Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘The Living Daylights’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on November 25th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: The Living Daylights (1987)!
The 1970s and 80s saw a string of Bond films which were lighter in tone thanks to Roger Moore and his interpretation of the character. Alas, it seemed this levity had become tiresome to audiences if the box-office returns for A View to a Kill (1985) were any indication. Even still, it was briefly thought that The Living Daylights might be the final mission for Moore. But the actor ultimately declined — much to the relief of EON Productions, who were keen on steering the franchise in a more serious direction. So much so, in fact, that they pondered making the movie in review a “soft reboot” for this franchise. However, it’s unclear if doing so would have made this movie an in-continuity prequel or a fresh start ala Casino Royale (2005). Ultimately, though, it was decided that The Living Daylights would maintain the franchise’s established continuity while bolstering a new Bond.
Oddly enough, the James Bond of the 90s nearly began his run at the end of the 1980s. During the 1985-86 TV season, Pierce Brosnan was hot-off the freshly canceled TV series Remington Steele (1982-1987). While he was grateful that another titular character had given him a career, the actor and EON Productions used the cancellation as an opportunity to fast-track him into the role of the world’s most exceptional secret agent. Alas, unlike most series cancellations, Mary Tyler Moore Productions (MTM) allowed NBC to exercise a 60-day renewal window. Therefore, between Remington Steele’s ratings and an outpouring from the show’s fans the network exercised their renewal option … on day 60; retaining Brosnan as the series’ star.
Seeing as Brosnan was out of the running due to contract, producers then offered the role to an actor who had turned it down twice before. Initially, in 1968, the actor refused as he felt he was too young. When offered the role again in 1979, he cited the campier tone as a reason to decline and doubted the producers were ready to let go of Moore. And even in 1986, Timothy Dalton asked EON to wait six weeks for him to complete work on Brenda Starr — which, in a cruel twist of fate, would not be released in the United States until 1992. But the company was willing to wait, and Dalton officially reached 00 status on August 7, 1986. To guide Dalton into duty, veteran director of much of the Moore era, John Glen, returned to the helm along with screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson. Like the last several films in this franchise, the crew would again be adapting an Ian Fleming short story — “The Living Daylights,” published in 1966.
The Living Daylights, the 15th official installment in the series, is fittingly the last installment in the franchise to center around the Cold War conflict as it finds James Bond 007 (Dalton) tasked with helping General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) escape to the other side of The Iron Curtain. This simple mission of defection is quickly complicated when General Koskov is re-captured. Now, Bond must track the former Soviet officer down. To do so, Bond makes the acquaintance of a beautiful cellist with ties to the KGB and the general, Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo). Before long, the couple finds themselves in a bigger caper than they imagined — one which not only involves the KGB, but an American military-man turned arms dealer and the Mujahideen!
That plot synopsis sounds a little packed, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because when it comes down to it, The Living Daylights is an entertaining, albeit, overstuffed 007 adventure. The first act of this picture moves swiftly, immediately hooking me with the cold open. Even after the credits, the movie features some of the best action thus far in this franchise. Unfortunately, it’s not a lack of action plaguing The Living Daylights, but instead an uneven and often slowly-paced story. Once the second act kicks off, the pacing becomes about as rough to me as attempting to drive a stick. But, it’s the final third that becomes the real issue. The climax of this picture runs for a bloated 40-minutes, complete with a tangential subplot involving the Mujahideen (which has not aged well at all) and a clumsy epilogue.
While the titular Daylights wax and wain, sometimes seeming eternal, I’ll be damned if this Bond installment isn’t still largely entertaining despite its pacing or lack thereof. The supporting cast of this film is fantastic. Firstly, there’s Maryam d’Abo, who brings 007’s sole love interest in this film to life — thereby giving us a Bond girl who’s as intelligent as she is beautiful. Then there is John Rhys-Davies as General Leonard Pushkin and Joe Don Baker as Major Brad Whitaker. Both of them are beloved character actors who are as charismatic as ever in The Living Daylights (even if Baker’s Major Brad Whitaker seems to clog up the plot as opposed to moving it along).
Interestingly enough, Joe Don Baker is one of the few actors to appear in multiple roles across Bond films. While playing a villain here, he would go on to play Bond’s ally, CIA agent Jack Wade, in both Goldeneye (1995) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).
The actor who cements the much-needed serious tonal shift that this entry looks to deliver, however, is Dalton himself. It’s clear from frame one that the newly-minted leading man behind the 00 is devoted to portraying the character in a more realistic fashion and imbuing the character with some long-lost gravitas. To give such a performance, Dalton went back to early Bond novels to inform his approach. Thus, what Dalton lacks in charm and sex appeal, he makes up for in delivering the most grounded 007 up to this point in the franchise.
Dalton’s Bond is what the actor later dubbed “a brutal killer and a hero” in the 2012 documentary Everything or Nothing. For me, Dalton’s view of the character makes him able to perfect this darker version of our protagonist. Furthermore, from merely watching The Living Daylights (for the first time by the way), I got the impression that Dalton’s approach to our hero certainly later influenced current-day Bond, Daniel Craig. More importantly, though, Dalton’s dedication is what truly helps sell the new, grounded era for the series. A little seriousness in tone and an invested actor make The Living Daylights worth a watch, as well as a Franchise Expansion! (Editor’s note: the title track by Norwegian band A-Ha is also a late ’80s delight)
The Living Daylights is Available on Home Video
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with License to Kill (1989)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on November 25th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
From Russia with Love:
You Only Live Twice:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:
Diamonds Are Forever:
Live and Let Die:
The Man with The Golden Gun:
The Spy Who Loved Me:
For Your Eyes Only:
A View to a Kill: