Plot Quality: The Living Daylights begins with a bit of intrigue. During a mock 00-operative invasion of Gibraltar, some bad guy kills 004 and then nearly kills Bond. This leads to the discovery of something called Smert Spionam (“Death to Spies”). The scene then shifts to Czechoslovakia, where 007 has been assigned to protect KGB General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), who is planning to defect. Bond shoots the female cellist (Maryam d’Abo) who was assigned to assassinate Koskov if he tries to flee. But Bond doesn’t kill her because he recognizes her as an amateur. Bond then smuggles Koskov out of Czechoslovakia into Austria through a pipeline. This is the best part of the film, even though it is a small idea involving few people, low stakes and confined sets. It also involves an annoying trope – the inept bureaucrat who despises Bond being called in to handle “his” operation.
Bond is ordered to kill Pushkin to stop this Smert Spionam operation and avenge the death of 004. Bond, however, decides that Pushkin would not have ordered this operation, so he confronts Pushkin, who tells Bond that Koskov is under investigation for embezzlement, which makes Bond realize the defection was faked by Koskov so he could trick MI6 into killing Pushkin for him. Bond then decides to track down the cellist, whom he believes helped Koskov fake his defection. Naturally, she falls for Bond and he escapes with her. Bond then returns to Tangier to find Pushkin, but Bond gets kidnapped by Koskov and taken to Afghanistan. There he meets the very westernized Mujahedeen. He then steals a Soviet military transport which Koskov is using to smuggle opium to enrich himself and an American arms dealer named Whitaker (Joe Don Baker). Bond saves the cellist and showers the countryside in opium. Then he goes to Tangier to kill Whitaker and Koskov. He kills Whitaker, but Koskov ends up being arrested by Pushkin, who will extract revenge. The film ends with the grateful Soviets letting the cellist leave for the West so she can play for Western audiences.
Unfortunately, despite this dizzying travel schedule, the audience never really gets a sense of travel in this film because the film never ventures out of closed sets, except at the Russian airbase in Afghanistan – and all you see there is dirt. This keeps the film small, as does the evil scheme. Indeed, ultimately, this scheme boils down to a guy looking to skim profits off a drug deal. This is hardly worthy of James Bond, especially because there are no real consequences if he doesn’t succeed. . . some opium gets to Europe. Big deal. They get all they want already. Moreover, the climax moment in the film is a fight between Bond and Koskov’s henchman Necros on an airplane. . . not even between Bond and Koskov himself. Again, small thinking.
Finally, as with License to Kill, there aren’t really any iconic moments and there aren’t really any memorable quotes. This isn’t a film that makes an impression.
Dalton also never feels comfortable in the role. This is because Dalton is one of those Shakespearean-type actors who can’t shake his training. If you compare him in this role to his role in The Rocketeer or his role in Flash Gordon, they’re identical. And anyone who thinks you can play James Bond the same way you play Prince Baron just doesn’t understand acting.
The Bond Girl: The Bond girl here was Maryam d’Abo as Kara Milovy, the cellist. She’s kind of passive. She exudes no passion, no mystery, and she has no great motive to be in the film. She’s just the narcoleptic girlfriend along for the ride. Nor do you ever get the sense that she sees Bond as more than just a friend.
Moreover, his plan to get Bond to kill his boss is Rube-Goldberg silly. Does anyone really think the Soviet Union won’t figure out that he staged a fake defection and met with Bond right before Bond killed his boss? The Soviets would need to be retarded not to put those facts together. Seriously, just shoot Pushkin or stage a car accident like everybody else does. Of course, Koskov may be mental because he keeps not killing Bond for no apparent reason. Even worse, throughout the film Koskov comes across as a bungler who kisses everyone’s butt... like the Biff of the James Bond Villain world. This is not a Bond villain, not in scheme, not in personality.
Neither villain rises to the level of a Bond villain. This is probably why the film’s true climax involves Bond killing Koskov’s henchman aboard the Russian transport plane. And just to add insult to injury on that point, the only cool thing about the henchman is his name “Necros.” He has no other defining traits.
This was a rocky start for Timothy Dalton. The film began well enough, but quickly became a jumbled mess, and there was little to mark this film as a James Bond film: small time villains, small locations, small Bond, small plot, mousy Bond Girl, dated soundtrack. The only thing that wasn’t small was the transport plane fight, and that was too long to stay interesting and it lacked any real stakes. . . it was just a nice stunt. But this film was better than Dalton’s second attempt. That’s why this film is No. 0019 of 0023.