Saturday, July 18, 2015

A View to a Kill (1985) | Villains

I know this is the point, but May Day is so weird. Grace Jones, man. I never know what she's doing, but I always end up sort of liking it. You always know exactly how she's feeling, whether she's glowering or laughing maniacally for no reason. And those emotions flip so quickly. She's all into sparring and wrestling with Zorin until he starts winning and then she turns feral, snapping and biting at him. When he exerts his power even more by trying to make out with her, she resists at first, but becomes totally okay with it as long as she's on top and in control.

It's fascinating to me that her defining characteristics - he need for control and having zero masks on her emotions - are huge weaknesses. She's such a strong and imposing woman, but there's a desperation about her that makes her endlessly compelling to me. I don't even know if I'm talking about May Day or Grace Jones now, because it's the same situation in Conan the Destroyer (though I like her character a lot better in that movie). It's probably a moot point, because I always get the feeling that she's more or less playing herself anyway.

I love that she switches sides at the end. Some folks have a problem with it because behind the scenes it was probably due to '80s sexual politics about Bond's not being able to kill a woman. I don't care about that as long as it works in-story and it totally does. It doesn't make May Day a weaker character; it makes her stronger by tragically letting her find her humanity moments before giving her an heroic death. Up to that point, she was basically a bizarre, flamboyant substitute for Oddjob, but turning against Zorin makes her into a character that I care about.

Speaking of May Day's transformation, let's talk about Jenny Flex. She introduces herself and her weird name to Bond like she's going to be important, but does nothing the rest of the movie. Her ultimate, best purpose in the film is to die, betrayed by Zorin, and motivate May Day to change.

Which, actually, I'm okay with. That's her role in the movie, to be the object of May Day's grief. It's the first sign of humanity we get from May Day when she sees Jenny's body and cries out her name. We have no clue what their relationship was, but whether they were close or Jenny was just a trusted underling, her death affects May Day and makes May Day see that Zorin is more monster than even May Day can take.

What threw me was Jenny's name. I'm used to women with punny names having more to do than Jenny does. But her name gets my attention and keeps it whenever Jenny's on screen, even if she's not really doing anything. That way, when she dies, I remember who she is and understand why May Day is upset.

Zorin's head of security is Scarpine (who has a scar, what are the odds?). He's one of the two people in Zorin's inner circle; the other being Dr. Mortner. I should maybe say a quick word about Mortner, partly because he also plays the king in Princess Bride and that's awesome, but also because his role in the story suggests something about Scarpine.

Mortner was a Nazi scientist who experimented with steroids on pregnant women in order to create super soldiers. Zorin was one of those babies and it's clear that he sees Mortner as a father figure. My theory - and I'm sure that others have had it before me - is that Scarpine was another of the steroid babies. That not only explains why Zorin doesn't betray him, it also explains why Scarpine seems to be just as psychotic as Zorin, ruthlessly and brutally helping Zorin to murder his own men.

My favorite thing about Scarpine is that he's played by Patrick Bauchau, whom I think I first noticed as the vampiric prince Archon in Kindred: The Embraced and also enjoyed on Carnivàle, Alias, and anywhere else I see him pop up.

Finally, I love Christopher Walken and Max Zorin is a very Walkeny performance. It's impossible for me to not enjoy him in this movie. The original intent was to have Zorin played by David Bowie or Sting, who were both doing a lot of acting in the '80s. I love both of those guys too, but they would have played the role straight and I'm glad we got Walken. Zorin is a miserably written character and desperately needs Walken's energy to keep him watchable.

Zorin is clearly insane and that's fine for a Bond villain, but we're also supposed to believe that he's been able to fool the whole world into thinking he's respectable. Watching him at his party, I can buy into that. He's super charismatic. But his plans are ridiculous and he goes to very little effort to conceal his involvement in them. There's a French detective who's looking into Zorin's horse racing activities and even though the guy has literally nothing on Zorin, Zorin has him murdered in a public place, in a spectacular way, and even drives the getaway boat himself. I can easily believe that Zorin's psychosis makes him want to be as closely involved with the killing as possible. I just don't accept that no one's noticed his activities before now and that he's got this perfect reputation the Minister of Defense refers to.

Then there's the fact that his plan rips off Goldfinger's and we even get a repeat of Mr. Solo's fate from that movie. And there's also Zorin's trying to drown Bond in a lake without killing him first. Zorin's a cliché, nothing villain and the movie is damn lucky that it has Walken to bring him to life.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Doctor No (Dr. No)
9. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)
10. Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Gobinda (Octopussy)
6. May Day (A View to a Kill)
7. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
8. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
9. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
10. Irma Bunt (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

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