Rewatching the James Bond films chronologically. One of the reasons I’m doing these Bond blogs is to see whether the series holds up as a singular saga instead of just stand-alone films. The other reason I’m doing this is to rediscover the Timothy Dalton Bonds. The Dalton fans are a passionate, passionate bunch, often arguing that T-Daltz is the best Bond EVAH!!! Is that really the case? Is Dalton really as badass as the fans say? Let’s check out 1987’s The Living Daylights.
Blond blurb: When helping a Russian official defect, Bond refuses to kill a female sniper. He says it’s because she’s not a professional, and he investigates who she is. Meanwhile, the sinister General Pushkin is still after the defector, and has a plan involving weapons smuggling, diamond smuggling, and drug smuggling. But Pushkin’s not the real mastermind. He’s being bossed around by international arms dealer Whitaker, the one really pulling the strings.
Bond background: The opening scene has Bond and some of the other 00 agents in a training exercise that goes wrong. We know so little about the other 00s. We saw their backs briefly in Thunderball, and there have been fleeting references to them elsewhere, but this is the first time we’ve seen them in any real action. Are we to assume they’re off having crazy adventures like Bond is, or is Bond special somehow?
Bond babes: The mystery assassin a cellist, Mary, who’s not an assassin at all, but the defector’s lover. She eventually succumbs to Bond’s charms, of course, after learning the defection was staged. They try to play it both ways, in that she’s both an ordinary woman caught up in international intrigue, but also a tough girl with sniper rifle. She acts all innocent, but she can’t be if she’s shooting at people, stunt driving, and stunt horseback riding. Improbably, her cello features into the plot in key ways, making it like a character in the movie.
Bond baddies: We’ve got multiple villains in this one. MST3K’s favorite punching bag Joe Don Baker plays Whitaker, and the always great John Rhys-Davies plays Pushkin. The phony defector stays involved, and let’s not forget Necros, the ruthless Aryan who kills and murders his way through the whole movie.
Bond best brains: Lots of gadgets in this one. Bond’s keychain contains whistle-activated stun gas and explosives. Bond’s car is ‘roided up with missiles and an incredibly cheesy laser beam. The Russian defector gets out by riding a rocket through a Soviet pipeline into Vienna, where he’s greeted by Q. There’s another trip through Q’s wacky workshop, with the famous “ghetto blaster” gag.
Bond bash-ups: The opening has some great stunts with Bond hanging onto the top of a truck as it speeds around some narrow roads. A car chase takes us off the roads and out onto the ice. This leads to the movie’s hokiest scene, in which Bond and Mary escape skiing henchmen by sliding down a snowy mountainside on her cello case. Seriously? The big set piece has Bond dangling from a bomb that’s dangling off the back of an airplane, only to have him and Mary escape the airplane by parachuting a jeep out of it. It’s absurd in its incredulity. The final showdown between Whitaker and Bond is a one-on-one shootout in Whitaker’s war room, surrounded by all his models of famous battles. I guess this a metaphor, showing that his fight with Bond is playing out on the world stage? It’s an anticlimactic end after all the airplane craziness.
Bond baggage: The Cold War was winding down by 1987, but in this movie it’s still on in a big way, with a lot of paranoia about the KGB and the Soviets. Afghanistan rebels are shown fighting the Russians, making them “good guys.” This is something I don’t think we’re going to see much of in today’s action movies. Oh, and everyone’s calling each other on their giant Zack Morris cell phones.
Bond babble: Rumor has it that Dalton came into the series hoping to play a serious, edgier Bond. That makes sense, because underneath the charm and cool, Bond is dangerous and should be feared. So Dalton brings a lot of “he can kill you at any time” edginess to his performance. Unfortunately, the filmmakers still think they’re making a cartoon comedy Roger Moore movie, so there are still puns and slapstick. There a lot of fun parts, but the tone is way off. The good news is, we’re not done with Dalton yet.
Next week: Revocation.
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