My bond with… Bond- Double Feature: The Living Daylights (1987) & License to Kill (1989)

By Christian DiMartino

I’m not sure if I’ve ever discussed this on this page, but for the last 15 years, I have been a big fan of the James Bond series. I started watching them as a nine year old and even though some aren’t so great, they are usually at least pretty entertaining. I remember how proud I was of myself when I memorized each of the movies in chronological order… again, I’m a dork. So with the arrival of Bond’s next outing, No Time to Die, finally hitting theatres next month (as a Bond-aholic, November is a more fitting month, but it’s whatever), it seemed like an ample time to stroll down memory lane.

So after Roger Moore’s uneven but, for my money, fun seven movie run as Bond, we now shift gears a bit with Timothy Dalton. I was reading reviews for The Living Daylights as I was watching it yesterday, and a big chunk of them claimed that while Dalton was a good actor, he didn’t have the wit that James Bond should have. Some even claimed that he was dull as dirt. These were actually the last Bond films I ever saw, around 2015 when I was first entering adulthood, because I was afraid that they were right.

From where I’m sitting, they’re not.

Dalton only had a two movie run, so my assumption was that MGM gave him the boot. This was not so. It also didn’t involve the poor box office of License to Kill, Dalton’s second go, either (the reason behind this will be explained later). But anyways, Dalton’s Bond is different in that he doesn’t drop puns or one liners after every kill. He doesn’t drop many jokes in general. Which seems strange considering that for the first 14 movies or so, this was kind of a trademark (when he does drop a joke though, it definitely elicited a chuckle or two). Yet that’s kind of what singles him out for me.

I had only seen Dalton’s Bond films once before yesterday, but I remembered them fondly because of their difference in tone and approach. They felt like Bond films, sure, but they also felt a bit more grounded in tone. Maybe after decades of experiencing Bond films that were more laid back and fun, the world wasn’t quite ready for what Dalton had to bring. I grew up during the current Daniel Craig era though, so I welcome it with open arms. As Bond, he feels different- he’s still handsome and suave, but he isn’t always smiles. His movies feel different too. What’s interesting about that latter detail is that the film is directed by John Glen, who made Moore’s last three outings, which, while fun, were on the goofy side of things. I initially intended for this two be separate reviews, but for timing sake, you get two in one.

The Living Daylights

The opening of this film is pretty awesome. We find the 00’s are a part of a training exercise that goes awry whenever one of them starts killing the others. So Bond, after almost being killed jim self, must spring into action to stop the guy. This opening has one of the coolest stunts I’ve ever seen in these movies, and I’ll just let the stunt speak for itself. The scene ends with Bond parachuting onto the yacht of a woman who, while on the phone, laments to a friend about how she needs a “real man.” Luckily for this gal, it’s raining men, and hallelujah.

We then get the usual opening title sequence, this time sung by A-ha. A-ha, as you might know, sings the classic “Take on Me,” which is one of the most beautifully 80’s songs you’ll ever hear. “The Living Daylights” the song is also totally 80’s, but it’s not as much fun as you might imagine. It’s not a bad song, necessarily- it gets the job done in terms of what these songs are supposed to do, and it is catchy enough. But from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t rank with the best of them.

The plot this time finds Bond ordered to assassinate a cellist named Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), who may or may not be an assassin herself. Bond doesn’t go through with it though because he senses something else is up (turns out, she has a KGB agent boyfriend). He also is sent to investigate a KGB policy that enforces them to kill all enemy spies (hence the opening sequence) and finds himself uncovering an arms deal that you know, could lead to the end of the world or something. John Rhys Davies and Joe Don Baker Star as the villains, and even though they’re familiar faces, they don’t make too much of an impact. They rank among the lower villains, with the dudes from Octopussy and For Your Eyes Only.

d’Abo makes for a fine Bond girl- she’s no Pussy Galore, but she gets the job done. I will say though, something else that’s interesting about Dalton’s Bond outings is that usually in these movies, Bond has shacked up with at least 3 women by the half an hour mark. Yet in The Living Daylights, he spends the vast majority of the runtime with Kara. They do a similar thing in License to Kill. Apparently they didn’t have Bond in bed with too many women because AIDS was currently a big uproar at the time. Yet it also kind of works in the favor of Dalton’s Bond. He feels very dapper, and yet there’s a certain intimacy with him and his select few women that feels sexy.

I enjoy the change of tone in The Living Daylights, yet there are segments that do sort of drag. Having said that though, all of this is redeemed by the action sequences, which are first rate. I love a sequence in which Bond and Kara sled on her cello case. I also love the final act, set aboard a cargo plane, where Bond gets one of my favorite punchlines. Bond and a goon are dangling from the cargo plane, with the goon hanging onto Bond’s foot. Bond unties his boot, and it slides off of his foot, thus the henchmen goes with it. When Bond returns to the cockpit, Kara asks him what happened. To which Bond replies, “He got the boot!”

That one, I admit, got me.

The Living Daylights isn’t quite great Bond. Yes, I do give it the same rating as Moonraker and A View to a Kill. This is certainly a better movie than those, but at the same time, those movies are just plain dumb fun that I can’t resist. As for The Living Daylights, it was a good start for an unfortunately short lived Timothy Dalton Bond stint.

License to Kill

Timothy Dalton’s second and final Bond outing, License to Kill, is a good and pure Bond film, sometimes achieving greatness. It’s also far and away the darkest of the pre- Craig Bond films. That the film goes as far for its dark edge as it does is really something to admire, considering 10 years prior, Bond was amidst a laser battle in outer space and fighting an anaconda. It’s also maybe the most underrated.

The film still only earns a 3-star rating because there is a stretch or two that feels long, and the Bond girl doesn’t leave much of an impression. Yet what works in License to Kill works pretty well. It feels very 80’s, mostly due to its score (from Michael Kamen, whose work also included the very 80s treasures Road House and Lethal Weapon, to paint a picture) and yet the movie has aged like a fine wine. Dalton is in top form, maybe even better than in The Living Daylights. Not to mention, the villains leave somewhat of an impression this time, since they’re just so slimy and evil. That and the actors are familiar faces.

The film opens on the day of Felix Leiter’s honeymoon, as Bond, Felix, and someone named Sharky are set out to arrest a drug dealer and his… brother? Anyways, these latter two characters are played by Robert Davi and a very young Benicio Del Toro, and fun fact: Del Toro is actually the youngest Bond villain. Anyways, they are caught and imprisoned. I don’t honestly remember either of their names, but the film’s grittier tone helps do the lifting, in terms of making them memorable.

We then get the opening title sequence, and while it’s not a bad song, like the song for The Living Daylights, it’s one that doesn’t really burn in the memory. The plot of the movie is set in motion though after the opening title sequence, and honestly, it’s some pretty ballsy stuff. The drug dealer breaks out of the hands of the authorities, and they immediately target Felix, murder his new bride, and dangling him above a shark, thus losing a leg in the process. I say ballsy because this is not only pretty bleak stuff for a franchise that is pretty light, but also, they took a pretty major character and they nearly had him mauled by a shark. Anyways, Bond finds him alive and sets out to track down the people who nearly murdered him.

License to Kill was one of the least financially successful Bond films, but it’s also among the most interesting in terms of what it sets out to do. There comes a scene where a guy is in a microwave, of the sorts, and we see his head explode. Good lord, that’s dark. But the whole thing isn’t dark- it’s got a playful energy to it too. This is a Bond film, mind you, so certainly expect a lot of work, but of course, a bit of play.

Once again, it mostly feels like Dalton is a one-woman kinda guy, and by the end of the film, you’re sold on his relationship with Carey Lowell. Dalton was scheduled to film another film, but then the film had a lot of legal troubles and delays and eventually Dalton walked away from it. Which is a shame, because in just his two movie run, he really had the makings of being a terrific Bond. He’s suave, handsome, and as cool as a cucumber. He walked, I believe, so then Daniel Craig could run.

James Bond, and I, will return with Goldeneye.

One thought on “My bond with… Bond- Double Feature: The Living Daylights (1987) & License to Kill (1989)

  1. Timothy Dalton probably has the best track record for a bond. He did two movies and they’re both very good and entertaining, he’s 2 for 2.

    I always thought he was an underrated James Bond, before Daniel Craig he definitely was the toughest James Bond

    Liked by 1 person

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