Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: The Living Daylights. General Koskov of the Russian KGB has expressed a desire to defect to England, and he requested you help this defection happen. But we fear there is something more cynical behind it all. Keep a close eye on Koskov, American mercenary Brad Whitaker might be trying to deal arms to the Russians behind their back with Koskov. We fear he might be doing something other than defecting.
The opening sequence of the film is a great idea, a 007 training mission gone awry. We get a dose of a couple other agents, who were cast to resemble Lazenby and Moore oddly enough, but they are dispatched quickly in the war game, but they are killed, not hit with paintballs. Meanwhile Bond survives, but just barely, to bring down the bad guy behind the game gone wrong. A fine introduction to a Bond film and a fine introduction to new Bond actor Timothy Dalton.
The theme song is by a-ha, which seems an odd choice, but it turns out to be a pretty good theme, but I think it is outdone by the secondary song, by the Pretenders in this film. Yes, there are two songs in this movie, one in the opening credits, one in the closing. They are both good songs too, so a win for the music department.
Soviet Union, Vienna, Tangier, Afghanistan
Saunders is the main man in the defection plan with Koskov. He organized it and is in charge of its execution from the British side. Because of this he must be a high ranking British spy and he does come off as though he has experience, but it is strange because he also does some bonehead things for which Bond has to compensate. He reappears later in the film as well, almost as though he is stationed in Vienna to go to concerts. He doesn’t offer much in the way of help to Bond, and as such he meets the same fate of all of Bond’s contacts in the past.
Felix is a great recurring character and I’m glad they brought him back for the first Dalton movie in the form of Dr. Christian Shepherd (John Terry) from Lost. That being said there is no need for him to be here. He pops up very briefly and all I can really remember from Bond’s encounter with him is that he says the Americans have been watching Koskov too and what he has been up to with Whitaker. Maybe that was it, he told Bond about Whitaker? Really forgettable scene for Felix. Hopefully they give him more next installment.
Shah is one of the better twists to this film. We meet him as a prisoner along side Bond and Kara in a Russian base in Afghanistan and soon learn he is one of the main leaders in the Afghan resistance against the Russians. As such his interests are similar to Bond’s and they help each other attain their goals in the end. He really isn’t that expounded upon in terms of character, but he had charm and I liked him as a character.
When I first saw Whitaker, I was like “Whoaaaa!!” Why? Because he is played by Joe Don Baker, an actor I had recognized as appearing in two, more recent, Bond films. I didn’t know then and this go around I will, but it is strange to think Baker appeared in three Bond films. His character here though is more of a caricature. I didn’t really like him, but I guess he worked as a bad guy. He was too gung ho over war and weapons and seemed a little stereotypically written as the American gone bad, capitalizing on war to make money, even if it is at the expense of America.
Koskov is the turncoat of the film, staging his defection as a way to get in with the British and start to turn the table on Pushkin so he could make the deals with Whitaker to expand his own personal power and the power of the Russians in Afghanistan. The performance by Jeroen Krabbe really isn’t that good and maybe some of that has to do with the writing, but the character is a good idea, as is the general idea of the film, something that was toyed with in Octopussy, but never really worked there. Making it more central, something that should have been done there, benefits this film more and adds intrigue to actions of Bond, trying to figure out what Koskov and Kompany are trying to do.
Oh Necros, how I love thee. He is actually one of the better henchmen in a while in my opinion. Despite his silly ways of killing people, including posing as a milkman and using milk bottle bombs and strangling people with his headphone cord, he actually has a menacing demeanor and is quite threatening. He has an ominous nature about him and I think that has a lot to do with the performance by Andreas Wisniewski, who reminded me a lot of a younger Daniel Craig actually, which is really ironic, but I couldn’t seem to help but think of Craig whenever Andreas was on screen.
Q Branch was really a disappointment this go around. He has plenty of gadgets but they were lacking in luster like previous installments. The most notable creation here has got to be what Q himself dubs the “Ghetto Blaster”, a rocket launcher disguised as a 80s era shoulder boom box. The implications funny only in their stereotypical implications, but the fact they went that far is really surprising and lame as well. Other than that Q has a nifty keychain thing that requires a musical queue to set off various features, but that too seems a little lame. The last thing I want to talk about are the binocular glasses. Why!? Why are there binocular glasses?! Couldn’t Bond just, oh I don’t know, use binoculars!? But the car is a bit of a return to form, thankfully.
Kara Milvoy is one of the less interesting Bond girls in recent memory. Played by Maryam D’abo, she is quite pretty, but her connection to the plot of the film seems flimsy and unnecessary. The girlfriend of Koskov, or is he just her benefactor, Kara is an accomplished cellist who is on the edge of stardom, but thanks to Koskov, has the funds to by a Stratovarius. She poses as a Russian sniper to help Koskov defect to the British, but why, she is isn’t a spy or anything, she is simply a cellist, that is all. Then she gets caught up in the whole plot, Bond falls for her and they end up together with him having to do everything to protect her and keep her safe through all the messes she shouldn’t be in in the first place. She has no skills in terms of being a Bond girl other than being pretty and an accomplished cellist. I like the kind of Bond girl who stands up more for herself or is intelligent in a way that is more central to the plot than musical genius. But that’s just me.
The Car & the Chase
Finally Bond is back in a sports car! An Aston Martin, and how fitting for Dalton’s first film because I couldn’t see how you could accept the role if they told you there wouldn’t be a really nice car involved. This car is decked out by Q too, complete with laser tires, outriggers, rockets, the works, and Bond gets to use all of them in a chase through a snowy setting. He blasts semi trucks blocking the way, cuts an icy cold water grave for a pursuing police car and, of course, manages to get away. An average chase scene, but like most Bond car chases, the scene is a ton of fun with all the gadgets.
The most obvious thing to talk about when it comes to The Living Daylights is Timothy Dalton. So that is what I am going to do. Timothy Dalton was the choice by the producers to replace the dinosaur that was Roger Moore, a few years past his prime as 007 James Bond. Having not been alive when this change came about, I cannot comment on the transition period, who else was a candidate, what Dalton had done previously to deserve the role, but I can comment on the final product. I personally think Dalton brought a fresh approach to a role that had grown tired in the hands of Moore, who in his defense had a few great films as Bond, but he struggled down the stretch. Dalton never seemed out of place in this film, something that Moore suffered from a few times, and I think that has everything to do with his confidence. Dalton exudes the confidence expected of a 00 agent and has no fear to do what he has to. He has less charisma, he is not as smooth and perhaps not as womanizing as other Bonds, but he is still handsome and maybe without these attributes he also becomes somewhat more realistic in the role. There are a few questionable choices the character makes, but I chalk that up to the writing. I began to think Bond was getting soft when he got TWO hotel rooms instead of just one with Kara, and when he took her to a theme park onto a ferris wheel. What is up with that?
But in all seriousness, it was refreshing to see a new Bond and I think Dalton did a good, not great job of filling the job. And I think part of the reason I felt the film worked as well as it did was a bit of a transformation by director John Glen. I have applauded Glen in the past for his contribution of great action to the series. Under his reign there have been great action and great stunt work. That continues here, but it is much more subdued than before. There is no big showdown atop the Golden Gate Bridge, but there is great stunt work at the back of a cargo plane and a great opening skydiving shot, but the action is brought back quite a bit in favor of exposition and mood. I wrote in my notes “where did the great action scenes go John Glen?” but upon some reflection I found myself involved more in the mood which he set with the film. The plot is not set up for great action and instead of inserting it for the heck of it, because he is good at it, Glen holds back and focuses more on what he should, the plot.
The plot is a bit complex but all is explained and I think it is one of the more interesting plots in the series, well, that is if Whitaker was somehow not involved, or perhaps handled better. Going off of what I have already said about Glen as well as Dalton, this film seems more realistic, which doesn’t automatically make it better, sometimes the fanatical is the best in this series, but the way everything is handled is pretty good. I was really able to be engrossed in the plot and the way everything ties back into Afghanistan is a nice touch. That being said I did feel as though it was slow in some points and it had its fair share of things I did not care for, Whitaker and Kara being at the top of that list. There were some cheesy things in the film too, the most notable probably being the cello case chase, which might be a trademark of this film. But for how cheesy that idea is, in my mind it has becomes a signature Bond moment and somehow it works really well when it shouldn’t.
It does not become the best Bond film, Dalton does not become the best Bond, and there really isn’t anything in here that I would bring up in any conversation of Bond bests, but it was still a solid film which belongs in the series, and feels right in the series. I look forward to seeing Dalton’s second and last film, License to Kill, though the fact that he was dispatched after just two films is curious. Just talking with my mom I get the feeling that general public opinion was against him. I was surprised to hear Moore was her favorite and Dalton she did not care for. The last thing I want to talk about is Monypenny. Lois Maxwell is not back in her famous role, instead we get the much younger, much sexier Caroline Bliss. I kind of like what they did with the character here, even if she was only on screen for a only a brief time. But she is more than just a secretary, she does some good research work here. I like the idea that she would be more than a flirt who sent Bond in to see M. I wonder if Sam Mendes and company have something more planned for Miss Monypenny in Bond 23. I like the idea.
James Bond will return in…
Licence to Kill