Riding high on “Octopussy”’s success, not just at the box office but in seeing off the threat of “Never Say Never Again”, the official Bond franchise pressed ahead with the next instalment. With the public’s affection for Roger Moore’s portrayal of Bond so recently validated, and with the producer’s preferred actors unavailable, the drive to cast a younger actor lost some momentum and so Roger Moore was signed up to portray Bond for a record seventh time. ‘Steady as she goes’ was very much the watchword, with John Glen returning as Director and veteran writing partnership Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson penning the script. But while the appetite for change may have subsided, there was no let-up in the ambition of the series for spectacular set pieces and ground-breaking stunts.
A case of high tech industrial espionage leads Bond into the exclusive world of racehorse breeding where he encounters Max Zorin, a mad industrialist who intends to corner the world supply of microchips by destroying Silicon Valley.
Although the film takes its title from an original Ian Fleming short story, ‘From A View To A Kill’, that’s the only aspect of the story which makes it to the screen. Instead, Maibaum and Wilson take the plot of “Goldfinger” and give it an Eighties-style makeover, substituting silicon chips for gold, cheating at horse racing for cheating at golf and replacing the arid monotony of Kentucky with the altogether more cinematic and interesting skies and streets of San Francisco.
The pre-credits sequence takes us to the soot-strewn icy wastelands of Siberia where Bond is retrieving a computer chip from the body of a fellow 00-agent, this time 003. When Bond is discovered he leads them a merry chase on skis, ski-doos and eventually a makeshift snowboard – to the strains of The Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls no less – before taking out a helicopter with a signal flare and escaping in a submarine disguised as an iceberg. It’s a fun and impressive sequence (although the inclusion of The Beach Boys is a little too much) setting up the story and showing that even at the age of 57, Moore could still cut it as Bond. While the story would simply ignore the issue of Bond’s age, Albert R Broccoli and his fellow producers recognised the need to add some youth appeal to maximise the film’s audience. In came edgy guest star Grace Jones as the murderous Mayday and, most importantly, pop group Duran Duran to perform the theme song, a worldwide chart-topper and a great return to form for the series after a couple of duds (although the music video for it is truly terrible.
Maurice Binder’s title sequence is a cavalcade of Eighties garishness as the veteran designer lets rip with the black light, delighting in fluorescents of every conceivable type and synching up nicely with the theme song’s ‘dance into the fire’ lyrics. The film starts brightly enough, with an exciting chase through Paris starting at the Eiffel Tower – a monument which was having quite a decade given its prominent role in “Superman II” only a few years before this. “A View To A Kill” is at its best during the scenes set in France but once it reaches America the curse of 007 stateside kicks in hard. It’s not that it suddenly turns bad, but it certainly turns not-Bond. Where the action in Paris and Zorin’s estate sparkles with life and intrigue, there’s a generically dull TV cop show feel to everything in and around San Francisco. This isn’t helped by the shrill and uninspired fire truck/ police car chase which feels like it could be spliced in to any action movie from the mid-eighties and feels like an Alexander Salkind production rather than the more inventive Bond approach favoured by Broccoli. It’s capped off by Joe Flood’s police chief who comes across as a less effective and amusing cut price J W Pepper. But the film really reaches its nadir in the darkly violent scenes where Zorin gleefully machine guns his own men as they flail around in the aftermath of the mine flooding. It unnecessarily bloodthirsty and disturbing and a disengaged John Glen simply records it. Despite the elaborate and well-choreographed action, John Glen’s direction throughout seems flat and disinterested, especially once the action gets stateside.
Much of the film’s shortcomings are covered up by the great cast. Roger Moore, despite the obvious cosmetic surgery which gives him a slightly perma-startled appearance looks to be in better shape than he was for “Octopussy” and, perhaps knowing that this is his swansong, seems more committed than last time too. Patrick Macnee is a superb addition to the cast and develops wonderful chemistry with Moors, which makes you wish he wasn’t dispatched so soon in the movie. Unfortunately chemistry is the last thing Tanya Roberts manages to establish as Stacey Sutton, one of the most vacuous Bond girls of the series. She’s clearly too young to be a credible love interest for Moore’s Bond (which is why Maud Adams worked so well in “Octopussy”) and she’s written in such a superficial way that there’s no chance of redemption from the script. On the other hand, she does do a lot of running around in high heels, blazing a trail for Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in “Jurassic World” thirty years later.
Christopher Walken’s Zorin, on the other hand, is a powerfully memorable bad guy; possibly the most sadistic and psychotic that Bond has ever gone up against. Grace Jones’ Mayday makes for a fantastic henchman [I spent a lot of time trying to find a female equivalent for henchman but came up empty], eschewing the traditional femme fatale role for a more aggressive and deadly nature; a shame then that at the last minute, she undergoes a Damascene conversion which makes Jaws’ change of heart in “Moonraker” seem subtle and well foreshadowed. The rest of the bad guys – including the obligatory appearance by Walter Gotell as KGB General Gogol – are pretty good too and if you keep your eyes peeled you’ll spot a self-conscious cameo by a young Dolph Lundgren as one of Gogol’s minders.
There’s a great scene where Bond catches up with an old flame from the KGB, played with a coy allure by Fiona Fullerton. It’s a cute moment but it would have been more fitting if the producers had managed to go with their original plan which was to get Barbara Bach to return for a cameo as Anya Amasova from “The Spy Who Loved Me”. The call back to his best adventure would have been a lovely touch for his last. The post-finale scenes of Q trying to find Bond are as pointless as they are stupid. Not only do they feature Q’s inexplicable robot dog – which looked laughably old fashioned when the film came out – but he’s sitting in a van at the bottom of the driveway to the house where Bond is in. What’s wrong with just ringing the doorbell, Q? Still, it’s a pretty neat conceit that Moore’s very last action as Bond on screen is to literally throw in the towel.