WFTB Score: 6/20
The plot: James Bond undertakes a mission to follow mysterious racing-horse owner Max Zorin and discover the purpose of his buying up huge supplies of microchips. Despite the hindrance of Zorin’s neglected partner May Day, and with the assistance of vengeful former oil heiress Stacey Sutton, Bond discovers that Zorin’s plans are focused on Silicon Valley, with a mad eye on getting rid of it to boost the fortunes of his own cartel.
Bond films and I have never really got on, and it’s not just because it seems to me that much the same story is being told every time and so-called ‘ruthless’ villains refuse to shoot him in the head when opportunities have been plentiful. It’s more than that. I can’t tell you whether it was this specific entry in the canon that set me against the secret agent when I started to take a serious interest in films, but it’s a perfect example of where the series got things most obviously wrong.
A View to a Kill is Bond’s fourteenth outing, and this time we start with James (played by Roger Moore for the seventh and final time) retrieving a microchip halfway up a Siberian mountain and returning it to M, only to be quickly sent away again as Q (Desmond Llewelyn, with a very restricted part this time) has identified the chip as an exact copy of one capable of withstanding nuclear blasts created by Zorin Industries. Ordered to keep tabs on company chief Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) to see who is copying his chips for the Russians, Bond poses as a man with an interest in racehorses, Zorin’s other passion; and with trainer Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee) posing as his chauffeur the pair make several important discoveries, not least that Zorin’s horses are being fitted with microchips that can release hormones on a given signal. Though their investigations cost Tibbett his life, and earn Bond the mistrust of Zorin’s athletic partner May Day (Grace Jones), the spy does discover that Zorin is hoarding microchips and also paying off beautiful geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts), though he doesn’t discover why until he gets to San Francisco and the plan is revealed: as part of a conglomerate, Zorin plans to make his chips invaluable by flooding Silicon Valley, using mines and oil facilities obtained from Stacey’s parents. Since millions of lives are at risk, Bond and Stacey must stop Zorin at all costs.
You may well be wondering what exactly racehorses have to do with microchips, and I would be tempted to agree, but as usual the film’s plot strands are little more than a device to race around exotic locations – here, Paris, the gorgeous Château de Chantilly and San Francisco (complete with climax on the Golden Gate bridge) – and show off some impressive stunt work. In this respect the film is fine, even if the plot is a little more plodding than usual and some of the stunts less thrilling than they might be (the fire truck jumping over a bridge is surprisingly dull). Unfortunately, A View to a Kill is landed with more than its fair share of absurdities that detract from the action, such as the portakabin-cum-airship, death by butterfly on the Eiffel Tower, Zorin’s bespoke killer racecourse, or the villain’s entirely pointless back story which explains that the former KGB man is a genetically enhanced result of Nazi experimentation (couldn’t he just be naturally mad?).
However, any faults in the plot are already redundant by the time the (ugly) credits kick in, since Roger Moore is in his late fifties and though perfectly trim, looks like he’s in his mid-fifties. The short scene with Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny (her last film too) is embarrassing geriatric courting, and everything that follows merely exhibits that Moore is far too old for the role, since shots requiring any sort of strenuous action are filmed in mid-distance with stuntmen doing all the work, and the rest of the film is filled with laboured comedy (the Moore and Macnee show, and the inept SFPD cops, are both particularly desperate) and awkward flirting. Tanya Roberts just about passes muster as Stacey Sutton (I like her kitsch house, though my heart sank when Bond cooked quiche in it), but Grace Jones is a bizarre choice as May Day, forced to sleep with Bond despite the fact that her expression says she hates him utterly. In fact, Jones’ expression is permanently set at crazy (where it belongs) and while she has a certain amount of charisma, it doesn’t belong in the snoozy world of Moore’s Bond. Ditto for Walken as Zorin; yes, he’s a cold-hearted psychopath who guns down his own workforce (gratuitously, though bloodlessly), but Walken is too restrained here; he lacks authority, and it would have been nice for Zorin to have had more quirks – something an older Walken could no doubt have provided in spades. Regrettably, the limitations of the cast are not compensated for by the director, who is content to commit to celluloid a number of incoherent action sequences, especially during Moore and Macnee’s fight in the stables when we can barely tell who is doing what. This carelessness extends in the second half to a complete disregard for lens flares: during the San Francisco chase I had repeated flashbacks to watching J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek.
Roger Moore is a charming man with an incredible screen presence, and this alone means that A View to a Kill is not unwatchable. The truth is, however, that this could have been the best-directed, best-written Bond film in history and Moore would have looked out of place to all but the most ardent fan. The producers took note for their next project, The Living Daylights, but they should have accepted Moore’s retirement as 007 when it was first offered, before this pudding of a movie was made.