Roger Moore’s final 007 movie, 1985’s A View To A Kill, is a bit of a Marmite outing even for James Bond fans – but is the film in a class of its own?.
This feature contains moderate spoilers for A View To A Kill.
“Ha ha, you amuse me, Mr Bond.”
“It’s not mutual.”
In a series as long and variable in quality as the James Bond franchise, we all have our biases as fans. For many, the highly subjective distinction between “good film” and “good Bond film” might go in either direction towards the modern Daniel Craig films or the earliest Sean Connery adventures. And for some of us, (me – I mean, me) it may just be that marathoning Roger Moore’s Bond films in order does A View To A Kill absolutely no favours in either category.
As expected at this stage, the film has very little in common with Ian Fleming’s 1960 short story, From A View To A Kill, which sees Bond go undercover to break up a cabal of motorcycling assassins who have stolen top-secret government documents, instead playing out a techno-thriller story that’s more reminiscent of familiar beats from Goldfinger and other previous outings.
After recovering a Russian duplicate of a microchip pioneered in the West, Bond is assigned to investigate French-American tech mogul Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) and his potential ties to the KGB. 007 tangles with Zorin’s girlfriend May Day (Grace Jones) and stubborn oil heiress Stacey Sutton, (Tanya Roberts) but also stumbles upon Operation Main Strike, a scheme to destroy Silicon Valley.
On Moore’s advancing years, I can’t think of a way to say it better than they say it in 2015’s Premium Bond With Mark Gatiss And Matthew Sweet, a delightfully geeky BBC Four programme in which the two writers don formal wear to sip cocktails and recap every era of Bond, from Connery to Craig.
During the Moore section, Gatiss observes that “if you watch [A View To A Kill], not as a James Bond film, but a film about an elderly man who thinks he’s a secret agent, it’s absolutely charming.”
And yet, the stuff it gets away with in bringing back a 57-year-old leading man for one last jolly is bedded entirely in Bond as a known quantity. By this point in the series, the question is not whether A View To A Kill is a good film but whether or not it’s a good James Bond film.
“Has James Bond finally met his match?”
Throughout the 1980s, United Artists had undergone various upheavals, starting when the failure of Michael Cimino opus Heaven’s Gate tanked the studio and prompted a merger with MGM, and then continuing with a revolving door of moguls in charge of the new part-stakeholders in the Bond franchise. For the first time, producer Albert R. Broccoli was being pressured to lower Bond’s budgets.
Under the stewardship of director John Glen, Eon kept costs relatively low, despite inflation and other financial woes that were going on in the background. Glen rose through the ranks of editor and second-unit director on the franchise and was very well-acquainted with its operations before leading the series back to basics.
Starting with For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy and continuing here, his films are notably edgier and more violent, but also not-so-deft with the comic relief bits that were Moore’s bread-and-butter. Nevertheless, the films were efficiently made and considered profitable enough to keep the studio off the filmmakers’ backs.
Still, the big challenge at this stage in the series’ history was creating a story. The franchise had gone through all of Ian Fleming’s novel titles bar one (Casino Royale) and started using the titles of his short stories (though Quantum Of Solace wasn’t on the cards, yet).
As producer and co-writer Michael G. Wilson explained in a 1985 interview with Starlog Magazine: “For all practical purposes, we’ve been out of material for the past five films. We will bring in the occasional Fleming element from the books that haven’t been used in the films. But that’s not much help when you get down to basic plotting.”
Co-written by Wilson and long-serving Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum, whose initial draft of the script had Zorin plotting to bring Halley’s Comet down on Silicon Valley, in reference to the comet’s then-topical reappearance. Future series producer Wilson insisted on a more down-to-earth story. Intentionally or not, the script slid towards Goldfinger but with computer chips instead of gold. (As far as we’re aware, Chipfinger was not a working title, but it could be a fun game to exasperate your not-as-Bond-obsessed friends and loved ones with at mealtimes!)
Principal photography kicked off in Iceland in June 1984, but days later, literally danced into a fire, when Pinewood Studios’ 007 Stage was burned down due to some leftover petrol cans from the filming of Ridley Scott’s Legend. However, Broccoli didn’t hesitate to greenlight the rebuilding of the stage and it reopened in time for the last bits of UK filming in January 1985.
In terms of locations, the action spans from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. And long before whippersnapper Vin Diesel got around to it in the alt-007 extreme-sports spy flick xXx, the film counts snowboarding and base-jumping among its big stunts, on the slopes of Siberia and off the Eiffel Tower respectively.
The film also included Airship Industries’ Skyship 500 series blimp as Zorin’s preferred mode of transport, then seen around the world at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The blimp was redecorated to be emblazoned with a big “Zorin Industries” logo, which precluded any possibility of changing the villain’s name when producers discovered the similarly named Zoran Corporation – a disclaimer was added to the start of the film instead.
Interestingly, A View To A Kill was the first Bond film to debut outside of the UK, with a San Francisco premiere held in May 1985. It scored a new record for a Bond opening weekend in the States but was held off number 1 at the box office by Rambo: First Blood Part II. The film arrived in the UK three weeks later, and on both sides of the Atlantic, the reviews were mixed and largely focused on Moore’s senior Bond.
For his part, Moore has said it was his least-favourite of his Bond films for various reasons – first and foremost, his dislike of sequences that dwelt on Zorin cackling as he guns down unarmed people, but later, and more candidly, his reservations about his age, including the on-set realisation that he was older than Tanya Roberts’ mother.
In December 1985, he announced his retirement from playing 007. Talking about the film 22 years later in a 2007 interview with ContactMusic, he joked: “I was only about 400 years too old for the part.”
Moore is more
What gets lost in the laughter about this final fling is that Roger Moore’s Bond was and is beloved. Despite the variable quality and popularity of his outings, he’s never less than engaged (which you definitely can’t say about “the other fella”) and you can easily see why he’s someone’s favourite Bond.
Equally, it’s his Bond that takes the movie character as far from the source material as he is by the time of A View To A Kill. Whether that’s too far is open to debate, given how easily later films (and the very next one in fact) snapped back to it.
And Moore’s finale can be seen as the sort of comedy-of-errors that Gatiss describes, but frankly, it’s the series that’s complacent in not going with a new lead already rather than Moore who’s at fault for continuing to turn up and give 100%. That Bond beds four women half his age, cedes half his action scenes to stuntmen, and makes a quiche (unforgivable, cry certain YouTubers!) is not down to Moore.
Both Moore and Broccoli praised the reassuring “sameness” of Bond in promoting this one, and it can be seen as both a stifling thing and a USP. Bond coming second to Rambo at the US box office is significant because Hollywood was well into its hard-bodies era of action cinema with stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who couldn’t be further from a British gentleman spy with a mean streak and an insatiable libido.
On the more stifling side, the “sameness” gazumps what feels like a play for renewed relevance. Even the technothriller aspect is crammed into the Bond movie tick-boxes, right down to a bit where Q is scolded for starting to explain microchips so that Moore’s Bond can do his Wikipedia superpower on the subject of electromagnetic pulses instead, because there’s a space reserved in the script where he usually does that.
Meanwhile, Q’s actual role in that scene is to introduce us to the K9 knock-off that sets up the film’s inevitable voyeuristic punchline – all this has happened before and would happen again. On the plus side, it’s nice that Lois Maxwell gets another run out of the office in her final appearance in the series as Miss Moneypenny.
Refreshingly, there’s a deep bench of memorable supporting characters. In a role written for David Bowie and offered to Sting, Walken chews the scenery and seems to have great fun playing with his food too. His origins are pulpy as you like, but he’s playing as Robert Shaw’s Red Grant in From Russia With Love in a franchise whose most recent save-point remains Goldfinger. This script even repeats certain beats wholesale, such as the sequence where he disposes of a dissenting associate who wants out.
Perhaps the film’s only genuinely subversive choice is making the Hollywood hard-body one of the female leads. For one time only, the “not your average Bond girl” press chuffa is spot-on, because Jones’ performance is genuinely unique among Bond women. Even though her character arc rebounds between Fiona Volpe in Thunderball and Jaws in Moonraker, the franchise pinball machine doesn’t diminish her outstanding turn here.
Jones is a genuine shot-in-the-arm for the film, even if she’s only one of many outright anachronisms brought in to appeal to younger viewers. For instance, Moore’s era ends as it began with a game-changing banger of a theme song, but Duran Duran’s theme song absolutely does not match the energy of the film it’s in.
Whether it’s bringing in topical techno-thriller elements or enlisting a capital-P Pop group to hype the film up, there’s the complacency of putting Moore and his various stuntmen through the motions of another generic Bond plot, some of which we’ve seen before, and including embarrassing Beach Boys needle-drops and an utterly batshit Poirot parody (a Poir-ody, if you will, or an Agatha Chris-take if you won’t) in the shape of Jean Rougerie’s absurd private detective Achille Aubergine.
So much enjoyment relies on Bond being a known quantity and the audience being content to watch it all play out as expected. In the action arena, it’s more like escapist fun than your Rambos or your Terminators, for sure. But in the summer that gave us blockbusters like Back To The Future and The Goonies, it looks neither exciting nor original, even if it sometimes gets the same nostalgic uplift with casual Bond fans as other movies that saw the inside of 1980s multiplexes.
And reviews aside, A View To A Kill continued the Bond films’ downward box-office trajectory in the 1980s, but as mentioned, its $30-million budget meant it washed its face, nonetheless. It made $152.4m worldwide, so it hardly matters that $30m may not have gone as far on this one as it did on Moonraker with six years of inflation to consider, but it does get by without as much zeitgeist-y spectacle.
Back when we covered Live And Let Die, we observed how the Bond series was trailing after Hollywood trends such as Blaxploitation and then martial arts movies, space operas, and er… Jaws, in a roundabout way.
One of the side-effects of the scaled-back run of later Moore movies is that they’re only really looking inwards, consolidating the early idea of Bond-as-sub-genre, and recalling past glories rather than breaking new ground outside of the stunt-work. Compounded by the pressure from MGM and UA to turn out another hit, this largely sticks to formula and throws in a few callbacks too.
Indeed, an earlier version of the script had Agent Triple-X from The Spy Who Loved Me return, but Barbara Bach declined to make a cameo appearance. The idea is nice, but probably for the best that she didn’t come back when you see the irrelevant sexy interlude we get with Fiona Fullerton’s new character Pola Ivanova instead. (“The bubbles tickle my — Tchaikovsky!”)
The thing that distinguishes movie Bond and Moore’s Bond in particular from the others is this – can you imagine any other Bond racing off to get changed into appropriate attire for Ascot at a moment’s notice or gadding around with Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee, the fourth Avengers lead to cross over into the 007 franchise) and never dropping the “Sir”? Bond is always an establishment stooge to one degree or another, but he normally has a bit more self-awareness than the tame, quaint, and highly exportable Britishness with which he’s written here.
As negative as this all seems, there’s probably a great case to be made for A View To A Kill as a standalone comfort-watch Bond film, and that’s for someone who enjoys it more than I do. Watching them all in order of release, the “sameness” becomes syndrome, and the new bits just sink beneath it.
Perhaps due to the sniffy notices about his acting throughout his tenure as 007, Moore never went onto the post-Bond A-list stardom and career resurgence that Connery enjoyed, but it’s his Bond that gives the series more of its iconic moments, for better or worse.
His era ends on the James Bond franchise being more itself than it ever could have been even a few films earlier, and winds up making its shiny new selling points look anachronistic. For Moore, the mind is willing even if the body has many obvious stand-ins, so it’s not him but the series itself, at some 34 years his junior, that comes out looking like a dinosaur.
It’s tempting to say that A View To A Kill might have been better with a new lead – you’re picturing a Welshman, in his 40s, maybe someone who turned them down on various occasions beforehand – but it’s the film that’s listless, not Moore. And the good thing about this series is that even after a dry spell, a reinvention is never too far away…
A View To A Kill is screening in select Cineworld, Odeon, and VUE cinemas nationwide from Friday 15th July.
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