Serial, Super Serial: A View to a Kill

View to a Kill

Super Serial aims to dissect series of pop art — be it a filmography, discography or run of comics — by looking at its individual components.

After our short but unofficial break with last week’s Never Say Never Again, Roger Moore returns as James Bond in John Glen’s 1985 A View to a Kill, the fourteenth of the series and last for its star. Taking place near the beginning of the rise of the personal computer, the film uses this real-world fascination at the center of its plot. Bond films have often taken the fears of the Cold War or have aped the styles of popular genres, so the film’s interest in the microchip is an interesting look at technology of the 1980s.

In the film, Bond is sent to Siberia to locate a missing secret agent, finding him frozen in the snow with a microchip around his neck. After Q inspects the chip, he figures out it’s a copy of a chip manufactured by Zorin Industries, springing Bond into the plot of the film. The film’s image of technology is interesting, but I don’t know how accurately it portrayed any fears or curiosity from the audience. Of course, looking back at it today, everything seems terribly dated — from the goofy looking Macintosh computers to the overemphasis of the microchip (I’ve found that older movies that talk a lot about microchips don’t know what the hell they are talking about).

A View to a Kill doesn’t have many of the outlandishly bad moments of the last few Bond films, but it is decidedly mediocre. In the context of the series, there are some interesting character types, but the overall plot and the Bond Girl leave a lot to be desired. All around, this is middle-of-the-pack fare for Moore’s run, a little too silly at times and without a great memorable hook.

Bond, James Bond

A View to a Kill is the last go-round for Roger Moore, who frankly won’t be missed that much. Over his Bond career, he was in some of the ultimate dregs of the series, including Moonraker, The Man with the Golden Gun and For Your Eyes Only — I can’t blame him alone for the awfulness of some of those films, but by the end of his career he was clearly phoning it in. Here, he’s again obviously not doing any of the major action and seems like a shell of the comfortable performer of his first film. Still, he is quintessential Bond and the series wouldn’t have been the same without him, for better or for worse. To the end, he fit the goofy, campy, ridiculous sometimes-fun that the series delivered.

The Mission

The film opens with what Bond does best — ski! I can’t believe how many of these films have ski-action sequences, I mean, once was enough! The film tries to spruce it up here with Bond coming across a snowboard and strapping that on — along with all the tech-talk, another instance of the film trying incredibly hard to be hip and mostly failing. It doesn’t help that directly after Bond puts the board on, a cover version of the Beach Boys “California Girls” begins blaring on the soundtrack. The series has used popular music directly on the soundtrack before, but this just doesn’t fit. First off, Bond is supposedly in Siberia, so I’m not sure what the song has anything to do with the situation. Trying to find the right mood for the action is well and good, but this comes off as incredibly hokey and a lazy attempt at cashing in on a popular song.

The film gets pretty quickly into its plot, swiftly identifying the villain, but like many other films it doesn’t reveal all of its cruel intentions until the end. This makes the middle sections of the film drag on a little, having Bond spend too much time at horse races and fancy parties without many actual stakes.

Previous films have made a lot of effort to bring us new and exotic locations, but A View to a Kill actually gives us two major world landmarks. The scene of Bond at the Eiffel Tower is one of the film’s more exciting setpieces — in a film that doesn’t have many great action scenes, I guess that’s not saying all that much. The film ends with a duel on top of the Golden Gate Bridge, which obviously doesn’t use much of the actual bridge, but is a notable final battle for the series.

The Villains

The most memorable aspects of A View to a Kill are probably its two villains, Max Zorin and May Day. Zorin is obviously notable for being portrayed by a pre-loony Christopher Walken, though some of his more interesting ticks are on display here as well. Before he became a parody of himself, Walken was a very dependable and powerful actor, which made him an easy fit for a classical-type Bond villain — he is handsome, charming, believably high class, but with a demonic side. During the film, we come to find out that Zorin is not just a brash businessman but also formerly a KGB operative, so the character inhabits the two biggest Bond villain archetypes, and Walken plays them well.

Also like many previous villains, Zorin is obviously evil with no one really noticing it. It’s a little less frustrating here than in previous films, as Zorin’s full plot isn’t realized until later on in the film, but it seems like someone, anyone should have seen the red flags.

The Bond Girl

For as interesting an actor as Christopher Walken is, and for how solid his performance is, Zorin’s main henchwoman, May Day, steals the show. Played by actress/model/singer/alien Grace Jones, May Day is a hybrid baddie/Bond Girl unlike anything we’ve seen before in the series. Her closest match is Jaws, as both are incredibly unique-looking and have traces of the superhuman. She also is a completely mysterious figure and the film doesn’t offer much context or background on the character — like Jaws, how does a person like this exist in any sort of real-world situation? Really, it all spawns from one moment, where out of the blue, May Day lifts a grown man over her head like she’s the Ultimate Warrior. Before this point (and afterwards, too), she doesn’t display any such physical ability, making the moment odd and extra unbelievable. No matter how ridiculous Jaws became, you could excuse that for being an attempt at comedy — here trying to be terrifying isn’t quite pulled off. Because of Jaws’ physique, you didn’t really need any explanation for the crazy things he could do, but May Day’s feat was too incredible (not to mention the fairly obvious fact that she wasn’t actually holding the guy over her head).

Although May Day makes a notable impression, part of me thinks the casting of Grace Jones is a bit of a gimmick. There really isn’t any reason for the character to look the way she does, which is undeniably a lot like Grace Jones. I don’t know how famous she actually was, but it feels like stunt casting to (yet again) make the Bond creators seem more hip than they actually are. This may also be partly the fact that May Day isn’t more than a presence — she doesn’t have a character she’s playing, just sort of herself AS a Bond baddie.

The main love interest for Bond, Stacey Sutton (played by That 70’s Show’s Tanya Roberts), is maybe the most forgettable Bond Girl of the series. While other girls have been complete train wrecks, Sutton does little to impress while being an extraordinarily unconvincing geologist. Roberts gives a wide-eyed, high-pitched performance that straddles the line of likeable and grating — before quickly jumping all-in on “grating”.

The Gadgets

Given the film’s interest in technology, I would have imagined gadgets being a bigger part of A View to a Kill. Instead we have a few minor gadgets used without any introduction, like a ring that takes photographs, and there is no typical Q gadget-briefing scene. In the film we do see Q playing around with a remote-controlled surveillance robot that comes back for the obligatory spying-on-Bond-getting-it-on ending of the film.

The Song

Half way through the title song I thought to myself “this band seems to be trying awful hard to sound like Duran Duran.” Turns out, “A View to a Kill” is actually sung by the new wave pop outfit. That would probably suggest that I wasn’t a huge fan of the song, but I wouldn’t go so far. I like the change from the typical ballad to a new-wave-esque rock track — it feels a little more like the Bond style and sets the table for an action film.

What’s perhaps better, though, is the title sequence, which has to be the craziest, most random one yet. There are day-glo tattoos (I mean, this is the 80s!), slowly melting ice sculptures shaped like women and a young girl skiing on fire! All around crazy stuff.

“Meeting you, with a view to a kill
Face to face in secret places, feel the chill
Night fall covers me, but you know the plans I’m making
Still oversea, could it be the whole world opening wide
A Sacred why, a mystery gaping inside
The weekend’s why

Until we dance into the fire
That fatal kiss is all we need
Dance into the fire
To fatal sounds of broken dreams”

“A View to a Kill” holds the distinction of being the only Bond title theme to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — take that, Sir Paul McCartney!

Random Thoughts

- The film starts with a disclaimer reading “Neither the name Zorin nor any other name or character in this film is meant to portray a real company or actual person” — having seen enough episodes of Law & Order: SUV that start with a similar disclaimer, I obviously know that this means the film was indeed meant to portray a real-life event. So, who could it have been? A young, megalomaniac Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? No, they certainly aren’t evil enough. Well… Zorin’s hair was dyed blond, he wore a lot of tight suits and had a close friendship to Grace Jones, she he must have been DAVID BOWIE! (Truthfully, David Bowie was first offered the role of Max Zorin. I swear I didn’t know that before thinking of this joke.)

- After Never Say Never Again, it was great to hear the James Bond theme again! That may have been the thing most missed in the unofficial film.

- Bond’s iceberg submarine looks an awful lot like a penis.

- If I was a race horse, I would be scared of Grace Jones, too.

- This is the first time I can remember where Bond is chastised for the public and property damage he creates. I wish this happened in more spy/action movies.

- Zorin doesn’t care much about moats filled with alligators, but he does like to throw people out of his blimp as if he were throwing them into a moat filled with alligators.

- A minor Bond Girl is the film is named Jenny Flex. When she introduces herself to Bond, he responds with his normal “Of course you are” as if her name was a sexual pun like the rest of the women in his films — I don’t think he actually listens to people (women) anymore.

- I was genuinely surprised that Grace Jones could talk.

- I love how these films have begun to insist that the title is spoken, even when the title doesn’t make any sense.

- Bacardi: the official rum of Molotov cocktails.

- I find it mildly amusing that Walken can’t properly pronounce ‘schedule’.

- Near the climax of the film, Zorin tells his blimp operator that the only thing they need is “more power.” He didn’t mention how he puts on his pants in the morning.

- Toward the end of the film, Bond participates in a scene that I believe is right out of a Buster Keaton-Keystone Kops bit.

- The credits thank the Mayor of San Francisco — I assume because they make their cops look like idiots.

- The film nailed it when they predicted computers would become more popular, but I think they were trying to forecast the same about luxury blimps.

SERIAL, SUPER SERIAL will return in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS

tags: a view to a kill, james bond, john glen, super serial

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