And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


Licence to Kill (1989)
Isn't it just as cute as a death button?

Isn’t it just as cute as a death button?

By now, EON Productions had these Bond films running on a rock-solid two year schedule. Writers Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson seemed to have hit upon a winning formula: fuse the few remaining pieces of Fleming’s short stories together with plot elements “torn straight from the headlines of today’s newspapers.” This served the twin purpose of keeping James Bond “relevant” to a changing movie landscape and shaking up the stale formulas that had constrained the series for two decades.

Inevitably, the loudest criticisms of The Living Daylights and its sequel come from Bond fans who felt (and still feel) this series grand quest for “relevance” was a whole lot of tilting at windmills. The Dalton Era gets a lot of flack for a lot of things, but nothing more so than its lack of “fun”; that “campy” “charm” which supposedly made the Moore Era so much “enjoyable” and the Connery films “instant classics.” Gods forbid anyone treat those like “serious” spy-fi action pictures…even if that’s exactly what they were intended to be.

They succeed on their own merits with no “camp,” required, save the kind its audience brings with it via the expectations in their heads. If you want real “camp,” I’ve got a version of Casino Royale you should check out…me, I think Bond should’ve gone “darker” decades prior. He might’ve stayed ahead of the trends instead of constantly playing catch-up. Licence to Kill almost does this and, on the strength of that almost, becomes my favorite Bond film of its decade…and the preceding one. Continue reading



The Living Daylights (1987)
I might as well subtitle this "The Many Faces of Timothy Dalton."

I might as well subtitle this “The Many Faces of Timothy Dalton.”

Introduction: Why Novels Are Better Than Films (Bond)

Enter Timothy Dalton, to the collective dismissal of a generation. Not my generation, mind  – I was four at the time and at least a year away from achieving what I’d call “consciousness.” I speak of the previous generation of Bond fans Roger Moore created with his twelve year stint in the tux…and the generation before that, who grew to see Moore’s films as a fundamental betrayal of  Ian Fleming’s creation and his suave, snarky, seemingly-detached counterpart Sean Connery and Richard Maibaum created.

Neither group seems particularly concerned with the fact Bond-the-character-in-these-films is an empty suit. As with most literary characters, translating Bond into film removes the one thing that made him bearable in prose: third-person-limited narration. Fleming’s novels are built out of it, their prose colored by Bond’s oft-irredeemable opinions on life, the universe, and everything. He’s exactly the type of “stiff-assed Brit” you’d expect to meet in the better clubs of mid-50s London: defiantly prim and proper; fussy and cynical and racist. Always making snap judgments on the most superficial of things*. But also experiencing the full range of human emotion in a way noneof his actors can. They don’t have the time – most of their movies are already too long and none of the Connery or Moore films dared pause to show Bond agonize over a decision, or ruminate on a long life of forcing himself to do horrible things to worse people.

[*My favorite of these comes in the novel Moonraker – which had little to do with the movie Moonraker apart from the villain, Hugo Drax. Bond decides Drax is The Villain, not only because  because the man cheats at bridge, but because he sweats while he does it.] Continue reading



A View to a Kill (1985)

Octopussy (1983)
"I think this will suffice as my fee for the next film, Cubby."

“I think this will suffice as my fee for the next film, Cubby.”

After twelve of these things, I finally come to a Bond film that’s exactly as old as I am. Feels strange to see it again from a recently re-educated perspective. Thanks to its pedigree this is was one of the first Bond films a lot of people in my generation saw as a child and I’m no different. Throughout, I catch myself…not watching it so much as…remembering it. And more importantly, remembering the color of the walls in the room where I watched it for the first five hundred times. I was…how old? That part I can’t remember. It’s lost. But that room is as clear and bright now as it was back then.

I can remember the poster for this film, which – being the child I was – immediately made me think of Ray Harryhausen’s six-armed Kali from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Young-me was nonplussed to discover Bond never fights a magically animated statue, not even once. However, the scene where Miss Sweden 1970, Kristina Wayborn, uses her sarong to escape a second floor balcony, literally unwrapping her way down the ground, more than made up Kali Ma’s absence.

I think this is what you humans call “nostalgia.” I hear you use it to ignore faults in things you liked when you were children. Things that give you a warm, comfortable feeling of remembrance and security. Believe it or not, I enjoy those feelings as much as any bloke. And because of that I enjoyed Octopussy more than I thought I would. As usual, this does not mean I’m going to go easy on it, but feel free to j’accuse me.

Continue reading



For Your Eyes Only (1981)
"Given the way things are going, I can't help but be concerned."

“Given the way things are going, I can’t help but be concerned.”

After Moonraker pulled in more money than God the Bond producers could have pushed the envelope even further into self-parody and silliness. Thank your personal gods they didn’t and the Guy Hamilton/Lewis Gilbert aesthetic of tension-free action scenes, idiotic Bond girls and villains unworthy of their gorgeously sets/lairs finally checked out with the Carter Administration. It was so past time to go back to basics even the producers knew it. For a second, it looked as if they were going to go all out and hire a fourth actor for their iconic part on top of everything else.

Makes sense when you think about it. By this point, James Bond was a bonafide icon, and the movie-going world seems to like its icons young. Roger Moore was fifty-four at this point, over a decade older than the First Bond when he quit for the second time. Despite this, For Your Eyes Only is as heavy on the action as anything we’ve seen in this series. It’s also the first straight-up Cold War spy thriller we’ve seen since the From Russia with Love. No supervillains! No international extortion! No plots to start World War III! What the hell is going on here? Is this even a James Bond film? Continue reading