When General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), the new head of the KGB, is believed to have revived an old program known as ‘Smert Spionam’ (Death to Spies), James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is dispatched to Tangier in order to kill the Russian before any more of his colleagues can be targeted, following the assassination of 004 during a routine training exercise. Gaining their information from a defector named Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) who was himself apparently targeted by a gun-wielding cellist, Bond tracks down the musician, Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), only to learn that she is in fact Koskov girlfriend. When ally Saunders (Thomas Wheatley) unearths information that instigates the defector, and not Pushkin, in the plot to kill Bond, 007 comes into conflict with the true spy-killer, Koskov’s henchman Necros (Andreas Wisniewski).
OH THE RELIEF! After seven months of watching Bond putrefy under the weight (and age) of Roger Moore’s franchise-consuming eyebrows, it is impossible not to feel somewhat rejuvenated with this, the fourteenth James Bond movie and the first to star Mr. Pricklepants himself, Timothy Dalton. From the moment he first spies danger amid the world’s most lethal game of paintball, it is clear that everyone involved, not just the icon himself, has earned a new lease of life. Gone are the killer animals, the pantomime villains and the barely disguised stunt doubles. There’s barely even any rape.
I feel almost embarrassed to have enjoyed A View To A Kill so much, because this, John Glen’s fourth entry in the series, is so clearly the better movie. While that last film might at best have been a guilty pleasure, this is a Bond movie to champion in daylight, in public, one that is played straight but not without humour, intricately plotted but not unintelligibly convoluted and action packed without being acting-light. While Dalton might lack Connery’s charisma and physicality, and Roger Moore’s…er, well, charm, he compensates with a believability and intelligence that marks him out as the first incarnation of 007 to actually convince as a secret agent, completely despite his delightfully devil-may-care attitude.
Dalton’s Bond is likeable, surrounded as he is by friends rather than merely antagonists, escorts and the odd comic sidekick. His relationships in The Living Daylights are unusually interesting; Bond’s growing respect for Saunders is genuinely touching, while his sparring with a newly revamped (and now sassy) Ms. Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) introduces a warmth and mutual respect that was missing from Lois Maxwell decidedly more measured and, it has to be said, tragic performance. That’s not to say he doesn’t live up to Bond’s reputation as a Casanova, it’s just that there is more to his personality this time around than innuendo and libido alone. Maryam d’Abo is thus excused from swooning duties, enabling her to take a refreshingly active role in the film’s plot.
With a set of central performances, then, that stretch to slightly more than ‘shooty face’, the audience can invest in the action in a way that has rarely been possible before: the stunts actually meaning something. As such, when 004 is killed during the training-exercise-gone-wrong that comprises the film’s pre-titles sequence, the death impacts in a way that the previous fatalities never really managed. Perhaps the film’s best sequence, in which the assassin – dressed as a milkman – systematically kills his way through a supposed safe house, even manages to top a daring aerial battle which sees Bond and Necros sparring high above the Afghan desert whilst suspended precariously from the back of a plane.
A great film first, and a refreshingly well-rounded addition to the James Bond franchise second, The Living Daylights makes the most of its newly acquired thespian to flesh out a character that to this point was little more than a collection of trademark quips and ticks, best known for the cars he drives and the gun he carries. With Pierce Brosnan’s technological excesses now only one film away, it’s nice to finally know that the character has the necessary wit and cunning even if he rarely gets the chance to use them.