Although his tenure was brief, Timothy Dalton managed to reshape audience perceptions of what James Bond could offer. No longer was it slick suits and smart-thinking quips, it was genuine action that tried and vaguely succeeded to respond to the hyperviolence and machoism of the 1980s action genre. Where it was never going to compete with sci-fi classics like Predator and Aliens or the sickeningly good chills of Commando, there was always a hope that the new entry into the Bond series would breathe some life into a pun-riddled collection of disasters found in the previous outing, Roger Moore’s A View to a Kill. To drive forward with a new and ambitious lead was the necessary cut and change the series needed. Naturally, it didn’t last all that long when compared to other tenures of the British agent.
The first outing of the Dalton era is a particularly fun one. There are doubts over that return to real thriller-oriented moments of genuine spy work, but a salvation of what made the Sean Connery era so light at times is an important balance to cater to older audiences. Dalton straddles the line between the two. Director John Glen has a real desire and surprisingly clear vision within The Living Daylights, something that was lacking throughout the Moore era. Despite how fun it could be, it wasn’t exactly the most refined or experienced acknowledgement of how spies on screen can be fun. Dalton’s work goes surprisingly far in its efforts to make the Bond franchise something to be feared again. The reticence of the series revived almost entirely, with the Connery shakedowns lingering as Dalton lays on a new level of strong dialogue.
But The Living Daylights is still tied to some of the old-hat varieties, or lack thereof, that the series has always struggled with. Another dull Russian villain, this time in the form of John Rhys-Davies as General Leonid Pushkin. Completely forgettable, but that is for the best. A forgettable villain is better than one actively clamouring for screentime with some one-bit comedy routine. Davies does the job, but his lack of clarity and the rather tepid observations the screenplay makes as it scrabbles for some meaning in a series that relied on the Cold War as a talking point for two decades is a losing battle. Someone has to snub themselves, and it is a shame Davies is the man that gets the blunt treatment there.
Dalton’s fresh-faced Bond is interesting more for the changes it makes than the star at the centre. Never managing to escape that Cold War core does deal a swift blow of damage to The Living Daylights, which staggers around at times in this forgettable, dour fashion. But the fashion of leading man Dalton, the sudden surge of experience felt as he slips into the role, is a surprising one. KGB agents are no surprise, but Dalton handles the experience and the story with care. The Living Daylights is not an explosive revitalisation of the series, but it begins placing new foundations down for future Bonds to adapt from. Dalton is a fantastic passer of the torch, earmarking new territory in just two features as the 00-agent.