I know you were all (read: 2 of you) expecting this review yesterday, but I had to vacate my room and beloved desktop for a day or two whilst some building was going on. With that incredibly drab look into my personal life, I give you Dalton’s second outing as Jimmy Bon-Bon.
Licence to Kill (1989)
Poor ol’ Dalton. To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, he didn’t get no respect. When Licence to Kill came out, box-office takings were pretty low and reviews were extremely mixed, most citing the fact that it didn’t have the same old Bond stuff, like the one-liners and such. I’ve never understood that mentality. You get given the same thing over and over again and given the choice, you’ll plump for the familiar every time. It’s that attitude that has led Hollywood into one of its biggest creative slumps in years. God, I hate people so damn much.
After his friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison) has his bride murdered and is mutilated by sharks, James Bond (Timothy Dalton) quits MI6 and goes rogue, going on a personal vendetta mission against the man responsible, drug baron Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). Bond enlists the help of CIA agent Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) and Sanchez’s maltreated girlfriend Lupe (Talisa Soto) to take down the scumlord and his smuggling operation. I love Licence to Kill‘s plot. Bond going rogue is such a cool idea and it’s pulled off extremely well. It’s a hell of a lot darker and violent than previous Bonds (to date, it is the only film in the series to be rated “15”) and it works. It’s definitely got the spirit of the Fleming novels down. It’s refreshing that the villain isn’t some wacko trying to take over the world. He’s just a drug baron with power and stacks of cash aplenty.
Dalton fucking nails it in this one. He was great in The Living Daylights, but I always felt his performance was a little compromised. Here he gets to let loose and get all intense-like. Carey Lowell is also one of the best Bond girls. She’s a CIA agent who can actually do stuff, unlike Dr. Diana Dicklick in Moonraker. Her growing relationship with Bond is believable and heartfelt. Talisa Soto is more of a traditional damsel in distress Bond lass, but she’s still good. Robert Davi is great as Sanchez, he’s fucking psychotic and downright scary. His entrance to the film is catching Lupe in bed with another man and cutting out the guy’s heart. JESUS. I also love the young Benicio Del Toro playing Dario in this. He’s a right little shit. The film also wins massive plus points from me for bringing back the only memorable and decent Felix Leiter in the form of David Hedison. Some audience familiarity was needed and it totally works. Robert Brown also finally convinces as M. He gets some really good little beats and his scene with Bond just before he goes rogue is awesome.
Licence to Kill doesn’t feel like a Bond film, which I think is one of its major strengths. Whilst sticking to the formula can produce great results (The Spy Who Loved Me), most of the time it produces crap after crap. Licence to Kill forgets all about the Bond tropes and focuses on Bond’s personal story. Apart from OHMSS, this film is probably the best look at the man behind the wry smile and tuxedo. We feel Bond’s anger at the ridiculous semantics and red tape that initially stop him from avenging Leiter. Dalton always looks like he’s on the edge of snapping and it gives the film a really different feel to previous ones. This is a film that takes risks. To use the vocabulary of a complete wanker (why break with tradition?) it’s hardcore. It’s not a total free-flying flag though. For some reason it just has to include a Q scene (normally a highlight for me, but it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the film) and a bit where Bond and Bouvier get together for no real reason after a big bar fight. It’s like they had to put them in to not complete alienate the bonehead audience.
There are so many touches I like. One such moment is when Bond’s promiscuity catches up with him and Pam and Lupe meet. Never has that happened in a Bond film before and it’s an interesting moment. I love Bond infiltrating Sanchez’s organisation and becoming his friend. It really feels like an undercover cop film at that point, especially with Bond’s tinkering behind the scenes to ensure that Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe) is the one who is taken down as a traitor. Krest has one of the most memorable and disgusting deaths too. Head explodey fun. It’s so good, they referenced it in Kick-Ass. Actually, I noticed a few things that have been “borrowed” from Licence to Kill by other films. There’s a bit where Sanchez’s armoured truck plunges into the sea which is used in Mission: Impossible 3. There’s also the opening plane-jacking scene in The Dark Knight Rises- a bit which I said in my review is “jaw-droppingly good and really feels like an old-school James Bond setpiece”. There’s a reason for that. It IS an old-school Bond setpiece- from this film. Can’t believe I missed that. Even Skyfall seems to be lifting from it, with a palm-reader signature gun similar to the one in this film glimpsed in the trailer.
Since I’m banging on about the action, I’ll say it’s extremely well done. There are some great sequences, but the absolute king is the final tanker sequence and Bond’s scrap with Sanchez. It’s genuinely thrilling. It features one of my favourite Bond moments ever where Bond drives a tanker on two wheels to avoid an incoming Stinger missile. It’s awesome. The resolution involving “a genuine Felix lighter” is fantastic and almost certainly a callback to Live and Let Die. I can’t think of too many bad things to say about Licence to Kill. The previously mentioned scenes stick out like pubes in a bowl of cornflakes (i.e. easily missable, but abhorrent all the same). The dialogue ain’t all that either with some truly nail-on-the-head exchanges taking place that make my inner writer scream. Also, if someone can explain why the film ends on a blinking/winking fish fountain, get in contact. I haven’t the faintest sodding clue on that one.
Licence to Kill is one of the best Bond films in my book. It’s got a completely different flavour to the rest of the films, actually more in keeping with the recent Craig films than anything else. Dalton really gives a great performance here and it’s a shame they dicked him around so much as I’d love to have seen the general public embrace him as much as I want to. Perhaps more modern, cynical eyes will see this film for the cracking film it is.