Sunday, May 04, 2014

Best of Bond, Part V

The Timothy Dalton Years

And the series moves forward at its glacial pace.  Today we consider the two contributions by Timothy Dalton.  Personally, I enjoyed both The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill, but neither did particularly well at the box office.

The Dalton films moved away from the increasingly comic (and increasingly ludicrous) themes of the later Moore films, and tried to bring back a more serious tone, as had characterized the earlier Connery offerings. They succeeded to some extent, but moviegoers didn't respond to Dalton's darker tone.

Let's recall the criteria in this series of evaluations again:

  • Bond – who the actor is, how good he is, and what he brings to the role
  • the Villain- Mr. Big, Scaramanga, etc.  I judge the films on how compelling the villain is.
  • the Bond Women – some films have few, some have many, but I’m pretty sure all have at least one. The quality ranges from Denise Richards’s absurd nuclear physicist to, of course, Mrs. Bond herself, not to mention Pussy Galore
  • the Good Guys – M, Q, Moneypenny, Felix Leiter in his many incarnations and other sidekicks
  • the Henchmen on the other side like Jaws, Oddjob, and Nick-Nack.
  • the gadgets – not just judging how neat the gadgets are, but whether they were unwisely allowed to take over the film (as often happened with the later Roger Moore filims)
  • whatever else I happen to think of

And now we move to

The Living Daylings

There's a lot to like about this film.  For starters, the film's not concerned with a megalomaniac with some hidden fortress from which he intents to use either stolen nuclear weapons or space lasers to extort the planet. It has a plot that concerns itself with the kinds of things that spies actually do: smuggling out defectors, battling assassins, and supporting rebels.

The opening is set in Gibraltar: apparently the 00 branch is being set against Special Forces in war games.  Bizarrely, the three 00 agents "infiltrate" Gibraltar in broad daylight by parachuting in - three parachutes that were probably visible from Africa.  Not terribly sneaky there.  Anyway, these games are interrupted by a man posing as an agent, who kills one of the 00's, leaving the message "Smiert Spionom", i.e. "Death to Spies."  Of course Bond tracks him down, kills him, and lands on the yacht of a beautiful woman on the phone, complaining about how she never meets "real men".

Nice start.

The main plot starts in Bratislava, at a concert.  The Brits are going to smuggle out General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé).  Bond is brought in because of an alert that there will be a KGB sniper, but the "sniper" turns out to be the cellist played Maryam D'Abo, who "didn't know one end of a rifle from the other".

Bond shoots the gun out of her hand, irritating his colleague Saunders.  When Saunders reveals the escape plan (the trunk of a car), Bond dismisses it as ridiculous, instead smuggling out Gen. Koskov using the Russian Trans-Siberian pipeline to get him to Austria.  Q plays a role here - with the departure of Lois Maxwell (replaced by Caroline Bliss in this film), Desmond Llewelyn is the last holdover from the early Connery films.

Koskov is sent to a rural safe house England, but his stay isn't long.  He's there only long enough to tell M and the other big wigs that General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) is behind Smiert Spionem.  After the meeting is adjourned, the safe house is infiltrated by a blonde Aryan baddie named Necros playing The Pretenders "Where Has Everybody Gone?" on his Walkman (apparently it only had one song, as we hear this song every time Necros shows up).  Pushkin is "kidnapped" by Necros, leading the Secret Service to think that he's been taken by the KGB.

Bond is sent to Tangiers to kill Pushkin, after visiting with Q's lab to pick up a keyring with whistle-activated gas and bomb options.  But he goes via Bratislava to pick up the fake assassin, the cellist Kara Milovy.  Pretending to be a friend of Koskov's, he gets her to confess that she was shooting blanks, and then spirits her across the border into Austria, literally riding the cello across the border.  They go to Tangiers, where
Bond colludes with Pushkin to fake the latter's assassination.  Also in Tangiers are Koskov and Necros as the guests of American arms dealer Brad Whittaker.  Bond briefly meets with Felix Leiter (played in this film by non-footballer John Terry, in a diversion that adds little to the film) and then is kidnapped by Koskov (with Kara's help) to be turned over as Pushkin's killer.  But first - a trip to Afganistan.

Necros and Koskov visiting Brad Whittaker (center)
The Afganistan sequence starts well - Koskov turns on Kara and locks the two of them up in a small jail.  Bond uses the key ring to escape, and in doing so releases a local, who turns out to be Kamran Shah, the Oxford-educated leader of the local Mujaheddin.  That's fine and good, but somehow the plot turns into an assault on the Soviet base by Shah's people, which leads to a ludicrous final sequence with Bond fighting Necros hanging out of a military transport airplane.

That would have made for a natural end to the movie, but there's one final trip to Tangiers to wrap up the Whitaker/Koskov/Pushkin situation.  The last third of the film just doesn't live up to the promise set in the first hour.  Where the early plot was neat and clean, too much of the action in the end feels stapled together.

  • Bond – I like Dalton as bond.  He has the toughness and gravitas to carry the role well.  He was criticized, however, for being humorless and relatively low on charisma.  It's worth mentioning at this point that Pierce Brosnan had been the first choice as Moore's replacement.  We'll return to that in the next post of the series.
  • the Villains - Koskov and Whitaker.  Koskov is amusing but he doesn't really come across as a tough guy.  Joe Don Baker is fun as Whitaker - good enough that the series returned to use him again in a different role in 'Goldeneye'.   
  • the Bond Women – aside from the beauty on the yacht in the opening, there's only Maryam D'Abo.  She's gorgeous but a bit dodgy when it comes to acting.  Of course all she's got to work with is standard "emotional, dumb girlfriend" stuff.  
  • the Good Guys – a new Moneypenny, and the same old Q.  Robert Brown continued his largely forgettable run as M.  (Four films and he never gave anywhere near the presence that Bernard Lee did.) Art Malik is strong as Kamran Shah.  John Terry's Felix Leiter is unimportant.
  • the Henchmen - Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) provides what's needed as the Aryan sidekick to Koskov.  The Bond films are found of Aryan sidekicks.    
  • the gadgets – the whistle-activated key ring adds little.  Bond also drives an Aston Martin with a laser beam and missiles which is used to escape Czechoslovakia.  
  • ludicrous - Saunders is killed by a sliding door in a cafe in Vienna.  

An enjoyable film, even with the silly stuff in Afganistan.  Ultimately the producers couldn't commit fully to making a more serious Bond film and the end result veered away from that path, to its detriment.  So it doesn't work as a more serious film, nor as a typical big-budget extravaganza like the earlier Moore films did.  I give it a 7.2.  Critics at Rotten Tomatoes give it a 75% approval rating, while users give it 6.7 stars out of 10.

Licence to Kill

The darker of the two Dalton films, and thus possibly the darkest of any of the Bond films (and certainly the darkest of anything prior to Daniel Craig).  It starts with Bond visiting the Florida Keys, where he and Felix Leiter (David Hedison, reprising the role he played in Live and Let Die) are late to the latter's wedding to the lovely Della (played by Three's Company alum Priscilla Barnes) because they are too busy arresting drug kingpin Franz Sanchez (played by Robert Davi).  But when Sanchez puts out an offer of $2 million to anybody who helps him escape, corrupt FBI agent Killlifer (Everett McGill) turns on the other guards and frees him.  The real drama, however, is when Sanchez kidnaps the newleywed Leiters, killing Della and feeding Felix to sharks who eat his legs.  We are told that doctors might be able to save one of his arms.

Della and Felix, brief marital bliss
This attack sets the stage for Bond's revenge.  The main part of the film consists of Bond traveling to Columbia, to get closer to Sanchez in order to get revenge.  He offers his services to Sanchez, eventually revealing himself to be a former British agent.  Somehow he insinuates himself into Sanchez's inner circle, largely by feeding the latter's sense of distrust.  He only manages to do so because Sanchez's right-hand man, Dario (an early role for the brilliant Benicio Del Toro) is absent.
Sanchez and Dario
He also seduces Lupe (Talisa Soto), Sanchez's girlfriend, even while he's working with a female American pilot named Bouvier played by Carey Lowell.  And for fun, Q shows up in the middle of the movie to provide some assistance as quartermaster.
Promo picture of Dalton with Lowell and Soto
The set-up is pretty good, but the plot becomes weirdly complicated with the appearance of some undercover drug agents.  And the third act is just a mess.  After Sanchez explains that the drugs are hidden in gasoline trucks, there is an improbable chase sequence with Bond taking down everybody out. Meanwhile, Bouvier is setting up local televangelist/money launderer Professor Joe:
Yep, that's Wayne Newton!
Let's jump to the check list.

  • Bond – I like Dalton as bond.  He has the toughness and gravitas to carry the role well.  He was criticized, however, for being humorless and relatively low on charisma.  It's worth mentioning at this point that Pierce Brosnan had been the first choice as Moore's replacement.  We'll return to that in the next post of the series.
  • the Villain- Sanchez.  A very tough drug lord, but not exceptionally compelling.  
  • the Bond Women – Carey Lowell is the main ally here.  She looks very good with short hair.  Her later career included a few years as an ADA on Law & Order).  The Latina love interest is Lupe, played by Talisa Soto.  She looks great but the acting is less than compelling.  She's worse than D'Abo.  Also, we should count the brief appearance by Priscilla Barnes as Mrs. Leiter.  
  • the Good Guys – same Moneypenny, M, and Q as in The Living Daylights.  And, of course, David Eddison as one of the best Leiters.  Also a black islander named Sharkey, reminiscent of Dr. No's Quarrel.
  • the Henchmen - Everett McGill as the baddie FBI guy and Anthony Zerbe as an intermediate level smuggler named Krest.  Future Oscar winner Benicio del Toro was solid as Dario, but he didn't really shine until a few years later in The Usual Suspects.  
  • the gadgets – dialed down to nothing in a conscious departure from the Moore films. 
  • Wayne Newton plays a televangelist who plays a role laundering Sanchez's money.  He's hilarious.  

In summary, I enjoyed both of the Dalton films, in spite of their flaws.  I like Dalton's darker Bond, but his relative lack of charisma left the franchise floundering as it entered the '90s.  I give License to Kill a 6.8.  Critics at Rotten Tomatoes give it a 74% approval rating, while IMDB users give it 6.6 stars out of 10. 

No comments: