The Living Daylights is two very different films in one. The first half echoes the Bond of old; playful, a bit silly (but never Roger Moore silly) with some solid action work and decent stunts. The second half becomes something more serious and showcases the direction that Timothy Dalton would take James Bond, before he becomes it entirely in License to Kill.
Dalton is a good Bond. He clearly moves away from the ridiculous that Moore had brought to the role without making Bond a different character. The pre-credit sequence shows that he can handle the stuntwork well and also has a keen eye for the woman, finishing with a cheeky moment on a boat. The first half of the film is much like this and Dalton could almost get lost in the Bond-lite version that he is portraying. It is definitely Bond but Dalton never looks entirely comfortable and is almost going through the motions.
Halfway through the film, the character changes and the film forgets the “silly” and starts to move towards the more vengeful, angry and sinister Bond we have come to recognise today. Dalton uses a woman to trap John Rhys-Davis’ General Pushkin and even threatens to kill the unarmed woman. It doesn’t feel like a Roger Moore move and it actually feels very refreshing.
That doesn’t mean we have moved entirely away from what has gone before. In The Living Daylights, the silly isn’t ridiculous. Dalton’s Bond will never be a clown and we certainly don’t get double-taking pigeons. Instead we get tongue-in-cheek action moments, like using the case of Cello to ski down a mountain or reversing a car out the back of a crashing plane. It’s incredulous but perfectly Bond.
It isn’t just Dalton’s Bond that is grittier and more raw. The first act sees a brutal fight between henchman Necros, played by Andreas Wisniewski and a random agent in a kitchen. Grills, electric knives and all manner of utensils are used to brutal effect but demonstrate the direction the movies are beginning to take.
Unfortunately, Necros is the best villain of the movie. Jeroen Krabbe’s Koskov and Joe Don Baker’s Brad Whitaker are one-dimensional and uninspired, being dispatched easily and offering little threat to the super-spy. Unfortunately, the same can also be said for Bond Girl Kara Milovy. Maryam d’Abo brings the character to the screen well at the beginning but she is little more than a damsel-in-distress by the end of the film.
The film is mainly about re-branding Bond though and to this end Dalton does a very good job. His Bond is more serious, brutal and feels driven by revenge rather than the mission, something that would be used to better effect later. It is a refreshing change.
Overall, The Living Daylights successfully distances itself from what has gone before without changing everything. Dalton begins with what feels like an impression of Bond before he completely owns the role in the second half, turning the spy into a vengeful, driven character rather than a cocky, silly one. Decent stunts help the story progress and make-up for poor villains and a forgettable Bond Girl.
Rating – 3.5
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