Six men have portrayed James Bond, and, therefore, there have been five movies that represent the final go–around as Bond for the actor. Most of these last entries make it clear that it’s time for a change—the actor has gotten older or his turn as the character has run its course—but they allow the star to go out with his dignity firmly intact. Roger Moore as James Bond seemed tired in For Your Eyes Only (1981). That was two movies ago, and by the time A View to a Kill (1985) came around, his weariness had infected the director and the script as well.
A View to a Kill is an Ambien in Bond’s clothing. It has all the earmarks of a great thriller and can certainly exist in the memory as better than the sum of its parts, but it’s all an illusion, a collection of elements with potential that is never paid off. If I described a movie with set-pieces in Siberia, in the vertical crest of the Eiffel Tower and along the horizontal expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge, you might get the impression that I was describing an exciting experience. Don’t trust that impression. This is the type of movie that believes the mere existence of Siberia, the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge provides intrigue, and that the inclusion of the marvelous James Bond theme music ought to make it a thrilling adventure. It doesn’t.
This time Commander James Bond 007 is investigating the mysterious industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), a horse enthusiast who is covertly trying to destroy Silicon Valley to create a monopoly for his technology interests. Forget for a moment that Zorin’s interests are in the manufacturing of microchips and that Silicon Valley’s interests are in the buying of microchips, not the making, so he would be effectively offing his own constituency. Bond’s investigation takes him into the crosshairs of (and briefly into the arms of) May Day (Grace Jones), Zorin’s lover and enforcer. As Bond eludes the duo’s attempts on his life, he partners (in more ways than one) with Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts), the perky state geologist with a love for justice and for feathered hair, who has also sniffed out Zorin’s plot to destroy the ground between two faults, which would flood much of northern California. This leads to a final confrontation on an airship over the San Francisco Bay.
There isn’t anything particularly wrong with the plot that lively filmmaking wouldn’t have cured but none of that can be found here. The director, John Glen, can be a creative visualist, especially during action scenes, but here he appears completely out of ideas. The best sequence is a too-short car chase in Paris in which Bond’s car keeps losing large sections, going from a sedan to a convertible then from a four–door to a very small two–door, but even this section reveals an inventive dearth, stealing moments from the much better zany boat chase in Live and Let Die (1973). Still, its better than the lame Beach Boys homage in Siberia and a too-goofy-to-swallow steeplechase sequence in a ludicrously mechanized course. The rest of the action is wholly uninspiring, including an escape from a burning building that fails to register and the underwhelming finale. Further, the very filmmaking seems lazy and uninspired, there’s too much reliance on bad rear screen projection, and even the narrative elements are botched with odd, poor editing and shot selection, making sections hard to follow on visual terms.
A larger problem is that there’s simply too little action. Moore has the charm to carry a movie, but he’s not allowed to use it here, and too much of the movie’s running time is devoted to boring and stilted technological-, political-, industrial-, geological-, or equine-babble. It takes a fairly stilted script to make Christopher Walken, who could make the phone book seem nutty, a bromidic mouthpiece for exposition. The script comes alive only for short moments, to the point that the groan-inducing, post-fight quips feel like breaths of fresh air. I enjoyed being reminded how 007 lucked out with his name when he introduces himself undercover as “St. John-Smyth, James St. John-Smyth.”
These are the meager pleasures of A View to a Kill, which comes at the end of the longest and most inconsistent era in the franchise’s history. The Roger Moore pictures are distinguished by their uneasy relationship between tone and star, rarely striking the right balance of cheek and menace that Moore is suited to. When it worked, for me, it was perfection; when it didn’t, which sadly was most of the time, it was painful. A View to a Kill is far more pain than pleasure, the ignoble end of the one who could have been the best James Bond.