In 1985, Roger Moore celebrated his final appearance as James Bond in the film A View To A Kill. He also celebrated his 58th birthday. Unfortunately, these two events are difficult to separate when watching Moore’s swansong; when Sean Connery (who also played Bond into his fifties) derides you as “too old”, it’s time to think about turning in your licence to kill.
Moore disliked AVTAK, later describing himself as “horrified” by the film’s violence while self-deprecatingly admitting, “I was only about four hundred years too old for the part”. This observation cannot really be denied: at times Moore resembles a condom stuffed with walnuts, while maintaining the air of a boxer who has taken on one fight too many – Ricky Hatton in a tuxedo, perhaps?
Despite this complaint – and the fact that AVTAK holds the lowest rating on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes of any official Bond movie – I maintain a level of affection for the film, largely based on three factors: my age, my memories of the theme tune, and the mighty Grace Jones.
AVTAK was the first Bond film I ever saw at the cinema and, despite the fact that the character on screen bore little resemblance to the 007 I had recently read about in Ian Fleming’s original novels (and my mother’s insistence that “Connery is the real Bond”), I was ready to accept the aged figure creaking his way up the Eiffel Tower as the genuine article. (Anyway, since Fleming’s Bond is a physical wreck of a man, perhaps Moore’s portrayal is more accurate than Daniel Craig’s Bourne-inspired superman thug-hunk)?
Prior to AVTAK, Bond theme songs had been largely recorded by long-established crooners, such as Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones and, despite their success, bore little relevance to the pop music of the day. This all changed, however, when Duran Duran’s Bond-loving drummer John Taylor ran into producer Cubby Broccoli and insisted that it was time to let “someone decent” have a crack. I will leave it to you, Dear Reader, to judge whether Le Bon’s yacht-dwelling fops do actually fall into the “decent” category, but it cannot be denied that, at the time, they were hot property on both sides of the Atlantic.
(At this point, I shall admit to having purchased said single, but will not dwell on this further, other than to point out that it remains the most successful Bond theme ever in chart terms, having reached number one in the US, so I was clearly riding some kind of zeitgeist. Also, I was nine.)
So, to GRACE! One of the weaknesses of the later Moore films lies with the routinely unthreatening villains – the anti-feminist pushover Octopussy and business-bore Aris Kristatos to name but two – but AVTAK provides us with a double-dose of charismatic anti-heroism, in the shape of Jones’ May Day and the abominable Max Zorin (a surprisingly fresh-faced Christopher Walken). Zorin is the super-intelligent yet psychopathic result of Nazi medical experiments, out to dominate the world’s microchip market by triggering a massive Earthquake on the San Andreas Fault which will flood and destroy Silicon Valley. His relationship with May Day is complex, falling somewhere between co-conspirator, lover and martial arts teacher/pupil.
Walken, of course, is a man able to look intimidating while tap dancing and, having seen Jones performing in person last summer, I can confirm that even at 63 years of age she still cuts the kind of figure that you might imagine eats British secret agents for breakfast. May Day is a woman of few words, leaving Jones to convey menace via a serious of turn-to-stone glowers. If not technically accomplished, it’s still a captivating performance, not least as a rare example of female empowerment in the Bond series; Jones’s sheer physical presence pre-empts Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp, Goldeneye’s thigh-crushing femme fatale.
Re-watching AVTAK today, it seems overlong and unnecessarily convoluted, though there are highlights: 007 snowboards down a mountain to the sound of the Beach Boys, a sequence credited with kick-starting the sport’s popularity; a tense horse racing scene gives new meaning to the phrase “raising the bar”; we meet a female henchwoman named Jenny Flex, which may or may not be a pun on the word ‘genuflex’, a name aiming much higher than the standard Pussy Galores. Generally, however, the film’s saving grace lies with its charismatic pair of villains.
One final thought: AVTAK was the end of an era in two ways. Not only did it mark the end of Moore’s tenure as James Bond, but the original line-up of Duran Duran would not record together for another quarter of a century. Small blessings indeed…
Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit.