This one’s an unworthy last hurrah for Sir Rog. Yet such is life. Received wisdom pegs A View to A Kill as a lacklustre final outing in which an inspired song, villain and Grace Jones are smothered by slack plotting, a not-at-his-best Moore, weak characters and a general sense of weariness. Received wisdom is a terrible thing. But occasionally it has a point.
The Villain: To waste one great villain on a rubbish film may be classed as unfortunate. To waste a second is damned careless. Max Zorin is Exhibit B to counter the hoary old adage that a Bond film is measured by its antagonist. Zorin is fresh, vibrant, energetic – the inverse of the film he terrorises. He’s played by a Hollywood legend in his prime: good for the character, bad for the film. Christopher Walken just looks evil. Fine-boned and wild-eyed, he probably emerged from the womb in a whiff of sulphur. Sanity and platinum blond hair rarely coincide.
The Girl: James! James!! Jaaaaaaaaames!!! Oh James! James!!! Help me, James!!! James!! Don’t leave me, James!!! James!! Jaaaames!!! Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaames!!!! James! James! James! James! James! James! James! James! James, where are you???!!!
Remember that party from Live And Let Die? It’s still going on, and Roger’s still there. Only he’s now twenty years older than everybody else and keeps trying to chat up girls by telling stories about their mother. His expensive suit and readily flourished wallet ensure he’s never short of company, but the sight is more than a little tragic. Time to go home, Roger. It was time to go home two hours ago.
Sure, Sean Connery popped back for a snifter, but only for old time’s sake. And then he left hastily, as befits a man of his years. You’ve been here all night, Roger! We loved having you but the party’s over. The magic tricks don’t work anymore. You keep dropping the deck.
And still Roger ploughs on. Dancing on tables in once-shiny shoes. He tells long-winded jokes only to forget the punchline. He tries the limbo and nearly puts out his back. Dalton watches from the corner. Dalton looks sad.
The plot, then. Freshly returned from India, Bond is dispatched to Siberia for the pre-credits. A lot of people hate the combination of Beach Boys and snowboarding; personally I think the blast of “California Girls,” while hardly purist, does at least bring a touch of wit, a glimpse of originality. The 007 Theme makes a welcome return (“Dun, dun, dun, deeern”) and contrasts nicely with Brian Wilson and Co.
The obligatory blonde awaits in the obligatory fake-iceberg. (Why is Bond never paired with a monosyllabic Slav named Gert?) She promptly succumbs on a luxurious fur futon (MI6 sure don’t stint on comforts) as Bond purrs “Five days to Alaska.” Good luck, 007. No little blue pills in 1985; hope you’ve been eating your greens.
Nope, pass pre-credits sequence as far as I’m concerned. And the credits themselves are turbocharged by that thrilling Duran Duran number, a perpetual contender for series best. Certainly no song boasts a more exciting opening: “Bam! Bam ba bam! Bam ba bam…!” Note the subtle distinctions from the ‘Duns’ of the 007 Theme.
This may be the Moore’s last sigh as 007 but his isn’t the only notable departure. Lois Maxwell, veteran of 14 Bond films (exactly double Roger), has typed her last memo. Poor Lois. She barely featured in these retrospectives, save for a brief paragraph way back in Dr. No, where I warned she wouldn’t feature very much. Thus the fate of minor recurring characters. A steady job, decent wage, your own little niche in cinematic folklore – but very much brushed beneath the critical carpet. I imagine her ghost will cope.
In truth, Lois stayed behind the desk too long. Her exchanges with Moore dwindle to the stuff of the Bingo Hall. Maxwell brings great charm to a frequently thankless role but Moneypenny, like Bond, should be the youthful face of espionage, set against the grizzled visages of M and other top brass.
Moneypenny is the least significant of the MI6 staff. M sets the mission, and thus the plot; Q provides gadgets and vehicles. Moneypenny flirts awkwardly. Perhaps the character should have retired with Maxwell. Her initial absence from the Craig reboots hardly registered. Although her appearance in Skyfall…well, all in good time.
We whisk over to Paris for a totally pointless interlude. Mayday skydiving off the Eiffel Tower is a fine stunt, one that gains double points for incorporating a national landmark. But then Bond gives pursuit. He hijacks a taxi and speeds through crowded Parisian streets with the devil-may-care attitude of a man who knows he’s doomed to spend most of the film mooching around San Francisco and if he wants to dent the budget now is the moment. Damage, mayhem, and considerable civilian danger duly occur; Bond spends most of this high-speed chase literally looking up at the sky. Mayday escapes, naturally, but not before Bond bisects his taxi (he keeps driving) and ruins a very expensive wedding.
At least the French jolly isn’t a complete waste of air miles. The sleazy detective divulges Zorin’s country horse sale before he is butterflied to death by Mayday. So, armed with priceless information he could probably have read in Tatler, Bond slinks back to Blighty.
Horsing around in the countryside is made bearable, even enjoyable, by the presence of Patrick Macnee as Sir Godfrey Tibbett. The stately Tibbett suffers the indignity of posing as Bond’s manservant; the interplay between old buddies Moore and Macnee is warm and witty, ensuring Bond’s Tibbett-baiting comes off as banter rather than bullying.
(I searched for an alternative to “banter,” as in 2015 the word brings the right-minded out in hives. Then I decided “banter” is historically a sound word and, if used in the right context – e.g. nowhere near the term ‘lad’ – banter can remain a sound word. So I reclaimed it. #Bringingbackthebanter)
The real joke is Macnee’s Avengers background as Bond-a-like Sir John Steed. The series had already purloined two former Steed girls in Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg. Making Steed himself wash Bond’s Rolls Royce was the ultimate assertion of superiority, albeit a playful one. The suave, debonair Steed, ever sporting a bowler hat, bore a certain filial resemblance to the Bond of Roger Moore. Pulling the trick with Timothy Dalton wouldn’t quite work.
Sneaking around at night, Bond and Tibbett beat up two security guards but decide to stick about and hope they aren’t identified. The ‘fingers crossed’ approach to espionage. Sadly this optimism is ill-founded; Zorin owns a computer that provides Bond’s name, number and killing licence. Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, one muses on Bond’s capability as a ‘secret’ agent. Maybe Zorin got his details from the maker of Scaramanga’s uncanny Bond waxwork.
A rather surreal scene ensues. Having discovered his foe’s true identity, Zorin opts against instant arrest and/or torture. Instead he decides to take Bond steeplechasing. Because Connery got to ride a horse, so Roger should too.
We could file this under ‘typical villainous attempt to assert superiority oh look you’ve beaten me’ were all the jumps not booby-trapped and Zorin’s goons didn’t hit Bond with riding crops, slightly compromising the competitive spirit. I wonder: were the jumps always booby-trapped for just this sort of occasion? Or did a construction team get to work very, very quickly?
Tibbett turns up dead. Boo! He’s strangled by Mayday from the backseat of the Rolls. Her concealment isn’t exactly covert: she sneaks inside whilst Tibbett goes to open the front gate. Only he saw her beside the car two seconds previously, and now empty green lawns stretch in all directions. Where could she have vanished? How mortifying if Godfrey peeked through the rear window and saw Mayday crouched on the floor.
Funny one, Mayday. She is set up as an Amazonian Jaws, silently taking out half the cast. Her bedding of Moore feels contrived: she woman, he Bond, it must occur. I wish her relationship with Zorin – a willing one, unusually – were properly explored. I wish he didn’t randomly betray her. Grace Jones is on formidable, glowering form, but her character is really just a memorable cipher, and side-lined after her murder of Tibbett. She deserved more than she was given.
Why shoot a man when you could watch him drown? Or at least, watch the surface of a lake and imagine him drowning underneath. Clearly Zorin has a lot of spare time. But sucking the air from a tyre is a neat survival trick so we’ll just about let the writers have that one.
Onto San Francisco, where Bond gate-crashes a Soviet surveillance job at Zorin’s oil rig. It is astounding how frequently rival spies bump into each other. Fortunately Pola, the hot female spy, survives while her unnamed male counterpart is captured and fed into a propeller. Even better – it turns out Bond romanced her in the past! That saves about thirty seconds of flirting. Into the Jacuzzi with you.
Some might view Pola as another sign that nobody could really be arsed. Her history with Bond certainly cuts a few corners. Yet perhaps Pola represents a brave stab at verisimilitude? It should be cause for comment if Bond meets a female spy he hasn’t previously bedded. Goodnight, Anya, Holly, multiple pre-credits blondes: no wonder the old boy starts repeating himself.
Anyway, Pola steals the wrong cassette tape and exits apartment and film. She’s done her bit: a notch on the Bond bedpost and ten minutes killed.
The action heats up as Bond visits San Francisco City Hall. Nothing like municipal bureaucracy to get the thrill juice flowing. Posing as a Financial Times reporter, Bond spars with city official W.G. Howe on the mechanics of oil pipelines. Then, disaster! Stacy Sutton materialises and Bond decides to follow her home. He previously encountered Stacy at Zorin’s country pad. There she was cool, enigmatic. Never trust first impressions.
Oh Stacy Sutton. The alliteration rings true. Plenty of ‘S’ words describe Stacy. ‘Shrill’, ‘shrieking’, ‘stupefyingly senseless.’ Sadly not stoic.
Like Tiffany Case, Stacy is initially positioned as a tough cookie only to crumble, loudly, at the first hint of peril. Tanya Roberts does a fine job of imbuing numerous screams of ‘James!’ with subtly different inflections. Sometimes she adds an ‘Oh James!’ for the sake of variety. At one point excitement takes hold and ‘James! Help Me!’ is summoned. Occasionally she gets flustered and just goes ‘Aaaah!’
Bond is kept busy at the Sutton residence. He fights off some heavies, fixes the electricity and rustles up a quiche. Typical Roger: the only Bond man enough to venture into the kitchen (the rest invariably dine out, although Dalton carries a whiff of Ready Meal. Keep your eyes peeled in Tesco and I bet you’d spot Timothy slinking toward the lasagne aisle). Is the quiche a clever piece of wordplay on the Moore era: kitsch? Doubtful – but I’ll give the writers the benefit of it. Very witty, chaps.
Unable to resist the pull of local governance, the film has Bond and Stacy revisit City Hall. Stacy is promptly sacked. They go home. CIA agent Chuck Lee comes round for a chat and a cuppa. Lee exists solely to be killed off; that purpose is swiftly fulfilled.
So what now? Need you even ask? Bond ditches Stacy and tracks Zorin to Italy for a showdown within the bowls of an erupting Vesuvius. No, of course not. Because that would be vaguely involving. Back to City Hall once more.
Our heroes return at night and start rifling through filing cabinets. Only Zorin and Mayday lie in wait – at least I assume they’re lying in wait. Perhaps they too love City Hall. Perhaps this is date night.
Perhaps not. Zorin shoots Howe and sets City Hall on fire. Good move: Bond was one visit away from standing for office. The shooting of Howe is very well done: a Zorin monologue references the still-living official’s murder, prompting Howe to observe, ‘but that means I would have to be-‘‘Dead!’ says Zorin cheerily, and shoots him. Nicely done.
Zorin is usually responsible for the rare moments of inspiration. His shooting of Howe is a highlight. Ditto the last, helpless giggle just before he falls from the Golden Gate Bridge: surely a Walken improvisation. To his credit the famously loopy Walken doesn’t ‘do a Berkoff’ and start wolfing down the scenery. Underplay occurs. The casual “Does anybody else want to drop out?” after a reluctant business associate is sent plummeting from the airship. My personal favourite: at the climax, as Bond dangles from the airship, and the Golden Gate Bridge drifts into view. Zorin’s smile is wickedness incarnate.
Yet Moore and Walken fail to spark. Blame age, partially: Walken is the only baddie noticeably younger than his Bond. This isn’t exactly a case of “Roger Moore is 58, ha ha ha.” Blame Walken, if you wish, for being 42. Moore required a contemporary, while Walken’s lively performance demanded a youthful 007.
Moore has many virtues. His television background and soufflé-light persona chimes wonderfully with Patrick Macnee and helps make The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and Octopussy fine teatime fare. You can almost sniff the toasted crumpets. He also works well with the exotic, the archetypal Englishman abroad, as visits to Harlem, Thailand and India all proved. His gameness can anchor the most absurd of concepts.
But Roger doesn’t do gloss. Even for big American stars, Christopher Walken and Grace Jones are particularly large, American and starry. Against their glitz Moore feels diminished, shrunken. Walken and Jones aren’t quite bigger than Bond but they are bigger than the Bond of Roger Moore. I doubt Dalton would have fared much better. Brosnan, with his Hollywood sheen, might have provided the requisite ballast.
After the tuk tuk, double-decker bus and moon buggy, how about a fire truck chase? The chase works well as a set-piece, provided you don’t question why it’s happening in the first place. Surely Bond could spare thirty minutes to accompany the police downtown and make a quick phone call? Then pour out a stiff brandy while the might of the Californian police force descend on Zorin’s mine. Simples.
Famously Moore hated the scene where Zorin machineguns the mine workers. Not Bond, quoth Sir Roger – the same criticism levelled against redneck sheriffs, Kung Fu schoolgirls, space travel and clowns. As we know, Bond’s genius is its elasticity: pretty much anything is Bond if you squint hard enough. Still, I admit mowing down hordes of people hardly typifies the Moore era. (Although tell that to poor Corinne Dufour and those Moonraker dogs.)
Mayday turns good awfully quick. I view her sacrifice as the act of a woman scorned as opposed to a sudden conversion to the angels. Her act would be far more powerful if the film explored more of her and Zorin’s relationship. They both like killing people and falling from architectural landmarks. The rest is a mystery.
The Golden Gate Bridge is a massive tactical error by Zorin. Obviously no villain wants Bond dangling by a rope from their airship but overall this is a position of strength. Just keep flying. His arms will get tired. Avoid tall structures. Tall structures plus trailing rope could cause problems. So Zorin flies Bond into the Golden Gate Bridge. Nice one, Max. One thing you shouldn’t do and you go ahead and do it.
But then we all do things we shouldn’t. Such as making that seventh Bond film when, in your own words, you’re about “400 years too old.” The true shame isn’t Bond’s age, or the script’s weakness, but that this farewell mission didn’t remain true to the Moore era. That crucial sense of fun is totally sapped. Exhaustion pervades. Even The Man With The Golden Gun (my personal bête noire) contained interesting ideas, strong characters, a brilliant concept in the Fun Home and a nicely hardboiled opening third. My problem with Golden Gun is its squandered potential as much as the finished product.
AVTAK squanders little potential. The film is rotten to its core. Even the strengths of Walken and Jones feel detached from the rest of the action. Sir Godfrey Tibbett is a joy, the action largely entertaining, and kudos to any climax that crashes an airship into the Golden Gate Bridge. My opinion of Golden Gun mellowed, or certainly deepened, after reading the comments of its defenders. I’ll be interested to see if AVTAK fans can repeat the trick.
And so farewell to the man who (officially) played James Bond more than anyone else. That record, I suspect, will never be broken. Moore joined a phenomenally successful series that seemed yoked to its original star. He left a franchise. Under Moore the number of Bond films doubled. The age of the franchise doubled, from 11 to 23. This was only inevitable in hindsight. A Connery clone would have dropped the ball. Another failed casting could have proved terminal.
So thank you, sir. For ensuring James Bond exists in 2015. And for some wonderful moments; the hair-breadth escapes, flashes of wit, acts of derring-do, unruffled charm and a bedroom appetite of heroic proportions. They will be other Bonds. But there will never be another you.
It’s been an absolute blast. Roger and out.
Best Bit: Zorin’s cleverly executed killing of Howe.
Worst Bit: Any time Stacy shrieks “JAMES!” A loaded field.
Final Thought: I like how MI6’s attempts to locate Bond consist of sending Q to lurk outside Stacy’s house in a van. And why doesn’t he just ring on the doorbell?