The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.
Synopsis: An investigation of a horse-racing scam leads 007 to a mad industrialist who plans to create a worldwide microchip monopoly by destroying California’s Silicon Valley.
Stars: Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Grace Jones, Tanya Roberts, Lois Maxwell, Patrick Bauchau
Director: John Glen
Running Length: 131 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: At the end of each Bond film, there was usually a tagline that would indicate that “James Bond will return in <insert title here>.” I always found it interesting that the producers planned far enough in advance that they knew what their next film would be. Occasionally, they changed their mind but it was most often spot on. In the closing credits of Octopussy, audiences were told that the next film would be From a View to a Kill and two years later it arrived with From dropped and more than a few missed opportunities.
Some argue that A View to a Kill is inconsequential Bond fluff but there is something strangely enjoyable about a more self-ware 007 as he goes after a megalomaniac (think Donald Trump but nicer) out to destroy Silicon Valley. It’s mid 80’s economical filmmaking at its most serviceable but one that does succeed thanks to some inflated stunt work and brazen performances that either work for you or they don’t.
After seven films, this would be Moore’s last film as Bond, James Bond and we all thank him for it. Looking mighty old after twelve years playing the secret agent, I wish that Moore had gone out with a better film along the lines of The Spy Who Loved Me. By this point, his Bond didn’t resemble the superspy that Sean Connery gave a fine edge to and George Lazenby gave some heart to. Instead, Bond is a winking product of an era that had passed him by…a solitary horseman unaware that he’s overstayed his welcome. More problematic is Moore’s hair which was rumored to be, um, enhanced on a daily basis (Moore also clearly had some work done in the face department between films).
The supporting players are a mixed bag. Making her final appearance, Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny also looks a bit long in the tooth for the role and the banter between her character and Bond would seem more appropriate for a stage production of The Gin Game. Though Moneypenny was always a sidelined character that was utilized to give Bond a good-natured ribbing whenever he showed up to work, by this point the role was just a series of double entendres that felt more silly than anything else.
Roberts was next in a long list of disappointing Bond girls. Popular at the time thanks to her work in television and a few films, when you watch her performance today it’s hard to swallow that any casting director would offer her up for this type of role. The only thing she adds to the proceedings is occasionally screaming “James” in her high-pitched husky voice and get into one stupid situation after another. For a movie filmed right at the time that women were starting to redefine their roles in the workplace and home life, it’s a backwards looking woman that Roberts plays (and not very well).
The polar opposite of Roberts weak woman is found in the form of musician/performance artist Jones as one of the weirdest villains ever to show up against Bond. Her muscular frame, outrageous make-up, gaudily androgynous costumes, and overzealous performance is so oddly cuckoo that it just about works. Though I’ve since learned that Moore and Jones had an intense dislike for each other, it’s only when she’s onscreen that Moore seems to be alert to his surroundings and probably because he didn’t know what she’d do next. It works up until a point, and then it feels like someone else started writing her dialogue (maybe Jones herself?) and the character becomes a burden rather than helping the movie out.
Walken is the one to take note of here. The only actor coming into the series as an Oscar winner (for The Deer Hunter), Walken knows exactly what kind of film he’s in and plays the role with glee. He lets Jones do most of the overacting and allows Moore to do the self-parody, leaving him to just play the role as he sees fit. There are some hints to an interesting backstory about his youth and some genetic manipulation, but it’s never fully formed as the film decides to move on without it.
After an overtly comical opening, one of the more creative title credit sequences unfolds over Duran Duran’s greatly enjoyable theme song. Utilizing black light and neon paint, there’s a great reveal of the 007 logo at one point that I can’t believe hadn’t been used before…and that’s all I’ll say. Director Glen keeps things moving, whether Bond is skiing (yet another ski chase!) or battling a top the Golden Gate Bridge in one of the more exciting Bond finales.
A View to a Kill isn’t considered one of the best of the series, nor should it be. However, there’s something watchable about it that keeps you tuned in to the action onscreen without getting too deeply involved with the incredulity of it all. It’s worth it for the strange performances and to witness Moore’s last Bond contribution.