May 24, 1985
On the subject of James Bond movies I’m ignorant. A very casual viewer. I come to A VIEW TO A KILL as an ordinary civilian perusing the films of Summer 1985 and hoping this could be a good action movie for its era. According to publicly available data, it is the seventh and final of Roger Moore’s outings as 007. All of his except THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN were summer releases like this, attempting to fulfill that popcorn blockbuster kind of slot, drawing in regular chumps like me along with the generations of die hards.
Last year I reviewed LICENCE TO KILL in my summer of ’89 series and it was cool how much that one combined the standard Bond material with the tropes of ’80s action movies, to the point that he turned in his badge to go get revenge on a South American druglord played by Robert Davi. During the opening credit sequence of A VIEW TO A KILL I could imagine it being a very 1985 Bond in a similar way, and for that brief moment it was beautiful.
The sequence is designed by Maurice Binder, who invented the Bond credit sequence with DR. NO and did 14 of them in total (and also BARBARELLA!), but he captures a neon new wave sort of feel here when his women with black-light lips, eyelashes, body paint and guns dance through flames to the tune of the extremely of-its-time theme song by Duran Duran. This is a movie that kicks off with a model’s glowing orange fingernails slowly unzipping her fur-lined ski jacket, a luminescent 007 logo revealing itself as her breasts spread open (I honestly can’t tell if its printed on a t-shirt, or painted on her skin, both of which have their strengths) but that’s the peak. It never reaches that majesty again, in my opinion
The sequence includes some goofy imagery of skiing and a melting ice sculpture of a woman – kinda weird since we’ve already made it past the snowy part of the movie, when James Bond (Roger Moore, SPICE WORLD) recovers a microchip from a frozen corpse in Siberia and then skis away from The Russians (remember the threat of communism? Also mentioned in GOTCHA!, GYMKATA and RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II).
That opening is directed by Willy Bogner, who also did ski sequences in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, plus ski documentaries and (non-documentary?) FIRE AND ICE (1986).
There’s some good stuntwork there – one of Bond’s skis gets knocked off, so he keeps going, balancing on one foot. He manages to steal a snowmobile, which gets shot and blown up by a helicopter gun (another connection to RAMBO). One nice ‘80s-in-a-good-way touch that first shows up here is that John Barry’s score is infused with little hints of electric guitar noodling.
Also it’s cool when he shoots a red smoke bomb into a helicopter to make it crash. But when he uses a pontoon from the wreckage as a snowboard the novelty of the stunt is overshadowed by a total record scratch of a joke: they abruptly start playing “California Girls.” Worse, they didn’t pay for the original recording, using a soundalike by “tribute band” Gidea Park. See, that’s why Vin Diesel in xXx was so xXxtreme and Not Your Father’s James Bond. Both of them ski and snowboard, but Vin doesn’t think it’s funny to play a Beach Boys cover over it. Totally different sensibilities.
The microchip is something designed to withstand the magnetic pulse of a nuclear blast. MI6 fears that The Russians could use them and then set off a bomb in space to destroy everybody else’s computers. So they send Bond to a horse race to spy on Max Zorin (Christopher Walken, hot off of THE DEAD ZONE), openly sinister CEO of the company that makes them.
There are many things that are fun about the James Bond character. One of them is not “he can pretend to be a rich guy interested in buying horses.” He spends a surprisingly long chunk of the movie pretending he’s trying to learn about horses when actually he’s trying to prove Zorin’s use steroids. Not my kind of party. About the only interesting part of the horse section is when Zorin leads him on a crazy full contact horse race obstacle course which I feel should be against regulations.
But it’s at the race that we first learn of by far the best part of the movie: Zorin’s henchwoman/martial arts instructor/lover May Day (Grace Jones between CONAN THE DESTROYER and VAMP). I don’t think it’s meant as a joke, but I got a big laugh when Bond and his spy friends are watching Zorin in the stands through binoculars, this incredible woman standing out in a startlingly red robe and enormous pope hat/graduation cap, looking like an extra in a Star Wars prequel, and Bond asks, “Who’s that with him under the hat? With the red dress?” as if he has to be specific. And the guy takes a second to say, “Oh, that’s May Day.” As if it wouldn’t go…
Anyway, May Day is A VIEW TO A KILL. If you’re gonna watch it, she’s the reason. She sports a variety of interesting hairstyles and hoods, does some fight training in a leotard, dead lifts a guy and tosses him. She’s as intimidating as any Bond henchman I know of, but way more fashionable. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t treat her with the proper respect at all times. When she has figured out that this annoying dipshit staying in their mansion is a spy, but then he “outsmarts” her by getting into bed really fast and saying he was waiting for her, Zorin smiles at her and it’s kind of like, “Oh well, I guess I have to have sex with him.”
Worse, at the end when she realizes Zorin is a creep she seems helpless all the sudden. Okay, she sort of saves the day, but only after Bond literally leads her by the hand out of a flooded mine. And she screams when some sparks shoot out at her. It just doesn’t fly. If I know May Day at all I know she’d be carrying him out of there like John Matrix carries a log.
One nice touch in that scene is that she sees one of her fellow henchwomen dead and gets upset. “Jenny!” We never saw enough of that character with the solid Bond name of Jenny Flex (acting debut of Alison Doody from INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE), but I like the acknowledgment that these two must’ve worked together and care about each other.
There’s a part where Bond finds out that Zorin might have been an experimental steroid baby created in a Nazi experiment. Good to know. He’s also an ex-KGB agent. We learn that his movie-Lex-Luthor style plan is to inject water into the San Andreas fault to cause an earthquake that will destroy Silicon Valley and give him a monopoly on microchips. Just think how many apps we wouldn’t have had he been successful!
I realize 1985 is 35 years ago, but this seems dated and clunky for 1985. Some of the action – courtesy of second unit director Arthur Wooster (HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING) and “action sequence arranger” Martin Grace (PATHFINDER) – is pretty cool, like when May Day parachutes from the Eiffel Tower and he chases her to the top of a boat, in part by driving only the front half of a car. But any time there’s fisticuffs it’s kind of saddled with its hero being an ordinary looking 57 year old. So every once in a while they pretend like he can flip off of some stairs or something but mostly he’s slow punching guys like it’s an old cowboy movie.
There’s a scene in the Eiffel Tower involving a performance with butterfly puppets dancing around on strings. May Day comes in and replaces the puppeteer and uses a butterfly with a poison dart to assassinate a detective meeting with Bond. It’s a cool gimmick but it’s staged so that she walks out in the middle of a crowded room of onlookers and knocks the guy out. They show her in plain view of everyone and add loud sound effects but act like she’s invisible. No one notices at all.
It’s not really worth hammering on the trope that Bond runs into many beautiful young women that improbably go to bed with him, but it’s goofier with Moore because he’s not as suave as most of the other Bonds, and he’s undercover as an annoying rich brat who shouldn’t be attractive anyway. (I like the joke that he plays a recording of complaining to his servant next to a bug in his room). For a while he’s working with oil heiress/geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts, a few years after BEASTMASTER) and it literally seems like her uncle is in town to visit. Doesn’t quite have the sizzling sexual chemistry the series generally tries for.
Of course Bond’s terrible puns, which we now know as “dad jokes,” don’t help with that. Not just the sexual harassment ones but, like, he finds a hidden elevator and says, “Quite a letdown.” Jesus. In his defense, Zorin says, “So, does anyone else want to drop out?” after dumping a reluctant investor from his blimp (“Mayday will provide you with a drink”), so maybe it’s part of the secret agent culture.
It’s pretty cool to see Walken as a Bond villain, of course, but it’s not really a great villain or a particularly memorable Walken performance. David Bowie actually accepted the role early on, but backed out. Then Sting turned it down. Maybe that’s why Walken has that hair. Bowie would’ve been a pretty cool villain and added something to the movie, but it probly wasn’t worthy of his time.
The screenplay is by Richard Maibaum (DR. NO through LICENCE TO KILL) and Michael G. Wilson (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY through James Bond Jr.). Director John Glen had been an editor and second unit director since the late sixties, including on ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER, before he took over directing the Bond movies starting with FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, OCTOPUSSY, and this. But nobody gives a shit about that because they only ever want to talk about him doing ACES: IRON EAGLE III. In my experience.
The movie and theme song were hits, though the reviews weren’t great for the former. I was relieved to find out that some people rank it as the worst or one of the worst Bonds, so it wasn’t just me who found it lackluster. Still, gotta love that May Day, and those opening credits. I don’t regret watching those.
SUMMER OF 1985 NOTES
Cold War themes:
The head of the KGB, General Gogol (Walter Gotell, SLEEPAWAY CAMP II: UNHAPPY CAMPERS) is a reoccurring character who’s not portrayed as evil, and since Zorin is a rogue KGB agent he awards Bond the Order of Lenin for stopping him. So I’d say it’s kind of a ROCKY IV style conciliatory ending.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn, from the James Bond pictures) introduces a stupid robot dog thing that he calls “a highly sophisticated surveillance machine.” Unlike the PROWLER in CODE OF SILENCE I’ve found no evidence that this was a real device.
There were two video games, one for Commodore 64 and various systems I never heard of, and one a text based game for DOS and Apple II. The movie also inspired four Find Your Fate books (like Choose Your Own Adventure, I think). And it looks like they were written by R.L. Stine!
Time capsule stuff:
There’s a joke about “women’s lib.” They explain E.M.P.s like you never would’ve heard of it before. The same blimp was used in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.
Most important thing about the movie:
This is the film debut of Dolph Lundgren. I missed him though and had to rewind – he’s a Russian agent and I think his face is only very visible in one shot after Grace Jones body slams a guy. (He was dating her at the time and happened to be on set when they needed a guy.) According to Sylvester Stallone, Dolph’s screen debut was almost as the Russian villain in a movie released two days earlier, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, until Stallone realized this was the guy they’d already cast for ROCKY IV. (That sounds kind of made up, though. How would that slip past them?)
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.