Sunday, April 21, 2013

Double Oh...14: A View To A Kill

d. John Glen

A View To A Kill Preamble: By this point I'm tired of Roger Moore, who himself looks quite tired.  He was getting too old for this shit, and he knew it, but they kept offering him the role and the money and he kept coming back.  I thought I knew this film from my childhood going into it, turns out, not so much.

Villains: A View To A Kill is a spotlight movie for Christopher Walken as Max Zorin, a psychopathic millionaire industrialist, and (besides Grace Jones) the only prominent villain in the piece.  Coming out of Deer Hunter, Heaven's Gate and The Dead Zone, Walken was a prominent figure, but still not a star, certainly not to the level of notoriety he's received over the past decade as a cult figure.  But it's in that context as cult figure that Walken's performance here truly shines.  I'm sure it was notable at the time, but even more so now it's evident that Walken relished the role unfettered with scruples or sympathy.  Part of his backstory/psychopathy is only narrowly explained, that Zorin was the result of a steroidal experiment whilst in the womb, and also trained by the Russians but never a true soldier.
   The ex-Nazi doctor who performed the experiment, Dr. Carl Mortner, is now Zorin's trusted aide, and doting parental figure.  Mortner is also responsible for the design of the microchip Zorin uses do dose his horses with adrenaline boosters as they run.  The ultimate plan Zorin has is to agitate the Hayward and San Andreas faultlines so that Silicon Valley will be destroyed, and his microchips can flood the depressed market to grand riches as well as backdoor exploitation.  It's a rather cool, intricate, Lex Luthor-level scheme, the unveiling of which was the highlight of the film. Although I've never seen Luthor with a semi automatic gleefully chuckle as he mows down all of his hired help in the mines.
  Russian General Gogol returns once more as a background character, his fifth appearance in 5 films.  He's never much of a villain, just as often a collaborator with MI6.  Here he's as interested in Zorin's activities as anyone, especially when Zorin falls out of line (Dolph Lundgren makes a very brief appearance as one of Gogol's KGB security detail).

Bond Girls: May Day, Zorin's right-hand aide, lover and sparring partner is simultaneously scary, intimidating, and striking.  Model Grace Jones has a very ominous, stern presence which makes her quite memorable, unfortunately her acting chops aren't quite so impressive as her physique and editorial-model looks.  At times she lives up to her role, other times it's quite apparent she's a model in a film (line delivery foremost).  She goes out like a boss thought.  An astounding exit.
  Faring no better, Tanya Roberts (later Midge in That '70's Show) is about as convincing a geologist as Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough.  Perhaps I still see too much Midge in Stacy Sutton to give her more credit, but it's a thin role largely of clueless victim that she plays.  She is the heir to land that Zorin needs in order to execute his plans, but in refusing his offers, he tries to dispense with her other ways.  Bond naturally comes to her rescue, already bounding on tip-toes towards her Pepe Le Pew-style since meeting her at Zorin's soiree.  It's an eye-rolling pairing as he should truly be a surrogate father figure to her rather than lover.
   Pola Ivanova is a Russian spy who Bond once seduced, played here by the buxom Fiona Fullerton.  Pola comes back into Bond's life as they cross paths sneaking around the docs where Zorin has a drilling operation set up.  They help each other escape and fall into bed together (well first splashing around a hot tub together).
  May Day also has a couple of trained assassins on her side, Jenny Flex (played by Allison Doody) and Pan Ho (played by Papillon Soo Soo), who serve as little more than eye candy and a temporary distraction in Bond's endeavor to stop Zorin from destroying California.  Their death also serves as an agitator for Mayday to turn on Zorin.
   I should also note this was Lois Maxwell's last appearance as Moneypenny.  The film should have ended with her and Bond in retirement together, as she seemed to be the closest flirtation to Bond's actual age.

Theme/Credits:  The first Bond theme to be a #1 hit, Duran Duran's "Into The Fire (A View To A Kill)" is a full on 80's pop-glam explosion, the bombastic horns make the song, and if anything undercuts it it's Simon LeBon's whine.  The lyrics, I have to credit them, are aptly Bond-ian.  The neon-blacklit ladies emerging from fire and smoke are perfect Bond opening credit moments.  The silhouetted skiers, less so, but they reflect the transition from the rather limited opening sequences of the past to a more animated or technology-aided openings of the future.  Not the best song, or the best credits sequence, but both quite good.

Bond: So old, this Bond, so obviously old, yet, the age so ignored.  Skyfall dealt with a Bond in far better condition and about 12 years junior dealing more responsibly with the question of capability given his age.  It would have been rewarding to have it addressed, even minimally in A View To A Kill.  But Moore's Bond was always questionable in his methodology and egocentric in his perception of himself.  Where Connery might have a bit of a sweat over a predicament he finds himself in, Moore calmly and casually faces death's door with the attitude of "yeah, right".  Moore's Bond here excels at the social side mingling at a soiree or engaging with contemporaries.  It's the physical side, including sexuality, which are the furthest fetched and most challenging aspects of the character/actor at this point.  I just kept waiting for an "oh, my knees" comment.  The only thing that makes Moore look young is by partnering him with The Avengers' (the TV one) Patrick McNee.  Bond has a sommelier's senses, a refined knowledge and appreciation for wine as well as an expert horse rider. One gets the sense that Bond comes from an elite background (which is exactly what he wants to project).

Movie: Unlike a few other entries in Moore's Bond oeuvre, A View To A Kill actually fares better in hindsight.  I don't think I enjoyed watching it much at the time, but as I think about it, it certainly seems more favourable in my head.  Realistically, though, it's not a terrific picture.  While John Glen made an auspicious debut with For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View To A Kill reveal some tendencies that are downright silly (the opening skiing sequence, for instance, finds Bond snowboarding before snowboarding was really a thing, and playing California Girls overtop, just to hit home that it's like surfing on snow, dude).  There's a great chase sequence that finds Bond's compact car becoming even more compact, after riding on the top of an open-topped double-decker bus, it loses it's roof, then get's bisected, but, front-wheel drive, Bond keeps going.  It's really a cool sequence, if not for the fact that it's played more for chuckles.  As is the fire engine sequence through the streets of San Francisco (Tanya Roberts shrieking "James" constantly wasn't any more endearing to the scene).  It's pre-Die Hard, post-Indiana Jones action and suffers for its influences and lack thereof, filled with cheap fights and 80's-style rescue sequences.  Pretty much up until the mine sequence, it's quite a low-key affair, the stakes don't seem quite so large until Zorin's masterplan is revealed.   The last 25 minutes or so are popping, however, it's unfortunate Moore couldn't put on as good a show as the fight atop the Golden Gate Bridge deserved.

Q-Gadgets: Q toys around with a surveillance robot (that looks kind of like K-9 from Doctor Who).  It doesn't serve too useful in the film.

Classification (out of 01.0) - 00.4 watchable, but barely.