Timothy Dalton lasted just a movie longer than George Lazenby, but his portrayal of James Bond was ultimately so different from Roger Moore’s that he set a new precedent for the violence and toughness that the hard-nosed spy exhibited on screen. The final two films by director John Glen for the Bond franchise were high octane events and ratcheted up the violence that Bond encountered in his villains and inflicted on them in response. But was there more to Dalton’s Bond than violence and anger?
The Living Daylight (1987)
The last film (till Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale) to use an Ian Fleming idea or title, Daylight finds SMERSH (short for Smiert Shpionam, “death to spies”) raising its ugly head, as the Russian General Kosko (Jeroen Krabbe) and the American General Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) worked together to try and wrestle power for themselves. When Bond fails to assassinate a supposed assassin, the cellist Kara Milovy (Maryan d’Arbo), because he recognizes she is not who she’s been identified as, he sets off a series of events that threaten his standing with M. M says that 008 “follows order,s not instincts,” implying the exact opposite of Bond. Bond as a less-than-acceptable soldier has been hinted at before, but with Dalton’s Bond, the instincts take the absolute front seat.
The drier humor of Dalton matches the rest of the film’s vibe, and the other noticeable difference is the abundance of gadgets that Q outfits Bond’s car and everything else with, a mark that will continue with Brosnan’s Bond but be reduced in Craig’s. From icy embankments to sandy Afghanistan, Bond tracks the Kosko-Whitaker connection with purpose, but hanging onto that sentiment which a Russian general expresses to him: “You are a professional. You don’t kill without reason.” Bond will hold onto that momentarily, but the Dalton sophomore outing will challenge that.
After drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) maims Felix Leiter (David Hedison) and kills his fiancee, Bond goes after Sanchez in pursuit of vengeance, and the audience is all but encouraging given the vile nature of the film’s villain. When Bond is confronted about his behavior by an American lawman who says, “we have laws in this country,” Bond quips back rather angrily, “Do you have a law against what they did to Leiter?” M takes it a step further, disavowing Bond, telling him to “spare me the sentimental rubbish,” but we’ve seen something in Dalton’s Bond that won’t allow for letting go.
Bond partners with Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) and infiltrates Sanchez’ gang, but Sanchez’ number one henchman, Dario (Benicio del Toro), proves skeptical. Q, proving to be loyal to a fault, shows up secretly and outfits Bond with equipment, as Bond uncovers a televangelist whose true purpose is covering for Sanchez’ drug-running operation in the United States. Ultimately, the finale involves Stinger missiles, tractor trailer trucks, and a prop plane. As he dies, Sanchez cries out, “You could’ve had everything!” To which Bond replies in an anomaly not seen until Craig’s vengeful nature, “Don’t you want to know why?”
Whatever we thought we knew about Bond through Roger Moore’s depiction, a gentleman who only killed when necessary and only when under orders, and who bedded women (usually) gently, was ripped away with Dalton’s two-part entry into the Bond canon. Bond might not have grown spiritually with Dalton at the helm, but we came to see him as more human, struggling with anger and other emotions that he had previously been devoid of. Was that the way that Ian Fleming had written him up? Not by my reading. But the new Bond fit into the world we know, entering the 1990s with panache, violence, and an aggressive desire to change the world, one bloody bullet at a time.