Saturday, April 18, 2009

James Bond review: A View To A Kill (1985)

CUT TO THE CHASE: In 1985, real men didn’t eat quiche. Bond makes it.

BOND, JAMES BOND: To be fair, that may be an attempt to show that Bond is man enough not to need to subscribe to silly American anxieties about masculinity: he’s secure in his manhood. The problem is…Moore doesn’t look terribly manly serving up that quiche.

So: clever gesture or not, it doesn’t work. And that’s about the size of things for this film. It’s not as boisterously dumb as Moonraker, but it doesn’t work any better than that film. It’s mostly just ho-hum.

It’s Moore’s last outing as Bond, and that should give it some kind of luster. There is a hint of grand nostalgia in the sequence at Zorin’s stud farm in France – although not enough to make that sentence as fun to write as it should be. Mostly Moore and the movie around him look finished, done with, end of the line.

What Makes Bond Bond: He bets on Pegasus. He knows his opponent’s going to cheat, and he makes it work for him.

What Makes Roger Moore Roger Moore: One great shot: Bond in full tuxedo regalia, standing on the stairs of the Eiffel Tower, aiming his PPK. In this shot, as in no other in the film, Moore looks as much like James Bond as anyone ever has.

BAD GUYS: Rogue KGB agent Max Zorin is trying to destroy Silicone Valley so he can corner the world microchip market. See what I mean? Ho. Hum.

Evidently they wanted Bowie or Sting for this role, and that’s why Christopher Walken ends up with bleached blonde hair. Like so much else about this movie, that just doesn’t work. It’s meant to look Aryan, I guess, as Zorin’s a product of an ex-Nazi scientist’s breeding and steroid experiments, but it just looks weird.

Zorin is one of the least memorable Bond villains. Mostly that’s the fault of the writing. We don’t really know what he’s trying to do for most of the film, and when we do find out, it doesn’t make much sense and is hard to get too worked up over. Not that killing everybody in the Bay Area isn’t serious: we just never believe he’s actually going to be able to do it.

But I lay part of the blame at Walken’s door. He gives a typically neurotic performance, with lots of fun twitches and oddly-placed extra beats, but it’s a small performance. Full of finesse, but utterly lacking in the kind of larger-than-life quality it needs to fill up the huge empty spaces of this film. When he’s not on screen, you simply forget about him.

He’s got two henchmen. Scarpin, too, is forgettable; May Day is unforgettable, but not necessarily in a good way. More on her below.

GRATUITOUS SEX: It’s difficult for me to imagine what possessed the producers, making Bond sleep with May Day. I’ll agree that Grace Jones is striking, even that her image had a lot of sexuality built into it. But it was that joyless mid-‘80s gym-honed sexuality: sex as competitive sport. Utterly wrong for 007. She’s a decent Evil Henchman, but a catastrophe as a Bond girl.

Tanya Roberts is a little better—with a resume that included Charlie’s Angels, Beastmaster, Mike Hammer, and Sheena, she had what adolescent boys wanted in 1985, at least. Unfortunately she’s kind of forgettable as a Bond girl, just a pretty Northern California babe. You could almost imagine James settling down with her and, I don’t know, growing roses or something. Taking over a winery. Again, not quite what we have in mind for 007.

But that’s not all in the Gratuitous Sex department for this, Moore’s swan song. There’s the female MI6 agent who drives the iceberg-shaped submarine, and then there’s rival Russian agent Pola Ivanova (Fiona Fullerton) and her Tchaikovsky. Pola is by far the best Bond Girl in the film, despite being just a cameo. GS4, surprisingly enough.

But the worst thing in this department is - it must be said - Moneypenny. I guess because they knew it would be Moore's last film, they lose Penelope Smallbone and let Moneypenny have Bond all to herself. But all dressed up for Ascot, she looks like somebody's grandmother. Bond deserves better - hell, Lois Maxwell deserved better.

AND VIOLENCE: Yes, the fight on the upper reaches of the Golden Gate Bridge is a classic. It’s hard to go wrong with heights, I guess.

To balance that we get death by papillon.

What else? Well, here’s a parable for you. They start off on the Arctic coast of Russia somewhere, Bond skiing his way through a mission. He loses one ski and keeps going on the other; so far so good. Loses that, and sets a trap that nets him a snowmobile; again, so far so good. This he wrecks, so he picks up one of the runners, snaps it to his ski boots, and invents the snowboard.

So far so good. But as he sails off down the slope, the producers play “California Girls.” And not just a snippet: they let it play for a good long time. They’ve been using these jokey music cues for several films now, but this is the most egregious example. Downright ruins the scene. That’s your later Moore Bonds in a nutshell.

BOYS WITH TOYS: This has one of my favorite gadgets of any Bond film: a real live pair of X-ray spex. Unfortunately, they’re not quite cool enough at this point in the series to pull off the obvious joke. Luckily, they realized it and didn’t try. That would have to wait until The World Is Not Enough.

Other than that, not much. Q gets to use a Roomba to spy on Bond. Fun stuff.

JOIN THE NAVY AND SEE THE WORLD: France and San Francisco. The sequences in Paris and Chantilly are not bad at all. But as is almost always the case, the minute the film moves to the US, it loses any steam it had built up, which in this case isn’t much. Bond takes to wearing what look like endless variations on the Member’s Only jacket; he gets stuck in a Generic ‘80s Car Chase, riding a fire engine, of all lame things. Sigh.

ETC.: The title sequence, all day-glo body paint and streamers in black light, is the best thing about this film, by a long shot. Duran Duran give us the coolest Bond theme song in what feels like a geological age, and as it kicks in, the camera closes in on a woman unzipping her parka. Her breasts relax, and as her bare cleavage opens up, it reveals the 007 logo. It’s a classic touch, one of the most ridiculously sublime shots in the entire series. And it's nearly the only thing here worthy of James Bond…

RATING: 002.

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