I suppose it says volumes of the Timothy Dalton era that it’s taken me nearly three months to watch his two movies. In my defense the holidays, and the Christmas movie season, were right in the middle of that stretch. And the copy of The Living Daylights our library has is scratched so badly the disk does not play after 45 minutes. But still, there was not much enthusiasm about getting through these two films.
A quick refresher on how we got here. Roger Moore finally retired, even though EON wanted him back for two more (!) Bond films. I’m not sure what the hell they were thinking.
Eventually Welsh actor Timothy Dalton was selected to take over the role. The same man who turned down the part in 1967 because he felt he was too young to play Bond, and again in the late 70s because he didn’t like the direction the series had taken. Dalton was the first choice to replace Moore again in 1987, but turned it down a third time because of previous commitments. That led EON to Pierce Brosnan, who accepted the role, only to have to renege after NBC refused to let him out of his contract. By the time the Brosnan drama had played out, Dalton was free of his obligations, and finally accepted the role of 007.
Whew. Now on to the movies.
The Living Daylights
The producers took pains to drive home the point that Bond was still Bond as Timothy Dalton took the reins. He parachuted. He skied. He rode horses. He flew planes. I’m not sure how they didn’t get him into the water, but that would come soon enough.
What struck me most about Dalton’s first effort was how he was indeed taking Bond a new direction. Gone was the easy, eye-winking humor of the Moore era. It was not, though, replaced with a return to the brutal masculinity of the Connery era. He was still a secret agent, licensed to kill. But he seemed more vulnerable. And, in contrast to Daniel Craig’s Bond who is also vulnerable but hard and dangerous as well, Dalton comes across as soft. He stares, doe-eyed at his love interest. When he is angry or direct with others, it feels forced. I think Dalton was probably too nice a guy to play a cold-blooded killer like Bond.
The only truly memorable scene is late in the movie, as Bond fights bad guys on a Soviet cargo plane flying over Afghanistan. When he and nemesis Necros are hanging out the back on a cargo net, it’s pretty spectacular. But that’s kind of it.
Maryam d’Abo as Kara Milovy. If you’re going to pin the Bond Girl hopes on one actress, she better be a doozy. In all ways. D’Abo is pretty, intelligent, and I’m sure a fine actress and person. She lacks the chops, though, to carry the tradition of the greats who came before her. Trivia: her cousin, Olivia d’Abo played Karen Arnold on The Wonder Years.
It wasn’t the worst of the series, but in The Living Daylights, Dalton does not offer much hope that he’s going to return it to its glory days.
License to Kill
OH NOOOOEEESSSS! James Bond has gone rogue!
Or so they want us to think. After buddy Felix Leiter is horribly maimed, and Leiter’s new wife murdered, by a Latin drug lord, James Bond has his 00-status yanked as he refuses orders and instead marches off to bring Franz Sanchez to justice.
Ugh. It’s one thing for a Bond movie to miss because of a bad story. It’s another when the whole thing feels half-assed. And that’s the case here. The acting from most of the secondary actors is horrendous. The plot feels ripped from an episode of Miami Vice, which was well past its prime by the time this came out. The stunts stray far into unbelievable territory. There are hackneyed moments, as when a bunch of locals just happen to be walking down the road when Bond and the bad guys come barreling down the hill. They might even have the fakest looking stunt shark in the history of stunt sharks.
It was so bad that I began questioning every part of the movie.
Why the hell is Bond Felix Leiter’s best man? Aren’t they just professional acquaintances?
Would they really divert from the wedding to help catch a drug dealer rather than let the DEA take care of it?
Would a drug dealer really flew from authorities in a plane that could be caught by a Coast Guard helicopter?
Would a factory containing a highly volatile mix of cocaine and gasoline be be constructed so a single match in a laboratory would send the whole thing up in flames?
Would someone really shoot a Stinger missile at a plane that was ten feet away and hope to survive?
Oh, and we get submarines and underwater action!
It’s a train wreck.
Perhaps no other actor looked the part of a Latin drug kingpin more than Robert Davi, so kudos for bringing him in.
A young Benicio Del Toro exudes menace as Davi’s main enforcer.
Any Wayne Fucking Newton as a televangelist! I admit, that was inspired.
But everything else about this movie sucks.
Here’s the other thing I found odd. There is a graphic shark attack. A man’s head explodes on camera. Another drops into a pulverizing machine, spraying Bond with a bloody mist. And somehow this only got a PG-13 rating. In 1989. I bet if they showed some tits, though, it would have been slapped with an R. Because breasts are way more damaging to people than violence.
Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier. And now we’re back to the Bond Girls who can kick some ass on their own. Bouvier was an army pilot and can handle a weapon. She also has has very long legs. Which we get to see often. Kudos.
Talisa Soto as Lupe Lamora. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions have a song called “Perfect Skin” I believe it was written for Soto.
A solid 1-2 punch on the girl side of things.
Trivia: this movie was originally titled License Revoked, but producers worried that Americans didn’t know what revoked meant. I’m not sure I buy that, but that’s the story.
Dalton was contracted for two more movies, but because of various delays, he was able to escape from his contract after License. Which is probably a good thing. I don’t think you can say his run was a disaster, a la George Lazenby’s. There are moments in The Living Daylights that work. But Dalton seemed ill-suited for the role, despite his physical appearance. He did have his moment in the sun, though.