Bond was desperate for a reboot at this point. Even though "A View To A Kill" was a financial success in the box office, the critical reception was poor and Moore wanted out. So Eon did the proper thing (what they should have done earlier) and brought in a new Bond with Timothy Dalton and gave the look and feel of the Bonds some nice tweaks. Both of these were desperately needed and worked out well for a better film.
STORYLINE: James Bond is brought in to help a Russian general defect to Britain. Although he seems to believe something is awry he goes through with the mission. When the defector tells MI6 that another Russian general is planning a massive spy witch hunt, Bond is sent in to eliminate the general and prevent the slaughter. Not is all that it seems and Bond disobeys a few orders because his instinct tells him too and uncovers a plot that is made to pit countries against each other and make a rather massive arms deal go through. Can Bond stop the double crossing before World War III busts out?
PLOT 4/5: Thank you for getting back to the espionage and spy elements of the Bond franchise! Although the more action oriented (not that this one doesn't have tons of action) and more straight forward Bond films are bad, but this one just feels more like a spy film rather than an action film. It works better that way. There is tons of double crosses and double agents with lots of political intrigue (and some nice moments of real life tensions like Russia and the Middle East) that keep this movie moving at a nice pace without losing many of the Bond elements like the over the top villains or snazzy gadgets. This film also has a nice dark streak that was only hinted at in the Moore ear. Its a nice darker and colder part of Bond that we haven't really seen since Connery's time. Its refreshing.
BOND 4/5: Timothy Dalton was just want this franchise needed again. Bond has lost almost all of the smarmy and it was replaced with a calculated and cold streak that Dalton brings out firmly. He still has the one liners, but now instead of cheeky they come off as sarcastic and rather dark which benefits the darker moments nicely. He still is suave but he blends it with the cold spy like moments better than Moore ever could. Not to mention he isn't replaced with a stunt double for 90% of the film. No offense, but Dalton should have come after Connery. He's a better Bond, if not just as good as Connery was in the beginning.
VILLAIN 3.5/5: Like the better Bond spy films of the past, a straight up defined villain is tough to find in this film. Essentially we have two villains, Koskov, the defector from Russia, and Whitaker, a deranged arms dealer obsessed with war. Either on their own doesn't work so well but together, with Whitaker was the 'unseen' villain for most of the film and Koskov as our snake in the grass they work quite well. Neither is quite as memorable as some of the more over the top ones in the past (Whitaker with his war room and statues does lean towards that absurdity at times) but both work in the context of the story better than they probably should have. Not the best, but quite fitting.
BOND GIRL 3.5/5: Now I'm not sure why I enjoy the character Kara as much as I do. She isn't the greatest actress not is her character as riveting as some in the past, but I'll be damned if her chemistry with Bond doesn't spark something. She is relevant to the plot in many substantial ways (mostly in the opening sequence) and not just thrown in there like many Bond girls are. She isn't the best, but she is charming and relevant which makes up for a lot.
"The Living Daylights" definitely has things going right for it. Its darker streaks and return to a true spy format help it a lot while keeping many of the Bond elements like over the top action (the last act is almost non-stop explosions and guns firing) and cool car chases in the mix. Dalton takes the reigns surprisingly well, obviously pulling a lot of his inspiration from the books, and with villains and a girl that fit the story line well, "The Living Daylights" works better than it should have.
BONUS RANT: I do hate that after the very awesome opening sequence training exercise it ends with Bond on a boat with a women and very Moore like moment. It seems a little out of place there and the rest of the film never reaches that kind of moment again. Its cheesy and doesn't need to be there because it doesn't fit.
Written By Matt Reifschneider