The Bond Movie Series: The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights

Timothy Dalton was originally offered the role of James Bond back when Sean Connery made his first departure from the series. Dalton backed out, however, feeling that he was too young at the time (resulting in George Lazenby’s infamous one-time turn as 007). Twenty years later, after Roger Moore officially aged out of his tenure as James Bond, the role again came Dalton’s way. This time he accepted.

Timothy DaltonDon’t get too used to him, though. He’ll only have one more appearance as 007 before those pesky legal troubles that plague the franchise come back, completely stalling the next movie for six years. By the time the franchise was ready to go again, Dalton would move on and Pierce Brosnan (who had to back out of playing Bond here because of commitments to his TV show Remington Steele) would step in. Even though his tenure is short, Dalton is popularly remembered far more fondly than Lazenby. Personally, though, I feel like Dalton never quite got the role he was supposed to be playing.

Dalton feels fitting as a man of action. He’s suave and debonair and handsome. The problem is that he frequently seems to think he’s starring as the hero in romance films. His Bond is a romantic softy, and those are qualities that just doesn’t fit our hero. The way he stares at his Bond Girl with dewy-eyed affection just doesn’t make sense. Even Roger Moore understood that James Bond is kind of a dick. Another problem is that he fails to sell the comedic aspects of the role. Remember, camp was a mainstay of the franchise at this point. Dalton just didn’t seem comfortable with it; he’d have been much more at home with the series after it was reinvigorated as a grittier action series. Except for his predilection for romantic heroism, that is.

If we’re rating Bonds on a shallow level, Dalton would be the second-least attractive actor to don the tuxedo–a fact that says a lot, considering Dalton is a handsome man. Who comes in last, you ask? Roger Moore, of course. He made up for it with personality, but there it is.

The Living Daylights PosterThe Living Daylights (1987)

Things aren’t what they seem (are they ever?) when James Bond is assigned to oversee the defection of Soviet General Koskov. It starts promisingly enough when 007 foils an assassination attempt by a comely female cellist/sniper (you read that correctly). Bond spares her life because reasons, then gets Koskov to a safe house, where Q delights everyone with his incredibly racist new gadget: the Ghetto Blaster. Anyway, that’s where things begin to unravel, after a mysterious blonde guy who listens to far too much Pretenders music invades the safe house and manages to kidnap Koskov.

Of course, 007 begins his investigation by tracking down the cellist sniper, Kara Milovy. Turns out, Koskov used the sniper cellist (his girlfriend) to fake a KGB attack that would make his defection seem real. Now poor little Milovy is stuck waiting for Koskov to come for her, without realizing she was just a pawn. So of course, Bond takes her on a series of misadventures in which she plays the role of bumbling woman in a romantic comedy. Because reasons.

Cello SledOh, and 007 escapes the KGB with Milovy by sledding down a hill and across the border in her cello case. I wish I were kidding.

Anyway, turns out that blonde henchman, Necros, actually works for Koskov. Both are simultaneously colluding with the deranged arms dealer Brad Whitaker because reasons. 007 uncovers the relationship with the help of a fellow agent, Saunders, who is promptly killed with an automatic door Necros rigged (yes, seriously) to help frame KGB agent Pushkin (because with Pushkin out of the way something something Soviet invasion of Afghanistan).

Confused yet?

To make it worse, Bond then fakes Pushkin’s death for reasons that totally make sense (not). Then Milovy manages to contact Koskov, who tells her to drug 007 so he can capture him. Something about diamond smuggling, Koskov betrays Milovy (who now swears her allegiance to James because men are total pigs, right?). Bond and Milovy escape and are taken in by Afghan militia men (?), who help them fight back against Koskov when he shows up to trade the diamonds for opium (because this movie needed another black market item to throw into the mix after weapons, diamonds, and human organs were already used).

The Afghans fight Koskov’s men on the ground while 007 attempts to drive away with their opium in an aircraft that only moves at about five miles per hour on the ground, bless his sweet heart. He finally takes off only when another plane lands on the runway and threatens to crash into him (and after Milovy and Necros make it on board, because of course someone needs to get thrown off the plane). Necros is dispatched, and 007 and Milovy narrowly escape with their lives after she accidentally almost steers them into a mountain. Hey, flying a plane is hard, you know. The mountain totally came out of nowhere. Then they run out of fuel and narrowly escape with their lives again when the plane goes into free fall and 007 drives a car out of the back of the plane just before it crashes. The Fast and Furious movies would be proud.

PushkinBut wait! We’re not done yet. 007 goes after Koskov, but kills Whitaker instead. Pushkin shows up, takes Koskov into custody (possibly killing him off camera, which would be so Shakespeare), and agrees to let Milovy defect to realize her dream of playing her bullet-riddled cello at Carnegie Hall while armed Afghan militia men storm the lobby to see her performance and 007 waits in her dressing room with martinis like a creep.

I’m sure you can tell by now that I didn’t like this installment at all. It’s not a disaster of Moonraker proportions by any stretch, but it is overly complicated, the ending is a let-down, and the plot seems confused about whether or not it wants to be an action movie or a romantic comedy. And it must be said: the whole reveal where the guy you thought was your ally is your enemy, and the guy you thought was your enemy is your ally, was done way better in For Your Eyes Only. A movie that also had a good Bond Girl, by the way. This whole affair is just sad.

MoneypennyNotable Moments: In addition to Dalton taking his first whack at 007, Caroline Bliss makes her debut as Moneypenny. The character takes a real ding in the dignity department without Lois Maxwell, who flirted with 007 without seeming sad. Bliss takes on the role looking like a sexy librarian because of course. While her flirting is up to par, there’s a desperation for Bond’s manhood that never seeped into Maxwell’s performances. That desperation would only get worse when Samantha Bond arrived alongside Pierce Brosnan, prompting producers to nix the character completely when they revamped the series with Daniel Craig. Until, that is, Naomi Harris was brought in to give Moneypenny her due. But I digress.

We also have the first genuine appearances of nudity in the Bond franchise (lady boobs and man butts!).

Meanwhile, this would be the last Bond film to be scored by John Barry. This would also be the last movie in the Bond franchise to be named for an actual 007 novel or short story until Casino Royale in 2006.

Gadgets: Aside from the oh-so-racist Ghetto Blaster (a rocket launcher hidden in a boom box)? Let’s see. 007 has lasers that shoot out of his car’s hubcap to incapacitate other vehicles on the road. He also has car keys that knock out the person holding them when he whistles.

Kara MilovyBond Girl: Oh puh-lease. Maryam d’Abo is a very lucky woman. Why, you ask? Because if Mary Goodnight, Christmas Jones, and Stacy Sutton didn’t exist, Kara Milovy would easily be the worst Bond Girl on record. That’s like winning a bronze medal at the Olympics because someone poisoned all the good athletes. After the first half hour, it doesn’t even make sense for her to be in the movie. If not for the way she gets tricked into drugging 007 for Koskov, she’d serve literally no purpose at all after that. She’s useless for information, she’s useless in a fight, and she’s useless for driving the plot forward. And the “acting,” oh dear, the “acting.” Miss d’Abo can’t fake a Russian accent to save her life, to say nothing of the incredible, vast nothing that is her chemistry with Timothy Dalton. I mean, this is a Bond Girl that attempts to fly a plane completely unaware that she’s steering them into a giant-ass mountain. Seriously. Allow me to reenact a scene that played out with my husband Joel while we were watching:


Joel: Well, neither did John Denver.

Touche, Joel. Touche.

KoskovSupporting Bond Girl: None. Oddly enough, Felix Leiter has two Bond girls in this outing, but in the spirit of the weird romantic vibe here, Bond only has eyes for Kara Milovy. Ugh. Of all the Bond Girls in all the world, she’s the one who deserved the whole spotlight the least.

Villain: A category that is not only a muddle, but boring. As it was in Octopussy,it isn’t exactly clear which villain is supposed to grab the top spot. I guess we give it to General Koskov, played by Jeroen Krabbé, because he’s more integral to the plot (and he has such thick, lustrous hair), but Joe Don Baker‘s Whitaker seems to be the one pulling the strings. Either way, it’s sad. Koskov is more of a petulant middleman than a diabolical genius. He doesn’t even do any of the confrontation. Snooze. Whitaker has a touch of the requisite insanity (and menace), but ultimately it’s reduced to Civil War reenactments, basically. So, yeah. Snooze.

NecrosHenchman: If we take Brad Whitaker out of the equation (at least because we already talked about him in the Villain category), we’re left with Necros, Koskov’s Pretenders-loving muscle man. And I do mean muscle man. Played by Andreas Wisniewski, Necros is pretty much your standard blonde, Germanic henchman and that’s it. He looks good in a banana hammock, but that’s about all you can say about him. And he isn’t even the first henchman who can make that claim.

Theme Song: Full disclosure: I actually like this song, but in my defense the version of A-Ha‘s “The Living Daylights” I have on my iPhone sounds different. The sound is better and the production quality is way higher. I don’t even know how that would happen. The version you hear in the actual movie is just sad, which is a shame because the regular one has some serious 80s camp appeal. Hiring A-Ha was another pretty blatant attempt to lure in the MTV generation after Duran Duran’s theme for A View to a Kill. Producers would drop that tactic rather abruptly in the next movie.

Further confusing matters, producers originally hired The Pretenders, who recorded two songs for the cover slot, only to have both rejected in favor of A-Ha. Hollywood can be cruel. To make it up, Necros was given a bizarre fixation with the two rejected Pretenders songs, which he constantly listens to on his Walkman. One of the rejected songs plays over the end credits instead of “The Living Daylights,” and in several scenes the Pretenders songs are adapted for background music–something usually only done with the main theme.

Iconic Moment: There really isn’t much of one. Go figure.

Grades: Movie: 2/5; Bond Girl: 1.5/5; Villain: 1/5; Henchman: 3/5; Song: 3/5

You can find links to all the Bond movie reviews as well as ‘Best of’ and ‘Worst of’ lists on my Bond Project page. Up next: Licence to Kill.

Bonus photos:


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