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The James Bond Reviews - Page 3

The Timothy Dalton Era

Timothy Dalton as James Bond
Timothy Dalton brought gritty realism to the character of James Bond nearly twenty years before Daniel Craig, and in just two movies, he changed the franchise forever, in ways we're still seeing today. He never tries to imitate Connery or Moore--in fact, it seems more like he's trying to imitate the literary Bond--and thus, he comes across as a more refined and emotionally-centered character. None of his predecessors could have exactly matched his performances, and the franchise's first real foray into a darker, more realistic view of the world would have fallen flat without Dalton. Not even Connery gives Bond as much of a dark side beneath the surface, despite multiple opportunities in his films to do so. Still, Dalton's not as charming as either Connery or Moore, at times he feels a bit awkward, and with only two movies to call his own, he never really has the chance to perfect a unique style of his own.

The Living Daylights

Year: 1987
Theme Song: "The Living Daylights" by A-Ha
Villains: Georgi Koskov, Brad Whitaker
Henchman: Necros
Bond girl: Kara Milovy

THE JIST: An apparent defector, Georgi Koskov, reveals to MI6 that the new head of the KGB is systematically assassinating Western agents. However, when Koskov is seemingly recovered from right under their noses, Bond suspects it is all an elaborate lie to hide a different crime and goes all the way to war-torn Afghanistan to prove it.

THE VERDICT: The Living Daylights adheres to a few too many Bond tropes to be a reinvention, but it's nonetheless a much more sophisticated movie than most of its predecessors. The plot is a complex spy yarn without being convoluted; Bond actually courts the girl throughout the movie, and they both show affection that is earned and feels genuine; and there is a more nuanced appreciation for global politics (from a 21st Century perspective, it's a little uncomfortable to think of the Afghan Mujihadeen as the good guys). Still, the action scenes aren't the most memorable; the villains are still on the cartoonish side; and the gadget-equipped car is a bit too silly for this particular story. That said, it's a much-needed breath of fresh air for the series, taking its cues more from From Russia with Love than from Goldfinger.

Licence to Kill

Year: 1989
Theme Song: "Licence to Kill" by Gladys Knight
Villain: Franz Sanchez
Henchmen: Dario, Milton Krest
Bond girls: Pam Bouvier, Lupe Lamora

THE JIST: When 007's long-time friend Felix Leiter is visciously tortured and his new wife killed on their wedding night, James Bond resigns from MI6 and goes outside the law to enact vengeance on the drug kingpin responsible.

THE VERDICT: Though it plays out like a typical 80's action flick (complete with Michael Kamen score), this movie actually charts new territory for the cinematic Bond by bringing in a lot more of the moral ambiguity of the literary Bond. In essence, in this story, Bond is a straight-up murderer, and it strains believability that MI6 would welcome him back to the fold after this rogue escapade. The story is an effective meditation on revenge and power, and it blurs the lines between villain and hero. However, it's held back by its Bond-ness, by its need to fit into the standard model. On one hand, it does an excellent job with the spy intrigue and action set pieces (a few questionable semi truck stunts notwithstanding) and Q is wonderful with his larger role here, but on the other, the fact that Bond has the focus and desire to romance not one but two girls while quipping dryly in the midst of his quiet rage-filled vengeance mission feels discordant. Dalton is excellent as the darker, grittier Bond, but his attempts to mimic the stylings of his predecessor don't really work. That said, this is still one of the greatest and most daring films in the Bond canon, and it's a damn shame Dalton didn't get more Bond films under his belt to more fully flesh out his take on the character.

The Pierce Brosnan Era

Pierce Brosnan as James Bond
Pierce Brosnan is possibly the best all-around James Bond so far. He's got the charm of Roger Moore, the ruthlessness of Sean Connery, and the dark side of Timothy Dalton. He also has a good sense of delivery: his jokes are self-deprecating, his serious moments are deserved, and his need for romantic connection is tangible. As an actor, I daresay Brosnan beats them all. Unfortunately, his Bond movies never quite deliver on his potential or exploit his range. Brosnan has great moments in each of his movies where he is trying to squeeze as much as he can from a promising scene, but the producers are content to fill his movies with zaniness, probably because the Timothy Dalton era was seen, at the time, as a failed experiment. The Brosnan era Bond films are still daring for their attempts to modernize the franchise, and if nothing else, Goldeneye will always be remembered as one of Bond's best.


Year: 1995
Theme Song: "Goldeneye" by Tina Turner
Villain: Alec Trevelyan
Henchmen: Xenia Onatopp, General Ourumov
Bond girl: Natalya Simonova

THE JIST: Following the end of the Cold War, Bond tracks the Janus Crime Syndicate as it hijacks a helicopter and a secretive Russian EMP weapon codenamed Goldeneye. After his failure to stop Janus, things only get worse for Bond when he learns the identity of the syndicate's leader: Alec Trevelyan, an old friend and fellow MI6 agent he thought had died nine years earlier.

THE VERDICT: A fairly ridiculous, plot-hole-riddled story is well disguised by a breakneck pace, jaw-dropping action sequences, and excellent acting. Sean Bean is perfectly cast in his prototypical friend-turned-traitor role, and of course Judi Dench is Earth-shatteringly awesome as the first female M. This one invites audiences to have fun, and it works really well. It comes off as fresh and new, without losing the charm that made Bond so popular in the first place.

Tomorrow Never Dies

Year: 1997
Theme Song: "Tomorrow Never Dies" by Sheryl Crow
Villain: Elliot Carver
Henchmen: Mr. Stamper, Henry Gupta, Dr. Kaufman
Bond girls: Paris Carver, Wai Lin

THE JIST: Media mogul Elliot Carver plans to start a war between Great Britain and China in order to acquire global broadcast rights for his Carver Media Group Network, which he will use to shape current events and control the world for his own profit. Bond is sent to investigate Carver, and he works with Chinese intelligence to find Carver's secret stealth boat and stop him before China and Great Britain begin fighting.

THE VERDICT: While it follows the same basic formula as Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies is not as successful. The pacing is uneven, the writing is sloppy and heavy-handed, the directing is overly melodramatic, and the tone is generally confused throughout. Worst of all is Jonathan Pryce's hammy turn as Elliot Carver, an exceptionally over-the-top villain. However, there is still much to like: the action continues to be strong and inventive; Michelle Yeoh is awesome; and Teri Hatcher has a surprisingly good role in Paris Carver, an old flame of Bond's who is now married to the villain. Brosnan also gets his best and darkest scene when he executes Dr. Kaufman. Overall, it's a significant step down from Goldeneye, but still pretty entertaining.

The World is Not Enough

Year: 1999
Theme Song: "The World is Not Enough" by Garbage
Villains: Renard, Elektra King
Henchman: Mr. Bullion
Bond girl: Dr. Christmas Jones

THE JIST: When deadly KGB-agent-turned-terrorist Renard manages to detonate a bomb inside MI6 headquarters, killing a close personal friend of M named Sir Robert King and nearly killing M herself, a physically compromised Bond is sent to protect King's daughter and former kidnapping victim of Renard, Elektra. He soon discovers that Elektra is more involved in events than anyone believes and that she and Renard have plans to blow up a nuclear submarine off the coast of Istanbul. Before he can convince MI6 of any of this, Elektra then kidnaps M.

THE VERDICT: More competently made than any other Brosnan flick, this is an easily overlooked gem. It has a more methodical pace than its immediate predecessors and is weighed down by an unnecessarily convoluted plot, but it is still remarkably intelligent in its storytelling. The action scenes are largely forgettable at best--memorable for their bad visual effects if nothing else--and Denise Richards as a hardened nuclear physicist is an exercise in extremely bad casting. That said, making a woman one of the primary villains is a nice twist to the Bond formula, as is putting M directly into the action with her own emotional stakes. Brosnan is at his best here as well, full of simmering emotion and perfectly timed quips. While Goldeneye will always be a favorite because of its gleeful fun and its great action sequences, The World is Not Enough is a real contender for the best Brosnan era Bond film.

Die Another Day

Year: 2002
Theme Song: "Die Another Day" by Madonna
Villain: Gunter Graves
Henchmen: Zao, Miranda Frost
Bond girl: Giancinta "Jinx" Johnson

THE JIST: After spending fourteen months in North Korean captivity, James Bond returns home only to learn that his double-0 status has been revoked. He then escapes custody and goes in search of answers, crossing paths with NSA agent "Jinx" Johnson as they both track revolutionary DNA-altering, face-switching technology to wealthy entrepeneur Gustav Graves, who is far more than he appears to be.

THE VERDICT: It's hard to pinpoint at which point this movie jumps over the frozen shark in a cloaked car, crashes through an ice palace, and then parasurfs through some bad CGI while a face-switched bad guy hellbent on dominating South Korea uses an electric mech suit to control a giant space laser, but it's clear that this is, hands down, the most cartoonish Bond movie of them all. It's also full of lazy writing, painfully bad dialogue, and of course, a gracelessly aging Madonna as a fencing instructor. I have tried desperately to find something to like about Die Another Day, but it's so unbearably awful I have a hard time understanding how so many people were willing to have their names put in the film's credits. No wonder this nearly killed the franchise.

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-e. magill 2/10/2016


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