Wednesday, October 17, 2012

007 Goes Eighties Action: Licence to Kill (1989)

Timothy Dalton is still a criminally underrated 007 and Licence to Kill also became his last adventure as the slightly psychotic British super agent. I'll admit that Dalton never felt comfortable when it came to the comedy, the one-liners, he almost looks a bit embarrassed uttering cheap jokes and sexual innuendos, but when it comes to action and drama he was brilliant (Dalton much later proved to be very funny in, for example, Hot Fuzz)! After feeling a bit out of date (but still good), the Bond-franchise finally entered the more gritty and violent eighties action-style here, and that grittiness was something we shouldn't see again until Daniel Craig took over the part after Pierce Brosnan.

After finally meeting the girl of his dreams, Felix Leiter (David Hedison) weds her with the help of his good friend Bond (Timothy Dalton), but the happiness lasts just a few hours until his bride is killed and himself brutally chomped by on a white shark! Bond gets very, very, very angry and sets out on his own personal revenge adventure - and gets his licence to kill revoked by M! This doesn't stop him to go to Mexico and at the same time stop the biggest drug lord in the world, Sanchez (Robert Davi) - the one behind the crime against Leiter!

This have happen a couple of times before and after, going back to the roots that is. I think the first time was with Live and Let Die (almost a sibling to this movie, but more on that later), then in For Your Eyes Only and later with GoldenEye and of course the whole Daniel Craig-business. Then the franchise will jump the shark as usual, something I don't mind really. That's just fun. But Dalton never jumped the shark, he began as serious Bond and ended as serious Bond and Licence to Kill is without a doubt one of the finest in the series. Shot on a much lower budget than the earlier movies and in just two countries, the US and Mexico (except some exterior shots in the UK) - so it's not especially exotic. Instead it's the most American Bond-movie so far, with a story that reflects reality a bit more. No one is taking over the world,  it's just a revenge tale that goes over to stopping a drug lord from smuggling cocaine mixed with gasoline.

Like in Live and Let Die David Hedison is back as Felix Leiter, they're chasing a drug lord (dropping the usual story of world domination), and both Sharkey in Licence to Kill and Quarrel in Live and Let Die is very similar characters. Licence is also one of the few Bond-movies that makes a reference to his wife who got killed in Her Majesty's Secret Service. Ah, and both movies has a graphic scene of a man exploding from air pressure!  This might of course be a coincidence, but I think the producers looked back to find something more modern, something that would attract today's audience and not their mother and father. This just didn't work anyway, and Licence to Kill became a flop in the US - where a success is very important, and then followed eight chaotic years until a new Bond-movie was released - the longest gap ever in the series.

Even if it's not high on action it has a final that's my favourite for several different reasons: it's set in a real world, it uses real stunts and not a lot of back projection and is packed with action and explosions. This chase, with cars and trucks, actually looks dangerous and it's one of John Glen's finest moments as an action director. The lamest thing with the film is the pre-credits action scene, but instead it's connected deeply with the rest of the story and works fine because of that - but still... catching a small sports plane with a wire isn't what I call spectacular.

Personally I think this is a brilliant action movie. It's nice to see something rooted more what's happening in real life, even if it's on the same level of absurdness as some of the other Bond-movies - for example the silly x-ray camera and some of the very dated jokes. But the nastiness is there, the gritty violence and cynical view on the world. And as every action movie from the eighties it even have ninjas! Brilliant - and one of them is played by Mr Eighties Evil Asian Guy himself, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa! And hey, with a supportong cast consisting of Wayne Newton, Don Stroud, Everett McGill and Benicio Del Toro, it just can't go wrong! Robert Davi is also one of the most convincing and complex Bond-baddies ever, and he's super.

Awesome stuff. Really.


Exploding Helicopter said...

I agree License To Kill was ahead of its time in giving us a more 'real world' Bond.

Good point about the finale, it's a great action sequence. Dalton's Bond era, in my opinion, has some of the strongest stunts in the whole franchise. All the better for being actually performed, than blue-screened and CGI'd like they would be in a few years time.

Anonymous said...

"Timothy Dalton is still a criminally underrated 007"

"and that grittiness was something we shouldn't see again until Daniel Craig took over the part"

Great analyze ninja.....I never thought about that before.

Dalton was ahead of his time, especially now when Craig is Bond, post Bourne etc.

"(Dalton much later proved to be very funny in, for example, Hot Fuzz)!"

I always liked him as cartoonish bad guy in The Rocketeer (1991).

"Ah, and both movies has a graphic scene of a man exploding from air pressure!"

Yeah....but Licence to kill has a much nicer scene.

"Mr Eighties Evil Asian Guy himself, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa!"

Love him, watch an episode of Baywatch...he´s great.

Great review ninja.


Thomas T. Simmons said...

I've always thought Dalton made a great Bond too, even though the scripts sure didn't do him any favors. The way Flemming describes Bond in the books matches Dalton perfectly. I'll have to revisit this one soon.