Thursday, May 12, 2011

Review – A View to a Kill

May 11, 2011

A View to a Kill – UK, 1985

Roger Moore made seven Bond films, more than any actor that has ever played the role of 007. I would say he paid his dues, and yet he never had the opportunity to star in a truly great Bond film, one that measures up to films such as Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This is no fault of his, but the fact is that most of Moore’s Bond films have been more reactionary than innovative, more reliant on humor than drama. Some have simply been too similar to previous Bond films. As a thank you from a grateful studio, the least Moore deserved was a strong send-off, a chapter in the Bond series that would remembered fondly years later. Instead, he got A View to a Kill.

Those viewers looking for an exciting opening sequence are likely to be disappointed, for the opening scene of A View to a Kill feels too much like a retread of other films with one major difference. Bond simply looks tired in this one. Once again, we find Bond on a snow-packed mountain being pursued by Russian agents who are apparently after the microchip that Bond recovers from the body of Agent 003, who seems to have died in an avalanche. Once again, the bad guys can’t shoot, and Bond makes narrow escape after narrow escape. Making the scene somewhat awkward is the inclusion of the Beach Boys’ song “California Girls” as Bond snowboards down the mountain on what remains of a snowmobile. This scene is followed by what is probably the worst opening credits of any Bond film thus far, replete with women whose faces are adorned by glowing neon designs of such things as moon and stars. Each one of the ladies we see holds what looks like one of those glow-in-the-dark plastic squirt guns that Kmart used to sell. The images are accompanied by Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill,” and in a sign that someone just wasn’t trying anymore, a woman stamps her feet off beat behind a computer graphic of flickering flames while Simon LeBon sings, “…until we dance into the fire.”

From there, we learn the details of Bond’s next assignment. As it turns out, the microchip that Bond recovered has been built to withstand major explosions, and if such a chip fell into Russian hands, it would put Britain at a severe disadvantage if it ever went to war with the Soviet Union. The investigation starts – and ends for that matter - with Max Zorin, a French businessman suspected of having ties to the KGB. Zorin is played by Christopher Walken, who brings to the role his unique brand of zaniness, and perhaps only he can deliver the line, “I’m happy… in the saddle” with a straight face. However, there’s not much to his character, and an early scene in which we see him being trained in martial arts ultimately leads nowhere. During a fight with Bond later in the film, he never even uses a karate chop.

The best Bond films have been ones in which Bond must unravel a mystery, to discover who’s involved in a plot or what exactly the plot is. This is not one of those films. There’s never any doubt about Zorin’s involvement in something unscrupulous. How can there be when we see him in Paris helping an assassin get away so soon into the film? Usually villains send a henchman to do that sort of thing, but I guess Zorin is a hands-on boss. So all that’s left for Bond to uncover is Zorin’s plot, and unfortunately viewers learn what it is before Bond does. When I first heard it, I thought, “Is that even possible?” I asked the same question even after the exact details of the plan were revealed. I won’t reveal much more about the plot except to say that Zorin’s ultimate goal is to have a monopoly in microchips. This puts Zorin in the same category as Mr. Big from Live and Let Die – He’s a villain more interested in removing his competition than running the world. Somehow that pursuit seems a bit underwhelming for a Bond film.

A View to a Kill has a doozy of a back story involving an unethical scientist and experiments on pregnant females in a concentration camp during World War II. Apparently, the result of these experiments was the creation of a group of intelligent psychopaths that hold no grudge against their mothers’ tormentor. With the exception of Zorin, they dress as if they were a part of the Justice League even when they’re trying to blend in. Zorin’s head assassin has the unfortunate name of May Day (say it twice quickly). In an odd scene, a little romance breaks out between her and Zorin, and her response to it is to hiss, bite, and growl like a cat, which is either her way of telling him to leave her alone or a rather peculiar form of foreplay. Later, the script calls for her to utter that famous sentiment, “And I thought that creep loved me.” I can honestly say I never got that impression.

Tanya Roberts does a decent job as the initially elusive Stacey Sutton. She is interesting, for she’s not your average Bond girl. She’s more like a fish out of water. I also enjoyed Patrick Macnee’s performance as Sir Godfrey Tibbett, who goes undercover as Bond’s chauffer. His reactions to Bond’s attempts to take advantage of their undercover roles add a nice bit of realistic levity to the film. As May Day, Grace Jones is fine. The problem is that her role is one that we’ve seen many times before. However, it’s the story that drags A View to a Kill down. With the exception of a few well shot sequences, one in which Bond and Sutton have to escape from a burning elevator, I was simply never really interested in it. It introduces somewhat interesting plot points simply to introduce characters, and it follows too many good moments with bad ones. For example, the great elevator scene is followed by a not-so great scene in which Bond makes his getaway in a fire engine. There’s also a scene in which Bond presses a button and low and behold is lowered down to a secret laboratory. Just how many times have we seen this before?

In addition, Zorin may just be the riskiest villain in Bond history, and this is not a particularly good trait. At one point, a character referred to in the credits as “Taiwanese Tycoon” finds himself falling to his death into the San Francisco Bay after he declines to be part of Zorin’s scheme. You’d expect Zorin to go to great lengths not to be connected to a death as suspicious as this one, but you’d be wrong. He’s traveling in a hot air balloon that has the name of his company in large letters on it. You can imagine witnesses telling law enforcement, “I don’t know what happened, but there was a large Zorin Enterprises blimp in the area.” All in all, A View to a Kill is a disappointing end for the man who has played Bond the longest. As I said at the beginning, he deserved better than to go out with this. (on DVD)

2 stars

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