The Living Daylights was the debut of Timothy Dalton as James Bond on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the franchise. It also marked a distinct shift in tone from Roger Moore’s more light-hearted approach, and brought Bond back closer to the core of Ian Fleming’s character. With Dalton came a more dangerous Bond who carried more weight and urgency with him, and it is a portrayal that I very much enjoy. While this first outing was generally well received, I believe Dalton’s two film run with the character was unjustly maligned, and I hope this review and that of the following film will detail why.
After James Bond (Timothy Dalton) helps Russian officer Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) make a daring defection to the West, the intelligence community is shocked when Koskov is abducted from his remote hiding place. Bond leaps into action, following a trail that leads to the gorgeous Kara (Maryam d’Abo), who plays Bond as easily as she plays her Stradivari cello. As they unravel a complex weapons scheme with global implications, linking up with arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) and Russian General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), James and Kara escape first to Vienna, then to Morocco, finally ending up in a prison in Soviet occupied Afghanistan as they track down the elements in this mystery.
The opening action sequence is very smart and exciting. M sends three Agents to test the security of a military installation on Gibraltar, but are ambushed by an assassin. I’ve always liked the touch by the filmmakers to cast two other actors who resemble previous Bond actors George Lazenby and Roger Moore before revealing Dalton himself. Obviously, with marketing of the film and all, the trick loses its intended impact, but it’s a clever idea to keep an uninitiated audience guessing as these other agents fall by the wayside. Regardless, this sequence sets the tone for this more action packed and daring approach of this new Bond. It’s really a perfect start to a very promising film that does deliver in many satisfying ways.
The opening credits sequence for The Living Daylights is nothing special or distinct. Watery images and silhouettes really don’t have much to do with the title song from Norwegian pop group A-ha. It’s not particularly bad, just very uninspired. While this musical track doesn’t have as much punch as Duran Duran’s had for the previous film, the high pitched vocals and melodic quality are still catchy and appropriately Bond-esque. I like it quite a lot.
Timothy Dalton injects a seriousness into the role of Bond that I find very compelling. He carries himself with sophistication and integrity creating a strong screen presence. He firmly grounds Bond while still giving him charisma, wit, and a subtle depth of emotion. He can be humorous and charming while never betraying the dramatic intent of the portrayal. Dalton’s Bond is one that grasps the seriousness of situations, and acts with due intelligence and action. There’s definitely a gritty vigor he brings into Bond that makes the film instantly more energetic and exciting. It’s a dimensional performance that is thoroughly enjoyable, and creates a James Bond that can smartly weave in and out of the world espionage. Beyond everything else, Dalton makes 007 a character that can be taken seriously, and allow for serious stakes to be highlighted in his films. While there is room for fun, it is ultimately a better film when there’s real tension and risk at hand. I think Dalton did an excellent job stepping into this role bringing realism back into the fold. Timothy Dalton likely did many of his own stunts, and it really shows through, benefitting the quality of the action immensely.
The action of the film is excellent. The chase sequence through the snowy landscape with the Aston Martin showing many of its “optional extras” is very thrilling and fun. Plenty of explosive moments and clever twists and turns make it a memorable highlight of the film. The foot chase across the rooftops of Tangier was very well done, also. All of the action sequences are very fun and inventive using the unique locations, from the snow to the desert, to great effect. The climactic action scene where Bond hangs off the back of a cargo plane, set to explode in a matter of minutes, while battling the Russian mercenary Necros is very tense and exhilarating. Yet, it doesn’t end there as we get further explosions and a dangerous mid-air escape. Then, Bond still has to finish off Whitaker in a great firefight. It’s an immensely satisfying conclusion that does not hold back on the thrills.
Maryam d’Abo is probably not as alluring or sexy as most other Bond girls, but she is definitely a good actress that had a lot to bring to Kara Milovy. She’s very likable and relatable as an innocent and talented young woman deceived by her deceitful boyfriend Koskov. Maryam brings a strong will to the role, but also finds the vulnerability in Kara. Kara and James share some moments of strong emotion that d’Abo conveys remarkably well. She was a very good fit for this initial outing for Dalton as she satisfies on stronger levels than mere sex appeal.
I feel the only downside to the film are the villains. Joe Don Baker is decently charismatic, but never really develops into a serious threat. Opposite a more formidable acting talent in John Rhys-Davies, whose character is implicated as the true villain by Whitaker and Koskov, it’s even harder to perceive Whitaker as someone to contend with. He’s portrayed as a man who doesn’t take anything too seriously, but any hint of arrogance or ego that could have been there, simply is traded off for a character that’s lacking in formidable competence. Thankfully, he’s not a forefront villain. Jeroen Krabbé’s General Koskov does definitely go down the path of arrogance, but it takes quite a while before he becomes intimidating at all. He’s certainly the better quality villain of the two, ultimately, and at least has more of a detestable element to him due to how he eventually treats Kara. Yet, he still could’ve used a lot more work. I feel it’s more the near insurmountable odds that Bond faces which make the film tense and exciting than the villains he faces. They are nothing major to contend with. It’s just the forces they command are what create the danger the film needs.
I really like that the plot features a tangled web of deceit for Bond to unravel. He has to tread cautiously amongst those he encounters before he can determine who he can trust, if anyone at all. He works his way through a deceptive abduction, a faked assassination, opium trade, arms deals, and rebel fighters in the Middle Eastern desert to uncover the depth of this plot, and to stop it dead in its tracks. It’s an excellently crafted story that never falls into a lull. There’s a consistent development and progression of plot while never leaving our main characters of James and Kara in the dust. Their motivations remain clear, and their relationship develops very solidly. Despite James having to lie to her while attempting to determine her role in Koskov’s plan, Kara is able to eventually trust him, and they forge a convincing romantic relationship. Everything is smartly wrapped together in a very satisfying package making for an entertaining ride.
I was very pleased by John Barry’s score for this franchise entry. He gave a little more edge to the traditional Bond theme in a few of the action scenes, and nicely incorporated the melody of the opening title track into the score during the third act. It’s a very tight, very good piece of orchestration that complemented the film’s tone and pace strongly. It was a very fine and respectable final bow for Barry as this was the last James Bond film he worked on.
Ultimately, The Living Daylights is a very good film in this franchise. There is more than enough action to spare while still delivering a very smart and well plotted story. It brings espionage more skillfully back into Bond’s world, and the film is better off for it. The real cog of success was Timothy Dalton who made the character honest and real, again. Between his presence and beautifully deeper voice, you get that sense of dramatic tone from him throughout the film. He simply made the film more exciting and interesting. While there is a more gritty, dark style to this film, it still has plenty of fun moments to smile at that do not betray the tone veteran Bond director John Glen was going for. If the film had strong villains, or simply stronger performances from the villains, I could really give this a very strong endorsement. They just lack that edge of intimidating and formidability to push them over as a major threat on their own. The excitement and engaging narrative is due to the twisting and turning mystery Bond has to weave through, and it’s all done with expert quality and precision. The Living Daylights is definitely a big step up from A View To A Kill, and for those desiring a more traditional Bond film from Dalton, this is definitely the one to check out. I do very highly recommend the film despite any shortcomings it has with the villains. It’s a fun, thrilling ride that will entertain you. Next up, James Bond will return in Licence to Kill.
Up until about a month ago, I had only seen the James Bond films from The Living Daylights onward. So, this became my first exposure to Roger Moore as Agent 007. I was mainly attracted to the film because I got hooked on the title song by Duran Duran. While A View To A Kill received a very negative criticism in its day, and even Moore himself holds it as his least favorite that he did, I found the movie to be quite enjoyable. It’s clear that Moore likely did have far stronger outings, but other Bond actors would have far more ill entries in the franchise.
British spy Agent 007, James Bond (Roger Moore), retrieves a high-tech silicon chip from the U.S.S.R., a chip that is identical to a prototype British design capable of withstanding a nuclear electromagnetic pulse. The British suspect industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) of leaking details of the design to the Russians. When Bond is sent to investigate he finds that Zorin is stockpiling silicon microchips, and is secretly planning to corner the world microchip market by literally wiping out Silicon Valley. In addition to Zorin himself, 007 must contend with the madman’s beautiful and deadly companion May Day (Grace Jones), but is aided by the lovely geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts). Bond’s mission will take him from the heights of the Eiffel Tower to the towering danger of the Golden Gate Bridge to stop Zorin’s maniacal scheme.
What always turned me away from checking out Roger Moore’s Bond films was the stated campy nature of them. I didn’t want to see a silly James Bond. However, if this film is any evidence as to Moore’s overall best quality approach to the character, I find it quite entertaining without betraying the integrity of the character’s legacy. I certainly do prefer Bond actors who put more dramatic weight into their performances, but Roger Moore is far from giving a bad performance in this film. While his 57 year old age was clearly evident in this film, which was partly to blame for the film’s negative criticisms, Moore still brings a charming, suave sensibility mixed with a fine wit and levity. The only real downside to his age is the fact that he couldn’t be highly involved with the action scenes. Right from the pre-credits sequence, you can tell it is a stunt double doing the rigorous work while the filmmakers edit in close-up shots of Moore done on a soundstage. It gets more seamless in later action sequences with much better close-ups, but it varies, especially with the rear screen projection shots in the San Francisco chase sequence. Regardless of this, I think Roger Moore is quite enjoyable in this portrayal of Agent 007.
Now, I really like the opening title sequence. Obviously, Duran Duran’s title track ensnared me into watching the film, and it is a great collaboration with composer John Barry which became a classic for the band. I really like a couple of Duran Duran songs, but this one really hits up another level with a mysterious and seductive quality with an exciting sonic punch. It definitely has the feel of a Bond title track, but with a sound distinctive of its times. The credits sequence goes along well with the lyrics with the use of fire and ice, and using some very 1980s black light effects to create a series of vibrant, stylized images against black backgrounds. As the best of these sequences do, it sets up a very exciting and intriguing tone for the movie as a whole.
Overall, the action scenes are pretty good. They are thrilling and imaginative as well as well plotted, shot, and executed. While they often have a little dash of humor from Bond ultimately driving a car that’s been sliced in half to comically hanging off the back end of a fire engine in San Francisco, I don’t mind them. They are well done, and just added to the entertainment value of the film. These moments never become ridiculous, thankfully. The closest we get is during the pre-credits sequences where Bond begins snowboarding down a mountain, and the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” begins to play. It certainly could rub you the wrong way, but I was able to roll with it. Once you grasp the tone of the film, and come to accept it, you shouldn’t have a problem with these quirks.
That tone is mostly focused on the dramatic aspects and implications of the plot, but it’s a film that is able to have some fun with itself, when appropriate. It maintains a serious threat level with Zorin’s plans, and the film flows very nicely. Like most Bond films, it makes the most of its runtime keeping everything focused on the plot, and moving it forward in very efficient and smart ways. It doesn’t have as much dramatic weight as some of my favorite Bond films do. Instead, it does try to maintain some levity throughout, but balances everything very well. It never goes too far in one direction or another, but never really excels in either direction.
The plot is pretty standard with some megalomaniac wanting to destroy in order to benefit his own greed. It is nice that it’s actually a corporate mogul at the head of this scheme, wanting to dominate industry instead of dominating the world. So, it has a somewhat more believable approach, but still has its unique Bond quirks which make the characters entertaining and the film nicely exciting. I wouldn’t classify A View To A Kill as any adrenalin rush, but again, it has its fair share of danger and action which properly support the story. The climax on the Golden Gate bridge has some fantastic visuals which I’m sure there must have been some optical effects work done, but the shots were entirely seamless to my eyes. The action is definitely suspenseful as Bond hangs perilously from high atop the bridge, fending off Zorin’s attacks. Ultimately, it’s an explosive finale that is quite satisfying, and tops the film off spectacularly.
Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin is an all right villain. He’s certainly better than some of the misconceived ones I experienced in the Pierce Brosnan era, but Walken’s performance is pretty lightweight when compared to many of his later, more prominent roles. Being familiar with Walken’s string of heavies from King of New York, Batman Returns, True Romance, The Prophecy, and Suicide Kings, I anticipated something much more impressive here. I had wanted to see A View To A Kill since the VHS rental era because Walken was the villain, and so, there was some anticipation to see him really deliver something meaty as Zorin. His performance is certainly not substandard, but it’s not as fascinating or intimidating as I had hoped. In the least, it’s obvious that Walken was having a lot of fun on this movie resulting in a villain who is entertaining to watch. There is plenty of charisma flowing out of Christopher Walken here. I do think the blonde hair was a nice touch which gave Walken’s appearance a little more distinctiveness.
Tanya Roberts is a fairly decent Bond girl as Stacey Sutton. There’s not much substance for her to dig into, and thus, her performance is also a little lightweight. She plays well off of Roger Moore, but I’m sure the obvious twenty-eight year age difference between them might not work so well for some viewers. Despite that, Roberts and Moore have fine chemistry that I feel is effective, and helps enhance the peril they fall into together. I could honestly feel the genuine feelings between the characters in those moments. Tanya Roberts is also quite gorgeous and charming, making her welcoming to look at.
Quite interesting is Grace Jones as the henchwoman May Day. I think she complements Walken very well. They seem like a peculiar couple with a shared mind for villainy. They definitely have a solid, natural chemistry that puts them on an equal footing. May Day rarely feels like a subordinate, but someone Zorin respects quite a bit, to a point. Jones showcases some very good physicality, likely doing most if not all of her own stunts. She proves to be a unique villain with an original fashion sense, but the film has her take a turn when Zorin leaves her to die in a mine explosion. It does rob the audience of an appropriate comeuppance, but it can be nice to see a villain change sides. She at least has a solid farewell scene.
Overall, I find A View To A Kill to be a generally enjoyable Bond film. As I said, I’m sure Roger Moore had far stronger outings, in both performance and story, but this really doesn’t deserve the scorn it was originally met with. It’s a fun adventure with plenty of wit and charm, but not much else to speak of. Yes, it was time for Moore to bow out for a younger actor to revitalize the franchise, and maybe it’s not the swan song Sir Roger Moore would have preferred. Despite that, A View To A Kill is a very competently made film that is very expertly shot with a fine score and entertaining action. It maintains enough integrity for the series and the characters to be respectable. It wasn’t an ambitious entry in the franchise, but there’s nothing at all wrong with that. For me, it was an enjoyable ride that opened the door to possibly check out earlier James Bond films starring Roger Moore, but as 007 Week moves forward, so do the reviews. With that said, James Bond will return in The Living Daylights.