Page to Screen: A View To a Kill (1985)

A View to a Kill
based on characters by Ian Fleming


A View To a Kill is the first Bond movie I remember learning about outside of Goldeneye. (I may not have seen the film, but even I remember the majesty of the video game. It saturated the Nintendo 64 years like a glorious vodka martini-scented halo.) It was the one with Christopher Walken and Grace Jones. It was the one where Roger Moore’s age had become laughably apparent. It was the one from the mid-eighties, when the whole eighties aesthetic had stabilized and hadn’t soured yet. It was the one I was destined to love, for just as Meyerian werewolves imprint upon their soulmates in utero, I, too, imprinted upon the eighties at a tender age. Bring it on.

A View To a Kill opens with MI6 discovering that one of their contractors is selling their tech to the Soviets. While Max Zorin of Zorin Industries is supposedly the perfect capitalist, Bond investigates him and discovers that Zorin is doping horses. It seems like chump change for MI6, but when Zorin’s right-hand woman May Day tries to kill him and succeeds in killing a French contact, Bond knows Zorin is up to something… something that involves paying off one Stacey Stutton to the tune of five million dollars. It’s up to Bond to get to the bottom of Zorin’s plan and save—well, if not the world, definitely a sizable chunk of California.

My friend Natalya keeps warning me about Denise Richards’ turn as a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones in the Brosnan-era The World is Not Enough, but I think she should have warned me about Stacey Stutton in the same breath. Tanya Roberts is breathtakingly beautiful, like a Brigitte Bardot for the early eighties (albeit with less bite), but it’s very hard to buy her wide-eyed breathiness as a geologist who has been battling Zorin her entire adult life. As my father pointed out, Stacey’s lines are mostly limited to the following: “James!”, “Help me!”, and “James, help me!”. Dr. Goodhead, she ain’t.

Thankfully, Grace Jones is in this movie. As snarling, super-strong, and mostly silent May Day, she’s magnetic, all glam and violence. And she’s even close with Zorin’s other female assassins, breaking down over their deaths in the third act and determining to avenge them. The end of May Day’s story gives me conflicting feelings—yeah, of course that’s how a Bond film would treat someone like Jones… but she’s still so vital to the story that removing her would doom us all, so… dead even, I guess? A View to a Kill is also the last Bond film to feature Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, which makes me want to gnash my teeth and rend my garments, I love her so, but it does also feature MI6 going on a field trip to the races where she and Q have a grand time, so that’s nice. I just added a bunch of Lois Maxwell films to my watching list. (It’s like my reading list, but, you know, shorter.)

I have long adored the song “A View to a Kill”—it’s Duran Duran, people, c’mon—but the opening credits made me love it more: it’s all models in black light make-up, voguing, and things on fire. (Also known as everything that I love.) And, for the first time, male models join female models in the traditional nude gymnastics that start off a Bond film. It sets a very particular tone for A View to a Kill: aloof and over-the-top. The wonderful score continually uses the melody from the theme song (check out wedding-appropriate “Wine With Stacey”), underscoring the tone. It works very well for Moore’s wry and dry Bond, especially when he has to go undercover as the most British man to ever British. But meshing with the tone couldn’t change the fact that Moore was just too old for the part, and Moore bowed out after this film; to quote the man himself, “I was only about four hundred years too old for the part.

The tone has a drawback, though—it’s so aloof that it ends up glorying in violence. The Bond franchise has had an interesting relationship with violence over the years, and coming from the Craig years to the early franchise was definitely startling in terms of how seriously it took the fact that the protagonist kills people for a living. A View to a Kill features Bond making carelessly cruel one-liners after the deaths of his allies, which is fairly par for the course (remember Lazenby quipping “He’s got a lot of guts!” after seeing a dude get chewed up by a machine?), but there’s one scene towards the end that’s particularly stomach-turning. Zorin (a beautifully sleek  Christopher Walken), watching his men flee a flood that would kill them, cackles and shoots them with round after round. It’s a lingering and excessive shot, glorying in the blood. The Bond films may make light of Bond’s job from time to time, but they never glory in it, so it’s a hard scene to watch. Perhaps this is the reason Dalton’s Bond is supposedly more conflicted about taking lives; you have to kick back against something like that.

Bottom line: A View to a Kill opens with gloriously aloof and over-the-top credits, giving the film a tone that benefits Roger Moore’s dry humor but makes the violence particularly thoughtless and bloodthirsty. Plus, the main Bond girl is… let’s call it underwritten. Thank God for Grace Jones and Christopher Walken chewing up the scenery like no tomorrow. Worth a watch.

I rented this film from iTunes.

5 thoughts on “Page to Screen: A View To a Kill (1985)

  1. This is definitely one you watch for the villains. Grace Jones and Christopher Walken are more entertaining than Roger Moore in this one. I’ve got a friend who is playing the new Grand Theft Auto game and simulating the blimp sequences–that’s how much fun Max Zorin is. And Mayday, you just don’t get on her bad side. Ever.

  2. May Day is such a fucking boss. Actresses who play Bond Girls are fond of saying in interviews, “My character is really different from all the other Bond Girls we’ve seen before” but Grace Jones is the only one who was genuinely unique.

    • I think we can safely call The World Is Not Enough‘s Elektra King unique, but that’s more so in her role in the story, not her character. (I’m being reminded of my beloved Fiona Vulpe.) But May Day is the only one to go completely out there, because she doesn’t have to be sexually desirable for Bond and the (assumed) straight male audience—although she goes there in a way that clearly communicates that she will not be “tamed” by Bond’s sexual prowess.

      So yeah, she’s her own unique thing.

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