With a new lead actor in Timothy Dalton, the franchise reinvents itself. The Living Daylights sees Bond involved in the murky world of Cold War espionage as he investigates a recently defected Soviet general’s abduction by the KGB.
In my early twenties, for a period of about six months, I was too skint for food and was forced to live on a diet consisting of porridge and black tea. Twice a day I’d boil up some water, add most of it to some oats, the rest to a teabag, and suck back this bland demoralising gruel until the next time I needed some nutrition. It was a thoroughly depressing existence. When I finally managed to dig myself out of my financial hole the first thing I did was buy a pepperoni pizza. Tasting the hot, gooey cheese and salty, chewy meat on that pizza was such a joyous experience that it nearly brought a tear to my eye. I’d forgotten just how good food could be. Which is kind of how I felt when I watched Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights. After seven films of tasteless slop from Roger Moore, I’d forgotten how much I loved Bond.
Shorn of the campy silliness that dogged much of Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond, The Living Daylights is a sleeker, meaner beast. Dalton’s spy is a ruthless, hard-eyed bastard living in a world of double cross and death. Taking its cues from contemporary action films, the violence is grittier and with a greater sense of impact, while the plot is rooted in a recognisable reality of shady deals and political wrangling. Assigned with protecting a Soviet general during his defection to the West, Bond is stunned to discover that the sniper he must kill is the beautiful cellist he saw playing in an orchestra. When the newly defected Russian claims that a high ranking KGB agent has reactivated the elite assassination squad SMERSH, Bond’s investigation takes him through central Europe, Tangiers and eventually to a war-torn Afghanistan caught up in a conflict between the Red Army and the Mujahideen. The change in tone from A View to a Kill is neckbreakingly severe; so much so that it’s hard to believe both films were written and directed by the same people with only a two year gap between them.
Famously The Living Daylights is the first film in the series to have been made in a post-AIDS world. The result is a monogamous Bond who slowly develops a sexual relationship with the female lead Kara. It’s a welcome change from the incessant leering and lechery found in Moore’s films where every woman onscreen was the victim of an embarrassing quip or eyebrow raising ogle. Instead, Dalton’s Bond is slow to warm to Kara, initially unsure of her allegiances, using his relationship with her to gain information before finally allowing himself to be attracted to her. The way that Bond views Kara as a tool to be used to help accomplish his mission, a means to an end rather than a real person, is perhaps closest to Fleming’s version of the character; a nasty guy who does cruel things to people in order to achieve his goals.
Dark, violent, exotic, glamorous and sexy The Living Daylights sees Bond return to his former glory, and all with a modern spin that feels a million miles from the disgusting polyester excess of Roger Moore.
Bond theme: Getting Norwegian boy band A-ha to record the title track reeks of faddism, and this transparent attempt at appealing to a younger crowd results in a fairly lightweight song. Not particularly memorable, it sounds more like a bland 80s pop tune than a classic Bond theme.
Glamorous Locations: Beginning in Cold War era Bratislava, the action swiftly moves to Vienna where Bond must evade some enemy agents and pose as a friend of dodgy Russian general Koskov to gain the trust of his mistress. From there Bond travels to Morocco where he engages in a rooftop foot chase over the streets of Tangier a good twenty years before Jason Bourne did it in The Bourne Ultimatum. Finally, Bond winds up in Afghanistan where he joins forces with the local Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet army.
Girls: Bond is practically chaste in this one. His interest in Kara – the beautiful but naive cellist that’s unknowingly involved in all sorts of dodgy shenanigans – is, at least to start with, entirely strategic. Apart from a little bit of flirting with a woman in the pre-credit sequence and his customary sexy banter with Moneypenny, Dalton doesn’t really spend too much time chasing after ladies. It’s actually quite refreshing to see.
Gadgets: During his trip to Q Branch Bond is given a bumper crop of toys to play with. His key ring is able to explode or emit a tranquiliser gas when activated with a whistle, a gadget that seems to come in handy several times in this adventure. Best of all though is his new Aston Martin, the first in a while, after Bond switched to driving a Lotus in the 70s. Much like the famous car in Goldfinger, the car is tricked out with all sorts of crazy weapons and gadgets including a laser cutter, missile launcher and turbo booster. The car chase through a snowy Austria is a real joy.
Classic moment: After discovering that a corrupt faction in the KGB is selling heroin to fund off the book arms deals, Bond decides to destroy the opium. Stuck on board a plane loaded up with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of drugs, a ticking C4 timebomb and an enemy assassin, Bond gets into a brutal fist fight that spills out of the plane and into the skies as the two combatants continue their battle while hanging onto a billowing net trailing from the rear of the aircraft.
Low point: It’s slightly dodgy to have Bond operating in a real life conflict. By trying to paint the Soviet/Afghan conflict of the 80s as black and white, we’re left with the slightly troubling notion that since the Mujahideen warriors are fighting the Soviets they must be a group of super cool dudes. They weren’t. In real life the West’s support of the Mujahideen had a hideous knock-on effect in the Afghan region, the consequences of which are still rumbling on today.
TELSTAR’S BIG BOND COUNTDOWN WILL RETURN WITH… LICENCE TO KILL