Sunday, March 30, 2014

Not The Bottom-out Of James Bond, A View To A Kill Is More Average Than Empty.

The Good: Good direction/editing, Interesting plot and villain characterization, Good actors
The Bad: No superlative performances, Predictable plot progression, No character development
The Basics: Roger Moore’s final outing as 007 has James Bond confronting an industrialist who wants to take over Silicon Valley through any means he has to!

For me, it is interesting to recall when I lost interest in one trend and got into a new portion of my life. My James Bond Phase was followed by my love of the Star Trek franchise and, despite seeing Never Say Never Again, the last James Bond film I watched before I got into Star Trek was A View To A Kill. I recall seeing A View To A Kill on a sleepover with a friend (who is now, alas, dead), but never again . . . until tonight!

A View To A Kill is the final James Bond film that starred Roger Moore and the common complaint with it was that Moore was too old to credibly be James Bond. I did not find that to be so when watching A View To A Kill (though I also have no issues with Peter Capaldi playing Doctor Who!). Instead, the film is hampered by many of the usual problems with James Bond movies at this point; the plots are fairly predictable, the characters do not develop, and the one-liners have gotten more flat than witty.

Recovering a microchip from a dead agent, James Bond evades a swarm of Russian agents by skiing to a submarine (cleverly disguised as an iceberg). Returning to Britain, James Bond learns from Q that 003’s death came as a result of the microchip technology he was smuggling out for MI-6. The microchip, which would not be damaged from the radiation from a nuclear attack, is a prototype that the British are desperate to keep out of the hands of the Russians. The nuclear-safe microchip is produced by Zorin Industries and after visiting a horse race that Max Zorin is at, James Bond is on the trail; trying to find how the Zorin Industries chip ended up on Russian hands and prevent the Russians from developing the technology. After his best lead is killed by Zorin’s assistant, May Day, in France, going undercover as St. John Smythe to the Zorin estate under the guise of being a horse buyer, James Bond hunts for leads between Zorin and the Russians.

Embroiled in a scheme that uses the horse trading to embezzle money to the industrialist’s other interests, James Bond tips his hand to Zorin and he tries to find the weak link in Zorin’s network. Underneath the stables, Bond and Tibbett (Bond’s sidekick for the mission) find Zorin’s secret lab where Bond is able to deduce how Zorin is fixing the races that his horse, Pegasus, wins. They also discover a stockpile of the advanced microchips, which leads Bond to wonder who Zorin is truly working for and he becomes determined to stop Zorin’s plan. Accompanied by a geologist who Zorin screwed out of her grandfather’s business, James Bond (occasionally James Stock of The London Times) works to protect the international free market from Zorin’s corrupt attempt to dominate the microchip industry and technology.

A View To A Kill is an industrial domination plotline; James Bond films by this point tend to alternate between the world domination, industrial espionage and diabolical destruction plots. The film features the familiar elements of a James Bond film – Bond flirts with a blonde and ends up in bed with May Day – and is more mediocre than it is bad. The usual chase sequences in Bond movies are present; in this case a ski sequence, a horseback riding divergence, and a climactic car chase in a fire engine. None of these sequences are especially memorable, though they look more fluid than most similar sequences in other Bond films.

What separates A View To A Kill from many other James Bond films is the caliber of the actors present. The acting may not be spectacular, but the presence of Christopher Walken as Zorin and Patrick Bauchau as his sidekick, Scarpine, elevate the usually monolithic roles to a level where the viewer at least feels they are watching credible characters. Actress Grace Jones was a bodybuilder, so she is entirely believable as the hired assassin working for Zorin.

Max Zorin is a former KGB agent and he is reasonable and credible as an industrialist who wants to produce and distribute microchips to take over Silicon Valley. Zorin is essentially an overzealous industrialist who wants to compete in a market that is essentially a monopoly held by the Americans. That allows James Bond to go to San Francisco and could be a compelling statement coming from a James Bond film. Alas, though, after his motivations are revealed, Max Zorin reverts to a very typical James Bond villain who will use all sorts of ridiculous means to try to achieve his goals. Instead of just cutting the businessmen who don’t want to play ball with him out of the plan, Zorin starts killing them (via May Day) and that takes the elements of the film that played closer to realism back toward the over-the-top conceits of the spy thriller. Christopher Walken plays Zorin as a very low-key psychopath for most of the film, though the role is a good one for Walken as he has the delivery style that sells the cold cruelty of the character. Unfortunately, A View To A Kill degenerates into a plot that is remarkably similar to Lex Luthor’s plan in Superman (reviewed here!) and without the tongue-in-cheek dialogue, it seems absolutely absurd. In this context, sinking part of California for personal gain is almost laughable as opposed to clever.

Moore does well as James Bond in his final outing. He never seems tired or bored with the role, which is important. In fact, the worse aspect of his performance in A View To A Kill is the fact that he has more on-screen chemistry with Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny than he does with any of the younger performers brought on for obvious sex appeal. To be fair to Moore, many of the reversals in A View To A Kill do not hinge on James Bond (one of the times Bond’s life is saved it is because Zorin’s people do not know who they are looking for an there just happens to be an industrial terrorist in the same water as Bond for them to capture and kill!). Tanya Roberts’s Stacey Sutton is not bad in her role, though she has some issues with delivering the technobabble credibly, but she and Moore have little on-screen spark in their roles.

Director John Glen manages to make A View To A Kill look wonderful. The sets are beautiful and this is a James Bond film that does not suffer from anywhere near the number of awkward cuts that usually plague these films. On DVD and Blu-Ray, A View To A Kill comes packed with commentaries and featurettes on how the film was made and they are informative, but not enough to sell the source material as being anything better than what it is. A View To A Kill is a painfully average spy thriller made with decent components to appear bigger than it actually is.

For other James Bond films with Roger Moore, please check out my reviews of:
Live And Let Die
The Man With The Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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