All change again in Bond land. Roger Moore got his bus pass and Timothy Dalton has been hired to take over as James Bond, the fourth actor to play the role.
Bond is sent to help a KGB defector, Georgi Koskov, offering his services as a counter-sniper to aid his escape. However, shortly after coming to the UK Koskov is then re-kidnapped, presumably by the KGB. Bond then investigates and the plot thickens.
It is hard to believe that we are looking at a piece of work from the same director as Octopussy and A View to a Kill. The Living Daylights is a gritty thriller, with a Bond-spin, and it works.
Dalton is moodier than Moore and while Moore’s don’t-give-a-shit charm will be missed, his replacement provides a much needed breath of fresh air to this now stuffy franchise.
This is a rare entry into the catalogue that manages to balance realism and silliness to good effect. The gags and gadgets are still there, but Glen doesn’t linger on them. He makes a joke then cuts right through it with action.
The jokes are still just as stupid, but the quick-fire blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pace makes the film witty rather than smug.
This is the first time in a decade a Bond film has made an effort to get the audience interested in its actual story. It’s tense, genuinely intriguing and easy to follow without being hackneyed and simplistic.
The way the characters are woven into the plot feels natural, it’s a well written script. At no point do we feel like there are throwaway lines or extraneous characters, and everything happens for a reason.
The performances are on-point. Dalton lacks the glint in his eye that Moore had, but makes up for it by acting like an actual spy. He seems to be able to blend in when he needs to and unlike Moore actually tries to get the job done as quickly as possible.
Maryam D’Abo plays Kara Milovy, the ex-girlfriend of the defector. She’s alluring, funny and smart. The two (her and Dalton) have an on-screen chemistry that again has been sorely missed in the last few films. They have a brief fling in Vienna that’s enjoyable rather than creepy.
It’s worth mentioning that Bond befriends her and gains her trust by making her think he’s friends with Koskov. This is a cold new angle to the character we haven’t seen before. It serves as a gentle reminder that he’s a dangerous person, and not always the good guy.
Let’s put the brakes on all the praise for a second, The Living Daylights isn’t a perfect film. The soundtrack is less annoying than A View to a Kill but the synthesizers, probably cool at the time, only serve to age the film now.
The real weak point lies with the villains. There are plenty of bad people doing bad things but at no point do we really think they are posing any threat. There’s a blond Nazi guy with exploding milk bottles, a fat general in a fake army and a less fat general in the same fake army.
Sadly this is probably why this film won’t make many top-5 lists. It’s a thrill ride but it doesn’t quite do enough to make a lasting impression.
It would be a crime not to mention the stand-out cinematography in the film. It’s not particularly consistent, but there are some truly magnificent scenes in the desert, amongst others. Not to sound like a broken record but this is yet another aspect we haven’t seen since the Connery days.
The Living Daylights is, to all extents, a return to form for the Bond series. For whatever reason it has failed to make a historical impact and is seldom mentioned in discussions about Bond. However, it deserves re-visiting; it’s a fresh, original entry in the series and is gripping from end-to-end.