Usually, these introductions are the first thing I write in these reviews, but this time, I had to write the whole thing before collecting my thoughts for this. I will say that Casino Royale is my favorite James Bond movie to date, and this film did not change that. The previous Bond film, Quantum of Solace, has been admitted by the handlers of the franchise to be a real misstep that they intended to rectify with this film. Unfortunately, I do have some points of criticism to levy against Skyfall from a first act that did not grab me to some tonal issues to a prominent character plot point that oddly disappears. However, overall, the film is masterfully executed with a very strong and deeply personal story with one of the best Bond villains I’ve ever seen. So, get ready for one of my infamously long in-depth reviews. There’s a lot to talk about on both the positive and critical side of things.
007 (Daniel Craig) becomes M’s only ally as MI6 comes under attack, and a mysterious new villain emerges with a diabolical plan. James Bond’s latest mission has gone horribly awry, resulting in the exposure of several undercover agents, and an all-out attack on M16. Meanwhile, as M (Judi Dench) plans to relocate the agency, emerging Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) raises concerns about her competence while attempting to usurp her position, and Q (Ben Whishaw) becomes a crucial ally. Now, the only person who can restore M’s reputation is 007. Operating in the dark with only field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) to guide him, the world’s top secret agent works to root out an enigmatic criminal mastermind and cyber-terrorist named Silva (Javier Bardem) as a major storm brews on the horizon.
Okay, I do have to start out with how the film had me doubting it first before I get into how it grabbed me. While the pre-credits sequence has some nice bits, it ultimately left me unsatisfied as it featured next to nothing innovative or rousing that wasn’t spoiled in the trailers. It has plenty of action, but it just didn’t have a high level of tension or dire circumstances for it to really do much for me. Of course, things could have turned around if the film had a very inspiring theme song or amazing title sequence. I have to admit that I just cannot stand the music of Adele. It bores me and grates on my nerves. The only reason I’ve heard her music is because it’s part of the mind searing music that plays incessantly at my place of employment. Her title song for Skyfall could’ve put me to sleep. It’s a dull thud of a song that offers no vibrancy, beauty, or diversity. To my ears, it was monotone droning like she didn’t care, and neither did I. The title sequence itself did nothing for me. It seemed like an over thought menagerie of random images that had little to no coherence or context. The digital animation wasn’t very good either. After you’ve seen the whole film, some of the visuals make sense, but I think the visual tone was drastically off with no clear, direct focus. I’d sooner take a generic or bland opening title sequence like The Living Daylights or Licence to Kill than one that just gets it all wrong.
From there, the film took a while to energize its plot. MI6 gets blown up, M is facing bureaucratic pressure from her failures, and Bond comes back worse for wear. These are surely steps the film needed to take, but it didn’t build momentum. What finally jump started the film for me was the Shanghai sequence. Personally, this is the most gorgeous part of the whole film. Bond stalks Patrice, the man he was chasing at the start of the film, and it is inside a skyscraper which is all lit, at night, by brilliant neon glows reflected in an environment of pure glass. It’s the most neo noir sequence I’ve seen since Blade Runner, and that is exactly the sort of visual style that excites me. These visuals set a very captivating, dark, and subversive atmosphere. The ensuing fight between Bond and the assassin Patrice is excellent. Glass cracking and shattering all around them created a fantastic visual feast that ends on a very precarious, intriguing, and deadly note. This beautiful cinematography carries over when Bond travels to Macau to further his investigation with a more Asian aesthetic and golden light saturating every frame.
This beauty and so much more is due to the work of acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins. Alongside director Sam Mendes, he creates a picture with amazing visuals and a very strong, personal scope. The film does look absolutely stunning with beautiful and powerful compositions, highlighting the dramatic weight and action perfectly. This is a strong turnaround from the bad shaky cam and quick editing incompetence of Quantum of Solace. Here, the action is handled with more than competence. It is handled intelligently never resorting to cheap tricks to make them intense or dangerous. While some of the desaturated visuals aren’t really stimulating for me, they are dead-on reflections of the bleak and dire tone for this story. Shots displaying the wide open, cold terrain of Scotland are gorgeous and display plenty of depth. For me, the visuals really do excel in the darker settings where light and shadow are used to gloriously beautiful effect. Overall, Deakins continues to solidify his artistic reputation with the immaculate quality of this picture. What’s most startling is that not one frame of film was used to shoot this movie. Deakins shot is all digitally, and I challenge anyone to tell the difference between this and a high quality film presentation. Not once did this strike me as a digitally shot movie, but in retrospect, the bold clarity, especially in those dark environments, could only be produced via a digital format.
Skyfall does go darker and more grim with its story and tone. While the previous two Daniel Craig outings were gritty, visceral, and personal in nature, this digs so much deeper. While there is definitely a deeply penetrating personal quality for Bond here, this film takes great advantage of Judi Dench’s M. Silva is a villain directed at her, specifically. He challenges everything that she is, decisions she has made which parallel those she has made with Bond, and forces her to confront the consequences of her actions. However, these are not decisions she regrets or ever thought twice about, but are ones that Silva holds against her for turning him into what he is now. He feels there’s some penance to be done for them both, but she concretely does not share that sentiment. Adding in a personal vendetta for the villain makes him immensely more dangerous as he will stop at nothing, will short no extent to see her dead and disgraced.
Javier Bardem creates for us one of the most fascinating and brilliantly conceived villains of the franchise. The first thing I have to note is Silva’s very obvious homoeroticism. This is blatantly on display in his first meeting with Bond, and it’s almost like, “I can’t believe they went there.” It’s just the fact that the filmmakers allowed him to go so far as to where innuendo would not be an appropriate term for his behavior. Even then, Bond plays along with him for a moment. It’s a very surprising interaction between them. Yet, this aspect seems to work for the character giving him a very effeminate and uncomfortable manner reflecting that he is an enemy who knows our heroes intimately. He knows their secrets, and knows how to exploit every bit of knowledge he has on them. He wants to get in under their skin and twist them around as badly as he has been. The sort of A View To A Kill Max Zorin blonde hair on the Spanish Bardem also creates a unique, off-beat style for him. It further pushes his enigmatic, unpredictable personality which is based in how thoroughly he has planned things out ahead of anyone’s anticipation. It strikes me now what other people have been talking about with this film’s parallels to The Dark Knight. That’s exactly the sort of villain the Joker was – unpredictable, intelligent, and a man who thoroughly planned out a complex series of events to get himself exactly where he wanted to be, unexpectedly turning the heroes’ victories into grave failures. Director Sam Mendes did state that Christopher Nolan’s film did have definite influence on Skyfall, and however you want to take it, I think it was an effective and beneficial influence. It certainly had impact on the tone and visual quality of the film.
Once again, Daniel Craig gives us a Bond that has depth, and is once again a wounded man. He portrays these detailed, emotional qualities very well while mixing in some traditional Bond wit and suaveness. He seems to be very comfortable with this more fleshed out and developed Bond. Craig excellently balances the fun and charismatic aspects of the character with the more grounded, hardened qualities. He still projects confidence for the future of the franchise under his tenure.
Although, the wounded man aspect of Bond having clearly lost a step is completely abandoned as soon as Silva is captured less than halfway through the film. He’s apparently worked through it without showing us, and is more of an aspect by the filmmakers used to subvert Silva once Bond is in his lair. This is surely not a fault of Craig’s performance, but the fact that the film can only focus on so much for so long. During the time it is part of the plot, it is very good, and explored with plenty of nuance and emotional depth by Craig. It’s only a shame that it wasn’t a constant element of the story to give Bond something more to deal with and overcome while battling an enemy that is several steps ahead of everyone while Bond has actually lost a few. It’s certainly teased with, but it evaporates a few minutes later when Bond single handedly guns down about a half dozen henchman in a matter of seconds. He’s suddenly back to one hundred percent, and I think that was a missed opportunity that is never properly resolved, just glossed over.
I do like that the filmmakers have increasingly given Judi Dench more to do as M, and made her a more integral part of Bond’s development. They have a very real and honest relationship that has built up a strong foundation for 007. Judi Dench is unsurprisingly excellent here. Skyfall gives her more than ever to work with, for very good reasons, and she handles everything perfectly. Her scenes opposite Bardem as intriguing and compelling. It’s great seeing the reverse side of her M who is usually a very confident and tough woman be faced with real fear. It’s a situation that she’s not capable of dealing with hands-on, but it’s surely not for a lack of trying. Dench gives a memorable performance that leaves an indelible impact on the franchise.
While Skyfall does have Bond girls, they don’t play a prominent role in the film for very long. The most forefront of the two is Naomie Harris as Eve. She develops a seductive relationship with Bond that results in a few very sensual moments. Harris and Craig have good chemistry, and that is quite important when you reach the film’s ending. She will be a recurring character, and Harris is quite capable of the role she was given, maybe even overqualified depending on what they do with her. She does a fine job, but there’s not much for me to comment on without revealing major spoilers.
On the more dangerous side, I really liked what Bérénice Lim Marlohe did with Sévérine, the provocative lady Bond meets in Shanghai and Macau. Firstly, she is very seductive, a true femme fatale with a wonderful edge and elegance. That accent is so enrapturing as well, and she really slinks her way through that casino and into Bond’s attention. Then, Bond digs deeper into her to reveal how truly terrified she is of Silva. Marlohe sells this petrifying fear so concretely and realistically. While her role is ultimately rather small in the overall movie, she does an exceptionally stunning job. And yes, this film has its marvelously sexy moments that are pure Bond bravado and sensuality. The only thing that wasn’t well put across with this character, which is a definite spoiler, is the certainty of whether or not Silva actually did kill her. It was far too implied as the moment is handled too artistically, and that we never see her up-close after the gunshot. I kept thinking she was a loose thread in the film that I was waiting to see tied up at some point. It’s not like Bond to just stand there to watch someone innocent get murdered when he demonstrates a minute later how entirely capable he is of gunning down and disarming everyone there. He could’ve save her life and captured Silva at the same time. Of course, earlier on, Bond stands by as he watches Patrice use a sniper rifle to kill a random somebody. So, that confused me too. Thankfully, the internet cleared this issue up for me, and confirmed that Silva did shoot and skill Sévérine.
Moving on, I have zero problems with the casting of Ralph Fiennes. While my only exposure to his work is Strange Days, that’s more than enough to get me excited for his inclusion here. His character of Gareth Mallory might seem like a hard ass, a potential bureaucratic adversary, but through the film, he gradually shows that he is more ally than adversary. He really takes a massive leap forward in the likability factor while protecting M in a firefight. As always, Fiennes does a remarkable job, and I think the franchise would be well off to keep him around.
Skyfall finally revives the role of Q with a much younger and more soft spoken portrayal by Ben Whishaw. He feels very authentic showcasing someone that is very highly proficient with modern computers and technology. He only gives Bond two gadgets – a radio transmitter homing beacon, and a Walther PPK with a sensor that is fitted to 007’s handprint so that only he can use it. Yet, Q becomes more vital later on when tracking the escaped Silva via security cameras, and then, laying an electronic trail for Silva to follow out to Scotland for the final confrontation. Whishaw gives us a character that is very modern and highly relatable as a technologically savvy hipster. While he is more low key than Desmond Llewellyn or John Cleese, he still has plenty of witty exchanges with Bond that are quite enjoyable. I won’t spoil anything. However, Skyfall does gives us back all of those Bond regulars at MI6 that have been absent in the Daniel Craig films, and it does it in a very clever and refreshed way.
Now, aside from that pre-credits sequence, which left me a little flat, the action scenes of Skyfall are ultimately very impressive. Director Sam Mendes had not done anything action oriented before, but he shows a great skill for it here. Tension and suspense surround them due to the plot driven implications, and that enhances the danger immensely. Bond gets into plenty of tight situations, but is able to use his confident ingenuity to slip out of them. Surely, the Shanghai sequence is my favorite of the movie because of its visual style. However, there is not a sequence with Silva that is not exciting and riveting. Because he has planned things out so thoroughly and so far in advance, there is an unpredictability to everything he does. He’s never truly cornered until the very end of the film, and that sells his intelligence and threat level enormously. There is one massively tense sequence after Silva has escaped that is masterfully done. Silva springs a surprise on Bond, and gets a long head start towards his goal of killing M. The tension and emotional peril is at a sharp peak. What we get is an amazing firefight that manages to a solidly further develop a few characters, and throw all things out of whack for Silva. This is a brilliantly executed section of the film where anything could happen, and you know it.
The climax is very unconventional for a Bond film where our heroes are holed up in the old Bond family estate named Skyfall. Setting up traps and secret explosives does both have a classic Bond idea behind it, but with a more gritty, low tech approach. This is a very long and full sequence that continually ups the scale with larger explosions, more dire situations, and higher tension as Silva closes in on his target. It really is one of the best action scenes I’ve witnessed this year, and really holds to the visceral style of Daniel Craig’s James Bond. I found the ending to be very original and effective on many levels. I didn’t expect this ending, but it was indeed great, regardless. It has emotional power and resonance for the character of James Bond. It also sets up new possibilities for Daniel Craig’s run with the character, and does so with a very sly, signature Bond style.
Skyfall is eventually an expertly crafted film that goes deep beneath the surface of its main characters, and takes us to some especially personal places, literally, than I ever expected from a Bond film. Rarely has much been delved into about James Bond’s family and heritage, but this takes us to where James grew up and tells us many insights into the young man he was before and after his parents tragically died. It’s great to see the relationship between Bond and M become more personally intertwined, and pay off a lot of what Craig and Dench have done over these three films.
Thus, we have a Bond film that is very different from all others with its more grim, dark tone that focuses on the personal, character driven drama primarily. All the talent on display is superb in the acting, artistic, and technical departments. Aside from those first twenty to thirty minutes where the film is unable to gain traction with its plot, it’s a solid piece of filmmaking that will undoubtedly be heralded as a success by most.
Perhaps you can anticipate that there is a catch I’m getting to here, and here it is. For as exquisitely executed as this film is, the element of fun entertainment is not very high. While I left the theatre very satisfied with what I just saw, on a dramatic and action level, I don’t see myself gravitating towards watching it over and over again like Casino Royale. Again, while the film has some amazing action, there’s not that thrilling adrenalin rush high that I got with The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, or Casino Royale. What allowed for that in those movies, at least, was levity and charm. It’s all about tone allowing an audience to be invested in the suspense, but being able to rejoice in the elation of triumph. While Skyfall certainly has its good, fun moments, they are just a few moments. Because of the grim tone, it’s hard for the film to break free into something that feels enjoyably exciting instead of urgently dire. It can’t have much fun with itself, and when it tries, it feels distinctly out of place. Case in point is that whenever the film delves into a moment of quirkiness to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, it really disrupts the film’s generally serious tone. It takes a self-indulgent step outside of itself to poke fun at the conventions of the franchise. Some moments are more smoothly handled than others, and it is done immensely better than the fortieth anniversary campiness of Die Another Day. Yet, while on the run from Silva, Bond takes his vintage Connery era Aston Martin out of storage, and comically threatens to use the ejector seat button on M if she insists on complaining throughout the ride. It is an entirely extraneous silly bit that would’ve been more in place in Die Another Day, and this film would’ve been just that much more consistently credible without it. Also, when Bond fights off a trio of bodyguards in the Macau casino, he falls into a pit featuring a CGI komodo dragon. While it plays only a small part in the scene, a film of its grim, dark tone didn’t need a computer generated lizard in a cheeky humorous bit of dragging a bodyguard off to his death. This is more self-indulgent behavior to poke fun at the franchise when a real tribute would be the make the best, most consistent film you could. Don’t dilute the tonal integrity of the film by throwing in these nostalgic gags, please. It would be like The Dark Knight taking inappropriate moments to pay tribute to the Adam West 1960s Batman television series. They don’t mesh at all. Skyfall does slightly self-sabotage itself with its heavy tone in making it very difficult to get enjoyable fun of it. It is highly thrilling and dramatically powerful, but it cannot ease up on the tone to make things fun without making those moments seem out of place.
For as much as I went on about those last bits, they are not a large part of the film, but they were sore thumbs to me. Most any Bond film I’ve seen, good or bad, has usually been a fun ride, but as I said, this is a very different style of film for the franchise. I believe Skyfall is a really damn good movie, but I won’t be saying it’s the best Bond of them all. Casino Royale still ranks as my favorite for many reasons, which I hope to get to in its own review. That film meshed the fun and gritty aspects perfectly with enough charisma to make it a rousing adventure with personal and emotional depth to spare. Skyfall goes fully for the darker tone, and director Sam Mendes executes that tone amazingly well. The villain we are given is greatly memorable who is fantastically written and brilliantly realized by Javier Bardem. He’s a far more fascinating enemy than most because of his eccentricities coupled with his very personal and deadly nature. It’s a villain that makes the film exciting and spontaneous. You cannot predict what the next turn in the story will be because of him. There is ultimately even more that could be said and discussed about Skyfall. However, to boil it down simply, it might not be entirely perfect due to that “worse for wear” Bond storyline vanishing part way through, and the lack of ability to be genuinely fun, but it is a vastly successful film in delivering a bold new direction and tone for the franchise. While Casino Royale brought James Bond back to a more grounded sensibility, Skyfall simply strips more away for a grittier and bleaker storyline. It is a vast improvement from Quantum of Solace, but I would hope that the next Bond film eases up on the tone a little to allow for more rousing action and more appropriately fun character dynamics. I do give Skyfall a very strong endorsement, but I don’t think it is the best of the 007 franchise.
GoldenEye is the first Bond film I ever saw. My sister has been a big Pierce Brosnan fan since Remington Steele. So, us and some friends saw this on opening weekend, and even if there wasn’t that sentimental value, I would still call this one of the finest James Bond films I’ve ever seen. While it’s not perfect, it excels far beyond so many others that I’ve already reviewed here, and even Brosnan’s follow-ups.
Nine years ago, British Secret Agent James Bond 007 (Pierce Brosnan) infiltrated a chemical weapons facility in Russia with friend and fellow MI-6 Agent Alec Trevelyan 006 (Sean Bean), but the mission went awry when corrupt Russian military officer General Ourumov (Gottfried John) murdered 006. Today, Bond is assigned by his new boss, a female ‘M’ (Judi Dench) to recover GoldenEye, an orbiting Russian radiation pulse weapon that can destroy any electronic device within its blast radius. The GoldenEye has been stolen from the Severnya research station by General Ourumov and the lethal and deadly Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), where they also slaughtered the entire staff. However, there was a lone survivor in computer programmer Natalya Siminova (Izabella Scorupco) who Bonds seeks out in addition to the criminal figure named Janus who Ourumov and Xenia are working for. Yet, after navigating through the Russian criminal underworld, 007 soon comes face-to-face with the man himself, revealed to be a scarred but living Alec Trevelyan who now seeks to wipe out London with GoldenEye. With Natalya’s help, Bond races to save London from destruction as well as combat a man that knows him better than he knows himself.
GoldenEye features a great pre-credits sequence that is smart, suspenseful, and lays a strong emotional groundwork for the film, introducing two of its lead villains and our new Bond in Pierce Brosnan. It also gives the sense of unfinished business amongst these characters which is greatly punctuated by the mysterious title song sung by Tina Turner and written by Bono and The Edge of U2. The song feels like classic Bond with a gorgeous sound which fits Ms. Turner beautifully. The title sequence is equally breathtaking with its fall of communism theme. Making great use of digital effects, this is a title sequence that is able to be very ambitious with its ideas and make them pure reality. It makes a fantastic splash to an audience that had been without new Bond for six years.
Pierce Brosnan’s Bond both embodies a serious sense of action and dramatic weight as well as a sly, suave, and fun mentality. He’s a man that enjoys indulging himself in the finer things, and sharing some witty repartee with his friends or adversaries. Brosnan gracefully balances the slightly immature or playful aspects of the character with the straight seriousness Bond must demonstrate as an agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He’s sophisticated, charming, classy, and elegant. Brosnan certainly had the charisma and sex appeal to make his portrayal exciting and fresh. Beyond all else, Brosnan is clearly taking a lot of pleasure in his performance.
The screenwriters and especially director Martin Campbell do an excellent job of building up suspense in this story. Plot elements are strategically and methodically laid out setting the stage for a very strong story and masterfully executed film. It has plenty of atmosphere and dramatic tension as 007 weaves his way through the Russian criminal underworld. What starts out seeming like a subversive plot by a man Bond harbors feelings of revenge against develops into something far more startling for 007. Revenge is abandoned for betrayal, and the plot becomes a more dimensionally personal one for James Bond. We get many strong moments of emotional depth from various characters. Natalya especially shows sorrow, grief, and anger, but is able to connect with James on a very honest and passionate level. She is able to give him perspective on his feelings of betrayal, and he is able to focus them into a very sharp and clear intent. The script gives every featured character dimension and purpose with their own relationships. Natalya has some payback to deliver to Boris, the Severnaya computer programmer who also works for Alec and Ourumov, and James has plenty of sordid business with Ourumov, Xenia, and certainly Alec. It’s all woven together into a very smartly structured and interconnected plot. No issues are left unresolved, and everyone has their moments of prominence and purpose. Simply said, this is a great work of screenwriting with a fresh approach that brought Bond strongly and smartly into a post-Cold War world.
The filmmakers use a combination of digital, practical, and miniature effects work to create some absolutely stunning sequences. The destruction of the Severnaya facility alone is spectacular. While the mixture of effects are noticeable to my well trained eyes, they are still damn great. They create a high quality look for Bond’s first foray into the 90s, and deliver on the standards that you’ve come to except from this series.
The cinematography is also excellent creating some strong atmosphere that gives the film some edge, but never gets especially heavy. It greatly holds the dramatic weight and urgency of the story with gorgeous lighting and an expert use of angles and composition. All of the action is shot superbly giving us a great sense of fast paced movement while never sacrificing a clear sense of geography. This is a golden example of how to competently and thrillingly shoot an action movie. Enhancing that is some tight, solid editing. Further credit goes to director Martin Campbell for knowing how to assemble all of these stunning elements into an amazing, rock solid, and exciting film.
My favorite action sequence is indeed the tank chase through St. Petersburg in Russia. Bond commandeering a Russian tank to chase after Ourumov, who has captured Natalya, is just pure Bond excess and indulgence which has its equal shares of thrills and humor. It comes off as light-hearted and fun, but never truly silly. Other sequences are immensely excellent defining the tone of Brosnan’s Bond, and building up a very rousing action film with plenty of consequences. The climax is absolutely awesome with plenty of big action and fiery thrills to result in an excellent pay-off. James and Alec battle on the satellite dish in Cuba at a very precarious height. Both Brosnan and Bean show their immense physical condition and ability to create a very intense and dynamic fight.
GoldenEye features three very good and enjoyable villains. I think my personal favorite is General Ourumov. He’s perfectly underhanded and slimy. Actor Gottfried John put a little bit of wit and humorous charisma into the role making him a lot of fun to watch. He’s very entertaining during the tank chase where he’s drinking from a flask, obviously a little stressed out, but John maintains him as a cunning and threatening villain. It’s only a little too bad he doesn’t make it through to the final act of the film, and gets a rather unceremonious departure.
Of course, there’s the incredible Famke Janssen as the very lustful Xenia Onatopp. She is a very wild woman who gains sensual ecstasy, not from sexual pleasure, but from violence and murder. Janssen puts so much vile, dangerous passion into this role that she is instantly memorable. The fact that Xenia likes to kill men by squeezing the life out of them with her legs wrapped around them is only found in a Bond film, and enhances the sexual drive of the character. This is the role that easily broke her career wide open, and she has enjoyed the subsequent success ever since.
This film also introduced me to Sean Bean and his fine acting talents. I think it was a great idea to have a villain with a personal connection to James Bond, someone that was once his friend, and could be viewed as his equal in many ways. Instead of it being a revenge motivation like in Licence to Kill, we get a story of betrayal. Bean’s performance is almost a dark reflection of Bond, but with a more malicious, malevolent vibe instead of a sly arrogance. The best part of Alec and James’ exchanges are how deep their words penetrate past their facades or personas. Still, it seems Alec has the upper hand in bruising James’ soul, probably because he still has one to bruise. Sean Bean gives us a solid Bond villain who doesn’t fall into the clichéd tropes of old. He’s more modern and personal of a character that was a fresh, solid fit for this film.
Alan Cumming also chimes in as the very funny and charismatic Boris Grishenko. Cumming is a marvelously diverse actor who can do practically anything, and he does it amazingly well. As Boris, he delivers a particularly salacious character who is so entertaining that it’s hard to entirely hate him. While he is a traitor that left Natalya to die, Cumming’s too much of a vibrant source of laughs to condemn Boris fully, but you still enjoy it when he gets his comeuppance.
On the heroic Bond girl side, Izabella Scorupco proves to be a remarkable talent who shows a wide range of emotion as Natalya. She can be fun and endearing as well as dig down deep with the pain and grief, such as in the ruins of the Severnaya facility. What Scorupco puts forth in those scenes is very powerful and a bit heartbreaking. The emotion really penetrates through the screen as it flows out of every fiber of her being. She also has plenty of strength and fire as well as compassion and vulnerability to make Natalya a very well rounded and realistic person to invest our sympathies with. Unlike some other Bond girls, she’s not just along for the ride. She has a strong, personal stake in everything, and is willing to fight right alongside James at every step. Her and Brosnan have great chemistry and rhythm between them sharing in the funny, dramatic, and heartfelt moments. They were a beautiful fit that really gives this film even more strength and weight.
Also, we get a far more satisfying performance from Joe Don Baker here as CIA contact Jack Wade than with his Bond villain turn in The Living Daylights. He uses his charisma and comic timing to great effect making Wade a genuinely funny personality that became a welcomed returning character in Tomorrow Never Dies. Considering Felix Leiter got his leg chomped off by a shark in the previous Bond film, the filmmakers decided to change things up with a new CIA contact for Bond, and I think they created a very fresh and entertaining character that contrasted Bond while still complementing him.
Last, but not least, Judi Dench was a brilliant choice for this role, and the idea behind the character was brilliant as well. Making the head of MI-6 now a woman made the old Bond concepts fresh with new perspectives applied to them. Her “M” only has two scenes early on, but she really sets a tone that challenges James Bond’s misogynistic and cavalier attitudes. Yet, for as much as she creates friction with Bond, she also shows her compassion by wishing Bond to come back in one piece. Dench’s character is appropriately hard when she needs to be, but soft when it counts. Through both Brosnan and Daniel Craig, she has really developed an excellent character who has become a welcomed highlight of every Bond film for the last seventeen years.
If there’s one thing to levy against GoldenEye is the lack of the classic Bond style scope. The bulk of the film takes place inside Russia with the final half hour in Cuba. There are not many exotic locales, or a wide spread canvas for Bond to traverse. Because of this, the film feels a little narrow in scope. This was definitely rectified in Pierce Brosnan’s subsequent Bond films, but I feel those films lost the edge this film had. While Brosnan’s performances never went down in quality, the scripts or filmmakers could never quite hit the personal or passionate nerve that GoldenEye hit for the character. While not all Bond films need to have plots of a strongly personal nature, I think that element helps to keep the films grounded. Die Another Day certainly tried to walk the line of personal revenge and over the top indulgence, but the latter tended to dilute the former. So, while the scopes of the following three films were certainly broadened, the stories didn’t quite have the personal drive of GoldenEye. While it’s not the perfect or quintessential Bond film that Brosnan could’ve made, I do feel it’s his strongest, most consistent outing. Although, this is just my personal taste.
After such a long absence from cinemas, many questioned whether or not James Bond was still relevant after the end of the Cold War. GoldenEye dealt with that blatantly, and answered it with a resounding “yes.” Director Martin Campbell brought together just the right elements to make this a refreshing, revitalizing success. It’s no wonder that he was brought back about a decade later to reboot the franchise with yet another fresh approach and tone. With this film, Pierce Brosnan made a big impact with a James Bond that instantly won over audiences. It returned us to the suave and sophisticated sensibilities of the character while losing none of the intense action oriented excitement that we all desire from 007. With a great cast inhabiting some solid and entertaining characters, and a solid foundation of talent behind the camera in all departments, GoldenEye still proves to be an excellent and highly satisfying entry in this franchise. And yes, James Bond will return, again.
Bond gets revenge. Licence to Kill is likely the darkest, most gritty Bond film to date. This stems from the fact that this is a revenge film, and that requires some nasty stuff to happen to James’ friends and his sworn enemies. This is the film that earned Timothy Dalton his maligned criticism. Many felt it deviated too far from the familiar Bond style and formula, but the truth is, this was likely the most true to Ian Fleming’s character, as he was originally written. However, I have always liked this film.
CIA turned DEA Agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison) is aided by friend and British spy James Bond (Timothy Dalton) in apprehending sadistic drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) on Felix’s wedding day. However, when Sanchez is broken out of custody, he murders Felix’s new bride, and leaves him for dead after being mauled by a shark. This drives Commander Bond to seek revenge, but M (Robert Brown), his superior in the British Secret Service, denies him this and revokes his licence to kill. This forces Bond to go rogue to exact his revenge on this merciless criminal. He is aided by one of Leiter’s contacts in the capable Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) as they attempt to crush Sanchez’s entire drug empire.
This film is definitely more violent than The Living Daylights, border lining on graphic. Bond holds nothing back, subjecting his enemies to gruesome fates. One man gets exactly what Leiter got as Bond maliciously throws him into the shark tank, but doesn’t survive. Others get quite severe deaths demonstrating that you don’t want to be on the bad side of Timothy Dalton’s 007. Bond goes after everyone hard and fast, but never sacrifices intelligence or savvy. He remains cunning but also deadly. Timothy Dalton slips into this harder edged 007 very comfortably and easily. He takes what he did in The Living Daylights, and just darkens it a few shades. He’s a little more intimidating and dramatically intense showing Bond’s passionate motivations in this personal story. Dalton might not have the opportunity to be very witty or suave, but he delivers on the dramatic weight and conviction that the story demanded. He also has small moments of pain and grief that do penetrate through the screen as he reflects on his maimed friend. The physical demands on Dalton are greater this time out, and he was more than up for the task. You can clearly see his face as he is lowered in a harness from a helicopter early on, or doing any number of daring stunts or fights. I can certainly understand why many never took well to this portrayal of the character. Definitely in this film, he is a fierce animal on a dead-set mission who doesn’t delve into light-hearted indulgences. He stays sharply focused on the matter at hand, and doesn’t allow anything to diverge him from that mission. In both of Dalton’s films, I find what he did with the character of James Bond to be very compelling and exceptionally intelligent.
Now, I am dead serious when I say that Franz Sanchez is one of the best Bond villains I’ve ever seen. Robert Davi is cutthroat and ruthless in this role, taking it also into a very dark and violent place. He’s a very realistic and threatening villain who is a fresh departure for the franchise being that he is a South American drug lord. That is a very identifiable villain for the 1980s in the era of Miami Vice. Davi makes a powerful impression right from his first scene proving Sanchez to be a very formidable villain. That solidifies him as a seriously dangerous adversary for James Bond. The fact that he’s not hesitant over getting his hands dirty makes him even more of an unnerving threat. Of course, having a young and sleazy Benicio del Toro as his main henchman Dario, and nicely villainous Anthony Zerbe as cohort Milton Keyes doesn’t hurt matters, either. Of course, I don’t know what the idea was behind his pet iguana, but chalk it up to Bond villain eccentricities.
The Bond girls of this film are fairly decent. Most would know Carey Lowell as Assistant D.A. Jamie Ross from Law & Order in the 90s. Here, she’s a nicely assertive and sexy female lead pulling enough of her own weight, but her performance doesn’t have that harder edge or strong spirit to measure up to Dalton’s Bond. It’s a good performance, but not a standout one. Talisa Soto is about the same, but with considerably less to do as Sanchez’s reluctant and intimidated woman Lupé Lamora.
It’s interesting to note that the character of Felix Leiter appeared in The Living Daylights portrayed by 36 year old actor John Terry. In this film, he is portrayed by 61 year old David Hedison. He had previously played the role in Live and Let Die, and considering the need for an audience to care strongly about Leiter, the filmmakers decided to bring back a better established, more memorable actor in the role. It goes to show the loose continuity the franchise once had where the same character can be played by two different actors with a quarter century difference in age in back-to-back films. I always found that rather amusing, if not confusing. Regardless of that, Hedison does a fine, admirable job in this outing definitely making Leiter an enjoyable and sympathetic character.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to say about the opening credits sequence of Licence to Kill. It’s even more generic than that of The Living Daylights with various female figures dancing around, and the image of a roulette wheel spinning behind them. The title song by Gladys Knight is fairly good. It has a bit of a sweeping romantic quality with a lot of soul in her vocals. It’s a nice change of pace from the previous two films, but probably not quite as memorable.
On the far better side of things, I really have to hand it to the action scenes of this film. The filmmakers really pushed them to a whole new level with amazing mid-air stunts, exhilarating water skiing getaways, and the spectacular finale with the Kensington trucks. The pre-credits sequence is excellent with Bond being lowered down from a Coast Guard helicopter to tether in Sanchez’s plane, and then, James and Felix parachute down to the front of the chapel for the wedding. Bond is put into plenty of lethal peril in some nicely imaginative ways. He even gets to tangle with some ninjas. The climax is full of fire and explosions during a tanker truck chase down a desert highway. It’s an awesome sequence giving us plenty of original and memorable moments. Bond and Sanchez fight on the moving tanker truck until there is one final dramatic moment which has a beautiful and brilliant personal touch of revenge.
There is a James Bond style maintained in this action-revenge storyline. He uses his skills of espionage to infiltrate Sanchez’s organization, getting in close to him to both discover in the inner workings of it, and to destroy it from the inside out. He turns Sanchez against his own men by laying the seeds of distrust and betrayal in him. It’s quite a skillful revenge with Bond using his intellect instead of pure brutality, but always knowing he’s at the edge of danger at every turn. James is well aware of this being a personal vendetta, and he consciously tries to keep his friends and allies out of the crossfire. Regardless, they choose to help him anyway because the danger is so high that he needs all the help he can get, and it’s great seeing that loyalty, especially from Q. Miss Moneypenny is even so worried about James that she cannot even do her job properly. All of these character elements and emotional attachments are nicely woven into the story, and gives the audience a chance to see James’ concern for them and vice versa. Despite his unwavering determination for revenge, Bond keeps enough of his senses about him to not seek it at the expense of others. This is his own mission, and no else need risk their lives for his own gratification. So, despite how dark this Bond appears to be, he hasn’t lost sight of his humanity.
Scoring duties for Licence to Kill were taken over by Michael Kamen, who was a brilliant composer through to his passing in 2003. I immensely enjoyed what he did on this film. His score has its own distinct style and sound while still adhering to the classic Bond themes and feel. He brought something more rousing and dangerous, matching the film’s tone exquisitely. I love his arrangement of the James Bond theme as it is used quite a bit in various action scenes. Again, it has a unique flavor without making a drastic change. The sprinkles of Latin musical flair for some of Sanchez’s best moments was a fine touch. Overall, it’s an excellent score.
Topped off with some excellent and solid cinematography by Alec Mills, who also shot The Living Daylights, this really is a solid, hard edged Bond action picture. Surely, it might not be palatable to all fans of 007, but I think it definitely has its audience. In light of the success of Daniel Craig’s run with the character, going back to a more grounded and realistic style and tone, I think many should give Licence to Kill a fair watch. Timothy Dalton really delivers a very dangerous and action-packed performance that impresses me. It’s only unfortunate that the franchise got stalled out after this due to legal and financial issues, and by the time they were resolved, Dalton chose to bow out of reprising the role. While both of his outings are particularly good, I don’t think he got the chance to do his quintessential Bond film. Licence to Kill was not well received, and in the hotly competitive summer of 1989 with Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Back to the Future, Part II, and Ghostbusters II, it was difficult to be financially successful as well. Still, I continue to give Timothy Dalton credit for taking the franchise in a more serious and respectable direction which did set a good stage for Pierce Brosnan’s run. Thus, James Bond will return in GoldenEye.
The Living Daylights was the debut of Timothy Dalton as James Bond on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the franchise. It also marked a distinct shift in tone from Roger Moore’s more light-hearted approach, and brought Bond back closer to the core of Ian Fleming’s character. With Dalton came a more dangerous Bond who carried more weight and urgency with him, and it is a portrayal that I very much enjoy. While this first outing was generally well received, I believe Dalton’s two film run with the character was unjustly maligned, and I hope this review and that of the following film will detail why.
After James Bond (Timothy Dalton) helps Russian officer Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) make a daring defection to the West, the intelligence community is shocked when Koskov is abducted from his remote hiding place. Bond leaps into action, following a trail that leads to the gorgeous Kara (Maryam d’Abo), who plays Bond as easily as she plays her Stradivari cello. As they unravel a complex weapons scheme with global implications, linking up with arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) and Russian General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), James and Kara escape first to Vienna, then to Morocco, finally ending up in a prison in Soviet occupied Afghanistan as they track down the elements in this mystery.
The opening action sequence is very smart and exciting. M sends three Agents to test the security of a military installation on Gibraltar, but are ambushed by an assassin. I’ve always liked the touch by the filmmakers to cast two other actors who resemble previous Bond actors George Lazenby and Roger Moore before revealing Dalton himself. Obviously, with marketing of the film and all, the trick loses its intended impact, but it’s a clever idea to keep an uninitiated audience guessing as these other agents fall by the wayside. Regardless, this sequence sets the tone for this more action packed and daring approach of this new Bond. It’s really a perfect start to a very promising film that does deliver in many satisfying ways.
The opening credits sequence for The Living Daylights is nothing special or distinct. Watery images and silhouettes really don’t have much to do with the title song from Norwegian pop group A-ha. It’s not particularly bad, just very uninspired. While this musical track doesn’t have as much punch as Duran Duran’s had for the previous film, the high pitched vocals and melodic quality are still catchy and appropriately Bond-esque. I like it quite a lot.
Timothy Dalton injects a seriousness into the role of Bond that I find very compelling. He carries himself with sophistication and integrity creating a strong screen presence. He firmly grounds Bond while still giving him charisma, wit, and a subtle depth of emotion. He can be humorous and charming while never betraying the dramatic intent of the portrayal. Dalton’s Bond is one that grasps the seriousness of situations, and acts with due intelligence and action. There’s definitely a gritty vigor he brings into Bond that makes the film instantly more energetic and exciting. It’s a dimensional performance that is thoroughly enjoyable, and creates a James Bond that can smartly weave in and out of the world espionage. Beyond everything else, Dalton makes 007 a character that can be taken seriously, and allow for serious stakes to be highlighted in his films. While there is room for fun, it is ultimately a better film when there’s real tension and risk at hand. I think Dalton did an excellent job stepping into this role bringing realism back into the fold. Timothy Dalton likely did many of his own stunts, and it really shows through, benefitting the quality of the action immensely.
The action of the film is excellent. The chase sequence through the snowy landscape with the Aston Martin showing many of its “optional extras” is very thrilling and fun. Plenty of explosive moments and clever twists and turns make it a memorable highlight of the film. The foot chase across the rooftops of Tangier was very well done, also. All of the action sequences are very fun and inventive using the unique locations, from the snow to the desert, to great effect. The climactic action scene where Bond hangs off the back of a cargo plane, set to explode in a matter of minutes, while battling the Russian mercenary Necros is very tense and exhilarating. Yet, it doesn’t end there as we get further explosions and a dangerous mid-air escape. Then, Bond still has to finish off Whitaker in a great firefight. It’s an immensely satisfying conclusion that does not hold back on the thrills.
Maryam d’Abo is probably not as alluring or sexy as most other Bond girls, but she is definitely a good actress that had a lot to bring to Kara Milovy. She’s very likable and relatable as an innocent and talented young woman deceived by her deceitful boyfriend Koskov. Maryam brings a strong will to the role, but also finds the vulnerability in Kara. Kara and James share some moments of strong emotion that d’Abo conveys remarkably well. She was a very good fit for this initial outing for Dalton as she satisfies on stronger levels than mere sex appeal.
I feel the only downside to the film are the villains. Joe Don Baker is decently charismatic, but never really develops into a serious threat. Opposite a more formidable acting talent in John Rhys-Davies, whose character is implicated as the true villain by Whitaker and Koskov, it’s even harder to perceive Whitaker as someone to contend with. He’s portrayed as a man who doesn’t take anything too seriously, but any hint of arrogance or ego that could have been there, simply is traded off for a character that’s lacking in formidable competence. Thankfully, he’s not a forefront villain. Jeroen Krabbé’s General Koskov does definitely go down the path of arrogance, but it takes quite a while before he becomes intimidating at all. He’s certainly the better quality villain of the two, ultimately, and at least has more of a detestable element to him due to how he eventually treats Kara. Yet, he still could’ve used a lot more work. I feel it’s more the near insurmountable odds that Bond faces which make the film tense and exciting than the villains he faces. They are nothing major to contend with. It’s just the forces they command are what create the danger the film needs.
I really like that the plot features a tangled web of deceit for Bond to unravel. He has to tread cautiously amongst those he encounters before he can determine who he can trust, if anyone at all. He works his way through a deceptive abduction, a faked assassination, opium trade, arms deals, and rebel fighters in the Middle Eastern desert to uncover the depth of this plot, and to stop it dead in its tracks. It’s an excellently crafted story that never falls into a lull. There’s a consistent development and progression of plot while never leaving our main characters of James and Kara in the dust. Their motivations remain clear, and their relationship develops very solidly. Despite James having to lie to her while attempting to determine her role in Koskov’s plan, Kara is able to eventually trust him, and they forge a convincing romantic relationship. Everything is smartly wrapped together in a very satisfying package making for an entertaining ride.
I was very pleased by John Barry’s score for this franchise entry. He gave a little more edge to the traditional Bond theme in a few of the action scenes, and nicely incorporated the melody of the opening title track into the score during the third act. It’s a very tight, very good piece of orchestration that complemented the film’s tone and pace strongly. It was a very fine and respectable final bow for Barry as this was the last James Bond film he worked on.
Ultimately, The Living Daylights is a very good film in this franchise. There is more than enough action to spare while still delivering a very smart and well plotted story. It brings espionage more skillfully back into Bond’s world, and the film is better off for it. The real cog of success was Timothy Dalton who made the character honest and real, again. Between his presence and beautifully deeper voice, you get that sense of dramatic tone from him throughout the film. He simply made the film more exciting and interesting. While there is a more gritty, dark style to this film, it still has plenty of fun moments to smile at that do not betray the tone veteran Bond director John Glen was going for. If the film had strong villains, or simply stronger performances from the villains, I could really give this a very strong endorsement. They just lack that edge of intimidating and formidability to push them over as a major threat on their own. The excitement and engaging narrative is due to the twisting and turning mystery Bond has to weave through, and it’s all done with expert quality and precision. The Living Daylights is definitely a big step up from A View To A Kill, and for those desiring a more traditional Bond film from Dalton, this is definitely the one to check out. I do very highly recommend the film despite any shortcomings it has with the villains. It’s a fun, thrilling ride that will entertain you. Next up, James Bond will return in Licence to Kill.
Up until about a month ago, I had only seen the James Bond films from The Living Daylights onward. So, this became my first exposure to Roger Moore as Agent 007. I was mainly attracted to the film because I got hooked on the title song by Duran Duran. While A View To A Kill received a very negative criticism in its day, and even Moore himself holds it as his least favorite that he did, I found the movie to be quite enjoyable. It’s clear that Moore likely did have far stronger outings, but other Bond actors would have far more ill entries in the franchise.
British spy Agent 007, James Bond (Roger Moore), retrieves a high-tech silicon chip from the U.S.S.R., a chip that is identical to a prototype British design capable of withstanding a nuclear electromagnetic pulse. The British suspect industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) of leaking details of the design to the Russians. When Bond is sent to investigate he finds that Zorin is stockpiling silicon microchips, and is secretly planning to corner the world microchip market by literally wiping out Silicon Valley. In addition to Zorin himself, 007 must contend with the madman’s beautiful and deadly companion May Day (Grace Jones), but is aided by the lovely geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts). Bond’s mission will take him from the heights of the Eiffel Tower to the towering danger of the Golden Gate Bridge to stop Zorin’s maniacal scheme.
What always turned me away from checking out Roger Moore’s Bond films was the stated campy nature of them. I didn’t want to see a silly James Bond. However, if this film is any evidence as to Moore’s overall best quality approach to the character, I find it quite entertaining without betraying the integrity of the character’s legacy. I certainly do prefer Bond actors who put more dramatic weight into their performances, but Roger Moore is far from giving a bad performance in this film. While his 57 year old age was clearly evident in this film, which was partly to blame for the film’s negative criticisms, Moore still brings a charming, suave sensibility mixed with a fine wit and levity. The only real downside to his age is the fact that he couldn’t be highly involved with the action scenes. Right from the pre-credits sequence, you can tell it is a stunt double doing the rigorous work while the filmmakers edit in close-up shots of Moore done on a soundstage. It gets more seamless in later action sequences with much better close-ups, but it varies, especially with the rear screen projection shots in the San Francisco chase sequence. Regardless of this, I think Roger Moore is quite enjoyable in this portrayal of Agent 007.
Now, I really like the opening title sequence. Obviously, Duran Duran’s title track ensnared me into watching the film, and it is a great collaboration with composer John Barry which became a classic for the band. I really like a couple of Duran Duran songs, but this one really hits up another level with a mysterious and seductive quality with an exciting sonic punch. It definitely has the feel of a Bond title track, but with a sound distinctive of its times. The credits sequence goes along well with the lyrics with the use of fire and ice, and using some very 1980s black light effects to create a series of vibrant, stylized images against black backgrounds. As the best of these sequences do, it sets up a very exciting and intriguing tone for the movie as a whole.
Overall, the action scenes are pretty good. They are thrilling and imaginative as well as well plotted, shot, and executed. While they often have a little dash of humor from Bond ultimately driving a car that’s been sliced in half to comically hanging off the back end of a fire engine in San Francisco, I don’t mind them. They are well done, and just added to the entertainment value of the film. These moments never become ridiculous, thankfully. The closest we get is during the pre-credits sequences where Bond begins snowboarding down a mountain, and the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” begins to play. It certainly could rub you the wrong way, but I was able to roll with it. Once you grasp the tone of the film, and come to accept it, you shouldn’t have a problem with these quirks.
That tone is mostly focused on the dramatic aspects and implications of the plot, but it’s a film that is able to have some fun with itself, when appropriate. It maintains a serious threat level with Zorin’s plans, and the film flows very nicely. Like most Bond films, it makes the most of its runtime keeping everything focused on the plot, and moving it forward in very efficient and smart ways. It doesn’t have as much dramatic weight as some of my favorite Bond films do. Instead, it does try to maintain some levity throughout, but balances everything very well. It never goes too far in one direction or another, but never really excels in either direction.
The plot is pretty standard with some megalomaniac wanting to destroy in order to benefit his own greed. It is nice that it’s actually a corporate mogul at the head of this scheme, wanting to dominate industry instead of dominating the world. So, it has a somewhat more believable approach, but still has its unique Bond quirks which make the characters entertaining and the film nicely exciting. I wouldn’t classify A View To A Kill as any adrenalin rush, but again, it has its fair share of danger and action which properly support the story. The climax on the Golden Gate bridge has some fantastic visuals which I’m sure there must have been some optical effects work done, but the shots were entirely seamless to my eyes. The action is definitely suspenseful as Bond hangs perilously from high atop the bridge, fending off Zorin’s attacks. Ultimately, it’s an explosive finale that is quite satisfying, and tops the film off spectacularly.
Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin is an all right villain. He’s certainly better than some of the misconceived ones I experienced in the Pierce Brosnan era, but Walken’s performance is pretty lightweight when compared to many of his later, more prominent roles. Being familiar with Walken’s string of heavies from King of New York, Batman Returns, True Romance, The Prophecy, and Suicide Kings, I anticipated something much more impressive here. I had wanted to see A View To A Kill since the VHS rental era because Walken was the villain, and so, there was some anticipation to see him really deliver something meaty as Zorin. His performance is certainly not substandard, but it’s not as fascinating or intimidating as I had hoped. In the least, it’s obvious that Walken was having a lot of fun on this movie resulting in a villain who is entertaining to watch. There is plenty of charisma flowing out of Christopher Walken here. I do think the blonde hair was a nice touch which gave Walken’s appearance a little more distinctiveness.
Tanya Roberts is a fairly decent Bond girl as Stacey Sutton. There’s not much substance for her to dig into, and thus, her performance is also a little lightweight. She plays well off of Roger Moore, but I’m sure the obvious twenty-eight year age difference between them might not work so well for some viewers. Despite that, Roberts and Moore have fine chemistry that I feel is effective, and helps enhance the peril they fall into together. I could honestly feel the genuine feelings between the characters in those moments. Tanya Roberts is also quite gorgeous and charming, making her welcoming to look at.
Quite interesting is Grace Jones as the henchwoman May Day. I think she complements Walken very well. They seem like a peculiar couple with a shared mind for villainy. They definitely have a solid, natural chemistry that puts them on an equal footing. May Day rarely feels like a subordinate, but someone Zorin respects quite a bit, to a point. Jones showcases some very good physicality, likely doing most if not all of her own stunts. She proves to be a unique villain with an original fashion sense, but the film has her take a turn when Zorin leaves her to die in a mine explosion. It does rob the audience of an appropriate comeuppance, but it can be nice to see a villain change sides. She at least has a solid farewell scene.
Overall, I find A View To A Kill to be a generally enjoyable Bond film. As I said, I’m sure Roger Moore had far stronger outings, in both performance and story, but this really doesn’t deserve the scorn it was originally met with. It’s a fun adventure with plenty of wit and charm, but not much else to speak of. Yes, it was time for Moore to bow out for a younger actor to revitalize the franchise, and maybe it’s not the swan song Sir Roger Moore would have preferred. Despite that, A View To A Kill is a very competently made film that is very expertly shot with a fine score and entertaining action. It maintains enough integrity for the series and the characters to be respectable. It wasn’t an ambitious entry in the franchise, but there’s nothing at all wrong with that. For me, it was an enjoyable ride that opened the door to possibly check out earlier James Bond films starring Roger Moore, but as 007 Week moves forward, so do the reviews. With that said, James Bond will return in The Living Daylights.
I have rarely done reviews on comedies because it’s difficult to analyze them very much. It’s either funny or its not. Of course, different things make different people laugh, and so, it’s far more subjective than a drama or action movie. However, there is this 1985 movie from John Landis that sparked my interest in the past year. The plot sounded like just my kind of thing. A wild, humorous adventure of people on the run from dangerous criminals through the night streets of Los Angeles. Sort of evoking the idea of a comedic Michael Mann film. Unfortunately, this movie shares a lot of problems with Mann’s underwhelming and momentum starved Miami Vice feature film, which I have previously reviewed here. There are a few bright spots, but the execution and pacing of this film are its greatest flaws.
Upon discovering that his wife is having an affair, depressed insomniac Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) drives to the airport on the suggestion of his friend and co-worker Herb (Dan Aykroyd), where he is abruptly ensnared by a beautiful Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) into her escape from four armed Iranians. Diana persuades Ed into driving her to various locations as he becomes entangled in her predicament. As their adventure spirals further out of control, Ed leverages the truth from Diana who reveals she has smuggled priceless emeralds from the Shah of Iran’s treasury into the country, and is being pursued by numerous foreign criminal elements. Ed and Diana cautiously navigate through this treacherous journey to where they become romantically connected.
Generally, I like the premise of this film. It has the potential to be very entertaining, if put into the right hands. However, this really wasn’t. Comedy is really about timing, rhythm, and personality. Into The Night has no momentum to carry the intended situational humor along at a necessary rhythm or pace. For a film about people on the run from violent criminals, it is a fairly slow paced feature. It is very unlike John Landis’ The Blues Brothers which had those high energy moments to keep the story exciting and funny. There are a few exciting action sequences in this film, but they are very scarce. The story also doesn’t have any quick witted personalities to reel a mass audience in.
I have enjoyed Jeff Goldblum’s talent since Jurassic Park playing some off-beat characters that add a different flavor to the story or cast. I don’t find any flaw with him in this movie. It plays to a more subdued version of his signature style. Being a guy with insomnia who has gone an unknown number of days without proper sleep, he can’t be highly charismatic and energetic. Ed has to be a more low key guy because of his fatigue and slowed wits. Many of us have gone without a proper night’s rest, and that alone impairs your mental capabilities. I, myself, have gone a full thirty-six hours without sleep, and even that is enough to muddle one’s synaptic sharpness. There is nothing wrong with what Goldblum did in this movie. Playing the straight man can make you the most hilarious person in the movie. Tommy Lee Jones in the Men in Black movies comes to mind, but it only works in contrast to something else.
Instead, all the other characters are very one note playing up a shallow characterization, and adding little to what should have been a cast of lively, eclectic characters. They are generally peculiar and diverse, but there are no strong or charismatic personalities to allow any humor to thrive through them. It’s all too low key, and too many people playing the straight man offering no overt humor. I feel it would’ve been better to have just Ed be the singular low key character surrounded by more verbose people to create a contrast. His drab and mundane life would be interrupted by all these vibrant, off-kilter characters that carry him along on a very bizarre adventure. I also find it hard to grasp is that none of the characters are even trying to be funny. They yell and argue with one another with no punch line, no humorous twist to create a laugh, or they drift through the movie playing it straight with a dull thud. Everything is far too underplayed to be funny. The fact is, I found very little about this film to be funny except for the physical comedy. A little of that comes from Goldblum, but mostly from the dialogue devoid group of Iranians (of which director John Landis is one of them). However, there is one excellent exception to all of this.
In the entire movie, the only person I feel hit the personality and charisma of what it needed was David Bowie. His British hitman character of Colin Morris really jumps in with the right subtle crazy tone and wit. He’s very proper and polite, but is clearly a psychopath that is both scary and amusing. Bowie has only two scenes, but he easily steals the show with a richly developed character that is a prime example of what this film should’ve offered in spades. Colin is both smartly humorous and lethally dangerous. That’s a dynamic rich with comedic potential. It really is Bowie’s charisma and delicate sense of tone that makes Colin Morris work. How he is able to shift from funny to fearsome creates it’s own comedy. Bowie clearly had a lot of fun playing this role, which is not something I saw much of from anyone else. A comedy should seem like everyone is enjoying themselves, getting into their characters and having a wonderfully amusing time at it. None of the other actors seemed to be having a great time on screen playing up their characters and finding their chemistry with the cast.
Fortunately, the musical score by blues legend B.B King is the true shining point of the movie. It surely gives the whole film a wonderful, unique feel that suits a mostly nighttime set story. With the right pacing and wit from the film itself, B.B. King’s music could’ve enhanced the rhythm and personality of the movie, but as it is, the blues tracks are just a cool listen that occasionally boost the film’s atmosphere.
As with most comedies of this time period, the cinematography is not much to speak of. It’s really just a point and shoot mentality, like a sitcom. So, it’s nothing I will hold against it. Comedy films today do a lot more with polishing up the visual flare and photography of the movie to enhance their production values, but in the bulk of the ‘80s, that approach did not often exist. If Into The Night had a little more vision and ambition behind it maybe it would have a little more visual style.
Again, the premise had promise. I surely believe a remake with modern pacing and filmmaking mentalities could potentially turn this around into a more effective comedy. Frankly, Into The Night needed more momentum, a faster pace to bring out the humor in the story instead of dragging along from one underwhelming scenario to the next. The villainous characters should’ve been larger than life and more over the top to bolster laughs. Goldblum plays his role well reacting to the few outrageous moments with subtle genius. Michelle Pfeifer was a nice female lead, but was not quite as endearing as I believe her character should’ve been. There could’ve been more chemistry sparked between Goldblum and Pfeifer, but like with everything else here, it’s not motivated strongly enough to create something special. I think the filmmakers believed this movie had wit, but they could never hit it on the mark. Some reviews have said it tried too hard for laughs. In a way, maybe that is correct. This film goes to great lengths to have an elaborate storyline filled with a large cast of characters. It tries hard to find a place and a moment for each of them, but it only comes off as overbloated. Comedy should never be complicated. It should be simple, or at least, streamlined. You throw too many elements into the joke, and you lose the effect of the punchline. I think that is a perfect way to sum up this movie. While the storyline is not confusing, it is overworked and a little self-indulgent. By evidence of the massive amount of filmmaker cameos, there is a self-indulgent mentality in the approach to this feature film. John Landis had a short window of inspired cinematic comedy brilliance, but it was more than twenty years ago. Into The Night was a definite misstep during that high point era, but movies like Beverly Hills Cop III and Blues Brothers 2000 show just how far and hard his movie career has fallen.
There are films I enjoy because of their potential, and to some degree, this is one. A story that could’ve been made into an excellently hilarious film, but just achieved nearly nothing of that potential. The film has shown up regularly on HBO or Cinemax in the last several months. So, you shouldn’t need to spend money to check it out. Just program your DVR if you’re fortunate enough to get those premium channels. If not, it’s not a real loss. There are countless more successfully funny movies out there to give you a healthy laugh than this one.