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007/50: The Bondathon reviews (1980s #2)

October 15, 2012

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On the surface, the second half of the ’80s wasn’t kind to the cinematic Bond. With the likes of Indiana Jones, the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards and all those Arnie and Sly vehicles making boffo box-office and pushing the envelope when it came to action cinema, for the first time 007 not only had serious competition but also, for many, had its thunder stolen. Under the surface, though, this semi-era of Eon was an intriguing one, with the conclusion of Sir Rog’s Bond and the short and controversial stint of Timothy Dalton.

Yes, folks, welcome then to the latest in this blog’s celebration of Blighty’s finest reaching his silver screen big 50 (and, in particular, the latest post of my ‘Bondathon’ – James Bond film-watching marathon – see the first four here: 123 and 4). This one, of course, features reviews of A View To A KillThe Living Daylights and Licence To Kill

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Bondathon’ takes in all 24 cinematically released Bond films, from Dr No (1962) right through to Quantum Of Solace (2008) – including the ‘unofficial’ efforts Casino Royale(1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983)
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories, the inclusion of which tend to define a Bond film as a Bond film (‘Plot‘, ‘Bond‘, ‘Girls‘, ‘Villains‘, ‘Action‘, ‘Humour‘, ‘Music‘, ‘Locations‘, ‘Gadgets‘ and ‘Style‘), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100 – which ensures all 24 films can be properly ranked
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster‘ for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus five points) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Directed by: John Glen; Produced by: Albert R Broccoli and Michael G Wilson; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson – title taken from the Ian Fleming story From A View To A Kill from For Your Eyes Only (1960); StarringRoger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Patrick Macnee, Patrick Bauchau, Fiona Fullerton, David Yip, Alison Doody, Willoughby Gray, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Geoffrey Keen, Walter Gotell and Lois Maxwell; Cert: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 131 mins; Colour; Released: May 22 1985; Worldwide box-office: $152.6m (inflation adjusted: $321.2m ~ 22/24*)

denotes worldwide box-office ranking out of all 24 Bond films (inflation adjusted), according to 007james.com

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Eon’s Bond has reached 1985 and that means one thing: with A View To A Kill, it’s now going to fully embrace the ’80s – and none more so than in terms of its plot. Having recovered a microchip on 003’s dead body in Siberia, Bond is assigned to monitor über-industrialist Max Zorin, whose corporation made the microchip – a copy of a British one impervious to electromagnetic interference. After his contact’s murdered atop the Eiffel Tower by Zorin’s henchwoman, 007 visits a racehorse sale at the tycoon’s Chantilly stables, where he learns he’s using microchips to release steroids into horses’ bodies and win races. Surviving an attempt on his life, Bond then travels to San Francisco to find the mysterious Stacey Sutton, whom Zorin’s paid off for a cool $5 million. Learning the pay-off was for Stacey’s family oil business, Bond and she discover Zorin (a former KGB trainee) aims to flood Silicon Valley by exploding a bomb beneath the San Andreas and Hayward Faults that run underneath it, thus ensuring he can corner the world microchip market. Including microchips then and global corporations, Kill‘s narrative is very ’80s, even if it’s effectively just an updating of Goldfinger‘s (1964).

Unburdened by having to dress in clown and gorilla suits and spout semi-racist gags (as in 1983’s Octopussy) or play up to his age (as in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only – four years on now it’s so obvious he looks too old to be James Bond, everybody wisely ignores it and just gets on with things), Sir Rog is left simply to play Bond as only he can. For this Bond fan at least – and I appreciate I may be in a minority – there’s something irresistible about Moore’s avuncular yet naughty, charming gentleman Brit of a 007 in Kill‘s flashy and glossy mid-’80s. It’s a combination that somehow shouldn’t work, but indefatigably does – the two complement rather than repel each other. With as much dry wit and charisma as ever, the nearing 60 years-young Moore looks like he’s genuinely having fun here (reveling in his ‘James St. John-Smythe’ Chantilly cover and rustling up quiches in the kitchen for Stacey). At one point he says he’s ‘been known to dabble’ – don’t doubt it, this is a more than decent swansong to Sir Rog’s dabble at being 007.

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The ‘Kill boasts the best looking collection of girls since Moonraker (1979). However, as one might say for much of ’80s aesthetics, scratch below the surface and there isn’t as much there as you thought. The obvious starting point here is Tanya Roberts’ leading lady Stacey Sutton. With her Californian beach babe looks and big blonde hair, she’s very easy on the eye, but Roberts – who’s far from a talentless actress – plays her more as a girl from a typing pool out of her depth in the duplicitous, dangerous world of 007 (hence her propensity for becoming a damsel-in-distress – “Jeeeyames!“), than a credible high-achieving state geologist. Still, she does look damn good in a ludicrously short satin nightdress. There’s also Fiona Fullerton’s Pola Ivanova (a former Soviet spy squeeze of Bond) and Alison Doody’s Jenny Flex (a jodhpurs-sporting filly in the villain’s employ), both of whom are sexy, but could certainly feature more, as well as Mary Stavin’s Kimberley Jones (pilot of MI6’s Siberian iceberg, er, yes), who’s eye candy. Arguably the flick’s best girl, though, is it’s surprise package, Grace Jones’ May Day – more on her below…

All hail one of the best realised villain-hench(wo)man combos of Bondom. First, idiosyncratic Oscar-winner Christopher Walken lends welcome unexpectedness as Max Zorin. With his Bowie-esque bleached blond barnet and a youthful, yuppie take on this twisted, genius East German tycoon (the result, like May Day, of genetic tampering in Nazi concentration camps), he’s easily the best baddie since Christopher Lee as Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). Second, his lover-cum-right-hand-assassin May Day, whose similar background affords her superhuman strength, is even more unexpected; a gloriously flamboyant figure, thanks to Grace Jones’ striking features and OTT costumes. Plus, her double-crossed fate come the end is actually rather moving – in a silly way. Further villains come in the shape of Patrick Bauchau’s facially scarred, er, Scarpine and Willoughby Gray’s Nazi camp experimenter (thus daddy figure for Zorin) Dr Carl Mortner, but the former’s one-note and the latter a comic book character.

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Being an ’80s Bond flick, The ‘Kill certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of action. The stand-out sequence is clearly its climax, the spectacular silver mine flooding. Using the legendary 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios (following a hasty rebuild after it burnt down during filming of 1985’s Legend), it’s a feast for the eyes, set as it is in this vast, subterranean, almost other-worldly space, yet dramatic (Zorin gunning down innocent workers and May Day sacrificing herself) as well as explosive. It’s followed by the second half of Kill‘s finale, Bond and Zorin’s showdown atop San Fran’s Golden Gate Bridge – an unforgettable locale for a Bondian conclusion. Ironically, though, this sequence is so satisfying because Moore and Walken were able to perform much of the fisticuffs themselves in close-up as a convincing mock-up of one of the bridge’s towers was built at Pinewood. Further highlights are the runaway firetruck and police car chase through night-time ‘Frisco (mostly played for laughs, but entertaining), its preceding scene in which, Superman-like, 007 saves Stacey from the burning City Hall and Zorin’s Chantilly horse race challenge for Bond with unfairly moving jumps, bruising ‘exercise boys’ and one very errant nag.

Given that, in this his final Eon fling, Sir Rog is giving it both barrels in the saucy humour stakes, The ‘Kill features its fair share of ‘seaside postcard’ comedy (Jenny Flex to Bond: “I love an early morning ride”/ “I’m an early riser myself”; Pola Ivanova switching on a hot-tub’s jacuzzi as Bond changes the music: “The bubbles, they tickle my… Tchaikovsky!”). Fair dues, you may find all this a little cringeworthy owing to Moore’s advanced years; but me, I just love vintage Rog. And yet, Kill also offers subtler laughs thanks to Walken’s terrific tics and touches as Zorin, Bond proving a dab hand at dabbling up an omelette after polishing off goons at Stacey’s house with a rocksalt-loaded shotgun and, best of all, his by-play with Patrick Macnee’s MI6 horse racing expert Sir Godfey Tibbett. Why British Intelligence should possess an expert in the gee gees is anyone’s guess, but frankly who cares when Moore’s 007 takes so much delight in reducing the legendary Macnee (who played the rather similar John Steed in TV classic The Avengers) to a chauffer, valet and general butt of japes and teases? It’s a delightful double act.

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John Barry ensures The ‘Kill‘s music scores very big, indeed. Best remembered is the title theme from the ’80s’ answer to The Beatles, Duran Duran (and co-written by Barry and the band). An outstanding pop/ rock tune, it plays a pivotal part, for me at least, in ensuring this Bond film’s such a piece of the flashy, energetic mid-’80s – and rightly peaked at #1 in the US charts and #2 in the UK (making it still, even after the very recent successes of Adele’s Skyfall theme, the most successful Bond song). Yet this movie’s music is far from only about those Duranies. Barry’s score is a triumph. The recurring signature theme is the action-oriented He’s Dangerous (click on the image above to hear it), mixing the blaring brass and squealing strings of a full orchestra with the moaning notes of an electric guitar – a kind of blending of Barry’s ’80s orchestral ‘Bond sound’ with the vibrancy of guitar-driven ‘modern’ rock. Just as effective is the lyrics-free version of the title tune (Wine With Stacey – A View To A Kill), a beautifully lilting flute-centric version of the theme that perfectly soundtracks the softer moments between Bond and Stacey, adding a touch of melancholia to her story. Meanwhile, the soaring brass cue that’s Destroy Silicon Valley adds an unnerving but irresistible quality to Zorin’s ‘view to a kill’ of the Golden Gate Bridge.

It seems a bit close to home for 007 to pop across the channel and spend half the film in Northern France, yet given Paris is the locale of the short story from which this flick takes it title (and those two facets are the only two the movie shares with its source), it’d be kind of rude if he didn’t take in the Parisian sights. And that he certainly does. Bond films have a knack of taking what are stereotypical landmarks (Venice’s St. Mark’s Square and Rio’s Sugar Loaf Mountain in Moonraker, say) and not making them seem obvious choices – having Bond chase a baddie down the Eiffel Tower, while dressed in a black tux, is inspired stuff. And the Renaissance-era Château de Chantilly as Zorin’s European pad gets a big tick too. But the biggest mark has to go to San Francisco and it’s gleaming golden bridge. The filmmakers were given great access throughout the city and they made the most of it (City Hall, downtown, Fisherman’s Wharf and the bridge itself). Additionally, Iceland’s Höfn and Switzerland’s Vadretta di Scerscen double for Siberia and Sussex’s Amberley Working Museum for the silver mine exteriors, but Ascot is Ascot.

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Aside from Q’s rather pointless albeit cute robot dog Snooper, Kill‘s gadgets are all rather quiet, subtle devices, which in this often florid, even gaudy flick surely isn’t a bad thing. Two of them are used by Bond in the same scene, Zorin’s pre-horse sale party – his polarising sunglasses, which can be adjusted to remove the tint from darkened windows, and a finger ring that doubles as a sly, unnoticed miniature camera. Our man also sports a lock-pick that hides in a credit card, which he uses to gain access to Stacey’s abode, and a bug detector masquerading as an electric shaver. The baddie too possesses his fare share of gadgetry this time out, what with the  the electronic transmitter that slides into a rider’s cane and, when pressed, can alert an implanted syringe to release steroids into a horse. And, lest we forget, there’s also Zorin’s airships – the Skyships 600 (the larger one in which he briefs the tycoons) and 500 (the smaller one that features in the finale). Together they’re effectively this film’s equivalent of the villain’s lair.

Along with John Barry’s tip-top score, The ‘Kill‘s style is really what makes it – at least for me – such a memorable and engaging watch. As noted enough already, this is a very ’80s Bond film with its microchip-concerned plot, as well as paraphernalia of the decade that previous Eon efforts had yet to showcase: PCs and their Amstrad-y monitors, credit cards, electric shavers, rock music blaring out of cars, causal black leather jackets, and, yes, Grace Jones’ dress sense and airships. Yet the ’80s-ness maybe feels so ’80s because this is unquestionably an ‘American’ Bond film (the third of the series’ four, if we’re keeping count). The jaunt to San Francisco halfway through ultimately defines the movie’s feel and tenor. Suddenly we find ourselves in City Hall rooms with Californian politicos, in mines filled with Texan oil men and teamsters, on board a very American firetruck pursued by very American police cars (both of which boast very American sirens), while everyone else drives around in big trucks or flash Corvettes. Eon’s Bond hasn’t quite leapt into the world of Miami Vice (although the tacky stylings of the hot tub-o-torium has that vibe), but we’re not a million miles from it. Plus, of course, there’s the sun-orange Golden Gate Bridge set against a cloudless blue sky of a summer’s day. Frankly, it doesn’t get much more American aspirational – and, thus, ’80s retro heady – than that.

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Adjuster: -3

Often dismissed as tired and dated (presumably owing to Sir Rog’s age), A View To A Kill is in fact sunny, energetic, vibrant hokum, not least because of how much fun its leading man and main villain are having. It’s far from perfect (often as improbable as May Day’s costumes), but it blends its dafter action moments and humour with its ‘real world’ moments nicely, ensuring it’s tonally the strongest Bond film of its era, plus its glossy, Americanised, very ’80s sheen is hard to resist.

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Best bit: The Taiwanese tycoon takes a tumble out of Zorin’s airship

Best line: “So, does anyone else want to drop out?”

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Read why A View To A Kill is one of the ultimate movies of the 1980s here

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Directed by: John Glen; Produced by: Albert R Broccoli and Michael G Wilson; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson – adapted from the Ian Fleming story The Living Daylights from Octopussy And The Living Daylights (1966); Starring: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbé, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, Andreas Wisniewski, John Terry, Thomas Wheatley, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Geoffrey Keen and Caroline Bliss; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 131 minutes; Colour; Released: June 29 1987; Worldwide box-office: $191.2m (inflation adjusted: $381.1m ~ 20/24*)

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Enter Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights and Eon’s Bond shifts to ‘real world’ seriousness – not least in its plot. 007 is in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, to aid Soviet General Koskov’s defection by neutralising his potential assassin, whom turns out to be cellist Kara Milovy. As she’s not a professional, Bond barely injures her. Once Koskov’s in Blighty, he’s seemingly stolen straight back by the KGB; the only intel he’s shared with MI6 being a list of British spies whom new KGB chief General Pushkin will kill in an operation: Smiert Spionam (‘Death to spies’). Bond’s ordered to eliminate Pushkin. He visits Kara, whom it turns out is Koskov’s lover, making him doubt Koskov’s kidnapping. Visiting Tangier, Morocco, via Vienna in Austria, he finds Pushkin, whom believably claims the list’s nonsense. So 007 fakes killing Pushkin to dupe Koskov, only for the latter to take him and Kara to Afghanistan, where escaping they discover Koskov’s true scheme: get Bond to bump off Pushkin so he can freely smuggle opium out of Afghanistan (paid for with Soviet funds) and use some of the profit it makes to supply his masters with guns via his business partner, rogue US arms dealer Brad Whitaker. Cold War-themed and espionage twisty-turny, Daylights‘ plot eventually loses its way and becomes frustratingly over-complicated.

Timothy Dalton may have come to the 007 role with strong thespy credentials, but a great Bond he is not. He’s just too theatrical. Unlike previous and later incumbents of the shoulder holster, there’s just not enough light and dark in his interpretation. He’s good at the brushstroke gestures and at looking angry (his Bond’s always angry), but not at the lighter stuff. Mind, he looks the part here and the more earnest narrative and tone Daylights strives for fits him well, but the Jekyll-and-Hyde script does him no favours (it was written before Moore had departed the role), thus he’s stuck with one-liners he variously struggles with, sorely lacking as he does the flip of a charming Connery or Moore. Plus, this 007 is no womaniser; in the era of AIDS paranoia, he’s the Bondian equivalent of the late ’80s ‘New Man’, with more respect for his leading lady than, well, her mum probably has. Womanising may be a vice, but Bond – and Fleming’s Bond at that (Dalton’s supposed inspiration) – is a man of vices; he’s an aspirational male fantasy figure and then some, but this overly world-weary, nay near depressive 007 rarely is.

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Strongly reflective of Bond’s chasteness in Daylights is the fact it barely offers Bond Girls in the plural – there’s only one significant female character, Maryam d’Abo’s Kara Milovy. Mercifully then, she isn’t bad for the most part. Beautiful, sweet and conceivably naïve and slow on the uptake, she’s far from one-note though, being a talented cellist and eventually – perhaps because she’s seen enough and had enough at being played by Koskov – becomes a gutsy heroine who risks her life to fly to Bond’s aid and side, even if she’s still pretty ditsy doing so. She’s nowhere near the feminist-friendly ’90s Bond Girl, mind, and stronger writing for her in the flick’s second half would have helped her here – and surely made her more memorable. The flick’s other girls (for what they are) are notable for including Catherine Rabett as a CIA dolly bird (she’d go on to appear as a lesbian toff in BBC sitcom You Rang M’Lord) and Caroline Bliss’s Barry Manilow-loving, rather tasty Moneypenny, following Lois Maxwell’s legendary stint in the role.

Daylightsvillains are, in a word, crap. And there’s no excuse for it. Chief among them is Jeroen Krabbé’s General Koskov. Cultured and urbane, he’s a duplicitous Soviet mover-and-shaker who tries to play the East off the West, and vice versa. But he’s so slippery, he lacks any menace at all, coming across as some sort of comical Soviet wheeler-dealer baddie from an episode of Minder (1979-94), rather than a dangerously rogue KGB operative. Krabbé’s villain in The Fugitive (1993) is far more a threat than Koskov – and he only appears in that movie for about five seconds. To add insult to injury, Koskov doesn’t even get a villain’s death; he’s merely arrested by Pushkin. Henchman duties fall to Andreas Wisniewski’s Necros. A KGB killer, he’s deadly and clever with accents at least, but a dull blond Red Grant clone with a rubbish name who’s ultimately forgettable. Worst of all though (and sadly not forgettable) is Joe Don Baker’s American black-market arms dealer Brad Whitaker. Again burdened with a dreadful Bond villain name, he offers no menace whatsoever (just like Koskov), coming off instead as deeply unlikable and irritating. Why it takes Bond two hours-plus to swat this trio of doofuses is anyone’s guess.

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Like for pretty much every ’80s Bond film, one of Daylights‘ most satisfying aspects is its action. Things kick off with the ’00’ training manoeuvres that go awry on the Rock of Gibraltar, climaxing in Bond clinging on to the roof of a Land Rover (a stunt that admirably – and rather nuttily – Timbo did himself). It’s a top introduction for a new 007. Next up is the car chase towards the Czech-Austrian border, which allows our man’s Aston Martin V8 Volante to show off all its ’80s-style DB5-esque tricks (missiles behind its headlights and lasers shooting from its wheels). It’s frothy, humorous fun that’s more suitable to a Moore Bond film, thus rather jars in this flick. And yet, most impressive as well as least satisfactory of all is the Afghan-set finale involving the enormous Hercules plane, a bomb in one of several opium bags, the Mujahideen on horseback and many ticked off Ruskkie soldiers. It’s epic, desert-bound stuff, jam-packed with disparate action (the Bond-Necros bout out of the back of the Hercules is a top stunt), but overcooked, what with Bond disappearing ‘to defuse a bomb!’, then disappearing again ‘to drop a bomb!’ amid myriad taking off, landing, diving and exploding planes. For much of its running time, Daylights strives to be a tight, conceivable espionage thriller – in this climax the plot whirls into complex knots (what exactly is Koskov up to?) and the movie turns into an action-fest.

Daylightshumour is one of its weakest attributes. The comic moments are at their best when subtle situational laughs, playing to Timbo’s strengths (Kara forgets her cello so Bond has to begrudgingly speed back in his Aston for it; Kara calls him the Russian for ‘a horse’s arse’ in the Mujahideen hideout), but at their worst when he’s embroiled in a played-for-laughs car chase with his gadget-laden Aston Martin and trying to deliver one-liners he’s just not comfortable with (on the number of hours it’ll take him to get back to base after discovering a lovely on a yacht: “Better make that two”; how Necros snuffed it by plunging to his death from the Hercules plane while gripping Bond’s shoe-wear: “He got the boot”). Daylights wants to be a From Russia With Love (1963) sort of Bond film and should fully aim for that film’s canny, adroit wit, rather than mix it with the knockabout humour of a Moonraker (1979) or Octopussy (1983).

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Boasting a record of 25 years, 11 scores and countless title song and theme compositions, John Barry brought down the curtain on his immeasurable contribution to the cinematic Bond with this flick. Is his music for Daylights a fitting finale to his 007 era? Yes, but it’s not among his very best. As if encouraged by the ’80s pop synth of A-ha’s decent title tune (which he co-wrote), Barry takes the rather unexpected move of using synthesized percussion when soundtracking action in the movie’s first two-thirds (Exercise At Gibraltar/ Ice Chase). It’s effective, even if it dates the film in the way disco in Bond scores did a decade before. Less experimental and perhaps more satisfying is his incorporation of themes from The Pretenders’ two songs If There Was A Man and Where Has Everybody Gone? (yes, for the first and only time, a Bond flick features three original songs). The latter theme works well as a dark, menacing motif for Necros (Necros Attacks), while the former is especially effective as a beautiful, melancholic, flute-heavy backing to the early Bond and Kara scenes (Kara Meets Bond). But the score’s surely at its best when playing a big role in ensuring the epic sweep of the later Afghanistan section – the full-out orchestral swelling and soaring of Mujahideen And Opium is outstanding (click on image above to hear it). Fittingly in his final 007 film, Barry actually has a cameo – as Kara’s conductor in the penultimate scene.

The first of Daylights‘ locations, Gibraltar, is maybe its most memorable, with its towering Rock and scampering monkeys as the backdrop to the ’00’ exercise that goes wrong in the pre-title sequence. Next up is the Austrian capital Vienna; definitely a pretty, cultured locale for a Bond film, but it hardly offers the ‘x-factor’ of a Jamaica, a Bahamas or, more recently in the canon, an India or a San Francisco – and, lest we forget, Vienna was unforgettably used in The Third Man (1949) (especially its murky underbelly and its ferris wheel, which Daylights itself features). From here, Bond moves on to Morocco’s Tangier, adding welcome North African exoticism. But now the filmmakers pull a fast one, as Vienna also doubles for Bratislava (understandable; in ’87 they could hardly film behind the Iron Curtain) and Morocco’s Atlas Mountains mostly double for Afghanistan (again understandable; the real Soviet-Afghan War was going on in the actual locale). Locations-wise then, Daylights‘ ain’t bad, but they lack a certain something.

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Probably owing to a fair number of its bits written before Sir Rog departed Bondage remained come the final draft, Daylight‘s script surprisingly allows serious old Dalts’ first 007 adventure to showcase a good number of gadgets. The most obvious is clearly those boasted by his new motor, the Aston Martin V8 Volante. As mentioned, there’s the missiles and laser-cutters, but also spiked wheels (for driving on ice) and an outrigger and a turbo boost hiding behind the back number plate (to escape from driving on ice). The flick’s most satisfying gadget, though, is Bond’s nifty electronic key-ring, which via whistling ‘Rule Britannia’ emits stun gas that can disable opponents, while a wolf-whistle turns the thing into an explosive. Most memorable, mind, has to be the ‘ghetto-blaster’ as demonstrated early on in Q’s Lab. A very ’80s portable stereo system, it can be rested on one’s shoulder and, deployed like a bazooka, used to fire rockets at targets. Q proudly states it’s been developed for the Americans – clearly, aside from the devices with which Holly Goodhead was furnished in Moonraker, the CIA’s gadget department is pants.

In many ways, Daylights is just as obviously an ’80s Bond film as The ‘Kill, but the 1980s it puts on screen is a very different one. Where the latter flick’s style was all about flashy and vivid American-led largesse, this one’s is for the most part less colourful, murkier and less simple. The fall of the Berlin Wall may only have been around the corner, but the geo-political complexities of the ’80s (glastnost, perestroika and détente; the Soviet-Afghan War) strongly inform Daylights‘ plot and thus, in turn, its feel and tone, while the sobering, even bubble-bursting of ’80s-esque hedonism that was the AIDS epidemic seems to be in the air in the ‘New Man’-ish portrayal of Dalton’s Bond. If The ‘Kill is rather ’80s Hollywood, then Daylights feels more ’80s European art-house – with its Eastern Bloc settings, Norwegian pop balladeers, Viennese whirls on fairground ferris wheels, long navel-gazers’ grey raincoats, soulful and idealistic cellist leading ladies and Bond himself dressing down in a leather jacket over a black pullover. Things open out as 007 and co. hit the desert of Afghanistan for the finale, but this is still a region where Soviet influence is heavy and Bondian alliances are uneasily forged with local freedom fighters whose  agenda is individual, complex and conflicted. If Daylights were a song it would probably be The Scorpions’ Wind Of Change.

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Adjuster: +3

The Living Daylights may be one of the most ambitious of Eon’s Bond efforts (hence its ‘+3’ adjuster score), with aspirations of Le Carré-like plotting and a ‘dynamic’ new lead, but a lack of courage in their convictions and/ or the challenge being beyond them (the plot twists itself up its own wazoo, while daft humour and step-out-of-the-action action set-pieces sit awkwardly next to the rest of the film and Dalton’s performance), the filmmakers don’t really pull off the Bond film they must have hoped they would.

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Best bit: Bond and Kara escape from her apartment – and return for her cello

Best line: “Why didn’t you learn the violin?”

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Directed by: John Glen; Produced by: Albert R Broccoli and Michael G Wilson; Screenplay by: Michael G Wilson and Richard Maibaum – contains an element from the Ian Fleming novel Live And Let Die (1954); Starring: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Benicio Del Toro, David Hedison, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Priscilla Barnes, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown and Caroline Bliss; Certificate: 15; Country: UK/ USA/ Mexico; Running time: 133 minutes; Colour; Released: June 13 1989; Worldwide box-office: $156.2m (inflation adjusted: $285.2m ~ 23/24*)

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Presumably to fit with the serious, sober approach Timothy Dalton brought to the 007 role, Licence To Kill broke with Bond film convention by aspiring to play as a hard-edged, violent thriller – and its plot definitely bears the mark of this change of direction. Bond is in the Florida Keys to attend the wedding of best mate and former CIA, now Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), operative Felix Leiter, but on the way to the nuptials the pair become embroiled in a DEA operation to apprehend big-time Central American drug lord Franz Sanchez. This they do, only for Sanchez to swiftly escape and murder Leiter’s wife and mutilate him. In loyalty to his friend, Bond defies MI6 orders and sets out on a mission of revenge that brings him into contact with CIA plane pilot Pam Bouvier, whom (after Bond has jeopardised a Sanchez drug deal) flies him down to Isthmus, the small nation in which the latter resides and has free rein. There 007 ingratiates himself with the drug baron, aiming to destroy his operation from within. Simple, predictable and dull, this Bond-out-on-total-revenge narrative is far more ’80s run-of-the-mill violent action movie territory than a conceivable, inspiring, even interesting Fleming/ Bond film plot.

Yes, your eyes doth not deceive you, that is James Bond in the above image. Not Indiana Jones at the end of Temple Of Doom (1984) nor John McClane having survived a Die Hard. Looking like he’s been through hell come Licence To Kill‘s conclusion, sure, this Bond does replicate Fleming’s 007 (which for Dalton and maybe the rest of the Eon team at the time was very much the aim), but doesn’t much otherwise. Without the one-liners Dalton struggled with in Daylights, Bond this time should surely be leaner as well as meaner, but oddly isn’t. Instead of feeling dynamic, he just comes off even angrier than he did a film ago – he’s happy to throw away his entire MI6 career and, with it, his dedication to putting Blighty first by thoughtlessly leaping into his Leiter-inspired revenge quest. Sorry, folks, James Bond just wouldn’t do that. And no 007 (let alone Fleming’s) would wear the baggy clobber nor sport the untidy haircut and badger-like slicked-back casino mane that this full b(l)oodied but charm-free version does.

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There are few larger victims of Licence To Kill‘s lazy filmmaking (by Eon standards) than its Bond Girls. None are memorable, let alone classic 007 crumpet. Looks-wise, though, the flick’s two principal females don’t disappoint. Carey Lowell’s Pam Bouvier, for the most part, looks, er, the part. Facially, she’s pretty if a little WASP-ish bland, but otherwise she’s a damned sexy lady with outstanding legs. But she’s woefully underwritten; starting out as gutsy, independent if foolishly risk-taking, but as things progress her raison d’être seems merely to get bonked by Bond. Her rival in that respect (she surmises) is Talisa Soto’s gorgeous but deathly dull Lupe Lamora. Sanchez’s mistress, Lupe is used to being the plaything of and punchbag for cruel, ruthless men, but when the opportunity rises for her at last to show something other than clichéd tragic vulnerability, she merely appeals to Bond’s allies to help him out as she’s meekly fallen for our man, yet another dangerous, ruthless feller. Felix’s ill fated wife Della (Priscilla Barnes) features too, of course, but only briefly and again with little characterisation, coming off as a trophy wife.

This flick’s major baddie ain’t a bad one, but he’s certainly not among the greatest of Bond villains. Robert Davi’s drug baron extraordinaire Franz Sanchez is a menacing presence, full of quiet power and flashes of both considered and crazed violence. The problem with him stems from Licence To Kill‘s big problem itself – it’s essentially a graphic ’80s action-thriller, not really a Bond film. And that means Sanchez is a villain who fits with the former not the latter. At the time of the movie’s release, the publicity purred that he could have been ‘torn from today’s newspaper headlines’; he’s quite a conceivable bad guy, yes, but that means he’s also rather obvious, predictable and unoriginal. The only nod to the bizarre glamour of Bond villains of lore is the pet iguana he lets perch on his shoulder like a parrot. Sanchez boasts almost a private army of henchmen, but they’re all sub-par and utterly forgettable apart from a very young Benicio Del Toro as psycho assassin Dario (an interesting if dull baddie) and Anthony Zerbe as marine biologist-cum-drug smuggler Milton Krest – whom, adapted as he is from the Fleming short story The Hildebrand Rarity (1960), is a bit of a waste of an intriguingly grotesque literary creation.

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Given Licence To Kill‘s an ’80s John Glen-helmed Eon effort, it’s no surprise what’s its closest thing to a saving grace. Its action is far from groundbreaking, but its three major action sequences are engaging. The first is Bond and Leiter’s pre-title sequence pursuit of Sanchez, culminating in the former being winched down from a helicopter to attach a cord around the back of the latter’s plane. A genuinely impressive stunt, it showcases just the sort of energy and inventiveness the rest of the movie lacks. The next decent sequence closes the flick’s second half when Bond, having tracked Sanchez’s drug smuggling operation to Krest’s boat, sabotages a big cocaine deal by escaping in a seaplane containing the deal’s profits after waterskiing barefoot behind the plane. The third and final set-piece is the film’s climax, in which Bond finally puts Sanchez out of business by (following the destruction of his desert-based lair) one-by-one blowing up the convoying  tankers that carry his remaining cocaine in fluid form. It’s overlong and has many daft moments (villains firing bazookas, one truck losing its brakes when the hydraulic brake-line for its trailer is cut and another rising up on its back wheels like a hot rod motorbike – what the hell?), but also decent moments too: Bond driving his truck through a fireball and minions attempting to do the same in their car only to become a fireball themselves and, best of all, exploding tankers and cars rolling down and flying off cliffs, nearly colliding with the plane Pam’s piloting as they do so.

Licence To Kill is not a very funny film; fair enough, it doesn’t exactly set out to be. Most of its humour derives from the larger than usual presence of Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, whom – don’t doubt it – is the movie’s most satisfying character. Taking it upon himself to use up his leave by aiding a rogue Bond in the field (which obviously is a total nonsense – old Boothers would look down his nose at anyone from MI6 doing that, let alone do it himself), he rather pleasingly has some fun, deploying his gadgets and throwing them away into bushes when done in the insouciant manner of Sir Rog’s 007, offering cod amorous advice to Pam  With The Pins and dressing up as Central Americans with fake comedy moustaches. Sadly, almost every moment aiming at humour that doesn’t involve Q falls flat on its coup de grâce.

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True to form, Licence To Kill‘s score is rubbish. With John Barry having hung up his Bond film baton with the preceding flick, movie scorer Michael Kamen takes over. With his CV boasting work on Brazil (1985), the first three Lethal Weapons (1987-92) and Die Hards (1988-95) and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991), he should have been a more than capable replacement, but it seems the Licence To Kill curse struck once more, because his music is underwhelming to say the least. He chooses to forego memorable themes and cues for Cuban-style guitar punches and flaring trumpets (click on above image for a sample), whose use during action sequences too often is mis-timed (for instance, the tanker finale would benefit from more scoring for sure), giving the impression – rightly or wrongly – of lazy rather than truly competent scoring. Jazz-esque sax-heavy bursts may work for the Lethal Weapons, but that sort of understated scoring is never going to cut the mustard for the cinematic Bond. The title theme, performed by Gladys Knight, isn’t the worst, but highly dependent on the ludicrous number of times the soul chanteuse repeats the title line and there’s also the inclusion of Patti LaBelle’s rather nice If You Asked Me Too over the end credits – which is an achingly ’80s Hollywood, rather than Bondian, touch.

Quite the sin for a Bond film, Licence To Kill‘s locations are truly forgettable. The filmmakers rely on different locales throughout Mexico (Mexico City, Mexicali and Acapulco) to double for the fictitious nation of Isthmus, all of which ensure there’s a strong if repetitive Latin American feel throughout the movie’s second half. Exteriors in the first half of the film are restricted to Florida (the Florida Keys and Miami-Dade Airport), which are clearly far from the most exotic and inspiring to feature in a Bond flick – and ensure this first half is filled, more than ever, with an overly US, very un-Bondian flavour (making this unquestionably ‘American Bond film’ number four of four). Exoticism is somewhat thrown into the mix, mind, by the use of Toluca’s Estado de México for Sanchez’s income-generating fake cult HQ, the Olimpatec Meditation Institute, with its Gaudi-esque, almost childish spherical pyramids et al.

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Clearly this is meant to be a hard-hitting Eon effort, but the prevalence of Q in its second half ensures it features a few rather fantastical gadgets. Chief among them is the combination of a signature gun (capable of being operated only by one user owing to it taking a palm print of the latter) and plastic explosive disguised as ‘Dentonite’ toothpaste, itself triggered by a detonator hidden in a fake packet of cigarettes. Bond uses this trio of devices in his attack on Sanchez’s HQ above Isthmus’s casino. There’s also a Polaroid camera that emits a hazardous laser from its flash as it takes x-ray photos (striking more of a bum note than a humorous one when Pam fiddles around with it) and a broom whose handle splits in the middle to reveal a transmitter, which is deployed by its inventor himself as he gets to dabble ‘in the field’.

Aside from its underwhelming script (most of which was written by co-producer Michael G Wilson than well-worn veteran scribe Richard Maibaum owing to a WGA strike), Licence To Kill‘s most significant mis-step is surely its style. More than even The Man With The Golden Gun‘s (1974), this flick’s production values are disappointing. Maybe because of the rising cost of making movies in the UK and thus a decampment of interior filming to Mexico’s Estudios Churubusco or just a lack of the usual high creativity and inventiveness of Eon’s cinematography, art and costume departments, the movie’s look is creamy and beigey drab and, worst of all, feels comparatively cheap. Sure, this is the tail-end of the ’80s and much takes place in Central America, so sartorially things are hardly going look like we’re in Monaco, but there’s little excuse (again) for Timbo’s baggy togs – even his tux looks tacky. Moreover, the movie’s choice of shots and their content are far from imaginative; it all feels diluted rather than offering Bondian flair and dazzle. The only high-point is Pam’s glinting sequinned casino dress, but that’s really because she peels off its lower half to reveal those pins of hers. Even those legs can’t make up for this film’s woeful palette.

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Adjuster: 0

Hampered by weak pre-release marketing, but mostly performing poorly against the serious summer blockbuster rivals that were Batman, Lethal Weapon 2 and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade due to its own plethora of shortcomings, Licence To Kill proved itself both the financial and critical low-point for Eon’s Bond. Fans would have to wait another six years for 007’s return, which surely added insult to injury after having to sit through this (blessedly, thus far, first and only) full-out failure of a Bond film.

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Best bit: Bond water-skis barefoot

Best line: “Look, don’t judge him too harshly, my dear. Field operatives often use every means at their disposal to achieve their objectives”/ “Bullsh*t!”

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Rankings

(All scores out of 100/ new entries in blue/ * denotes a non-Eon Bond film)

1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) ~ 90

2. From Russia With Love (1963) ~ 88

3. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) ~ 87

4. Goldfinger (1964) ~ 85

5. You Only Live Twice (1967) ~ 84

6. Live And Let Die (1973) ~ 82

7. A View To A Kill (1985) ~ 75

8. Dr No (1962) ~ 74

9. Moonraker (1979) ~ 73

10. Thunderball (1965) ~ 70

11. For Your Eyes Only (1981) ~ 69

12. Never Say Never Again (1983)* ~ 68

13. The Living Daylights (1987) ~ 67

14. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) ~ 66

15. Octopussy (1983) ~ 64

16. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) ~ 62

17. Licence To Kill (1989) ~ 50

18. Casino Royale (1967)* ~ 48

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The James Bond reviews will return… 

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