Happy Global James Bond Day, stargazers! My original intent was to review a Kate Winslet film for her birthday, but I’m too big a Bond fan to not commemorate his fiftieth birthday. To solve this conflict in the future, 007 producers need to hire Ms. Winslet to be the next big Bond villain. Phenomenal idea, no? Remember you saw it here first!
After surviving an ambushed training exercise in Gibraltar, British Secret Service Agent 007, better known as Bond… James Bond (Timothy Dalton), is assigned to aid Agent Saunders (Thomas Wheatley) in the defection of KBG General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) during a symphony concert. Czechoslovakian cellist/sniper Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), is foiled in her assassination of Koskov during his escape by Bond, but his intuition spares her life. A free Koskov informs MI6 that General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) has re-instituted the Smiert Spionam, a.k.a. Death to Spies, initiative. Before he can divulge any further Russian intelligence, Koskov is abducted by Necros (Andreas Wisniewski). M (Robert Brown) orders Bond to kill Pushkin during his upcoming visit to Tangier, but Bond takes a detour back to Bratislava where he befriends Milovy hoping she may have more insight on Koskov’s disappearance and Pushkin’s murderous motives.
The Living Daylights is the first of two films with Timothy Dalton in the role of James Bond. While officially he is counted among the pantheon of Bonds, I don’t consider an actor truly worthy of the 007 mantle until he’s portrayed the character in at least three films. It takes three for the actor, the character, and the fantastical world to sync and Dalton falls short of this. Dalton shows great double-o-potential in The Living Daylights by imbuing Bond with more anger, but the production prevents a transformative performance. While co-writer Richard Maibaum has been a mainstay of Bond scriptwriting since the series’ inception, his co-writer Michael G. Wilson and the director John Glen had worked primarily on the last three Roger Moore films, and at times you feel the tendency to harken back to Moore’s campy, level-headed Bond.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Moore’s Bond. The Living Daylights sports a more down-to-earth plot and less imposing villain, but Bond still jet sets to exotic locations, plays with nifty gadgets and experiences a healthy portion of playful moments. The hitman Necros killing his victims with headphones and explosive milk; Bond escaping with Milovy to Austria by sledding over the border in a cello case; and Bond under siege by the toys of arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) satisfy fans need for tongue-in-cheek humor.
Another familiar Bond element present in The Living Daylights is the return of Desmond Llewelyn as Q. The banter between Q and Bond is as enjoyable as ever; better than the flaccid exchange with the newly cast CIA Agent Felix Leiter (John Terry) in a couple of nearly useless scenes.
The action is pretty solid. From fisticuffs to car chases to a full-on battle between the Soviets and the Mujaheddin, Bond holds his own at every turn. Plus, Dalton does many of his own stunts, which is a far cry from the days of Moore stand-in. The best aspect of The Living Daylights is the chemistry between Dalton and D’Abo. Dalton’s Bond is smooth and when Milovy inevitably succumbs to his charms, it doesn’t feel forced.
Although Dalton didn’t put in enough time as Bond, The Living Daylights is a promising beginning. The title theme by a-ha hit all the right notes to solidify it as a classic Bond theme, and the film hit enough of the notes necessary to make it a Bond film worth watching.