The bi-annual Bond film has appeared again, and, thankfully, it's a great improvement on the last few. The Living Daylights is the best Bond film since For Your Eyes Only, and, before that, one would have to go all the way back to the Sean Connery films to find its equal. Albert Broccoli and John Glen have revitalized the Bond formula by refusing to continue the game of self-one-upsmanship that had reduced the series to near-farce. Instead, they have returned to the strengths of the first few films - semi-believable plots, reliance on Bond rather than on special effects, and a serious tone lightened by occasional humor, rather than self-parody occasionally flirting with reality.
The major reason for this return to the old ways is the new James Bond, Timothy Dalton. Dalton is probably closer to the Bond created by Ian Fleming than any of his predecessors. He not only makes the action believable (which Roger Moore rarely did), and projects the debonair attitude that is so vital to the Bond mystique, but he also manages to show some of the tension underneath. Roger Moore's Bond went through some of the most hideous ordeals without ever showing any sign that he was deeply affected by them. Perhaps a slight expression of concern when the going got particularly rough, and a minute suggestion of relief when he escaped an unusually fiendish trap, but, after that, the experience was completely behind him, and as good as forgotten. Moore's Bond had no more history than the typical figure in a video arcade game, and rather less than some of those.
Dalton, on the other hand, shows that being an undercover agent isn't all a bed of roses. His is the first on-screen Bond who gives any hint that the character could flirt on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Not to say that he doesn't show suitable aplomb in the face of danger, but you can't help but feel that it all *does* mean something to him, and isn't just a game that he knows he's destined to win.
The newly serious character is backed by a much more plausible plot than is typically used in a Bond film. For the first time in quite a while, one might actually have the film spoiled by hearing too much about the plot. Suffice it to say that it borders on the credible, and is not nearly as cataclysmic as A View to a Kill or The Spy Who Loved Me. Richard Maibaum (whose association with Bond films goes all the way back to Dr. No) and Michael G. Wilson, who wrote the script, provide Bond with a nice selection of witty lines and neat gadgets, again not as broad as in the recent films. Bond jokes when it's appropriate, but the jokes fit within the story. One joke is even thrown away, going almost unnoticed by the audience, thereby making the point that we are watching James Bond relieving the tension with a quip, rather than Timothy Dalton straining for a few cheap yocks.
Director John Glen started off as a second unit director, specializing in action sequences, before graduating to the full directing duties. Glen has directed all of the Bond films since For Your Eyes Only (not counting Never Say Never Again, of course). He's done a particularly good job with The Living Daylights, especially with the action sequences. Glen seems to have been inspired here more by the Indiana Jones school of stunt and action work than by the previous Bond films. He tends to have the danger and intensity build, trying hard to give a sense of true risk, rather than merely dazzle us with the technical brilliance of a stunt. The opening sequence keynotes this change: instead of something like a plane flying vertically through a closing hanger door, or having Bond parachute off a glacier, The Living Daylights opens with a sequence relying primarily on that oldest of action settings, a car chase. Skillful editing and direction make it far more exciting than the earlier stunts, which tended to provoke applause rather than tension. Glen and company follow through with this approach throughout.
As has been the tendency in the last few Bond films, a fair number of well known actors show up in supporting roles. John Rhys Davies appears as a Russian general, Joe Don Baker has an unexpectedly small role as an arms dealer, and Art Malik finally shows up as an Afghan rebel. All do what is expected of them, without any flashes of brilliance. Jeroen Krabbe, as another Russian general, does perhaps a little too much of what is expected of him. Maryam d'Abo joins the list of unknown actresses who have played female leads in Bond films. She's beautiful, and responds well to menace, but doesn't seem likely to have a brilliant future. Several of the usual supporting players show up, doing what they usually do. The new Miss Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) doesn't hold up the tradition as well as the old one, though.
The technical work on The Living Daylights is a demonstration of state-of-the-craft, rather than state-of-the-art. All areas demonstrate a high degree of professionalism, without ever moving beyond into innovation. The only exception is the cinematography, which gives one or two very well conceived shots. Maurice Binder's credits are a particularly weak effort by him, and the title song is one of the worst ever written for a Bond film. The rest of the John Barry score is a serviceable one, but breaks no new ground.
The Living Daylights should appeal strongly to those who have spent years yearning for the Bond of yore. People who actually liked Roger Moore's Bond (and there must be a lot of them, considering how much money his films made) will probably be disappointed that The Living Daylights isn't that sort of film at all. It is a bit long, and would probably have played better ten minutes shorter, and Dalton doesn't seem to have completely settled into the role. On the whole, though, The Living Daylights is an encouraging addition to the Bond series.
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