License to Review #15: The Living Daylights (1987)

James Bond will return to cinemas this November with his twenty-fifth adventure, No Time to Die. In preparation, David Alkhed will take a look at all the previous entries in the franchise and see which ones are deserving of praise (shaken) and which ones aren’t (stirred).

After A View to a Kill, Roger Moore finally threw in the towel (both literally and figuratively) as James Bond, so it was time once again for another reinterpretation of the character. This lead to a widespread search for an actor who could successfully continue the franchise yet also differentiate himself from Moore’s iconic run. Actors such as Sam Neill, future Bond-actor Pierce Brosnan and even Mad Max himself Mel Gibson were considered for the role before Albert Broccoli finally decided on Welsh stage actor Timothy Dalton. An inspired choice considering Dalton’s relative lack of fame, but Dalton was enthusiastic to take on the role, and the decision was made early on to move back to the tone of the novels as opposed to the tone of the last few Moore films. The result became one of the best films in the franchise, with 1987’s The Living Daylights.

James Bond helps a KGB officer defect from the Eastern Bloc to the West, only for said officer to be kidnapped by what turns out to be a major American arms dealer named Whitaker. Bond also finds himself the target of a KGB hit list ordered by a Russian general named Pushkin, but Bond is suspicious that Pushkin is behind this and decides to investigate the whole matter alongside a beautiful cellist named Kara.

If I have any criticisms of the film in general, it’s that I found the plot a tad bit confusing at times because of the many twists and turns of the story. Not saying it wasn’t interesting, but I think perhaps some tweaks and adjustments could’ve been made to make it a little easier to follow, but then again this is a fairly minor criticism of the film as it remains an excellent piece of entertainment.

The first thing that distinguishes The Living Daylights from the get-go from previous iterations is that it’s one of the darker films in the franchise. I say darker and not darkest because you can really only go so far with a James Bond film in terms of how gritty and realistic you can make it. But I think Broccoli, director John Glen, writers Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson and Dalton do a great job with their new take.

And speaking of Dalton, I think he’s excellent in the role of Bond. He might actually be in my top three favorite Bonds, or even my top two, as I think the only serious contender for the top slot is Daniel Craig. What I like the most about Dalton’s Bond is how he effectively humanises the character much more than any previous adaptations had done up until that point and brings genuine depth to his portrayal. He doesn’t spend half the movie uttering awful puns or simping martinis or seducing women, but makes him human whilst also reminding us that Bond as Ian Fleming envisioned him is a rather ruthless and cynical hitman/secret agent and that’s much more to my liking.

Another great thing about this movie is the titular theme song performed by my neighboring country’s own A-ha. It’s a real catchy pop tune that moves at a brisk pace and compliments the tone of the film and Dalton’s portrayal of Bond quite well.

So despite a plot that’s a little too complicated than it needs to be, this is a great Bond film with great action scenes, theme song and a great performance from Dalton. So The Living Daylights is most certainly a wonderfully shaken film.


James Bond will return in License to Kill, and trust me, I’m indeed licensed to review it.

Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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