The most commonly cited criticism against Dalton is that his two outings don’t feel like Bond movies. That’s debatable for ‘License to Kill’ – and I’ll have that debate in about ten days time when I review it – but I just don’t see where said criticism can be levelled against ‘The Living Daylights’. If ever a cinematic outing for Ian Fleming’s immortal creation had “Bond movie” written all over it, it’s ‘The Living Daylights’.
Like ‘For Your Eyes Only’, ‘Octopussy’ and ‘A View to a Kill’, it takes its title from one of Fleming’s short stories. Unlike ‘AVtaK’ – and to a considerably greater extent than ‘FYEO’ and ‘Octopussy’ – it retains a fidelity to the source material that hadn’t been seen in a Bond movie since, arguably, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. Fleming’s story – published as part of a slim posthumous collection – has Bond contracted to the dirty job of gunning down a Russian sniper in order to safeguard a defector. Forced to work with an obsequious head of station, and discovering the sniper to be an attractive woman posing as a cellist, Bond disobeys orders and merely wounds the girl instead of shooting to kill and the story ends with his career in the balance as his superior insists on reporting him.
Koskov’s snatch-back is assumed to have been authorised by General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) and M instructs Bond to terminate him. This is the second affront against British intelligence, following the murder of two Double-O operatives during a training exercise on Gibraltar. (Does all this seem a bit harder and more cynical than the last few outings? Hell yeah, baby!) Bond reluctantly accepts the mission, but first pursues his own investigation by tracking down the glamorous sniper – cellist Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo) – whom he wounded but refused to gun down earlier.
Blithely posing as a friend of Koskov’s, with whom he has discovered she is involved, Bond persuades Kara to leave the Eastern bloc with him (prompting an ice-bound chase scene that ends with the rather improbable use of Kara’s cello case and her beloved Stradivarius taking a bullet) as he tracks down Pushkin and discovers that Koskov’s motives are becoming more and more deceitful.
‘The Living Daylights’ lets Bond do some spying. It leaves him in the dark for a while vis-à-vis the plethora of double- and triple-crosses playing out in the background. It keeps him on his feet and tests his wits. These are all positive attributes. And it manages these things while remembering to dish up some big-budget action: the ballsy Gibraltar pre-credits sequence in which Bond’s first bit of hand-to-hand sees him headbutt an antagonist; the aforementioned wintry chase scene involving some ‘Goldfinger’-like modifications to a cool-as-fuck Aston Martin; Bond hooking up with some Mujahideen freedom fighters (essentially making this the ‘Rambo III’ of Bond movies; oh, how the political landscape has changed!) to attack a Russian air force base; and Bond’s vertiginous duel with Necros inside (and outside) a military aircraft with a ticking bomb on board.
On the minus side, however, the globe-trotting is excessive (Czechoslovakia, Austria, Tangier, Afghanistan, Bond hopping between locations as if attached to a globe-spanning bungee cord), the plot threatens to get a little too labyrinthine at times, and the film juggles its plethora of villains – including Joe Don Baker as an arms dealer with a war-games fetish – as if indecisive as to which one is 007’s actual nemesis. The final confrontation thus comes as something of an anti-climax, particularly after the extended Bond-goes-jihad/airbase-gets-blown-to-hell/bomb-on-a-plane set-piece. The ushering in of a new Miss Moneypenny is also something of a let-down: no disrespect to Caroline Bliss – she’s easy on the eye and brings an admixture of playfulness and intelligence to the part – but (a) it was never going to be easy stepping into Lois Maxwell’s shoes (Maxwell had been, until ‘AVtaK’, the only person to appear in every official Bond movie); and (b) the script gives her absolutely bugger all to work with. Which is shame, given how effectively Maibaum and Wilson had striven to introduce a new Bond.
ADDENDUM: Since I went live with this review, it's been pointed out to me that 'A View to a Kill' was actually the first Bond movie not to trailer the next film's title. My bad. I'd ejected the disc as soon as the credits rolled on 'AVtaK' and taken myself off to a public house to wash the memory of the film away. The paragraph of strikethrough above essentially leaves this review somewhat unconcluded. Ah, well, them's the breaks. The Agitation of the Mind will return ...