Thursday, March 21, 2013

"50 Years of Bond" Retrospective - #15: The Living Daylights

Roger Moore concluded his time as Bond on a weak note with A View to a Kill, and is currently regarded for playing 007 the most times in any of the EON produced films with a total of 7 (I’m not including Connery’s non-official canon Never Say Never Again). Suddenly, the studio made a turnaround. Rather than focus on hit and miss campiness, they finally did what they should have done. Give the series a legitimately gritty tone. But who would play Bond? The studio decided on Shakespearean thespian Timothy Dalton. If you don’t know who Dalton is… watch Hot Fuzz, because he’s terrific in that. You may also know him for prestigious roles such as Alexei Volkoff and Mr. Pricklepants. All introductions aside, The Living Daylights was the right way to start off a new era.

In the beginning of Bond’s new mission, he aids in the escape of defecting KGB agent Koskov, who informs the MI6 of an operation codenamed in Russian, meaning “Death to Spies.” Koskov is later abducted, leading Bond to track him down in Tangier, where the operation head, General Pushkin, resides. All the while, he teams up with a cellist, who is hinted at being Koskov’s girlfriend, leading all the way into locations like Afghanistan, meeting pre-Gimli John Rhys-Davies, and even get to enjoy the view in a Ferris wheel.

After some very loony mentalities behind the creation of the last few films, it’s nice to see a Bond film that really takes itself seriously again. The film is once again directed by John Glen, but the film is so well put together that I question if it’s even him, or if it’s just someone wearing his skin. Whatever the case, this gets right back to the style of Bond that I like to see. It doesn’t have quite the same exciting bite as Goldfinger, and it does have a few absurd moments and slight narrative missteps, but for the most part, it’s really restrained, much more gritty than most of its predecessors, and makes the most of its exciting set pieces. And after the horrible mash up of ideas in A View to a Kill, the title song performed by A-Ha feels much more fitted to the film.

As for Dalton, he may not be quite as charming as early Connery or Moore, but I think that’s honestly for the better. For a movie to take itself seriously, the characters must also take themselves seriously. It’s much more fitted to the darker tone present throughout, but that doesn’t mean it’s a completely changed Bond, as he still does use his own unique charm and sense of humor to his advantage, and it doesn’t hurt that he shares the screen with one of the best Bond girls ever put on screen, and he gets to face off against some great, memorable villains.

This was just the right kick that EON needed. It received positive notices, it was a hit at the box office, and it’s one of the more fondly regarded Bond films. It may not have been quite as light as many of the other classics in the franchise, but I think that it was the best decision the studio could have made. However, not every era could last. Connery and Moore had each lasted for quite a long time as the character, but in the case of Dalton, It seemed his time would be finished before it even began.

**** / *****

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