Oh, so this is what it feels like to really, really love a James Bond movie! This is a feeling I haven’t felt since… Goldfinger?! Has it been that long?
Roger Moore is out, and it’s Timothy Dalton’s turn to don the tuxedo of 007 for 1987’s quasi-reboot of the franchise, The Living Daylights, which has quickly become one of my favorite Bond films of all time. Seriously, it’s right up there with the likes of Skyfall, Goldfinger, and Casino Royale. I may even like Dalton in the role more than Connery (though that could just be the relief of Roger Moore’s long-overdue exit talking).
The Living Daylights finally tosses (most) of the series’ campiness aside for a darker, grounded, thrilling, and character-driven espionage tale – and won me over in the opening sequence. The film feels like a more sleek version of the Connery films, and is exactly the kind of movie I needed after seven wacky Moore outings.
Dalton’s take on Bond is very much a precursor to what Daniel Craig would eventually bring to the table. He’s not as pervy, sex crazed, and cheesy as Moore’s Bond, and though he has the same toughness as Connery, he’s certainly more gruff and doesn’t quite have the same charisma. It’s a shame that he only did two films, because I really love what he’s done with the character here.
The Living Daylights doesn’t just ground itself when it comes to its humor; it’s story is far more believable and character-driven as well. Bond isn’t trying to save the world here, but is instead investigating the re-kidnapping of a Russian defector he had saved just two days prior. Along the way, he meets up with the General’s girlfriend, Kara Kilovy (Maryam d’Abo), a cellist who is unaware of the larger, more sinister things going on around her.
Bond has a great arc in this film – he begins with a cold professionalism, but develops a really great, genuine relationship with Kara. He’s not just trying to have sex with her, but is actually protective of her and spends a great deal of time getting to know her first. It starts as just a way to get some information on the General, but over time you can tell that he truly does care about Kara. This is a huge, welcome departure from the Moore films, and even some of what Connery was doing. It’s like this is the first James Bond who’s not overly sexual and actually respects women.
The film is definitely not without humor or goofy elements, but things that would have driven me crazy in a Moore film actually got genuine laughs out of me here. The biggest example of this is a scene where Kara and Bond escape a ski chase by using her cello case as a sled (and use her cello to steer) in order to make it across the border from Russia to Austria. I found the sequence inventive, and it had just the right amount of silliness to make it fun.
Halfway through my 007 Marathon I began to get a bit tired of the series, which had only gotten more ridiculous and formulaic as the years went on. Because of this, The Living Daylights is a great breath of fresh air, and a reminder that there are some truly great films in this long-running spy series. It’s definitely one of the few films I’ll revisit when I’m not watching all of them in a row.
Here’s to hoping that Dalton delivers some more of that magic in my next film: License to Kill.