Light Bondage: “A View To A Kill”

Bond, James Bond. For fifty years that has been the cinematic calling card of one of films most enduring heroes. Sure, Bond was born in books, but it was through film that he became a household name and one of the movies’ most enduring legends. He is a character so archetypal that he is bigger than the half dozen men who have played him across nearly two dozen films, and that kind of longevity is both unheard of and a little bit magical.

Light Bondage is my attempt to rewatch the series and try to recapture some of what made these movies worthwhile. I might not always succeed (I’m looking at you, Roger Moore!) but in this biweekly series of articles we’re going to take a ride through the time capsule of the last half century with the world’s most famous spy/action star.

A View To A Kill (1985)

It all started so promisingly. Wait, no it didn’t–it actually started with the third attempt at a giant skiing sequence, with a contextless mountain chase of Bond fleeing various pursuers down a ridiculous mountain set to “California Girls” of all things. And like the last time they tried, it fails to live up to the standard set by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Roger Moore is well into his 50s at this point, and every close up is obviously not even close to the same man tearing down the mountain. It doesn’t matter how good your stunts are if even someone paying half attention can notice that Bond is essentially two different characters in any given action scene.

But after that action scene it actually does start pretty promisingly! There’s some top secret microchips that the British government are working on that show up in Russian hands, and Bond is called in to investigate whether there might not be a leak at the manufacturer: Zorin Industries. Scrutiny immediately falls to Max Zorin himself (Christopher Walken, essentially playing the same character he will play again in Batman Returns nearly a decade later and so enter the awareness of this author, then just a kid). Because it’s Christopher Walken of course he’s the bad guy, but Bond doesn’t really know how or why, so he ends up on Zorin’s vast estate tracking down a mystery of a disappearing horse and a surprise, suspicious racing victory that made Zorin several million dollars.

This investigation takes up most of the first 45 minutes or so of the movie, and it is easily the best most concise Bond movie Roger Moore ever got the chance to make. It speaks to the earlier Bonds, where he was as much detective as superhero, going into a place with a half-flimsy cover, danger around every corner and a situation that he (and the audience) don’t fully understand yet. It’s not even all that good, with a dumb reveal and only the vaguest sense of menace, but it manages to be wildly compelling by comparison. I found myself, this far into the movie, amazed that maybe this will end up being a genuinely good film. If the movie had ended here, with some sort of tidy reveal and resolution, I would have actually been pretty happy. It would have been a nice blueprint for procedural investigative shows in a pre-CSI era.

But no, we are not so lucky.

Pictured: confused armed grandpa.

Nearly halfway through the movie, the scene jumps to San Francisco, where Zorin unveils an elaborate plan to cause a giant earthquake to flood all of San Francisco and Silicone Valley in order to make his microchips more valuable than gold. Yes, that’s his plan to become rich(er), an elaborate multi-stage mad scientist earthquake machine that requires literally millions of dollars (if not more) sunk into its setup. And Bond, still not quite on the ball yet, struggles with the problems of a woman fighting city hall, and officious bureaucrats, as he tries to Get To The Bottom Of This. Man, these movies have gotten really fucking stupid.

The problem is the plot stuff kicks in so late that it feels almost like starting another movie, one that’s infinitely worse and more drawn out than the one before it. And it isn’t even particularly rousing from an action sense, either. Bond is nearly completely gadget-less for once, and suffers through boring scenes in mines and San Francisco that simply aren’t interesting to look at. I’ve harped on both these facts before, but these movies simply have too much flab and struggle to find interesting locations. Watching Bond sneak around industrial sites and caves? You might as well start checking facebook, because stalking the person you used to have a crush on in high school is way more spy thrills than the movie’s going to give you.

And this with Christopher Walken as the villain? How do you mess that up?! The man is born to chew scenery and entertain with cartoonish menace. This is the last of the Roger Moore Bonds, and it exits with the most futile of whimpers, an action film without action and a spy film that seems to go out of its way to avoid actual spying. I don’t even ask for much from these movies anymore: just don’t be a waste of time.

A View To A Kill is a giant waste of time.

How are you supposed to take a spy seriously in a hat like that?

The Theme Song/Opening Title:
In fact, one of the few things I can unblinkingly approve of with this movie is its amazing theme song. Duran Duran deliver one of the most pop Bond themes in the series. It’s a terribad song, with a great main line and a beat that’s actually interesting. Add to that one of the more interesting opening sequences we’ve seen so far with a bunch of black light neon and crazy laser-revolvers and you have yourself what is basically a distillation of the mid-80s in the middle of a tottering old wreck of a film. It’s almost brilliant through juxtaposition alone. Sadly, we don’t offer points for unintentional hilarity.

Most Ridiculous Gadget:
As I mentioned before, there’s a distinct lack of cool gadgets in this movie. The only one worth mentioning comes in the pre-title action sequence, where Bond skis all the way down the mountain only to land on an iceberg. But it’s actually not an iceberg, but an iceberg-shaped submarine! Which only becomes more ridiculous when Bond enters to find a plush couch that, with the flick of a button, converts into a bed so he and his copilot (who I’d struggle to call half his age) ring in the opening of the movie with frostbitten May December romance.

Bond Girl Award for Most Thankless Role:
There are several romantic interests Bond has in this movie, but none of them hold a candle to May Day, played with villainous aplomb by Grace Jones, of the wild hair and extreme makeup and insane class. She is nearly wasted here as Zorin’s bodyguard/assassin, which is saying something since she gets to cleanly lift men above her head with her bare hands and base jumps off the top of the Eiffel Tower. This happens nearly every time the movie has a cool woman heavy, but why isn’t this movie about her being awesome again? I mean, she runs around and kills people in thigh-high high heeled leather boots. She’s amazing.

Now here’s some god damn style.

She spends most of the movie being scary and stealing nearly every scene she’s in through intensity alone. You know Bond’s going to fight her. You know Roger Moore is going to break a hip and should lose but won’t because it’s his story (lame), but you want to see it anyway. It can’t help but be awesome. And when the moment arrives, what happens? She changes sides. I can’t remember ever being so let down. The Jaws face turn was dumb, but at least he was a dumb villain to begin with. May Day was awesome, and the movie should have, nay needed, to have her kick the shit out of Bond. And instead she goes hero and bravely sacrifices herself, because that’s totally something the super evil lady would do with no warning.

Best Bondickery:
In Bond’s efforts to stick it to the man at San Francisco City Hall, he ends up getting caught by Zorin who tries to burn down a marble structure with two or three molotov cocktails, because that’s something you can apparently do. Bond manages to escape as the place goes up in flames, but as he climbs down from the fire truck ladder in a ridiculous, maiden-slung-over-his-shoulder moment nearly straight out of Superman or Ghostbusters 2, the evil cops show up and want to know who this crazy British guy is and why they found a man shot to death inside and maybe why the important building is on fire and he seems to be the only one nonplussed about it.

Bond futilely tries to explain for approximately five seconds, but the moment the cop seems to think this old man in a tux escaping from a burning building might require some more investigation before they just let him walk away from a crime scene, Bond turns the fire hose onto the cop and then steals the fire truck. The truck that’s being used to put out a major fire? And uses it to lead the police on a chase through the city. If you can’t figure out why this is terrible, maybe this section at this point isn’t for you. Seek help. You don’t recognize psychopathic behavior when you see it. But hey, neither does Bond, so you have famous company.

JAMES BOND will return in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
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