Today’s film is the first from the only Bond that belongs purely in the 80s. It’s…
. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Timothy Dalton
SETUP: Bond narrowly escapes death as a routine training exercise becomes the scene of an assassination. Two other agents die in the attack, the only clue a piece of paper scrawled with the words smiert spionam, or “death to spies.”
On an unrelated mission, Bond assists in the defection of a Russian general named Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé), shooting at a beautiful amateur sniper in the process. The KGB quickly steals Koskov back, but not before the general identifies smiert spionam as a new Russian op targeting western agents. Suspicious, Bond tracks down the “sniper” (actually a civilian cellist named Kara Milovy) to get more information.
BUT IN REALITY: Koskov is a profiteer, funneling Russian funds to an arms dealer named Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) to fund an opium deal, or some such thing. Koskov faked the defection and invented smiert spionam to frame a Russian leader named Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) before he can uncover Koskov’s plan. Bond fakes Pushkin’s death to draw out Koskov, then follows the general to Afghanistan where he destroys the deal before it go down, then chunks the opium from a plane. Bond kills Whitaker in a shootout and Koskov goes into Russian custody where he’s presumably killed off screen.
VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: The movie has two primary villains, a demand of its complicated plot. Koskov is a bit smarmy, but he’s supposed to hold power over women and thus has no scars or markings.
Arms dealer Whitaker’s disfigurement is mental. He’s a narcissist and a megalomaniac, obsessed with military prowess, despite never serving in the military. His hideout is filled with wax statues of famous tyrants and warmongers like Hitler and Ghengis Khan, all with Whitaker’s face.
THE MUSCLE: Koskov employs Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) as a special troubleshooter and assassin. Despite the dramatic flourish in his name, Necros is a bit vanilla. He looks like a ballet dancer and uses exploding milk bottles to kill, seriously. He’s always reminded me of the vague European minions in the Die Hard films and other 80s action flicks. Forgettable, really.
BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Kara Milovy (Maryam D’abo) is an accidental femme fatale. She’s madly in love with Koskov and has no idea that she’s a loose end he hopes to snip off. When called into action, Kara drugs Bond and delivers him into Koskov’s hands, but she has the sense to feel bad about it later. Like Necros and Koskov, the character is bland, but D’abo is a stunning and memorable Bond girl. After the film, D’abo produced a special called Bond Girls Are Forever, a tribute to the women who have spent 40 years suffering through Bond’s creaky double entendres.
“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: The producers felt continuity was important to establish Dalton as Bond, so Q provides a very traditional scene down in Q labs, equipping Bond with a new Aston Martin, a universal skeleton key, and a key chain that can either release toxic gas or blow up, depending on which tune Bond whistles.
MOST EMBARRASING CULTURAL MOMENT: Changing Moneypenny from the classy professional Lois Maxwell played for 14 films to an 80s office nerd, squinting lovesick eyes at Bond from behind dish-sized glasses.
BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: Sledding through a mountain checkpoint on a converted cello case, “We have nothing to declare!”
WORTH MENTIONING: The opening sequence was designed to create confusion over which agent was the new Bond. The actor playing 002 was chosen for his resemblance to Roger Moore while 004 was selected because he looked like George Lazenby… Joe Don Baker, who played Whitaker in this movie, also plays CIA agent Jack Wade in two Pierce Brosnan Bond films, Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies… The original choice to play Bond in this film was Pierce Brosnan, but he was called back by NBC at the last minute to shoot a fifth season of “Remington Steele.” The part then went to Dalton who had ironically turned it down twice in the past.
OVERALL: Hardcore Bond fans out there might be surprised to see this film rank so low. While hardly a classic, most agree that The Living Daylights is a decent movie and easily better than Dalton’s hated follow-up Licence to Kill, but I can’t agree and I’ll happily take this chance to prove that a Bond film doesn’t have to be cheesy or campy to suck.
The movie hangs its convoluted plot on current events, including the Russian occupation of Afghanistan and the western war on drugs, but it’s nowhere near enough to overcome the poor writing and weak enemies. Bond villains are ruthless and intelligent, but the idiots in this movie have already been figured out by the Russians before the film even starts and spend the rest of the story on the run. Bond pulls ahead of the plot almost immediately and never seems to be in any real danger of failing. Koskov and Whitaker are guys Bond should be dealing with over a weekend, not his opponents in a major film adventure. Without a strong opposition, there are no stakes, and without stakes, the audience can’t get attached to the action. I couldn’t care less about the opium or about Whitaker’s arms deal. The freedom fighters in Afghanistan could provide interest, except that Pushkin and the Russians aren’t portrayed as villains, but rather friendly competition with the Brits over who will get to take Koskov down.
The movie does have a few highlights. The opening sequence is fun, and the Aston Martin chase is a winner. Best of all, Timothy Dalton really gets the character. His performance is hard-bitten and intense, the kind of low smolder that Ian Fleming put into the page character and that no actor, not even Connery, had ever quite nailed. At the time, following the popular Roger Moore, critics accused Dalton of being humorless and much too serious, exactly the traits that Daniel Craig uses today to critical acclaim. Poor Dalton, punished for being ahead of his time.
The James Bond Project
16. The Living Daylights
19. Die Another Day
22. A View to a Kill