The Living Daylights

WHO IS JAMES BOND? James Bond is 40-ish again, which is a good thing.  He’s not nearly as “cute” as he used to be — he hardly ever arches his eyebrows or pulls silly exasperated faces any more.  When he goes in to kiss a girl, his face now stays put.  He’s driven, professional, a little pissed off.  He doesn’t take guff from nobody and seems less amused by his world-saving work than ever.  This is not all good — there’s something missing from a no-nonsense, professional government assassin.  If your Queen pays you to travel the world and kill people and you can’t get any joy out of it, what’s the point?

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT? Really good question.  The Living Daylights is the most plot-heavy of all the Bond movies so far, and for the first time in my Bond experience, I had to crack open a couple of books just to piece together what the heck the bad guys are trying to do here.  Turns out it’s this:

An American arms dealer named Brad Whitaker has teamed up with KGB guy General Koskov to sell $50 million worth of guns to the Russians.  However, before they deliver the guns, they’re going to take the $50 million dollars, buy $50 million worth of diamonds in the Netherlands, then ship the diamonds to Afghanistan, trade it for $50 million worth of opium from some Afghan rebels, which they will then sell for $500 million in Russia.  They will then hand over the $50 million worth of guns to the Russians and keep the $450 million profit.  And live lives of leasure in Tangiers, I guess, with no one angry with them, surrounded by women in bikinis.

Guess how many guys it takes to pull this off.  If you said “three,” you’re right!  No shark tank, no monorail, no armies of henchmen and scientists, no hollowed-out volcano.  This is the eighties, we have no truck with profligate, over-spending bad guys.  And theye’re not trying to take over the world either.  They just want what everyone wants — money.  In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not even sure what they’re doing is illegal.  I’m even less sure why it’s any business of the British Secret Service (there’s even a moment when Bond introduces himself to some Afghan rebels and they just kind of give him a blank stare, as though to say “CIA, KGB, sure.  But what do you have to do with any of this?

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? Let me see if I can parse this out.  Before the titles, Bond is on a training mission in Gibralter when another 00 agent gets killed by a supposed KGB-engineered spy-killing plot.  Then, later, he’s assigned to help get a defecting general (that’s Koskov) out of the Soviet Union.  He gets Koskov out, and Koskov spills the beans about the spy-killing plot.  No sooner does he do so but he gets abducted again at a safe-house, apparently by the KGB.  Bond goes to investigate the abduction.  The main thrust (excuse me) of his investigation involves Koskov’s beautiful blue-eyed cellist girlfriend Kara, who has gotten mixed up in all this and is not aware that she has been set up as a patsy (some boyfriend, Koskov! Jerk.).  Kara leads Bond to Vienna, where Bond learns from Koskov’s KGB rival Pushkin that there is no KGB spy-killing plot, that that goofball scheme is something cooked up by Koskov, who apparently didn’t reall defect at all, and was not re-captured by the KGB, but rather has skipped town and staged his “KGB re-capture” so that he could go hang out in Tangier with his American arms-dealer buddy Whitaker.  Bond gets captured by Koskov, who flies everybody (and a cooler full of diamonds) to Afghanistan, where the final puzzle-piece falls into place — Bond discovers that the diamonds are being traded for opium.  This makes him angry, so he hijacks the jet full of opium and crashes it into the side of a mountain (obviously he jumps out first).  Then he goes to Tangiers, kills Whitaker and arranges to have Koskov arrested by the KGB.  Then he has sex.

Somewhere in there, another Felix Leiter shows up.  He looks younger than Bond and utterly unqualified to perform any duties related to international espionage.  He looks like he showed up to golf and is squeezing in some international espionage between rounds.

Phew!  And that’s just the plot points!  There’s the usual assortment of bad-guys trying to kill him and car chases and seductions.  Compare that to Dr. No, which goes like this: James Bond goes to Jamaica to investigate a guy’s murder, finds a receipt on the guy’s desk, goes to the guy who gave him the receipt, the guy acts nervous, so Bond kills the guy and goes out to Dr. No’s island, where he walks into Dr. No’s lab and blows everything up.

WOMEN? Kara the cellist annoys me.  She’s big-eyed, spacey and whiny.  And she has no clue as to how to fly a cargo plane.  What is so difficult about this task?  Bond says hold the wheel straight and level, hold the wheel straight and level.  And stop whimpering.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? These bad guys are not cool at all.  They suck.  Koskov is as obvious as a heart attack, grinning and rubbing his hands and acting all scared — a child could tell that he’s lying.  Brad Whitaker is worse, a pompous, un-frightening blowhard who plays with tin soldiers and giggles a lot.  And,  you know, I know we make fun a lot at this space about the silly Bond Villain names, Ernst Blofeld and Auric Goldfinger and Rosa Klebb and so forth, but I gotta say, the name “Brad Whitaker” does not inspire fear.  “Brad Whitaker” wouldn’t inspire fear in a Brady Bunch episode.

They do, however, have a terrific, utterly believable henchman, Necros, who knows how to move and has a heart of steel.  He gets a swell set-piece where he takes out a whole safe-house of espionage agents with a case of exploding milk-bottles.  If Act III of The Living Daylights was about how Necros plans to kill Koskov and Whitaker and take off with the $450 million, it would be a great movie.

Q IS SUCH AN ASSHOLE: Q shows Bond a bazooka hidden within a large, shoulder-carried 80s-style radio.  He says “that’s our ghetto blaster,” positively beaming at the prospect of using this weapon to blow up poor inner-city minorities.

NOTES: A lot of people seem to like this movie.  I liked the first half okay, but I had a really hard time following the plot.  For all the twists and turns the plot requires, there are long stretches where it seems like nothing is happening — at least, nothing you can relate to the main story.  Worse, for long stretches it doesn’t even seem like a James Bond movie.  It’s set in grim, grey, depressing places like Yugoslavia and Afghanistan — where is the “vacation paradise” aspect of The Living Daylights?  Instead of feeling like a James Bond movie, it starts feeling like a political drama like Three Kings or Syriana.  Which is fine, but something Bondian seems to get lost somewhere.

I give the filmmakers credit for trying to make Bond more “real” — they’ve made a real, concerted effort to fold the Bond tropes into a more sober, “real-world” framework and mostly they succeed.  The Living Daylights is close in tone and structure to For Your Eyes Only, but I liked For Your Eyes Only better because Bond was actually better defined there — he had a point of view and a backstory that this Bond doesn’t have.  I wanted to know that Bond better, this Bond is okay enough but I don’t find him intriguing or compelling.

There’s also a lack of a ticking clock in Act III.  In For Your Eyes Only, Bond has to scale the mountain to get to the HQ before the Russians arrive to buy the whatsit that will change the world.  Here, Bond has to stop the purchase of opium before, before what?  Before it gets flown to Moscow, and all those opium addicts get to buy cheap opium because of the sudden influx of product?  As far as opium-selling schemes go, Kananga’s plan in Live and Let Die is more devious and scheming.

James Bond goes to the opera, twice, in this movie.  It was bad enough when he dissed the Beatles in Goldfinger, but you can’t tell me that James Bond enjoys going to the opera.  He can’t enjoy going to the opera, because later he goes to a carnival with Kara and rides on both a roller-coaster and the bumper-cars.  Both things cannot be true — one or both of these activities had to be executed purely for Queen and Country.  Opera lovers do not ride roller-coasters and vice-versa, and James Bond does not do either.  What, I wonder, does James Bond listen to?  Not a-ha, I hope.  Movie soundtracks, I bet — he’s one of those guys who listens only to movie soundtracks.  His own.

I give the filmmakers credit for having the balls to include a scene shot in the Third Man Ferris wheel in Vienna.  It’s like putting a big black monolith in an episode of Star Trek.
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42 Responses to “The Living Daylights
  1. “I give the filmmakers credit for having the balls to include a scene shot in the Third Man Ferris wheel in Vienna. It’s like putting a big black monolith in an episode of Star Trek.”


    I love the Third Man.

    Such a great film.

  2. craigjclark says:

    Ehh, this one really left me cold. No wonder Timothy Dalton only got to make two films as Bond. (Still, that’s one up on George Lazenby.)

    Speaking of Q, the main thing I remember about his part in this is that he gives Bond some kind of device that is set off by a wolf whistle, which seems like the only indication in the film that he’s supposed to have a reputation as a ladies man.

    • As I recall, there was a big to-do at the time about how Bond only had sex with one woman this film….and that that had some sorta tenuous connection to the concepts of AIDS, safe sex and monogamy.

      I don’t like this one (though as always I love the blog entries, Todd), but I do greatly enjoy License to Kill.

      License to Kill doesn’t feel like a Bond movie to me, but I enjoy it as a revenge story.

  3. thebitterguy says:

    I’m very much enjoying these. Are you going to tag the set of them?

    • Todd says:

      Once I figure out what a tag is and what it does and, yes.

      Speaking of which, what is a tag and what does it do?

      • greyaenigma says:

        Like a keyword. Your LiveJournal interface should have a button or something for managing tags. If you don’t see something, you should be able to just edit the entry and there should be a field that says “tags:” — if you enter “james bond”, and maybe “analysis”/”review” (whatever) in, it would let people go back and get a list of Bond posts or reviews without having to confront, say, Mittens.

        I do this for my so-called Daily Photo, although it’s unlikely that anyone but my looks at the list.

        • What he said.

          I use tags a lot:

          They’re very convenient for people reading a blog. Let’s say I like reading your Venture Brothers analysis (and I really do love those posts). If I see a link to your “Venture Brothers” tag on each relevant entry, I can go to a page on your blog that shows ALL relevant entries for that keyword.

          I’ve circled the “edit tag” button in this first screenshot (click that and you can add in a tag to an entry):

          Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

          And here’s where you enter tags when you’re writing up a new post:

          Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

          And yes, I did google “El dorado super friends wiki” shortly before posting this 🙂

      • thebitterguy says:

        What they both said. There’s some info about tags here .

  4. curt_holman says:


    This critique makes me wonder: has any of these films featured another 00 agent who was neither a murder victim or a traitor? Is Bond the only “successful” double-o agent in the whole bureau (or agency or whatever it is)?

    Also, should we assume that you’re skipping Never Say Never Again?

    The thing I remember most about this movie is the hanging-out-of-the-back-of-the-cargo-plane finale. Which was pretty exciting and well shot and all, but couldn’t really match the peril of falling from a plane with no parachute, like in Moonraker, or hanging onto the top of a plane with no parachute, like in Octopussy. It’s always tough with an action scene “lowers the ante” from earlier films.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Oh-Oh

      Also, should we assume that you’re skipping Never Say Never Again?

      I’m not averse to seeing Never Say Never Again, it’s just not part of the box set I recently bought. To view Never Say Never Again, I would have to rent it at a video store, and to do that I would have to leave the house, and to leave the house I would need to stop working for twenty minutes or so. And that I cannot do.

      • curt_holman says:

        Re: Oh-Oh

        Not to mention that you’d have to spend money to see Never Say Never Again.

        Maybe somebody should loan it to you…

        • craigjclark says:

          Re: Oh-Oh

          Ah, but if he doesn’t leave the house and spend the money to see Never Say Never Again, then he’ll be depriving himself of Rowan Atkinson’s performance as Nigel Small-Fawcett, not to mention Max Von Sydow as Blofeld and Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter.

  5. mikeyed says:

    And she has no clue as to how to fly a cargo plane. What is so difficult about this task? Bond says hold the wheel straight and level, hold the wheel straight and level. And stop whimpering.

    My mom knew how to operate a vacuum cleaner and a cargo plane before she was twelve. This woman makes me sick.

  6. stainedecho says:

    This is probably my favorite Bond movie out of all of them. Dalton is such a good Bond.

    • black13 says:

      Dalton was my favorite Bond until Daniel Craig came along.

      Now it’s Craig, Dalton, Connery.

      And the three also-rans.

      I’m not counting the other two film versions of Casino Royale.

  7. teamwak says:

    Great stuff. My personal favourite Bond and Bond mvoie!

    I love Dalton as Bond, and love the tone of TLD. I love the opening with the other double O agents, and the whole Death To Spys idea. Loved the whole sequnce with sending the general from East Berlin through the secret pipe system.

    I totally agree about the henchman being one of the best. I absolutely love his attack on the British secret service house/stately home. I always loved that even the gardners and butlers were kick-ass agents as well. There is a fantastic fight with a butler in the kitchen. And exploding milk bottles too!

    Loved the Vienna scene (love The Third Man too). Great death for he agent with the exploding sliding door.

    It also includes one of my favourite Bond car scenes, with Bonds Astin(?) has rockets that blow up a truck and a lasar that cuts through the crappy Russian police cars; the fantastic chase on the frozen lake, and it ends with one of my favourite Bonds quips, as they escape sliding on a cello down the mountain and pass the boarder of Finland(?) Bond says “Nothing to Declare” as he holds up his passport. Great stuff!

    Gimli the Dwarf is a Russian general “So I must die then” and Art Malik is a noble Mujahaddin (how the world as turned!). It has an amazing final fight on the transport plane as Bond and the Henchman fight hanging out the back of a plane. Great stuff.

    I love this movie! 🙂

    • Todd says:

      As you enjoy this movie so much, perhaps you know why Brad Whitaker, arms dealer, buffoon and non-aesthete, bought General Koskov’s girlfriend a Stradivarius cello. That was one of the plot points that had me scratching my head. The fact of it is a “clue” which allows Bond to tie Whitaker to Koskov (when they’re not supposed to know each other) but I can’t for the life of me find an organic reason for him to do so. Is it a deal-sealer between Whitaker and Koskov? “Join me in this money-making scheme and I’ll buy your girlfriend a cello?” That seems like an expensive gift for a woman whom Koskov doesn’t actually care anything about. Is it part of their m.o. to take their ill-gotten gains and transfer it into precious commodities that can only increase in value (as I am learning is common practice in the world of art theft)? Then why set the girl up as a patsy to be killed and lose the cello forever? Or is it, in fact, a gift to get Kara “on their side,” a token to show her that she is definitely not being set up as a patsy? Given the wide-eyed, vacant expression Kara wears all the time, I would think a simple “I love you” would suffice.

      • teamwak says:

        Forget diamonds, its 18th century £100,00 cellos that do it for our girl. She’s smitten with Koskov. She’s convinced that Koskov will come back for her. In fact, this is how James first gains her trust; by pretending to be from Yuri.

        And the love job is so strong that she believes Koskovs protestations and double-crosses Bond and slips a Mickey-Finn on his drink in Tangiers. I assume that she was Koskovs high-class bit on the side until he decided to use her to make his deffection. The cad!

  8. ladylavinia says:

    THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS happens to be my third favorite Bond film, after OHMSS and CASINO ROYALE. Thankfully, it was devoid of the usual over-the-top villains, ridiculous plots and busty Bond girls. I wrote an article about it in celebration of the 20th anniversary of its release: