The Living Daylights: James Bond must ensure a senior Soviet defector’s safe escape from the country, then hunt down and kill a senior KGB agent, then find and foil the plans of a notorious arms dealer, then help an Afghan militia, then give a cellist the international break she deserves…
Almost 20 years after initially being approached to play Bond, Dalton finally gets his shot. I’ll put it out there straight away – I think Dalton’s great, and brings some much needed credibility back to the world’s greatest spy. This 007 is broodier, more intense, ruthless, dangerous again. He doesn’t care about the theatricalities, most evident when he charges through the immortal (but seemingly obligatory) “Bond… James Bond” line.
This new style is further aided by some of the bleakest scenes in the series so far; we see 004’s lifeless corpse bounce down a cliff and slam into a gutter, Bond’s ally get mauled by a glass sliding door. Bond also tears the clothes off a defenseless woman to form a distraction… we truly believe he’s capable of anything that he’ll use his Licence to Kill at any point.
It’s all going quite well, and the plot’s developing nicely… then it all goes a tits up when they do a SATC2 and start traipsing around the desert in “Arabian Knights” fashion with camels, turbans, beards, horses and AK-47s.
The lack of a definitive baddie is both good and bad; it’s the single biggest reason for a strong, twisting and intelligent plot (not just ‘jape with and hunt down the villain’), on the other side of the coin, history has shown that strong villains can make or break a film, and for the first hour or so Bond’s essentially just chasing his own tail. The lack of a strong Bond girl also affects the film, and puts – quite unfairly – far more emphasis on Dalton’s breakthrough performance.
The action is back on the right tracks, opening as it means to continue with the Gibraltar invasion – a great piece of espionage/action cinema that’s both tense and unpredictable, yet still so very 1980s cool! The car chase from a B-road – through a truck – and on to a frozen lake is also one of the best; and the hand-to-hand milkman vs chef fight is one of the best since From Russia with Love. Other sweet aspects to The Living Daylights are: the pipeline escape (and boosom distraction), such a hack theme song, The new ditsy Moneypenny (Definitely the end of an era), travel-companion feel – Russia, through central Europe, and the Middle-east.
In the same sense that chunks of A View To A Kill were perhaps ‘Dalton’-styled with Moore at the reins, sections of this are definitely Moore-centric with Dalton plonked in front of the camera. The first 2/3 is a rock solid thriller/spy film, with feet back firmly on the ground – and the last 1/3 is passable but feels somewhat gratuitous in the action department. It’s definitely a step in the right direction after Moore’s tenure.
Villain: hard to tell, but ends up being the military strategist arms dealer yank – who plays with toys – FAIL. 2
Henchmen: Aryan muscleman – pretty brutal. Slick-haired Ruskie Koskov – pretty boy. 5
Bond Girl: Boat Babe – pretty good. Cello chick Kara Milovy – vapid vacuum, no glitz. 4
Action: Gibraltar + Explosives truck / Kitchen fist-fight / Snow Chase (Ace car + cello) / Rooftop Run / Prison fight / air base raid / luggage net. 8