As we anticipate the release of Skyfall in less than two weeks I thought I would take a look at some of my older James Bond Movies for my ongoing Groovers Video Vault series. I’m not sure why I started with Licence to Kill but I am glad I did.
On route to his wedding Felix Leiter (David Hedison) gets word that south American drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) has left the safety of the (fictional central American state) Republic of Isthmus to retrieve his runaway girlfriend (Talisa Soto). Leiter along and his best man James Bond (Timothy Dalton) capture Sanchez before arriving fashionably late for the wedding. Sanchez promptly escapes and takes revenge on Leiter and his new bride. Refusing the order from M (Robert Brown) to fly to Istanbul on a mission, Bond escapes and recruits pilot and friend of Leiter, Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) to seek help him seek revenge.
Having directed Roger Moore’s last three Bond movies that were frankly rubbish, John Glen was a brave choice to take Bond in a new direction with a new leading man. But, he did a good job with The Living Daylights, so bringing him back for a fifth and final time made a lot of sense. Continuing from Timothy Dalton’s first outing as Bond in The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill dispenses with the increasingly silly character portrayed by Roger Moore and returns Bond closer to the character from Ian Fleming’s novels. This however is no step back in time to the in time to Sean Connery’s Bond this is a modern (for the late 80’s when it was made) Bond who finds himself not saving the world from preposterous criminal organisation but in the middle of Reagan’s “War on Drugs”. This was the obvious but ultimately the right choice for a cold war character in a new post cold war era. This Bond isn’t a mischievous charmer with a glint in his eye, he is a cold hard cynical killer, still carrying the emotional scars of the past.
The opening sequence features a mid air stunt where Bond hooks a cable around a the tail of a light aircraft attached to a Coast Guard helicopter. Clearly an inspiration for Bond fan Christopher Nolan who copied the scene on a larger scale for his opening scene to The Dark Knight Rises. Sanchez makes a public offer to anyone listening to anyone who springs him from custody, something that was copies in the recent version of the movie S.W.A.T. (2003). The real credit to the film isn’t just the influence it had on other films, but the impression that they got it right. Reviews from the time were mixed but Dalton and his Bond is beginning to receive the respect he deserves. Delays from a legal dispute ultimately cost Dalton his place as Bond, when the franchise did return with GoldenEye in 1995 he was replaced by Pierce Brosnan. While Goldeneye was a solid film, it did return to an extravagant world domination plot. This continued in the downward spiral that led to the invisible car, ice palace and Madonna of Die Another Day (2002). Were the movies just a product of there time or was the Dalton direction the one they should have continued on? We will never know but Daniel Craig’s Bond of Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) is closer to Dalton’s interoperation than any of his other predecessors suggesting to me that in the Dalton movies they got it right!
The first Bond film with an original title and not one taken from a Fleming story, it does have references to the books as well as the movies that went before it. David Hedison reprised his role of Felix Leiter having played the part in Roger Moore’s first Bond film Live and Let Die. The story of Leiter being fed to the sharks and the line “He disagreed with something that ate him” came from the Book of Live and Let Die but had not been used in the film. The character Milton Krest is lifted from the short story The Hildebrand Rarity as is his boat the Wavekrest, but a lot of his character attributes including physical abuse of his wife are transferred to the character Franz Sanchez. Although lacking the grandeur and extravagance of The Spy Who Loved Me or Thunderball the underwater scenes have become a classic and iconic part of Bond movies and are used sparingly but handled well here. Q (Desmond Llewelyn) pops up with his usual array of useful gadgets but not very far fetched by Bond standards. This really is a grounded Bond movie in comparison to what followed.
As has become the tradition since Golfinger there are two Bong Girls. The movie benefits from them being very different both in personality and look. Although more common now, Ex-Army pilot and CIA informant Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) was the first Bond girl since Major Anya Amasova aka Agent XXX (Barbara Bach) in The Spy Who Loved Me who could hold her own alongside Bond. The modernisation of the Bond girl is sometimes an awkward one, with her short hair she is often portrayed as a tomboy and as useful as she is to Bond she nags and begs him to let her come along rather than him seeing that he needs her. Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) is more conventional, the villains woman who wants to get away and falls for Bond in the process. She is the catalyst for the story and was clearly chosen for her looks and not her acting ability. That leads onto the main villain/antagonist; Latin America drug lord Franz Sanchez played with cold perfection by Robert Davi. A perfect opponent for this more modern Bond, a ruthless businessman who is ultimately defeated by his by his own character flaws. His main henchman is played with relish by a young (22) Benicio Del Toro.
As mentioned on its release the movie received mixed reviews, Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times being one of the few major critics to give a positive review. I think what Ebert saw and others missed was that Licence to Kill is a solid movie as they were so fixated on how it compared to what went before it. As Pierce Brosnan took us back to the bad old days of Roger Moore Dalton’s Bond looked increasingly out of place but now as a companion pierce to the Daniel Craig movies it may just find its place in Bond history.