Looking back at A View To A Kill

Often maligned on release, is the 14th Bond movie worthy of reassessment? James looks back at A View To A Kill…

At the ripe old age of 57, Roger Moore decided to take one more turn as England’s favourite secret agent, James Bond. The result was 1985’s A View To A Kill, the 14th movie in the Bond canon. To say this wasn’t the best received entry into the franchise would be something of an understatement. The film faced a critical mauling, the main complaint being that Moore was just too old to play Bond. 

At the movie’s San Francisco premiere (the city where the film’s grand finale takes place), Sean Connery was interviewed, and stated that Moore was too old for the part. This was a conclusion that Roger Moore had come to himself during filming, when he realised that the mother of the film’s ‘Bond girl’, Tanya Roberts, was actually younger than he was.

It might be no surprise, then, that Roger Moore would later say that A View To A Kill was the least favourite of his seven James Bond movies, citing some of the film’s more explosively violent moments as out of character with the Bond archetype.

This writer believes, though, that Moore did protest too much. Admittedly, no one would ever say that Moore looked as good here as he did in The Man With The Golden Gun – his hair does look as though it’s been stored overnight somewhere and then placed upon his head, Darth Vader style – but it is undeniable that A View To A Kill is a very entertaining film, a globe-straddling adventure which has all the hallmarks of a great James Bond movie. 

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To begin with, A View To A Kill has one of the most memorable pre-credits sequences of any Bond. Opening in the snowy wastes of Siberia, we see James retrieving a microchip from a now deceased fellow MI6 agent. Naturally, he is discovered, and a thrilling ski chase ensues which sees Bond use his trademark creativity to make good his escape. In fact, Bond all but invents snowboarding to get away from the Russians. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the film has been credited with helping popularise the sport.

This high-action scene ends in an explosive helicopter crash, before Bond slips into a submarine disguised as an iceberg. Duran Duran’s belting theme tune hasn’t even kicked in yet and 007 has already kicked a bunch of ass, blown something up and bedded a lady.

On his return to London, Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell in her 007 swansong, too) tells Bond she’s been trying to reach him. Bond replies that the trip back from Siberia “took a lot out of me”. To which the ever-innocent Moneypenny responds, “Your dedication when on the job is commendable, James.”

This is just the first of many, many innuendo-filled lines in A View To A Kill, making it one of the most quotable movies in the series. It’s got its tongue-in-cheek, English humour down to a tee. It’ll raise a smile but at the same time, you feel you’d be pretty safe watching it in the same room as your gran. 

Once in M’s office, Q reveals that the microchip Bond brought back from Siberia is identical to one they’ve developed to be impervious to electro-magnetic pulses, produced by Zorin Industries. Much to the disgust of a British minister, Bond suggests that perhaps Max Zorin, a wealthy industrialist, may be behind the KGB getting hold of the design.

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Bond first sets eyes on Max Zorin during a trip to Ascot racecourse. Zorin, as portrayed by Christopher Walken, is A View To A Kill’s villain, and a hugely underrated one in the Bond series. Zorin is a megalomaniac psychopath, but an extremely rich and powerful one, and Walken looks like he’s having the time of his life in the role. He is as cold as any man planning a mass genocide would be pereceived to be, and always with an air of calm and control. Only on a couple of occasions during the film does Walken allow Zorin to show anger.

Zorin is a joy to watch. He has a rich back-story that is filled in as the film progresses, and he gets his scene that all good Bond baddies should, in which he disposes of an unnecessary associate. In Zorin’s case, a Japanese business colleague decides he no longer wants to deal with Max, so is asked to wait outside. The meeting, however, is taking place on Max Zorin’s personal airship, and outside means precisely that. The character was written with the hope that David Bowie would play Zorin, but he turned the film down in order to appear in Labyrinth. Just think how the landscape of fantasy cinema would have been altered if he hadn’t…

The trip to Ascot also introduces us to Zorin’s chief henchman, or in this case, henchwoman. The henchman is almost as important in Bond lore as the main villain. Goldfinger had Oddjob, Scaramanga had Nick Nack and Zorin has Mayday, in the rather scary form of Grace Jones. When Zorin’s horse wins a race under dubious circumstances and runs amok, it is Mayday who demonstrates the strength to calm the animal down.

Bond has a close encounter with Mayday during his investigations. He chases her up the Eiffel tower and then across Paris in the film’s second outstanding action set piece, and Mayday’s jump from the famous Parisian landmark is undoubtedly the stunt of the film. As minions go, Mayday is pretty unforgettable. Deadly and feral, she would do anything in service of her boss, even taking care of Bond “personally”.

Grace Jones seems like a frightening person at the best of times (Roger Moore reportedly hated her on set) and she makes for strong henchwoman material. It’s thanks to Jones’ involvement in the film, that A View To A Kill features an early cameo from a future Expendable. Blink and you’ll miss him, but because of his relationship with Jones at the time of filming, Dolph Lundgren appears as a KGB agent in one scene. 

The action stays in France as Bond blags an invite to Zorin’s chateau for his horse sale. Posing as James St John Smythe, which is a particularly naff alias, Bond infiltrates the proceedings with MI6 agent Sir Goddfrey Tibbett as his manservant. Tibbett is nicely played by former Avengers (not the Joss Whedon one) star Patrick McNee. His banter with Moore is highly amusing, and it’s with genuinely sad when Mayday throttles him in a car wash.

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It’s during this part of the film that two more of A View To A Kill’s notable females are introduced. Bond is greeted upon arrival by Jenny Flex, prompting the familiar Bondism, “Of course you are.” There follows a tradtitional bit of flirting from Moore in which he asks whether Ms Flex spends a lot of time in the saddle. She says to Bond that she “loves an early morning ride”, before Bond chimes in with, “I’m an early riser myself”. Smooth. 

Jenny Flex marked the first major role for actress Alison Doody, who would find herself chasing the Holy Grail alongside Indiana Jones four years later in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. 

It’s at the chateau that Bond also first catches sight of Stacey Sutton, the movie’s obligatory Bond girl, played by Tanya Roberts. Sutton is a US geologist whom Zorin is trying to pay off in return for some shares in a company he needs to own for his dastardly plot, which it turns out, is to control the world microchip market. Roberts is okay as a Bond girl, though she is given little else to do other than cry “Oh James!” at all the right moments. Moore said of his co-star that he felt there was little chemistry between them. That’s a little on the harsh side as they seem to do alright together, though their scenes don’t quite sizzle like Moore’s did with Britt Eckland in The Man With The Golden Gun.

The film’s final act takes place in San Francisco and makes good use of the city’s famous landmarks, with the climax taking place by the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s hard to imagine the film building to a bigger finale than it does. This being Bond of the 80s, we know the ending’s going to be a happy one, but it’s still sweaty palm time when 007 is dangling from the great structure, high up in the air.

So then: is there an argument that A View To A Kill could be the most underrated James Bond film in the series? It’s easy to poke fun at Moore’s age and the campiness that the character had taken on at this point, before Timothy Dalton brought a harder edge back to 007, but there is a lot to love here, and much of it is in keeping with the expectations of a Bond film.

Firstly there’s the bonkers yet brilliant plot. Max Zorin was perhaps the last Bond villain to set his sights on true destruction on a global scale. One draft of the script had him attempting to change the course of Haley’s Comet to achieve his evil goal. He settles for trying to set up a double earthquake, but that’s still the kind of ambition that you don’t see in today’s psychopaths. Even though it’s preposterous, it’s damn good fun.

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Secondly, it’s a real globe-straddling adventure, taking us from Siberia to Ascot, then from Paris to San Francisco. We expect to see James Bond in glamorous locations, and A View To A Kill does not disappoint. Not only that, but the film makes use of two of planet Earth’s most famous structures for two breathtaking action scenes. As great as Casino Royale is, an old building falling apart in Venice seems a little lo-fi when compared to a duel atop the Golden Gate Bridge.

Thirdly, the film is stuffed with great supporting characters. Max Zorin, Mayday, Godfrey Tibbett, Jenny Flex as well as Zorin’s fellow associates Scarpine, Dr Carl Mortner and oil tycoon Bob Conley. There are few other Bond movies with such a rich character set.

And then there is Duran Duran’s theme song. Many cite it as being the one redeeming feature of A View To A Kill, but for me, it’s just the cherry on top of the cake. The first Bond theme to be performed by a ‘pop band’, the track is an absolutely cracking tune, the cry of “dance into the fire” in the chorus a fitting choice for Bond going up against the likes of Mayday and Zorin.

A View To A Kill is a trans-world adventure which pits Bond against a classic villain intent on near world domination – of the microchip market at least. It has Bond on impressive form with the ladies (he gets down with four in this film, which is a record) and the script is teeming with the cringe-worthy 007 wit. When it’s time to deliver the action goods, the movie doesn’t hold back and ramps up the thrills.

In summary, the 14th James Bond movie might not have the gritty edge we expect from the MI6 agent today, but as an escapist, grand adventure, it’s impossible not to smile at its charm.

The tie-in videogame was awful, though.

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