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Retro Review: License to Kill vs Skyfall

When the news broke that Daniel Craig was named the new James Bond six years ago, fans were not happy with the new choice. One, because Daniel Craig has blonde hair and blue eyes and two, he doesn’t have that slick-haired, dashing look that we’ve seen with all the Bonds before him. His face looks more brooding and tortured. Almost expressionless. It echoes another unpopular choice made in the 80s with a lesser known Bond, Timothy Dalton.

Why isn’t Timothy Dalton remembered really for playing Bond? He was a great Bond. Well, first the news broke that Pierce Brosnan was heavily favored to played the new Bond at this time, but that fell though when he went back to a fifth season of his TV show, Remington Steele. Also, Dalton only completed two films, The Living Daylights (1987) and License to Kill (1989). Finally, License to Kill was at the time considered a box office failure. Timothy Dalton’s Bond was the first that showed a new, focused man of few words Bond, similar to Daniel Craig’s popular portrayal. So why wasn’t Timothy Dalton more well-received?


Let’s take a quick look at both films. Beware Spoilers ahead.

In License to Kill, James Bond’s best friend, Felix Leiter, is critically injured and left for dead by drug lord Franz Sanchez, the villain captured by both of them in the opening sequence. Bond immediately goes rogue to get vengeance for his friend. This is angry Bond who racks up a high body count.

James is helped on his revenge mission by Pam Bouvier.  In Kill, Pam Bouvier, the main female character or Bond girl, doesn’t sleep with him and then get her heart broken. She actually helps with his mission. She flies planes, she fights enemies and she is effective with weapons. Although she and James are affectionate at times, she is by no means a sex object. She does not become the damsel in distress so that Bond will have to risk his life in order to save her.  She saves his life.

License to Kill was the second Bond film released after Roger Moore’s A View to Kill, which fully displayed the womanizing, martini swilling playboy. This portrayal of a darker, more violent hero was most likely a huge shock to audiences.

The kills are harsher. Bond never had an issue taking out whoever got in his way, but here he does not hesitate to throw a guard into an electric eel tank, or push henchmen off moving cars, trucks, or planes.  There is even a scene of one of the bad guys’ head exploding.


In Skyfall, Bond has faked his own death and moved to the islands in order to get out of MI6. This new life is short lived when he sees on CNN that MI6 is attacked. He immediately returns to London to see M and rejoin the agency. M agrees to bring him back, but on the condition that he will have to retake the series of evaluations required of him to become an agent. While completing said evaluations, Bond soon realizes that he is not the agent he used to be.

He encounters the main villain, Raoul Silva, a former agent whose sole purpose is to kill M and take down MI6 for betraying him long ago. Because of Silva’s agent background, it seems he is a step ahead of Bond and M the entire time. In the finale, Bond and M travel to his family estate. A series of booby traps are installed for Silva’s expected assault. Bond does throw a knife into Silva’s back ultimately killing him, but not before M succumbs to the gunshot wound she suffered earlier.

License to Kill and Skyfall have similar themes, with Bond beating all odds in order to get justice for the people he loves. Both movies have Bond girls, but no extended love scenes. They both display an emotionally vulnerable Bond and they both show a Bond breaking rules in the name of vengeance and justice for his friends.

In 1989, audiences were not ready for the Timothy Dalton’s incarnation of Bond. There were also three actors before him, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, and Roger Moore, whose films were tailored to the womanizing, shaken martini style that took place in so many movies. Audiences were not ready for that abrupt shift in tone.


Skyfall has a combination of both the gritty Ian Fleming novels, and the slick James Bond one liners that the fans love.  In Skyfall’s opening action scene, he still manages to jump onto a moving train without damaging his perfectly tailored suit. But his purpose is to  protect M and MI6 from Silva, and he will succeed by any means necessary.

Spectre opens in theatres November 6.

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