After the Roger Moore era of ape disguises, little person henchmen, voodoo priests and laser battles in space, it was time for James Bond to get serious again.
Timothy Dalton brings a brooding and deadly air of authority to 007 in The Living Daylights, a solid, if not the typical winking fun bombastic adventure we’d come to expect from the series.
By the late 80s I was just starting to get invested in actors. I still vividly remembered being endlessly disappointed that “Remington Steele” star Pierce Brosnan wasn’t going to be able to star as Bond following the departure of Roger Moore and Dalton would be assuming the reigns of 007.
In fairness, the Bond producers had been patiently waiting to bring Dalton onto the franchise since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which he reportedly turned down thinking he was too young. Prior commitments kept Dalton from starring in Octopussy and A View to a Kill so this was a role a long time coming for Dalton.
The filmmakers probably went a little too far to the serious extreme effectively making Dalton’s debut a one-note character. The Dalton Bond definitely wouldn’t be dressing up as a clown or channeling Tarzan, but he also lacks the playful cockiness to fire off brilliant quips and double entendres like Sean Connery’s 007.
Dalton is thoroughly convincing as a highly trained secret agent and the film is at its best showcasing this dangerous side of Bond. Confronting the man he thinks responsible for killing an ally, Bond is deadly serious. When he rips a woman’s shirt off to distract approaching security, there’s no glib remark or witty apology. It’s Bond best course of action and he’s not apologizing for it.
After spending the previous three films trying to hide Moore’s advancing age, Director John Glen appears to relish having a Bond he can credibly feature in more physical action sequences.
That’s apparent from the opening act where Bond and two of his fellow 00s conduct a training exercise that’s ruined by an assassin delivering a message from his employer. Dalton did the stuntwork for the scene, which is an immediate improvement from the clumsy insertion of stuntmen in the latter Moore films.
The script, by longtime series scribe Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, tries a fresher take on The Cold War with defector General Kosov (Jeroen Krabbé) seeking political asylum with Bond’s assistance.
Kosov is a valued commodity and Bond has to protect him against numerous threats including Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), a cellist who doubles as a sniper. Bond’s casual dismissal of Kara’s non-professional shooting skills is one of the best lines of the film.
Despite Bond’s efforts, Kosov is recaptured thanks to the aid of the standard menacing blonde assassin Necros (Andreas Wisniewski, Mission: Impossible). With his leads dying off, Bond cozies up to Kara for information on his whereabouts.
Kara’s an underrated Bond Babe. While Kara starts off fairly demure and naive, by the climactic battle, she’s leading the charge to aid Bond. Normally, the Bond Babes start off full of spunk and fire before being relegated to the damsel in distress Bond has to rescue in addition to completing his mission.
Kara’s arc actually has her becoming more competent as the film progresses and being useful for more than her looks. That’s a plus since Bond is essentially a monk in this film as Kara is his only fling.
Bond soon learns of a greater conspiracy that’s implicating new head of the KBG General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies, The Lord of the Rings) and a US arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker).
Maibaum and Wilson complicate the second half some as Bond’s true foe is buying drugs in Afghanistan from a Mujahideen tribe. There, they plan to use the money to purchase weapons from Whitaker for the Russians. Not that preventing an arms deal isn’t important, but it’s hardly the extinction level event or global extortion schemes Bond’s had to thwart in the past.
That lack of a major threat or truly worthwhile villain is the biggest drawback to Daylights. I can’t help wondering how Dalton would have fared in A View to a Kill, a film that for all its faults, had villain charisma to spare with Christopher Walken and Grace Jones.
If the final battle where Bond faces Whitaker in his war room isn’t the most underwhelming in the franchise it’s right at the bottom.
Another standout is when Bond’s ally Kamran Shah (Art Malik), leads his Mujahideen tribe on an airfield assault to help Bond as he plots an explosive end for the drugs.
Even with another attempt at a more grounded Bond, Daylights restocks 007’s gadget arsenal. Desmond Llewelyn’s Q fortifies Bond with a number of useful spy tech including a gas/explosive whistle and a souped-up all-terrain Aston Martin with a laser beam, missiles, studded tires, skis and a rocket jet propulsion unit.
Without devolving to an effects-heavy spectacle, Dalton seems to enjoy himself the most fully embracing the hi-tech aspects of Bond. Glen needed to add just a tad more of that boys with toys spirit to bring more of that fun 007 dynamic as he almost takes this outing too seriously.
This more realistic slant on Bond was just what the franchise needed to become more culturally relevant as the 90s approached. Daylights hadn’t perfected the new age Bond yet, but it marks a positive step in the right direction.
Rating: 7 out of 10
But it from Amazon.com: The Living Daylights [Blu-ray]
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