Thursday, May 23, 2013

My Favorite Era: A View to A Kill (1985)

The 14th James Bond film was my introduction to the series and boy is it...Well, sort of mediocre in hindsight.  Actually, it isn't really that bad a swan song for Roger Moore but as an overall movie, it sort of drags here and there plus Moore probably should have hung it up after Octopussy (which we will get too soon enough).  Let's take a closer look.
  • Things start off pretty well with a fun pre-credit sequence as Bond recovers a microchip and gets into a nice skiing action scene with some Russian baddies.  John Barry's score is great as usual and the sequence in general really gets things off to a fantastic start.  Really, the only flaw with the action is that it's relatively obvious Moore is being doubled (as it is in his latter outings as 007).  The Beach Boys cover song that plays in the middle of things is also an odd touch since it sort of breaks the tension but it still works fine for me.
  • Om a side note, it's more than a little creepy to see a rather deep into middle age Moore seducing women about twenty years younger than him.
  • The main title theme by Duran Duran is also great, a nice driving rock song that is very cool to hear.
  • The overall plot is something of a reworking of the classic Goldfinger with a millionaire trying to corner the market on a resource through psychotically murderous means.  It's not a total success as in this case you're really trying to recreate near-perfection but it does have one thing on the former that I will get to later.
  • I sort of dig Robert Brown's take on Bond's chief M.  Whereas Bernard Lee played the character in a sort of stern paternal fashion, Brown veers a little closer towards resigned exasperation with a little more irritability.  It's done rather nicely as he never goes too overboard.
  • Christopher Walken is an inspired choice for Zorin, the main villain of the piece.  While you would generally expect him to go into quirky overdrive (since he's been in that mode since the mid-90's), he goes in the opposite direction with a more reserved performance.  It's pretty strong too as he only raises his voice a few times, making the moments where the certifiably nuts Zorin loses it more effective.
  • I also love the rather over the top notion that Zorin is a product of genetic engineering done by a former Nazi scientist working for the Russians.   It's pretty damn goofy but it also works more or less.
  • Handling the over the top villainy is Grace Jones as Zorin;s henchwoman May Day.  She gained some notoriety the previous year in the second Conan film and she does fairly well here, providing a fairly intimidating villain.  She's not the best or anything but she's certainly memorable.  Her super strength is not really a factor for the most part outside of a few moments but it does tie in with Zorin's backstory, sort of.
  • I also enjoy Patrick Macnee as Tibbett, Bond's helper for the first half of the film.  Macnee and Moore have an easygoing, natural chemistry that makes for one or two amusing bits.
  • The Eiffel Tower stunt and ensuing car chase is pretty damn good.
  • The fixed horse race/steroids angle that takes up the first hour or so is a decent but ultimately irrelevant as the real plot revolves around microchips and earthquakes.  Not sure what they could have done instead but it does leave a rather large hole in the plot.
  • To be fair, there is a mention of microchips being used to fix the horse race but it's rather thin as a connecting device.
  • In spite of this, Moore and Walken are fun to watch as Moore's Bond was always at his best when just being an utter wiseass and Walken, well...The man is cool no matter what he does.
  • I also get a chuckle out of Macnee serving as Bond's butler, this is where the two actors really gel as a duo.
  • The film has a rather leisurely pace for the most part (all 131 minutes, in fact) and while this let's the audience breathe a bit it also has the unfortunate side effect of causing the plot to meander a bit.  Moore is charming and Walken is fun but that;s no substitution for a decent pace.  Contrast this with the preceding and following films which are about the same length but move like hell.
  • The gadgets are somewhat downplayed this time out with a few useful items like hidden cameras and check duplicators used in the second half hour but for the most part, Bond uses his wits to get out of sticky situations.
  • Tanya Roberts as the Bond Girl for the evening is...okay, I guess though she won't go down in history as one of the best female leads.  It's sort of hard to judge, really since since this rather odd but is casting we've had Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist (oh, I'll get to that, believe me) and Halle Berry as an NSA agent allegedly equal to Bond.  Taken on its own, her performance as Stacey Sutton is decent enough as Roberts is sexy and charming.  It's a bit of a stretch for her to be believable as a geologist (and to be frank, she isn't but the film doesn't really require her to be too often) but given the era, it sort of works okay as her job isn't the main focus of her role in the film.
  • I get a kick out of Bond being exposed by an out of place vial in a cabinet that Zorin's ex-Nazi doctor assistant notices.
  • The horse riding action scene and Bond nearly being drowned in his car makes for a pretty good sequence.  Walken is nicely low key and I like Bond surviving by sucking the air out of the tire of his car.  It's a nice change of pace considering Moore's Bond usually relied on a gadget to save his ass.
  • I enjoy the scene of Zorin's KGB handlers reading him the riot act.  Series regular Walter Gotell puts in an appearance as General Gogol and there is a brief cameo from future action star Dolph Lundgren as a KGB agent.
  • One thing that always makes me chuckle is the rather overdone grunting Moore does in action scenes.  A few other action stars do it too (mainly Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford) but in Moore's case, there's a rather exaggerated "Ooohhh!" that gets used a few times in the film.  It's amusing, though not for any of the right reasons.
  • Zorin's speech to a bunch of businessmen is not only a very good sequence but it also solves a minor problem in Goldfinger.  In that film, Bond eavesdrops on the bad guy explaining his plans to a bunch of gangsters he then has killed, save for one who opts out of the deal and gets offed anyway later on.  Here, Zorin makes his speech and offs the lone dissenter instantly afterwards, letting Bond figure things out later.  It's a small change but it does work better.
  • The reveal of the blimp is also nice.
  • The last hour and change takes place in San Francisco, my favorite city.  I freely admit this plays a part in my affection for the film as I've always loved the place and any time it appears onscreen, I smile.
  • In spite of the great scenery which comes naturally from shooting in San Francisco, the film does drag for the next twenty minutes or so.  Stuff does happen (Zorin kills a KGB guy trying to spy on him, Bond seduces a female KGB agent and puts one over on her, Bond and Stacey team up after Bond saves her from some of Zorin's goons) but the film is paced so casually that it comes off as somewhat less than engaging.
  • The house used for Stacey's home was also used in the first Phantasm film.
  • As a California native, I'm amused at Bond being woken up by a little 2.8 tremor.  Not to be macho, but it generally takes at least a 5.1 to for me to even get up and get under a table at this point.
  • The City Hall stuff is pretty good (though Tanya Roberts screaming and a really good sound system are not a good match) and the fact that the filmmakers were allowed to actually set the building on fire (with controlled flames of course) is pretty cool.
  • The chase with the fire truck is pretty good too, though I could have done without the comic relief cop chasing Bond.  It was annoying as hell in the first two Moore outings and here it's just tiresome.  I don't know why every now and then the filmmakers decided to sabotage a perfectly good action scene with this sort of thing but in all fairness it's nowhere near grating as it is in, say, The Man with the Golden Gun.  It says a lot that out of all the movies, that's the only one I can honestly say I dislike.  And mind you, I'm the guy who is willing to give stuff from Cannon Pictures a bit of a break.
  • Zorins's plan of using a bomb to flood the San Andreas and Hayward Faults to cause a huge earthquake to corner the microchip market is a fairly good one, though most of the stuff with him carrying out his plans in a mine is a little too slow for my liking.  The highlight though is him going completely apeshit and mowing down his own employees with a machine gun while explosions are going off.  Walken really cuts loose here for the only time in the movie, laughing insanely the entire time.
  • May Day turning on Zorin and helping Bond at the cost of her own life is a pretty good touch, though in all honesty it's sort of predictable for two reasons.  First off, there isn't a person alive who wants to see Roger Moore beating the crap out of a woman.  Second, there's no way in hell to make it believable that a 57 year old Roger Moore could take Grace Jones in a fight.  I don't care how many stuntmen you use or how many different angles you shoot the scene from.
  • Before I talk about the climax, I just want to point something out.  The general knock on the third act is that Stacey manages to get ambushed by Zorin's blimp which sneaks up on her.  For the record, and really you just have to watch the damn movie to see this, it's really more of a tie if nothing else.  She glances back just as Zorin grabs her, about a second and a half after Bond yells to her.  It's hardly the dumbest thing in the film, really.  There are plenty of legit reasons to knock this movie without resorting to stupid crap like that.  It could have been shot better, I will say that.
  • To the climax, it's up there with my favorites in the series as Bond ties up the blimp in the Golden Gate Bridge and fights to the death with Zorin.  It's a real fun sequence, once again aided by Barry's fantastic score.
  • As I said, this is the last Bond film for Roger Moore and to be frank, he really should have left after Octopussy.  He's not awful or anything, he just seems a little tired and the stunt doubling is a little too obvious at times.  Still, he gave us seven solid movies (with at least two being awesome) and a heap of great memories.
At the end of the day, this is a very middle of the road Bond outing with a few good moments.  I still like it though as it was the first Bond film I ever saw and nostalgia counts for a lot when it comes to my reviews.  It's not the greatest thing you will ever see, but worth seeing at least once.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.