Review: A View To A Kill

Welcome to my review of A View To A Kill, the fourteenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, Octopussy, here. Spoilers follow.

A View To A Kill
(dir. John Glen, 1985)

A View To A Kill trailerA View To A Kill is a bit of a rubbish title, when you think about it. I mean, it’s not like the film titles in the Bond franchise ever really make a lot of sense—Octopussy and Thunderball spring to mind—but what does A View To A Kill even mean?

I’m not going to mark the film down on the basis of its title, but I mention it simply because the films have a habit of dropping the titles into the script somewhere. In A View To A Kill, the title is shoehorned awkwardly into some vague and irrelevant villainous banter. It doesn’t work.

“Shoehorning” is an appropriate word for A View To A Kill. The film is the inevitable culmination of a series that isn’t entirely sure of why it’s so successful, and so the filmmakers have chucked in literally everything they could think of to make it exciting. Octopussy, as I mentioned in my review, swings between grit and action and bad comedy, which is bad enough, but A View To A Kill just feels makeshift.

The plot itself is cobbled together. It’s based around microchips that are designed to withstand the EMP blast of a nuclear device detonated in the atmosphere, but the first half of the film is dedicated to the fixing of horse races by illegal genetic experimentation: not something I’d hope that the real MI6 ever gets too involved in. We spend ages in France watching Bond’s equine antics, until finally the plot actually gets underway and we are told about a scheme to destroy Silicon Valley in California in order to raise the prices of microchips for the villain, who has been stockpiling them. Premade microchips, that is, so Heaven forfend anyone suggests that not all microchips are the same or anything.

Even James Bond himself feels a bit shoehorned in, mostly due to Roger Moore’s age. He now looks actively disturbing whenever he comes on to any of the Bond girls, much like a creepy uncle at a wedding. There’s a Russian spy who we’re told has a past history with Bond, but she disappears from the story as mysteriously as she appeared, and we never hear from her again.

Action sequences come out of nowhere and have no particular bearing on the plot. We witness the killing of the world’s most stereotypical Frenchman with the world’s least plausible murder weapon. There’s a scene where Bond steals a fire truck to escape from the Los Angeles police. There’s a horserace, in which Bond is threatened by extending jumps and hurdles. None of this makes any sense, and all of it is filler for a plot that refuses to stretch for the length of time needed to make a film.

Thank God for Christopher Walken and Grace Jones, then, whose double act as the villain and his henchwoman respectively save the film from the bottom of my league table. Walken plays Max Zorin, a modern-day Auric Goldfinger who was created as a superman by the Nazis: he’s a power-mad psychotic, and frankly he’s one of the best villains the series has had so far. Jones’ May Day, for meanwhile, comes only second to Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me in a list of memorable Bond dragons, and her face-heel turn is as magnificent as Jaws’s was terrible in Moonraker. When they’re on the screen, A View To A Kill comes alive, but Bond spends a lot of time chasing the peripheries of their crimes. Walken and Jones aside, the supporting cast of the film is largely forgettable and the film suffers.

There are some decent set pieces, but nothing hangs together coherently enough to make this a must-see Bond film. Since starting this challenge, I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoyed Roger Moore as 007, but with A View To A Kill as his swansong it’s no great mystery to me why he has a reputation as the camp, foppish Bond.

Title song: I know that I may be in a minority here, but I don’t rate Duran Duran’s A View To A Kill particularly highly.

Greatest moment: Max Zorin planning Bond’s death in the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles is pretty cracking, and Bond’s escape from the lift in the middle of a fire is great.

Worst moment: In the pre-credits scene, Bond escapes capture in a submarine disguised as an iceberg. It has a double bed built into it; clearly standard MI6 issue. It’s all so stupid.

Best gadget: Q mucks around with a K-9-esq dog snooper thing that’s reasonably cool, but Bond’s camera concealed in a ring takes top prize for being something that a spy might actually find useful.

Best quote:
James Bond: Well my dear, I take it you spend quite a lot of time in the saddle.
Jenny Flex: Yes, I love an early morning ride.
James Bond: Well, I’m an early riser myself.

Most obvious product placement: The Frenchman discussing the merits of Bollinger Champagne with Bond is about as obvious as it could have been without one of the actors turning to wink at the camera.

Verdict: Not a fabulous film, then, although still not as bad as Diamonds Are Forever or Moonraker.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
  2. From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
  3. The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977)
  4. Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
  5. Live And Let Die (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
  6. For Your Eyes Only (dir. John Glen, 1981)
  7. Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
  8. You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
  9. The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1974)
  10. Octopussy (dir. John Glen, 1983)
  11. Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
  12. A View To A Kill (dir. John Glen, 1985)
  13. Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
  14. Moonraker (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

And that’s it for Roger Moore, who made A View To A Kill when he was 53 years old! Next up: Timothy Dalton stars in The Living Daylights.