You tend to find that, when asked, most people will pick their favourite Bond based on who they were introduced to first. Back when I was a lad there was usually about 4 years between the cinema and TV showings of films and my family didn’t join the high tech world of VHS until the late 80s. As a result the first Bond film I remember seeing was Octopussy as it would have been shown on TV around 1987. If you flip back through my last 7 reviews (please do) you’ll know how I feel about Roger Moore. Short story: He’s not my favourite Bond. Long story: Roger Moore played Bond well enough but was lumbered with shoddy films and directors that didn’t know how to reign the more outlandish and goofy elements in. When I’m asked who my favourite Bond is I can’t really narrow it down to one. But if it’s not Sean Connery I’d pick it’s the star of today’s Bond film Timothy Dalton. Click the link for my review of The Living Daylights!!
In The Living Daylights Bond (Timothy Dalton) is sent to act as a counter sniper on a mission to help a KGB agent, Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), defect to MI6. Bond trusts his instincts and refuses to kill a sniper apparently sent to stop Koskov’s defection, instead shooting her gun. When Koskov gets to the UK he warns them about the dangers of the new KGB boss Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davis), but his stay with MI6 is cut short when a KGB agent kidnaps him to bring him back. This leads to Bond being told to go after Pushkin and get Koskov back. But something doesn’t sit right with Bond and so he heads off to find out who the female sniper was. Along the way he uncovers a series of deceptions committed by Koskov and a group of associates to manipulate Bond into killing Pushkin for them and giving them the chance to execute a plan to murder any secret agents they can, including Bond.
This is a Bond plot. It has intrigue, secret plots and plenty of chances for Bond to do all that spying stuff that apparently nobody does better. Early on you could be a little worried that some of the sillier traits from the last few Bond films would begin to show as a handful of slightly goofy gadgets make an appearance, a radar rake and a Ghetto Blaster where a pun is certainly intended for example. But this disappear within the films first 40 minutes or so making way for a much more grounded Bond. The gadgets exist throughout the film but their much more in keeping with the films tone. No speedboat Gondola hovercraft or crocodile scuba disguises here. Dalton plays Bond with a much more hard edged style to him, more in keeping with Fleming’s novels and not too far removed from Connery’s Bond in the first two films. He quips where appropriate but never mugs for the camera. He also displays a far greater range than Moore ever did across the course of all his films.
An effort was made with The Living Daylights to update the film for a more modern age and though there is one scene that harks to the Moore era, Bond and love interest Kara Milovy (Mariam d’Arbo who I saw at a signing a while back and she looks exactly the same now) sledding down a snow covered hill on a cello case, generally the entire film sticks to a more contemporary and gritty tone. That cello sledding scene was entirely the idea of John Glen by the way. He also originally had a scene where Bond escapes by riding a carpet over some telegraph wires giving the impression that it was flying which was thankfully cut. If ever you need to wonder if John Glen’s lack of restraint was a issue in his films then there’s your proof. Other than that one iffy moment the film is very solid in it’s execution. Glen’s less than flashy style becomes a benefit here.
Another updated element was the lack of multiple Bond films. In the 60s it really was fine for Bond to be going around spreading STDs all around the world but in the 80s, when everyone had to be scared of AIDs, it really wasn’t something that could fly. As such he’s a one woman man this time around, not counting an encounter with a lady of a boat during the films pre-credits scene. I noted in my review of A View To A Kill that Moore has his way with 4 different women in the course of that film so clearly some thought had been put into the decision to keep Bond monogamous. It helps that Kara is a more interesting character than the usual Bond girl too. The reason Bond doesn’t shoot her at the start is because he could tell she had no idea how to aim a rifle. Turns out she was told by her boyfriend Koskov to fire blanks at him to make his defection look real, Koskov assuming she’d be killed by Bond in the process which would erase a link to his plan. She’s a slightly naïve girl that’s been used by others. Bond lies to her at first, telling her Koskov’s defection had been a success, in the hopes she’d lead him to his associates. It pays off but as she gets pulled along on this adventure the relationship between them grows. The Living Daylights is one of the few Bond films to have an actual romantic subplot that grows and progresses along with the main plot.
Overall the film is very much a step up from the last few Bond films, I’d say the best since The Spy Who Loved Me. It makes a few tonal mistakes early on but nothing that compromises the story. The action has been cut together a hell of a lot better than it was in A View To A Kill and each sequence manages to keep the variety quota up ensuring we never feel a sense of repetition. The pacing is spot on, the stunts inventive and Bond is Bond again. Oddly the Dalton films were criticised at the times for being too gritty and dark, especially his second film License To Kill. I say oddly because that is exactly what Casino Royale was praised for. I’ll be getting to License To Kill next.