Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Living Daylights

  After Roger's Moore's stint as Bond, the character was on the verge of running stale (and that's being generous, some would say it already had by the time he stepped down) there couldn't have been a better comeback than The Living Daylights. Timothy Dalton turns in the first all-around commendable performance as the titular MI6 agent since Connery. Lazenby had the good fortune of being in a good movie, but whether or not he was good... was and is, at least for me, debatable. Moore had a comfortability in his own notion of Bond that he wasn't eager to shake, even when the times called for it. Thus, we were graced with Dalton. Finally. In my humble opinion, for reasons I'll be sure to cover at length... The Living Daylights is one of the best 007 movies, hands down. Easily top 5 material.

  First and foremost, this is Timothy Dalton's debut. As far as debut movies go, his is probably the most thrilling thus far. Standing only second to the iconic status of Dr.No, The Living Daylights casts a rather large shadow over Live and Let Die and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Dalton plays Bond with an intensity that seems even more straight-laced than Connery. Bond is a new man here. Gone is the philandering playboy who's bedroom antics endlessly chewed into the run times, Dalton is the man of action that A View to A Kill so desperately needed. I'm sure that some fans missed Roger's laid-back approach to the character, but the movies were progressing and he wasn't. There is a time for everything and the 70's were Moore's era. Not the 80's. This is a James Bond that could survive in the era of Rambo and Commando.

  Besides that, Dalton plays a more serious Bond. Which is second only to how dark Daniel Craig managed to play the role. Sure, Dalton cracks wise here and there, but he doesn't keep the spoof-y game face on the entire time. He's capable of anger, and regret, a couple emotions that only found their way into Moore's movies maybe once or twice. This Bond is also much more of a thinker. The main plot of the movie involves Bond tracking down a Russian military defector who gets snatched back by the KGB. Bond ends up juggling several deceptions on all fronts as he slowly uncovers a plot far more sinister than just a botched defection. No matter what's going on, Bond is constantly thinking instead of just going through the paces.

  Of course it helps that Bond can multitask too because this one has a breakneck pace. Right away, the opening gambit has the double-o section engaging in a military efficiency game of sorts. They're tasked with penetrating a island fortress as part of their exercise. However, an enemy assassin with live rounds and deadly intent lurks on the island, systematically killing the double-o agents. Of course, James Bond is having none of this and chases the guy down, culminating in an explosive car chase with tons of glorious collateral damage and ending with a hell of a bang... and all this before the opening credits. It's one of my favorite openings out of the entire franchise. It not only sets the mood, but it manages to be a wonderfully exciting and self contained little action sequence that hardly needs context or knowledge of the franchise to enjoy.

  Even a non-Bond fan would be hard pressed to change the channel on this movie if he happened upon the opening on TV. The action gets rolling right away as Bond takes charge of an operation to oversee the defection of General Koskov. It's another thrilling sequence riding on the coattails of the opening, that only seems to lead into even more exciting scenes. The movie really doesn't let up. Even in it's 'down time', it's still moving forward. It's a 007 outing that belongs in the 80's action movie scene. In a good way though. It simply takes what we've loved about the movies so far, trims the fat, and streamlines it. It also doesn't try to include every single trope in the book. There are gadgets, sure, but they're practical (to an extent) and Dalton doesn't wholly rely on them either. They're sort of a last resort sort of thing. Except for the car... who doesn't want to see James Bond show off all the bells, whistles, and rockets in his brand new Aston Martin? Visually, one of the coolest looking Martin's in the franchise, second only to the DB5, and Dalton makes good use of it.

  I can't possibly go without mentioning Maryam D'abo as Bond Girl Kara Milovy. She's one of my favorite and most memorable in the franchise, in my opinion. She's less of a sexual object to be paraded around and swoon for Bond, and more of a real character caught up in this dangerous game of international espionage. She manages to balance fragility and naivete with a gutsy, take-charge attitude on par with Bond's. Maryam turns in a wonderful performance, that ends up both endearing and fun. Bond treats her like a person as well, we see him come to actually care about her, making every concession on her behalf and making an extra effort not to objectify her. Of course all this operates within the loose fitting confines of the typical Bond movie formula. A kissing session between the two was inevitable, yet it doesn't feel racy or salacious. It's, dare I say... romantic. The only downside to having such a character like this is that, as always, we know Bond's affection for her will only last for the one movie. Such a shame.

  The villains are intense, but are victim to the contemporary update of the character and his trappings. These guys aren't megalomaniacs or psychotics. They're greedy army generals and arms dealers. As far as bad guys go, they're well acted and fun to watch, but little more that pieces of the plot. Which in turn seems to exist only to usher in a slew of slick and well directed action scenes. This is not a bad thing really. With semi-lackluster villains like these, it's only fitting that the action itself compensate. Speaking of the action itself, all these sequences hold up incredibly well even in the face of eight more 007 movies, and any other modern day spy actioner. Especially the icy and explosive car chase with the Aston Martin. Nail-bitingly intense, and a huge big ball of fun- which can be said about the whole movie. The movie also has a slick and subdued sense of humor. It's comfortable with slight visual gags, but for the most part, the only funny thing about Dalton's turn as James Bond is that he only had two movies. Which is more of a bad joke than anything.

  Thankfully, the trademark wit and snappy discourse is still here, and aplenty at that. Dalton gives it his own brand, while managing to make it unmistakably... James Bond. In this movie, there's just literally no time to draw attention away from the action and espionage for silly jokes. Something which happened far too often in the Moore movies. Thankfully, it's all but absent here. The Living Daylights is a balls-to-bone action movie as only the 007 franchise can deliver. It's smart and quick-witted, but also full of excitement and thrills. As if that wasn't enough, it's well written, well acted and has Timothy Dalton as the best Bond since Sean Connery. You really shouldn't miss The Living Daylights. Public opinion of it and Dalton himself, at the time of it's release was mixed. As a result I feel like his movies never get enough appreciation. If you're interested in digging into the franchise again, or for the first time, The Living Daylights is an indisputable must-see.

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