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

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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



The Rocketeer (1991)
Jingoism-Man!

Jingoism-Man!

Here’s another great example of a good idea handled badly by a major studio more interested in selling toys than selling a movie. Dick Tracy didn’t do as well as Disney’s upper management hoped, at least not on the merchandising front.  Michael Eisner’s mouse house – eager to make that up, and hopefully copy Warner Brothers success with the Batman franchise – bought license rights for this particularly independent comic book property because of its high-concept and oodles of nostalgia.

The Rocketeer is a deliberate homage to movie serials, pulp-novels, and comic books of the early-to-mid 20th century. Its steeped in cameos, in-jokes, and subtle references fans of its source material or time period (or both) will readily appreciate. Interestingly enough, Dick Tracy, which went out of its way to look like a comic book, could help but wind up feeling like a cheap, Disney-fied gangster movie. The Rocketeer, which goes out of its way to look like a big-budget movie (even if the budget wasn’t as big as it needed to be) feels more like a comic book done well.

Problem is, in order for a kid from 1991 to find The Rocketeer anything but slow, kitschy and boring, that kid had to have my parents…or the rough local equivalent. An adult figure kind enough to pass on their appreciation for the Golden Ages of cinema and Sci-Fi literature. You could say I was preconditioned to like this film, but does The Rocketeer hold up today…? Continue reading