Bond at 50: The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill revisited

The Living Daylights is the first James Bond movie I can ever remember seeing. It seems unlikely that it was actually the first one I ever saw because my parents were big fans of the Sean Connery films, but The Living Daylights was certainly the first I sat down and watched with them with the understanding that I was watching James Bond. It was airing on network television at the time.

Later, Licence to Kill would become the first Bond movie I would see in a cinema. (Not, however, the first R movie I saw in the cinema because Lethal Weapon 2 came out first, and Dad took me to that one while Mom was away. She wouldn't have approved, and I was still too young to be admitted without an adult.) I remember liking it, though I was horrified at all the [imaginative] violence: the shark, the conveyor belt, the decompression chamber. Not that Lethal Weapon 2 had been any less violent, come to think of it. What the #$%@ was going on in 1989?

At any rate, Timothy Dalton was my first Bond. Sadly, his tenure was short. I must fall in a very singular slice of the populace to have Dalton as my coming-of-age idea of James Bond . . . But then, I had also been a Remington Steele fan, so Pierce Brosnan as Bond was not a huge leap for me to make. Though he was very different from Dalton, far more urbane, while Dalton was really more like Daniel Craig is now: a bit gritty, rougher around the edges.

Over the past couple weekends we've re-watched The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill on Blu-ray (beautiful transfers). I hadn't seen either since my original viewings, and my memory of them had been hazy. Prior to review, all I could remember of The Living Daylights was the pre-credits scene and sledding with a cello; for Licence to Kill I had a far clearer memory, though it mostly consisted of Timothy Dalton in an opulent bedroom, guest of a drug lord (it was the era of Miami Vice, after all).

In truth Licence to Kill in particular does not seem at all like a James Bond movie. For most of it, Bond doesn't even work for MI6, is instead out on a personal vendetta. The plot seems almost retro-fitted to be a Bond film; otherwise, it is a rather generic action picture about taking down a drug lord. And Carey Lowell's character seems to be a version of Star Trek: The Next Generation's Tasha Yar (especially after the haircut)—the same tough-girl attitude and all. Well, but Bond girls were never hired for their acting abilities, were they? Talisa Soto as Lupe, and even Maryam d'Abo in The Living Daylights—neither are stellar in their delivery; they're any of them really just there to look good in a tight dress and give Bond someone to save and/or kiss.

It was strange revisiting this old ground, and of course watching the movies forced me to conclude they aren't very good. At least not by current standards, and that's where things like this get tricky: having seen Skyfall so recently, and when one takes into consideration the changes over the years in aesthetic . . . One can't really make a call like that. Craig is the Bond for today, for our current world climate and our sense of style, and he has become my favorite James Bond as well. But Dalton—though I can't now appreciate The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill the way I did when I was twelve; I've grown up too much and the world has changed too much for that—will still always hold that special place in my heart as my first. Bond, that is.

Next up: to watch all the Pierce Brosnan Bond films. I remember my dad taking me to Goldeneye on Thanksgiving day . . .

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