IT'S THE ONE WHERE
James Bond is called in to assist shady Russian general Georgi Koskov in his defection to the West. The general claims to have valuable information for British intelligence, but he barely gets to safe ground, before he's kidnapped, presumably by some angry Russians. MI6 believes that another Russian general, Pushkin, is involved, but Bond suspects otherwise, so instead he follows his only lead: A beautiful cello player, who assisted Koskov with his initial escape. Soon the plot thickens, when it turns out that a less than reliable arms dealer, Brad Whitaker, is also involved.
Of course Bond flirts with Moneypenny, the secretary, but also finds the time to nail the aforementioned cello player and a random brunette on a boat. This is also the movie where Bond heads to Afghanistan and strikes a deal with the local rebels, the Mujahideen. We also get another stellar title song, this time from Norwegian band A-ha.
THE SECRET PLOT TO RULE THE WORLD AWARD GOES TO...
No one! Although one of the bad guys briefly mentions a war between the Americans and the Russians, nobody seems all that concerned about it.
The arms dealer Whitaker is a jackass who just wants to make a lot of money, and General Koskov appears to be an opportunist, who just wants to live the good life, and doesn't really care who pays for it. The most scary character here is actually the tall, blond henchman, played by Andreas Wisniewski from Die Hard.
Another Bond movie, another Bond actor... Since Roger Moore was more or less a pile of dust by the end of the previous film, the producers went looking for a younger, better Bond. They found Timothy Dalton - a good, solid choice. Of course Dalton looks the part, but he also seems determined and lethal in a way Connery and Moore never were. And then there's the fact that he doesn't need a wheelchair to get around. It's win-win on all counts.
The fifteenth 007 adventure starts off with a familiar idea: A training mission. This one goes horribly wrong though, but gives Dalton a chance to show off his action-muscles even before the opening titles. There's a great chase sequence, where Bond is hanging on to a burning truck with explosives, and we haven't even been properly introduced yet!
The central plot is always the big issue with these films. Most of the previous entries are just pure nonsense, the Roger Moore efforts more so than the others. The Living Daylight takes a step back and gives us a slightly traditional, but rather pleasing defection story, with plenty of double-crossing along the way to keep us entertained. It might seem slightly contrived at times, but once you realize that it's not really important who all the other characters are working for, as long as Bond is still on our side, you'll be okay.
Thankfully the humor has been dialed way back, almost to zero, and that simple fact makes the film better on every level. The slapstick action scenes from Moore are almost gone, and Connery's sloppy investigations are but a faint memory. So even if we get a silly snow-bound car chase, where Bond eventually is forced to make his escape using a cello case as a sled, the film still feels grounded in reality. Well, at least compared to the rest of the franchise.
If I have to raise a concern with the film, it's the lack of a proper villain. John Rhys-Davies is cool and scary as Pushkin, but the two other bad guys - Jeroen Krabbé's Koskov and Joe Don Baker's Whitaker - are both buffoons and never really seem like proper threats. On the plus side their plan seems realistic and does not actually involve world domination. When we get down to basics, they just want to get rich in a jiffy.
This eventually leads us to a solid final act, where Bond and the cello player interrupt a massive Opium deal, with the assistance of an Afghan resistance fighter (played by go-to Arab Art Malik). The film should have gone out on a high note and ended after this, but tags on an unconvincing final showdown with one of the bad guys, which is a shame.
The Living Daylights is perhaps a bit too conventional at times, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. The change of pace from the Moore films is unmeasurable and it's such a relief. 007 once again acts like an agent who actually needs that licence to kill. Gosh, can you imagine what would happen if he lost it?