With a new Bond, we are launched into a darker, less campy incarnation of the Bond franchise. From the moment he appears on screen, Timothy Dalton makes it clear that the old, fun Bond is gone, replaced by a man unafraid of killing, manipulating, and abandoning people in the name of queen and country. It’s an abrupt shift, but not an entirely unwelcome one.
The Living Daylights introduces us to Timothy Dalton in Gibraltar where he begins to uncover a plot to kill British agents. Who is behind this plot and why is initially unclear, but with the help of a Soviet defector named General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), Bond begins to set his focus on General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) to see an end to this plot.
There is a lot that has changed in this film. In addition to the overall mood shift and recasting of Bond, there is a change in set design for MI6 and the focus of the film more generally. Gone is the warm, wooden panelling of the office of the 1960s, replaced instead by glass, plastic, and the overall sense that everything has taken a giant technological leap forward. Even Ms. Moneypenny has been replaced with a newer and more 80s-friendly lady, much to my chagrin. It sets the stage for some new and grand schemes with higher stakes than ever before.
What we see in the plot largely reflects this. The story of this particular film reflects the change in the Cold War – rather than being one side against the other, there is nuance and an understanding that there are more terrifying things in play than just an opposing ideology. General Koskov’s schemes, for instance, emphasise the greater toll of the Cold War, and the repercussions that the continuation of the war has. The same goes for Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo) – she and her forced assassinhood show the cost that war has, and how, despite the romanticisation of espionage that these films present, there is a very real danger of civilians getting caught up in the middle of it.
Indeed, The Living Daylights really highlights what I think has made the past few films so excellent and memorable. Rather than being focused on cartoonishly bad villains and taking place in places and times that don’t seem to have any bearing on reality, these past few films have looked at the Cold War, and in doing so, have built up the stakes and the tension around that conflict. We as the audience understand the Cold War, and the Bond films capitalises on that fear very successfully. It creates a much stronger and more interesting film.
The interaction between Bond and Pushkin, too, is an interesting one, and further solidifies that idea of the cracking of boundaries between the British and the Soviets. While there is still an acknowledgement of the dangers posed by nuclear war and the tensions in the Cold War, the friendship Bond and Pushkin – and, to a certain extent, the relationship between Bond and Milovy – share shows that the danger can be overcome. Perhaps it’s a benefit of watching the film in the 2010s rather than in the 1980s, but in many ways, The Living Daylights come across as a film that’s optimistic about the Cold War.
That said, its statements about proxy wars and wars of conquest are a bit less optimistic, even to the point where they can be a bit chilling. Seeing the Afghan Mujahadeen as heroes in The Living Daylights is fascinating, especially in the wake of so many films in which they are seen as the greatest evil. In many ways, the film’s writers seemed to be discussing the potential dangers of ignoring places like Afghanistan in the grand scheme of the Cold War.
On a more technical level, The Living Daylights is still excellent. It upholds many of the aspects I’ve come to love in Bond films, especially the action scenes. From the beginning of the scene in Gibraltar to the plane taking off in Afghanistan, the action scenes remain brilliantly shot and beautifully put together. Indeed, in some ways, this film has some of the best action of the series, particularly with the airplane in Afghanistan. They are a treat to watch, and certainly some of the highlights of the film.
John Rhys-Davies, though he may not appear as much as I’d like, also gives a fine performance, mixing in friendliness with hostility in a lovely commentary on British-Soviet relations. Even more fun, however, is Joe Don Baker as Brad Whitaker, a gun-toting weapons salesman. While he is a blatant parody of the American military-industrial complex, he is still fun, and one can derive rather a lot of satisfaction out of watching him fall. The same can be said of Jeroen Krabbe. His performance is hammy, but then, in a film as dark as The Living Daylights, it also provides some much needed comic relief.
Is The Living Daylights the best Bond film? Not at all. However, that does not preclude it from being an interesting watch, especially from a post-Cold War perspective. It has an interesting message about the future, and is an excellent action film in and of itself.Return to Bonding with Bond: Janneke Parrish Investigates an American Icon
June 30, 1987
2 hr. 10 min.
Action, Adventure, Romance
Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbe