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A View To A Kill (1985)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Patrick Macnee, David Yip

Written By: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson Directed By: John Glen

The Short Version

Or, if you prefer, “Goldfinger Becomes a Silicon Valley Tycoon.”

The franchise hits a crisis point with Roger Moore’s final turn as 007.

Walken is the villain.  This should be way more awesome than it is.

There’s a lot about this movie that should be way more awesome than it is.

It’s easy to knock on a critical level, but I love A View To A Kill anyway.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Specifically, spread that’s been left out for a few hours too long and lost its texture and flavor.  There’s nothing nasty growing on it yet, and it’s still edible, but it’s definitely not what anyone ordered.

Pairs Well With...


Dance into the fire.

“Anyone else want to drop out?”

My regular readers will note that I occasionally call out certain films as examples of why I do not provide stars or numeric ratings to go with my reviews.  When it comes to the James Bond franchise, A View To A Kill is the poster child for that philosophical choice.

Critically speaking, for reasons enumerated below and many, many others, it’s so easy to beat up on A View To A Kill that it’s almost not fair.  Corners are cut at every turn, potential is wasted on a regular basis, and, sadly, the star really should have retired from the role of 007 after the previous film.

And yet, for all of its flaws, I cannot help but love it still.  Though this wasn’t the first James Bond flick I ever saw by any means, A View To A Kill is the one that really flipped the switch for me as a fan, turning the franchise from “a bunch of cool movies” to “magic.”  Sure, I know a lot more now than I knew back then, but sentiment is a funny thing that never quite goes away… and I’m glad for that.  There’s more to my continued devotion to this film than pure sentiment, though, for while I freely acknowledge all of the things that the movie does wrong, I can also see much that it does right, even if it doesn’t get those thing as right as they potentially could have been.  There’s fun to be had here, and it’s not just the fun that comes with picking apart a disaster.  For this is a film of many facets, and like so many great adventures, it carries full measures of Good, Bad, and Ugly…

Good: The plot of A View To A Kill is a pretty shameless lift of that of Goldfinger.  Why does being a knock off count as a good thing?  Let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s not the first time this franchise has tried its hand at plot larceny, and as the saying goes, if you’re going to steal anyway, you might as well steal from the best.  As the de facto template for just about everything that’s made the James Bond franchise great, Goldfinger makes for very rich pickings indeed, and with a little modernization and set redressing to keep things fresh, offers tons of potential for a new and outstanding adventure.  The production team obviously took some very good notes, because from a fresh paper perspective, it’s a pretty decent retool…

Bad:  …except for the missed opportunities.  The one that stands out for me the most on this score involves the analog to Auric Goldfinger’s elaborate explanation of Operation Grand Slam (still one of the great explanatory moments in all of cinema), which would be Max Zorin’s explanation of Operation Main Strike.  An exact parallel is indeed set up during the conference on the blimp, right up to the point where one of the gathered cartel says he wants no part of the scheme and… er… drops out.  At this point, as a Bond fan, I’m waiting for the payoff of the grand unveiling of the master plan… which never happens.  The cool map and the blustering monologue are skipped right over.  Instead, the script chooses to go with a false “mystery” approach despite the fact that nearly the entire audience knows what the plan has to be, and tosses a very late bone later with the ditzy Bond girl discovering a map under a dust cover well after the plan’s already been reasonably revealed.  Yawn, I say.

Ugly:  Veteran franchise director John Glen (who’d been at the helm for the previous two films and who’d go on to direct the next two, as well) is too gun shy to pull the trigger on the story’s ambitions.  In a year that also saw the release of Rambo and Commando, A View To A Kill found itself in an unusual place: being forced to compete with other action films that were bigger draws.  The big screen world had changed, and what can now be seen as The Golden Age of Action Movies had truly come into its own, leaving 007 in the lurch.  Director Glen and the team at Eon had to decide whether to run with the emerging trend of violent, high octane explosiveness that was dominating the bijou of the time or to differentiate the Bond franchise as its own unique alternative now that it was no longer the genre standard bearer.  Unfortunately, neither school of thought wins: the story calls for high octane action, but Glen directs the film in watered-down fashion.  As a result, nobody wins: traditionalists – including Roger Moore – felt that the film was too gratuitously violent, whereas new school action fans found it unexciting.  As for me, I find the indecisiveness of the direction infuriating… and dreadfully mediocre.

Good:  There’s some great casting to be found here.  Who’s the villain?  None other than Christopher Walken himself, the Academy Award winner who has since turned batshit portrayals into an extraordinary art form.  If anyone should be able to knock a Bond villain role out of the park, it’s him.  We also have the final “Avengers” television star making the crossover to the world of James Bond (after Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg): Patrick Macnee, aka Mr. John Steed.  Macnee’s performance is delightful from start to finish, and indeed stands out as the best in the entire film.  And though this is the film where we bid farewell to Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, I do very much enjoy this final turn, which gets her a rare moment out of the office to cheer on the horses at Royal Ascot.  (Bonus for action fans: this also marks the first big screen appearance of Dolph Lundgren, who plays a KGB heavy.)

Bad:  Consider the following sentence, the content of which is absolutely true: Producer Albert Broccoli decided to cast Tanya Roberts as this film’s “Bond girl” on the strength of her performance in Beastmaster. 

No, really; I’m not kidding.  Yeah.  My jaw’s on the floor, too.

Though – disturbingly enough – Roberts is not the worst Bond girl ever (she’s not even one of the bottom three, in my estimation), her acting is barely passable at best, and facepalm-worthy on a regular basis… and the facepalm moments are the only ones where she doesn’t look to be bored out of her mind.  She also has no chemistry whatsoever with Roger Moore...

Ugly:  …which is at least better than the sort of swamp gas chemistry that comes from active disdain.  Unfortunately, someone thought that it would be a good idea to cast Grace Jones in the turnable henchperson role, and that’s the only kind of chemistry she displays with anyone, especially the actors playing her lovers.  Sure, Jones is a physical badass, but her personality ruins any positives she gets from that side of the equation, and the results are just painful to endure… as they were, reportedly, for the cast and crew, with whom she was known to be “difficult.”  Indeed, she wasn’t even on speaking terms with Roger Moore, which really makes their prelude-to-sex scene about as awkward as it could possibly get.  Tack on to that her “blunt instrument” approach to acting, and you’ve got a major casting disaster.

Good:  Between the writers and the locations scouts, the A View To A Kill team has given 007 some wonderful locations to play in.  The aforementioned Royal Ascot race is a nice touch, the Eifel Tower almost too long in coming, and Zorin’s chateau is a very nice upgrade indeed from Goldfinger’s quaint little Kentucky stud farm.  The highlight, though, involves placing Bond in one of the very few American cities that’s got the right feng shui for a 007 film: San Francisco.  Climax on the Golden Gate Bridge, anyone?  Yes, please.  Adding to the atmosphere is one of the all-time best James Bond themes courtesy of Duran Duran, and even though composer John Barry wasn’t thrilled with the idea of said theme, he does a solid job with the score as always…

Bad: …though his heart really isn’t into it.  Neither is Christopher Walken’s, really, though one suspects that he’s also being held back by the director, which would seem a fair assumption given how much else the director is holding back.  Come to think of it, is anyone other than Patrick Macnee having any fun in this movie?

Ugly:  Roger Moore definitely isn’t.  The film was hardly in the can before he made it clear to Eon that he wouldn’t be coming back again, and throughout the course of A View To A Kill it seems pretty clear that Moore was having second thoughts about having shown up this time around.  Unhappy with the production’s half-assed attempt to join the high octane 80s (he’d have rather that no attempt was made at all to do so) and faced with the realization that he was older than Tanya Roberts’ mother, Moore is noticeably uncomfortable throughout the movie, though he’s certainly professional enough to avoid phoning it in and indeed does his best to roll with it.  But much like Sean Connery two years before in Never Say Never Again, A View To A Kill serves as Roger Moore’s notice that the ability to play James Bond as he should be played has a shelf life… and the can got opened one time too many.

Come on, folks, say the next line with me: “And yet…”

And yet, despite all of its faults, I can’t help but love A View To A Kill anyway.  Indeed, the fact that this movie remains so watchable and even enjoyable even though it’s so heavily laden with mediocrity and wasted potential shows just how special the James Bond franchise is.  Even though most of the cast is obviously not having fun, as a member of the audience, I still am.  Indeed, given the entire James Bond library to pick from, on any given day, A View To A Kill is one of the first ten of the movies I’d reach for.  Is it how I’d introduce a neophyte to the series?  It absolutely is not.  Is my love for the film heavily flavored with the spice of sentiment?  It absolutely is.

But you know what, folks?  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Bottom line, A View To A Kill is proof that the 007 franchise was in desperate need of an overhaul come the mid-80s and that no one was quite ready to do it yet.  Roger Moore takes one bow too many, and he’s surrounded by people who look even less enthusiastic than he is, but thanks to the magic of James Bond – and some wonderful location choices – the film manages to work anyway.  Want to give it some extra flavor?  Watch it as the second half of a double feature with Goldfinger.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2013

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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