The Living Daylights/Licence to Kill

The Living Daylights - UK cinema poster.jpg

James Bond is living on the edge to stop an evil arms dealer from starting another world war. Bond crosses all seven continents in order to stop the evil Whitaker and General Koskov.

Whoever she was, I must have scared the living daylights out of her.

Timothy Dalton only ever made two Bond films, ‘The Living Daylights’ and ‘Licence to Kill’ and amongst the series history, he is perhaps the man who is most forgotten. At the time, both films were moderate successes both critically and commercially, but a legal dispute after ‘Licence to Kill’ led to a delay in adding another film to the series and Dalton departed. Until now, Dalton was the only Bond I’d yet to see, perhaps reflecting the lower regard his entries are held in when considering the whole series. Thoughts from aficionados range from Dalton being ahead of his time and unfairly maligned to him failing to capture the essence of what made Bond the man he is. Both of his outings move away from the comedic slant of Roger Moore’s latter performances, with a darker edge to Bond and less of a focus on his womanising. The return to lighter fare with Pierce Brosnan’s depiction of Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy perhaps indicates that the darker, more serious tone wasn’t what the producers were looking for at this time. Of course, a darker brooding Bond would come along in Brosnan’s successor Daniel Craig, with his performance and films being extremely well received.

On to ‘The Living Daylights’, a strong opening for Timothy Dalton which returns to the Cold War setting and the classic of all enemies in the Soviets. The plot revolves around MI5’s efforts to rescue a Soviet defector, Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), who has information implicating the current KGB chief, General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), in several killings of British and American agents. This allows for a globetrotting trip that takes in several parts of Europe, Morocco and Afghanistan as Bond tries to establish the truth. Ironically, given shifting global politics since, the Mujahideen in Afghanistan are allies on this occasion. The film opens strongly with a training sequence in Gibraltar which goes badly wrong when an enemy operative turns up and starts picking off the agents, forcing Bond to put his skills to the test, leading to his official introduction on board a yacht. The sequence is thrilling and Bond’s introduction is charismatic, with a knowing wink to the audience. More details about the film’s plot are relayed by MI6 ally Saunders (Thomas Wheatley) at a Bratislava opera house, as the two attempt to smuggle Koskov out of the country successfully. This introduces us to a female sniper (Maryam d’Abo), who Bond hesitates to kill in a rare moment of doubt. We’ll see more of this sniper later, and whilst she fits the bill of many previous Bond girls, ‘The Living Daylights’ and Dalton give the impression that Bond genuinely cares for her and isn’t just trying to get her into bed. Dalton’s performance is charismatic, but this is a more serious Bond with a focus on the mission at hand first, and females second.

The film has a few problems, notably some cheesy lines (when Bond speaks the title line in particular and the camera zooms in for a close up) and a poor title that fails to encapsulate the essence of the film as most Bond titles do. However, I felt the film felt more real than the latter Moore entries, with a focus on espionage and sleuthing at the expense of gadgetry and explosions (of course we still get a bit of both).

In the left of the picture stands a man dressed in black pointing a pistol towards the viewer. An inset picture shows two women looking out of the poster above another man and a few images depicting vehicles and explosions. The name '007' appears in the top right whilst in the centre at the bottom are the words "LICENCE TO KILL"

James Bond goes rogue and sets off to unleash vengeance on a drug lord who tortured his best friend, a C.I.A. agent, and left him for dead and murdered his bride after he helped capture him.

In my business you prepare for the unexpected.

In ‘Licence To Kill’, Bond takes on a different kind of criminal as he attempts to track down brutal drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). After regular ally, DEA agent Felix Leiter (played here by David Hedison) is maimed by one of Sanchez’s Great White Sharks, Bond resigns in order to follow the case to its conclusion. From a technical perspective, the film is well constructed and the action scenes continue to be a high point, but the film never really strays away from a workmanlike approach and the filmmakers fail to bring the relatively dull premise to life successfully. I thought ‘Licence To Kill’ was a step down from ‘The Living Daylights’ for Dalton as well, as he drifts into the background and his moody demeanour doesn’t feel like the right fit for this material (as I believe it was for his debut). The film is notable for an early Benicio Del Toro performance as one of Sanchez’s henchmen, and there’s a variety of scenery chewing outings for the likes of Davi and Everett McGill which helps to inject a bit of impetus into the script. Overall, ‘Licence to Kill’ just feels like an ordinary action movie, and we’ve come to expect something more from Bond over the years.

Ultimately, Timothy Dalton seemed to come at the wrong time for Bond, picking up from the weaker final films from Roger Moore as the series was struggling for relevance as the Cold War ended, and with the writing not at its sharpest. Indeed, if Dalton had came along 20 years later he’d likely have been celebrated as one of the better Bonds, as Daniel Craig is today.

‘The Living Daylights’ and ‘Licence to Kill’ are Directed By: John Glen

‘The Living Daylights’ Starring: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbe, Andreas Wisniewski, John Rhys-Davies, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, Thomas Wheatley, John Terry, Walter Gotell, Robert Brown, Geoffrey Keen, Caroline Bliss and Desmond Llewelyn

‘Licence to Kill’ Starring: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Wayne Newton, Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Starke, Pedro Armendariz Jr, David Hedison, Priscilla Barnes, Robert Brown, Caroline Bliss and Desmond Llewelyn

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