Sep 11, 2014

Review: Licence to Kill (1989)

Licence to Kill is the end of an era for James Bond films in quite a few ways. First of all, it's sadly the final appearance of Timothy Dalton as 007 and I can't help but feel ripped off. Dalton represents an interesting shift in the character towards a more angry kind of Bond which had never been done before. Along with The Living Daylights, there's also more of a focus on keeping things grounded and realistic. To an extent anyway because this is Bond we're talking about here. This is also the fifth and final James Bond film to be directed by John Glen. Robert Brown, Caroline Bliss, Maurice Binder (who had been a long time creator of the famed Bond opening titles) and writer Richard Maibaum also are involved for the final time with Licence to Kill.

Richard Maibaum's death in 1991 became a huge problem because it opened the door to a bunch of lawsuits and struggles over who would own the rights to James Bond movies. That's why there's a six year delay between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye. Albert R. Broccoli also relinquished his position as producer due to health reasons which further added to the confusion and delay. It was during this time that Timothy Dalton withdrew from the role and I can understand his decision. It didn't sound like a production you'd want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

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Genre: action, adventure, crime
Directed by: John Glen
Produced by: Albert R. Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli, etc.
Written by: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum
Music by: Michael Kamen
Running time: 133 minutes
Production company: Danjaq, Eon Productions, United Artists
Distributed by: MGM/UA Distribution Company, United International Pictures, United Artists, etc.
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: $32,000,000
Box office: $156,167,015 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, David Hedison, Wayne Newton, Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Starke, Everett McGill, Desmond Llewelyn, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Robert Brown, Priscilla Barnes, Don Stroud, Caroline Bliss, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Grand L. Bush, Alejandro Bracho, Guy De Saint Cyr, Rafer Johnson
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Synopsis


James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is with his friend and frequent collaborator Felix Leiter (David Hedison) on route to Felix's wedding to Della Churchill (Priscilla Barnes). They are intercepted by the DEA to stop drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) from escaping the country in what becomes a grand airborne chase. The mission is a success in large part because of James and ends in a glorious parachute entrance just in time to make it for Felix's wedding. Although it looks like the day is won, Franz Sanchez is a resourceful man and can make his problems go away pretty easily. 

Review


The traditional Bond opening is usually a great example of action-filled fun and the opening in Licence to Kill is no different. The main villain of the movie is introduced here and the airplane stunts are insane. The opening titles are a bit of a letdown though in terms of the title song as well as the design of the credits. I can see that it is meant to be a bit of a shout out to the Bonds of old but it feels stale and unoriginal if you ask me. Gladys Knight's song begins very promisingly but becomes pretty dull as it goes on. While it's not a terrible song, it's just not catchy like the best of them. I can remember pretty much every opening titles song for every James Bond movie, but I always struggle when it comes to Licence to Kill.

Like The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill is a darker affair compared to past Bond movies, particularly the Moore era. The significant change here though is actually James Bond himself. He's even more angry than he was in The Living Daylights and he does have good reason to be. Revenge is his primary motivator here. (Spoilers) Della Churchill's death by the hands of Franz Sanchez's men brought back some memories of his own loss when he lost his new wife on their wedding day in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Not only was she just killed, she was violently raped. Doesn't really sound like a Bond film now does it? Combined with the maiming of Felix Leiter by a shark, James is mad and he's out for revenge. (End Spoilers)

Licence to Kill definitely explores a darker angle of James Bond and I suppose I can understand people's dislike of that. It's a jarring effect when you're used to how James used to do things. Now he's brutal, violent and merciless. He raises some moral questions here and there in terms of his actions and personally I like it. (Spoilers) He becomes a rogue agent going against his orders from M all because he wants to destroy Sanchez from the inside by becoming an inside man. (End Spoilers) With some brutally violent scenes from Sanchez and Bond himself, it's a gruesome affair on more than one occasion.

The action in Licence to Kill is all very well executed here. There are some typical James Bond touches in terms of ridiculous stunts and gadget use which are more than welcome. Wonderful chase scenes whether they're underwater or on windy roads in semi-trailer trucks are brilliantly done and are a blast to watch. There are enough stunts to satisfy any action fan and there are some touches of humour that lighten the mood when it's needed. Q is probably the biggest example of this in what is his best crazy old uncle appearance. 

In terms of the acting, I was pleased with pretty much everyone. Timothy Dalton repeats his great performance from The Living Daylights while turning up the angry knob some more. He's still got that Bond twinkle in his eye from time to time and I particularly liked his scene when he was meeting with M. Robert Davi makes for a great South American drug lord and he exudes this quiet but murderous confidence. He's not the kind of guy you want to cross, that's for sure. His two henchman played by Anthony Zerbe and Benicio Del Toro are also pretty interesting, especially Del Toro. Wayne Newton's cameo appearance is kind of strange but ends up OK too.

As far as Bond girls go, I'd say that Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto are moderately memorable. Soto's Lupe Lamora is more of a damsel in distress that helps James on occasion. Pam Bouvier is a lot more interesting and self-sufficient. She's a bit of a nagger but she's all the same pretty tough and she can take care of herself for real. I'm also a fan of how James' relationships with both of these women are handled.

Licence to Kill is a significant shift in how things are done in a James Bond film. James has never acted as he does in this entry. There was already a pretty big change in The Living Daylights but Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum take things a step further. I think people were pretty shocked back in 1989 when Licence to Kill first came out but it looks like opinions have sort of softened a bit. I suppose people weren't ready yet for a Bond like this one and it shows in its box office take. 1989 was a tough year with a lot of other blockbusters all out at the same though. In the end, Licence to Kill to me is a really different and interesting chapter in the James Bond series. It really takes a lot for me to dislike a James Bond movie and Licence to Kill doesn't give me enough reasons.

Rating


7/10