore in scenes with Tanya Roberts or Fiona Fullerton without the phrase "robbing the cradle" coming to mind. Like with Octopussy before it, Moore's performance is caught between the extremes of wanting to be light but also playing harder scenes in places. A few years earlier and it might have been one of his best performances, but here Moore just lacks believability.

The film’s cast doesn’t improve, sadly. Following a run of stronger female leads, the series takes a step backward with Stacey Sutton, played by Tanya Roberts. Stacey seems to exist for only two reasons: to either be a damsel in distress or as a source of exposition. It's a role that any actress would have found difficult to make believable, but Tanya Roberts fails miserably at it, going for over the top every chance she gets. Indeed, the go-to for character and actress alike is to shout "JAMES!" as loudly and frequently as possible. It's a shame, one which leaves us with perhaps the single worst female lead in the entire history of the franchise, which is saying something.

Over the top doesn’t begin to describe the film’s villain Max Zorin played by Christopher Walken. Walken doesn’t seem to take the role seriously at all from the moment he appears on the screen to the moment he thankfully exits the film. Walken plays the villain with zero sense of menace, and instead plays up the insanity of the character by laughing manically almost every time he appears on the screen. Presumably intended for dramatic effect, it instead makes the character utterly laughable and ridiculous. In short, a caricature idea of what a Bond villain ought to be.

The supporting cast is mixed, as well. Grace Jones as henchwoman May Day is even more over the top than Walken’s Zorin, with the result of being more annoying than threatening. The character is further ruined by a plot twist late in the film stolen out of an earlier Bond adventure (more on that later). Other villainous characters such as Patrick Bauchau's Scarpine and Willoughby Gray as a former Nazi scientist are little more than clichés on legs, the sort of thing one might have expected out of B-movies of the era. Other members of the supporting cast fare better, with Patrick Macnee as Sir Godfrey Tibbett gives what is perhaps the best performance in the entire film, even though his character is, all too often, played for laughs. Fiona Fullerton as Pola Ivanova fares better than Tanya Roberts, even though she looks rather out of place being seduced by Moore’s 007. Also of mention is Lois Maxwell, who plays Miss Moneypenny for the last time. Maxwell, like Moore, is well past her prime in the role, but her exit from the series does little to mark her more than a two-decade-long contribution.

Moving into the production, the film’s other faults come into focus. The action sequences get played for laughs time and again. It doesn't matter if it's the snowbound teaser sequence (ruined by the use of a Beach Boys song) to the car chasing parachutist in Paris, and most obviously in the fire truck chase through San Francisco. Other action sequences come across as uninspired, especially in the fight scenes at the Sutton house and the climactic fight on top of the Golden Gate Bridge. There is also the increasingly obvious doubling of Moore in every single one of these sequences, to the point of seeing the stunt driver's face again and again in the Paris car chase, which detracts from the film itself and believability in its star. Another problem is the production design of Peter Lamont which, oddly, feels rather lacking and uninspired, even though money has been spent throughout the film. That isn’t where the film is hurt the most, however.

Nothing lets A View To A Kill down more than its script. Which, let's be blunt, is nothing short than Goldfinger repackaged for the 1980s. There are horses, a plan to destroy a sizeable chunk of America's economic wealth to make the villains' stockpile all the more profitable, a last-minute change of heart by a woman connected to the villain which derails the plan and an underwhelming final climactic fight between Bond and the main villain. What the script lacks is the charm and humor, partly scripted but also one part happy accident, that the film made 21 years earlier had, instead relying on convention, coincidence, and cringeworthy dialogue to keep the plot in motion. It's the ultimate case in point of how those making the Moore era kept trying to trade on past glories, and all too often find diminishing results.

There is one bright spot in this film, however: the score from John Barry. When it isn’t having a Beach Boys song thrown into it, Barry’s work is what a good Bond film score should be. From the electric guitar that can be heard alongside the orchestra in action sequences to the fanfare heard as Bond descends with Stacy down the ladder of a fire truck to the romantic themes underplaying the scenes with Bond and Stacy, Barry seems to be the one person taking the film seriously and putting imagination into his work on it. There’s also the matter of the film’s theme song, supplied by Duran Duran, which is quite a good pop song in its own right even if it is playing over Maurice Binder’s single most unimaginative credit sequence. No matter how good the score or song however, they can’t elevate the film to being good on their own.

There is only one word to describe A View To A Kill, and that word is uninspired. Worse than being uninspired, though, is the simple fact that it is the worst film of the series. From its cast and cringeworthy humor to a reliance on a repurposed plot, A View To A Kill feels more and more like an act of self-parody, just as over the hill as its leading man. What was clear, despite success at the box-office, was that a change in both leading man and tone was needed.

And were they to come, indeed.

Previous "BOND: Revisiting..." articles
Dr. No - From Russia With Love - Goldfinger - Thunderball - You Only Live Twice - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Diamonds Are Forever - Live And Let Die - The Man With The Golden Gun - The Spy Who Loved Me - Moonraker - For Your Eyes Only - Octopussy

Never Say Never Again

Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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