Licence To Kill review

Banana Rating: 4 out of 5

There’s a def­in­ite cycle to Bond films. They start rel­at­ively low-key and gritty (although Bond, as spy dra­mas go, has never been truly gritty), and then slowly they become more out­land­ish until it gets to a point where even the series pro­du­cers balk at the sil­li­ness. They slam the series into reverse, mak­ing Bond darker and more per­sonal, shun­ning under­wa­ter bases and pools of hungry piranha. Flem­ing’s books are re-studied to find what it was that made Bond so suc­cess­ful back in the day.

After the hol­low vol­cano of You Only Live Twice, there came On Her Majesty’s Secret Ser­vice. Bond falls in love! And that end­ing! So bleak! Audi­ences weren’t ready though and the sil­li­ness came back far sooner than expec­ted, when Con­nery returned for the very daft Dia­monds Are Forever. Moore’s ten­ure reached crit­ical mass when he went into space in Moon­raker. The res­ult was the meaner, leaner For Your Eyes Only. Brosnan never really got the chance for his dark Bond. By the time he fin­ished fight­ing mech enhanced bad guys in an explod­ing plane, and out­run­ning the sun, the pro­du­cers saw fit to ditch him rather than the writers who had brought him to that awful place.

Daniel Craig got the dark Bond gig as his opener. Audi­ences loved it. But before that, Timothy Dalton had made the grit­ti­est Bond yet in 1989: Licence To Kill(oth­er­wise known as Licence Revoked).

The Bond in the books is an alto­gether more fra­gile creature than the one often por­trayed by Con­nery and Moore. He’s a guy who pushes him­self to the limit, and it’s no sur­prise to find him break­ing a bone or two, or even end­ing up hos­pit­al­ized. Up until Licence To Kill, the movie Bond was not someone who suffered any great mis­hap. Maybe a small scratch on the fore­head, per­haps a spot of blood on the corner of the mouth, safely dabbed away with a mono­grammed hanky, before Bond kills the bad guy who had the temer­ity to punch him.

Licence To Kill is the first Bond where a fair bit of that gen­tle­man spy sheen is rubbed away. There were hints of it in The Liv­ing Day­lights. Dalton’s Bond seemed more real, more vul­ner­able, and less car­toon­ish than Moore’s por­trayal. It’s hard to ima­gine Con­nery’s or Moore’s sharp suit get­ting ripped and torn, their hair ruffled and filled with dust and debris, their faces red raw and soaked in blood. Yet that’s pre­cisely what hap­pens to Dalton dur­ing the course of Licence To Kill.

Start­ing with one of the series’ bet­ter pre-credits open­ing sequences, Bond is enroute to the wed­ding of his best buddy, CIA agent Felix Leiter. Along the way, they get a call about a tight time win­dow to cap­ture inter­na­tional drug king­pin, Franz Sanc­hez (Robert Davi, a man with a face made for play­ing bad guys). Because they’re pretty cool, off they go, cap­tur­ing Sanc­hez, before para­chut­ing from a heli­copter to the wed­ding ceremony.

How­ever, inter­na­tional drug king­pins tend to be overly sens­it­ive guys, tak­ing it per­son­ally when someone tries to throw them in the slam­mer. Sure, Sanc­hez says, “I want you to know this is noth­ing per­sonal. It’s purely… busi­ness.” But con­sid­er­ing what he does to Felix Leiter and his new bride, well, let’s just say Sanc­hez prob­ably won’t win Busi­ness­man Of The Year.

In the books, Bond would some­times clash with bad guys whose only aim was to make money, gang­sters with no interest in world dom­in­a­tion. And here, he goes after Sanc­hez, hell-bent on revenge, and against the wishes of his super­i­ors. It has sim­il­ar­it­ies to a lot of eighties action movies where a cha­ris­matic good guy takes down a cha­ris­matic bad guy, but on his own terms. Bad guys in the eighties usu­ally have a quirky pet too, and Sanchez’s iguana, draped over one shoulder, fits the bill nicely.

But then pro­du­cers of the Bond series tend to look at what the cur­rent action movie trend is, and cherry pick the bits they like, whilst still keep­ing it essen­tially Bond. And if the usual Bond cliches get a more con­tem­por­ary spin, so too do the Bond girls. Well, super­fi­cially any­way. Carey Low­ell is one of the more hot-headed love interests, a CIA agent who can hold her own, with a rather saucy loc­a­tion for her gun hol­ster, which the film fre­quently rev­els in show­ing us. Some­times, she reverts to type, mop­ing around inef­fec­tu­ally whilst Bond gets most of the action. In the end though, she puts all that love­sick non­sense aside, becom­ing one of the more pro­act­ive Bond girls.

Tal­isa Soto fares less well as Sanchez’s moll. Luck­ily, Sanchez’s other allies are a bit more inter­est­ing, espe­cially a scene steal­ing turn by a young-looking Ben­i­cio Del Toro — he’s not a man to mess around with secret blades in the toe of his shoe. Instead, he simply pro­duces his knife with a prac­ticed flour­ish, eyes glit­ter­ing with evil intent. Like Sanc­hez him­self, it’s a more bru­tal, straight­for­ward kind of a bad guy. And in some ways, far more dan­ger­ous than a crazed lun­atic in an orbit­ing space sta­tion. Sanc­hez isn’t a man to tell you his plan, then kill you. He’ll just kill you.

Sadly, it seems audi­ences didn’t like this change of dir­ec­tion, and it would be 6 long years before Pierce Brosnan took over. Now of course, it’s funny how the crowds can’t get enough of Daniel Craig, like when he’s throw­ing some guy around a men’s room and smash­ing shit up, before drown­ing him in a wash-basin with cold eyed effi­ciency. Or when he’s being strapped to a chair and get­ting his bare naked bol­locks smashed in. It really is all about luck, and tim­ing. It seems Licence To Kill had neither, and was an undeserved flop, and an unce­re­mo­ni­ous exit for Dalton.