After assisting General Georgi Koskov, a Soviet general, in his defection, James is called on to investigate the claim that Soviet General Leonid Pushkin is planning to kill British spies in order to create unrest between the West and the USSR.
Bond, James Bond:
Before I get into the story of how I feel about Timothy Dalton’s first performance as Bond, I do want to touch on the casting process for this movie, because, ooh boy, it’s a lot. So the initial search included Sam Neill (dinosaur fighter), Timothy Dalton and, an Irish-born actor by the name of Pierce Brosnan. After one of the producers didn’t like Neill, they offered the role to one of the more recognizable James Bond actors. That’s right. Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan had been on a television program, Remington Steele, which was on the verge of being canceled when he was offered Bond. However, turns out that having a future Bond on your show might increase interest in that show, so NBC decided to give the show another season. The Bond producers didn’t want an actor to be both Bond and on a tv show, so they pulled the offer. It also turns out when your actor is no longer a Bond, your show loses the interest it just gained. It was canceled after five episodes. Which is honestly kind of heartbreaking. However, on the Bond side of things, after some initial hesitation, Dalton finally agreed to play the role.
Timothy Dalton, for the most part, is very good as Bond. He looks the part, on almost every level. First, he is a pretty suave looking guy, and, as shallow as it sounds, Bond needs to be a decently attractive person for us to believe he can charm as easily as he can. But, the physical look also works on an “I can believe that this guy can run spy missions and hold his own in a fight,” neither of which were present in the latter Moore films. This comes through in the film’s cold open, when Bond is on a training mission. He instantly assesses that something has gone wrong and kicks into full-on spy mode, jumping onto jeeps and attacking assaillants. It’s great. And finally, and probably most importantly for Dalton’s Bond, he comes off as terrifying, imposing and dark (a bit of a dry run for the latter Craig Bond). The threatening presence comes through when he first meets General Pushkin, and you really believe that Dalton might just kill this dude, even though we know that Bond is hesitant to trust Koskov. That trust, but also Pushkin’s fear for his life comes through when Pushkin asks if Bond really believes someone like Koskov. Bond coldly replies with “If I trusted Koskov, you wouldn’t be talking.” It’s all a solidly tense scene.
Where this Bond doesn’t really work is the witty side that has been present, even in Sean Connery’s films. The lines just never land quite right coming out of Dalton’s mouth. I don’t know if his self-aware smirks don’t make it work, or what it is, but I just don’t buy any of his witty line deliveries. While driving his Aston Martin, he engages lasers to chop the wheels off of a pursuing police car. After the front of the car slides away from the wheels, Bond’s love interest asks “what happened?” and Bond just quips “Salt corrosion,” which could have worked if delivered well, but Dalton’s delivery just straight up doesn’t. It plays like this through most of the film, although I will admit, at film’s end, after he and Kara parachute a jeep out of a crashing cargo plane, and he sees a sign for Karachi, he smiles and says “I know a restaurant in Karachi!” and drives off, I did smile. I don’t think it was his delivery, I just think that line worked so well, that the delivery would have had to be utter garbage to not work.
This movie isn’t without some uncomfortable Bond moments, though. Two quickly come to mind. The first, chronologically, is after Bond and this film’s female lead, Kara Miovy, played by Maryam d’Abo, have spent some amount of time together (under the ruse of Bond being friends with her boyfriend, our villain, General Georgi Koskov). They’ve country hopped a little bit, and I guess some time has passed, when they attend a carnival. They board a Ferris wheel, which lurches to a stop. We learn that Bond has asked the operator to do this (even though, like, that’s what Ferris wheels do, but sure), so they could share a moment together. So, it plays off as kind of cutesy, and after some hesitation (more caused by her relationship with Koskov than an actual lack of attraction) Kara decides to kiss James, but this is troubling and shows the fine line that romantic gestures and pressuring situations often walk. He’s basically cornered her in a confined space. She has nowhere to go. If she’s not on board, she’s stuck, so maybe she just acts onboard to protect herself. That’s not whole the scene is shot, and it works better than other scenes where Bond, let’s say, encourages a girl into romance (i.e. barn rape). But it’s something to consider.
Another scene is when he is holding General Pushkin at gunpoint, with Pushkin’s wife sitting in a robe nearby. After Pushkin presses an alarm to have his guard come into the room, Bond gets up, forces Pushkin’s wife out of her chair and rips off her robe. He uses her nudity to briefly distract the guard, who Bond then incapacitates. This is just a weird moment where he basically uses this woman’s body (a woman, by the way, he has zero relationship with, and is quite violent with her in standing her up) in order to distract someone, and it all plays as very cruel. I get the movie is showing us that this Bond is dark and will do what he needs to do to get the information he needs, but it’s also unnecessary. He could have just knocked out the guard from behind the door. There’s no need to rip the clothes off of Pushkin’s wife. It’s all so needless and frustrating. Neither of these moments is as frustrating as him literally forcing himself on a woman, but it does negatively impact a Bond character and performance I otherwise liked a lot.
After the chart success of Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill,” the producers tried to remine that success with A-Ha, which, seems odd, since A-Ha literally had, like, one hit, but you do you. And, as far as how does it compare to Duran Duran’s hit, it doesn’t really. You can hear what they’re trying for, but it just doesn’t work in the same ways. They lyrics seem even sillier. The song opens with “Hey Driver, where we going?/I swear my nerves are showing/Set your hopes up way too high/The living’s in the way we die,” which, what? Also, their vocals get so weirdly high on the pre-chorus that I just don’t know what they’re singing. I’ll admit I still like the overall 80s-synthy sounds, and it’s fun to listen to, which I’ll take over some of the more boring trudges from early in the franchise, but it does not come close to living up to the high expectations of a Duran Duran follow-up.
Similar to Octopussy, this film has two villains, with one being a psychotic military member, and the other, primary villain, being a charming, but exiled, foreign leader.
Joe Don Baker plays American arms dealer Brad Whitaker, and it’s a pretty unsubtle character. When we first meet the guy, he’s surrounded by wax figures of himself imagined as some infamous world leaders, including Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Genghis Khan, and, confusingly, Adolf Hitler. He claims that all these men are surgeons who cut away the fat, so, obviously a real hero. The fact that one of his first lines of dialogue is “War has always been man’s main competition” just continues to hammer home the image of a war-obsessed American soldier. This is further confirmed when he has models of popular American war battles, which he reimagines how he would have fought them. It is all so much, and Baker does mostly try to downplay it (this isn’t another Orlov situation), but the character is just a giant caricature and doesn’t spend enough time in the movie to really make any kind of impact. (Wax figures of himself as evil world leaders, who he thinks are surgeons. War has always been man’s main occupation. Lots of weapons, American)
Our primary villain is General Georgi Koskov, played by Jeroen Krabbe. This character is constantly lying, which makes him a little difficult to track, but Krabbe’s performance is so charming and compelling, that I can’t help but like him. He is basically telling whichever lie that he needs to do to keep himself out of danger, and that means telling a very complex web of lies, which he does so with a wonderful excitement. And the lies are also fairly believable, to the point that even though I knew he was the villain, he had me kind of rooting for him in the beginning when he and James interact for the first time after the assisted rescue, and he had me smiling as he reacts to the big of presents Bond brings him in a meeting. He’s just weirdly charming, and every time he told a new lie, I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head (the latter reaction Bond matches towards the end of the film as Koskov is finally caught). Although his plan may not be memorable, he’s at least a joy to watch.
This is a rare case in this franchise where I just don’t have multiple women to talk about. Maryam d’Abo’s Kara is really our only female character that does anything in this movie (outside of Moneypenny, but she falls into another category better), and she really makes the most of it. We initially meet her as the assassin trying to kill Koskov, but we later learn that this was all a guise and she was doing what she needed to do to help her boyfriend escape and that she truly is just a talented concert cellist. She’s very innocent and very sweet, and gets thrown into this nightmare of a situation but her selfish ass of a boyfriend, and it plays well. She begins to fall for James (who she thinks is a friend of Koskov’s who is taking her to him), and this works fairly well. Again, Dalton doesn’t give her much to work with, but I think she makes do. The character switch from supporting Koskov to supporting Bond is done is a very nice character moment for both d’Abo and Dalton, as Dalton tells her that he was the one who intentionally missed her the night of the fake assassination, which is enough for her to realize that he’s right about Koskov being garbage, and it all leads to her being a decent sidekick. When she needs to, she takes action against attackers, and even takes a gun from an Afghan rebel (more on him in a bit) and rides into certain danger in order to help Bond. It’s probably my favorite individual moment any Bond girl has had, and is a wonderful palette cleanser after the nightmare that was Stacey Sutton.
John Rhys-Davies (Gimli!) plays Soviet General/head of the KGB Leonid Pushkin, and we begin the movie thinking that he is behind the “kill all spies” plan that has caused Bond to lose two of his partners. Bond quickly deduces that Koskov isn’t trustworthy, but after losing a close friend, he breaks into Pushkin’s hotel room and begins to threaten him. I’ve talked about how good Dalton is in this scene, but Rhys-Davies is excellent as well. He plays the fine line of putting on a brave face while realizing that he might be murdered extremely well, and all of this, combined with Dalton’s performance, plays into their unlikely partnership very well. He even gets what is probably my favorite quip in the film, after he and Bond stage an assassination. Pushkin is rushed into a room, where he removes a set of blood packs from his body and smirks as he says “This is the first time I’ve ever been grateful that James Bond is a good shot.” It all just plays so well into the fact that, despite being representatives of competing spy agencies, they have formed a necessary bond in order to stop a man who represents a threat to both of their nations. It’s a great pairing, buoyed by both men’s performances.
Another partner for Bond who makes a strong impression for the little bit that he’s in the movie is Art Malik’s Kamran Shah. Shah is a leader of an Afghan resistance group fighting against the Soviets, but also has a strong British accent a flair for the dramatic leftover from his days at Oxford. He and Bond meet when Bond frees him from a prison they are both in, and Shah quickly befriends him and recruits Bond to join his revolution, with the promise of stopping Koskov as well. He’s not in the movie for long, but it’s a fun relationship that they share, and I like the idea that the friendship extends beyond the scene’s climactic battle, as Shah rushes to attend Kara’s concert, in full rebel regalia. It’s a pleasant little moment, and a wonderful topper to his arc in the film.
Our henchperson here is in the line of From Russia With Love‘s Red Grant and For Your Eyes Only’s Kriegler, and is just a pretty boy blonde who can absolutely wreck you. Necros, as performed by Andreas Wisniewski, is introduced while disguised as a milkman who then strangles multiple people with the cord of his headphones, which is a pretty awesome and dated way to murder a dude, but I appreciate it. He’s also armed with exploding milk bottle grenades, which is a neat little moment when he first throws one and it full on explodes and kills two dudes. Also, his death is one of my favorites for a henchperson. He and Bond are engaged in a battle while holding onto a cargo neat hanging from the back of a flying cargo plane. Necros struggles and only has a grip on Bond’s boot. Bond begins to cut the boot away from him, and Necros begging to plead for his life, and then, as the boot finally gives way, he screams as he falls to his death. For some reason, seeing the humanity of a henchperson allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for him as a character, so that moment really sold me on this character, and he’s one of the best parts of this movie and will rank highly on my final countdown of henchpeople.
Finally, the new MI6 trio is here for one of only two appearances. Robert Brown makes his penultimate appearance as M, and he still isn’t really impressing me in any kind of way. I still miss Bernard Lee and am ready to meet Judi Dench. Desmond Llewelyn returns as Q, and he has a new relationship with James, one based more on respect than the annoyance that we’ve seen. There is still some tension between them, but it’s all built on respect, and it’s a relationship I really enjoy in this movie. It’s at its forefront when Q introduces Bond to a new keychain gadget that has different responses to certain whistle calls. One general cause will allow the keychain to puff up a knockout gas, and then each agent has a specific whistle to make their keychain explode. Q programs Bonds to respond to a wolf whistle, which is just an excellent little detail. And, finishing up the triumverate. Caroline Bliss makes her first and penultimate appearance as Moneypenny. She’s pretty young looking in this movie, to the point it honestly kind of caught me off-guard. Lois Maxwell always had a certain maturity to her, even from the start, but instantly this Moneypenny just seems to shout “Young and pretty!” which isn’t great. She gets to do a little bit of research, which is kind of cool to see, but it really isn’t enough to make her truly standout as this character.
This is a gadget light movie, which is fine by me. I don’t super get into the gadgets, I appreciate them for what they are, or laugh at them for their absurdity, but I usually forget about them at movie’s end. Although I do like this version of the Aston Martin, the Aston Martin V8, and how loaded up it is. As mentioned earlier, it has hubcap lasers, perfect for slicing the tires off from the rest of the car. It also includes missiles, perfect for blowing up semi-truck blockades, and a set of skis and spikes on the tires to make it drive in the snow better. The fact that it is introduced in a nice moment between James and Q (James: “I’m taking the Aston Martin out,” Q, not annoyed: “Please be careful, it just got a fresh coat of paint) makes the car’s explosive finale all the sweeter.
So, it’s all a bit confusing, but I think that is intentionally done because Koskov is so all over the place with his lies. But, from what I can understand, Koskov is working with Whitaker to eventually create a war between the Soviets and the West. He does this by making it seem like acting Russian General Pushkin is trying to kill British spies, which will hopefully lead to retaliation, which will lead to war. That war will cause armies to need to contact Whitaker, an arms dealer, and then Whitaker and Koskov will ride off into the sunset with lots of money and not getting shot. It gets a bit dicey when there’s an opium deal and there are some diamonds, and it’s all very odd and I don’t quite track, but that always happens. Also, once that happens, the strong action kicks in, and you just kind of buckle up for the fun. Including an amazing fight between Bond and Necros hanging outside of the cargo plane, all while a bomb is ticking inside of the plane. It’s all very tense and is honestly more tense than anything the Moore franchise ever did.
And that fight also acts as a nice moment from the other primary part of this movie, which is Bond and Kara’s budding relationship. It’s all built on a lie (not ideal) but Bond reveals his hand just when he needs to, and, with the past that they shared, Kara comes through in a big way. Also, the above-mentioned cargo fight is all triggered when Kara intentionally opens the cargo bay door, causing Bond and Necros to fly out. I think she does this because she trusts Bond to be able to hang on and best the henchman (although it might also be set up by her not knowing how to fly a plane, but whatever), which shows how well she has gotten to know Bond throughout their time. It all works pretty well.
Miscellaneous Spy Business:
-This Bond introduction is at least better handled than Roger Moore’s (who was just in bed with a woman), but it still feels odd that it’s basically a “process of elimination, this guy must be Bond, lolz” moment
-James’ partner on an early mission keeps calling him “old man”, which, why? I mean, I guess Dalton was 40 when they filmed this, but he doesn’t look it.
-This movie has a must better use of title in dialogue than the previous film: “I must have scared the living daylights out of her”
-While escaping some police, James and Kara use her cello case as a sled, while James holds the cello. As they cross a border, he tosses the cello over a barrier arm, catches it, while shouting “we have nothing to declare!” which was just so quickly timed it actually made me laugh.
-Pretenders wrote two songs for this movie, including the first instance of a different song playing over the end credits. Apparently, they were supposed to do the opening song, but then the producers were all about that Duran Duran success. Neither song is really as fun as A-Ha’s, but they’re probably better constructed.
-We have a new Felix Leiter, who doesn’t get a whole lot to do, so I didn’t mention him above. I do want to mention him here because he ‘s played by John Terry, who would later play Christian Shephard on Lost, and I choose to believe that this is what he was up to before becoming a drunk doctor/ghost/whatever the hell.
-After he betrays Kara (again), Koskov tells her “I will be compassionate with you and try to have you assigned to the Siberian Philharmonic Orchestra. They’re quite good despite their bourgeois repertoire,” which might be the whitest sentence on record.
-As much as I like Kara, any time a female lead in this franchise cries out “James!” I lose three years of my life. Which means that after A View to A Kill, I should be dead. I’m living to spite A View To A Kill.
I generally liked this movie quite a bit. Again, the villain plan gets a little bit dicey, but that’s pretty par for the course in this franchise, and at least our primary villain is pretty charming. I really like Kara, and I think if Dalton worked as Bond beyond the look/being terrifying, this movie would have been even better. Pushkin is an excellent character, and Necros is a lot of fun as a henchperson. I think if you take out the Bond being a creep towards women a couple of times and give Dalton a little more charm, this movie could be competitive for one of my very favorites in the franchise. As it stands, I’ll give this a 008/0010.
TJ Hizer Will Return With: License to Kill
References Living Daylights Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Living_Daylights Living Daylights Gadget Page, Universal Exports http://www.universalexports.net/Movies/daylights-gadgets.shtml John Terry Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Terry_(actor) Photo Credits: Cover Photo https://www.007james.com/i/movies/ld/living_daylights_poster.jpg Timothy Dalton https://i.pinimg.com/originals/f9/5e/b5/f95eb5500db41a909e063dd1d0c0939c.jpg Living Daylights Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuzNh72Grb4 Brad Whitaker http://movieboozer.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/bakerwax.png Koskov http://nerdynothings.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/koskov.jpg Kara https://vinnieh.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/kara-milovy.jpg Necros https://truthfulnerd.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/img_2250.jpg