Tuesday, 24 April 2012

BlogalongaBond / Licence To Kill:
The Best James Bond Film Ever Made

The summer of 1989 was a glorious time to be inside a cinema. Batman finally got the movie he deserved, Indiana Jones was back to his whip-cracking best and trailers for Back To The Future Part II and Ghostbusters II were causing damp seats at multiplexes the world over. I spent the entire summer holiday in Telford UCI lapping up everything from Police Academy 6: City Under Siege to The 'Burbs and enjoyed every second of it, but nothing caused as much arousal in my trousers as Licence To Kill. Partly because I was, by then, a confirmed Bond obsessive, but mainly because none of those other films had what Licence To Kill had, which was one of these:
Yes, James Bond was back, and he brought with him two "shit"s, a "bullshit", three "bastard"s, a "piss" and a man's head popping like a jam-filled balloon. It's hardly Cannibal Holocaust, but as far as Bond was concerned the brutality of For Your Eyes Only suddenly looked like an episode of ChuckleVision in comparison.

In 2012 Licence To Kill is fairly mild in terms of violence. The minute or so which was cut in order to prevent the film receiving an 18 certificate has long since been restored and the film released as a 15 rated DVD, and it could easily get away with a 12 when it arrives on Blu-ray in October.* But combined with the bastard-hard Bond of Timothy Dalton, who proves once again that he's the only 007 actor who seems to get what Ian Fleming was writing about, the film's freedom to make Bond's world a genuinely threatening one results in what I like to call:
BOOM. I'll bang on about the individual elements that make Licence To Kill so, so good in a minute (contain yourself), but at its core it's its bold refusal to conform that raises it above the rest of the series. When Bond frees himself from the red tape of MI6 in order to get the job done properly, it's a perfect metaphor for the film itself busting out of the franchise's restrictive mould and ruthlessly and efficiently delivering the goods.

Like On Her Majesty's Secret Service before it and Casino Royale after it, Licence To Kill assumes its position as top quality Bondage by ignoring the Goldfinger formula which created so many average entries in the series. Finally allowing James Bond to function as a human being with fragile emotions and a fierce sense of loyalty to his friends, Licence To Kill only falters when it feels the need to crowbar in the scenes it thinks the fans demand: Q's gadget lesson almost grinds the film to a halt and Bond's first episode of sexytime with Pam Bouvier is completely unjustified and irrelevant to the rest of the plot. That said, Carey Lowell is probably the series' third-best Bond girl, her heart-stopping dress and ability to down a vodka martini in one being just two of her admirable attributes.
Yes, you may marry me.

It's Bond's heartfelt relationship with Felix Leiter (an extension of what could have been with The Living Daylights' Saunders) that drives the film though, and which finally allows Ian Fleming's James Bond - largely absent from his own film series since From Russia With Love - to make a welcome reappearance. While a literal adaptation of any of the books remains as likely a prospect as Justin Bieber playing Bond, Licence To Kill contains the most faithful screen version of the complex character that curses, calculates and kills his way through the pages of Fleming's novels and short stories.

The film's box office may have been crippled by its contemporaries in that amazing, blockbuster-packed summer - it's no coincidence that every Bond movie since has been released in winter - but it proved that Bond was at his best when he remembered his roots, went a little crazy and back-combed his substantial barnet so hard that his forehead nearly snapped off.


Timothy Dalton, obviously
T-Daltz takes his ice-cold BastardBond from The Living Daylights and cranks the bastardry up a notch, while simultaneously giving us the most believable portrayal of 007 ever seen on screen. It’s one thing to be a ruthless revenge machine but it only works if you believe the motivation, and Dalton effortlessly manages both. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to suggest that the fact that he only made two Bond films is probably the greatest tragedy mankind has ever suffered.

The bridge escape
I enjoyed the scene in Mission: Impossible III when the recently-captured villain was being transported across a long, picturesque bridge in a prison van, only for his cronies to suddenly turn up and break him out in an improbably hastily-organised but undeniably exciting escape. However I couldn't help but feel that it owed a certain something to the scene in Licence To Kill when the recently-captured villain was being transported across a long, picturesque bridge in a prison van, only for his cronies to suddenly turn up and break him out in an improbably hastily-organised but undeniably exciting escape. Can't quite put my finger on what it is though.

Franz Sanchez
"Each film is only as good as its villain," said critic Roger Ebert. Inconveniently, he was talking about Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, but his theory has never been proven as strongly in a Bond film as in Licence To Kill. Sanchez isn't just dirty, he's terrifying, psychotic and probably mentally unstable: no sane person would wear a shirt like this, after all. His unique way of dealing with disloyal associates makes me genuinely concerned for Bond when he goes undercover in Sanchez' inner circle, and when his cover's blown, it's one of the rare occasions in a Bond film when you're desperate for him to kill the bad guy before he carves 007's lungs out, or something.

Michael Kamen's score

Having done a cracking job on action scores for Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, and with John Barry  unavailable due to illness, Michael Kamen brought his urgent, stabby brass along to accompany Bond’s roaring rampage of revenge. Kamen’s often frantic, always fantastic score is crucial to ramping up the film’s tension and remains woefully served on the soundtrack album. Somebody needs to sort that out STAT.

“He was married once… but it was a long time ago”
Tracy Bond rarely gets a mention post-OHMSS, but when she does it’s always a touching moment, and Dalton makes this one heartbreaking. It's never overtly mentioned, but given that Felix's wife suffers the same wedding day fate as Mrs Bond, it's hard not to see 007's dogged pursuit of her killers as an attempt to alleviate his own guilt and anger over Tracy's murder. As a result Licence To Kill ends up being the film Diamonds Are Forever should have been.

The Incredible Wetsuit
Most of Bond’s outfits in Licence To Kill have been flamed by those in the know, but check out the sexy red piping on this baby. I might get one of these just to lounge about the house in.

This line reading by Benicio
Monserrate Rafael del Toro Sánchez
He’s not being entirely truthful.

Licence revoked
When Barry Norman showed a clip of this scene in a Film ’89 summer preview, I turned to my dad in horror and disbelief. “James Bond RESIGNS? What the actual fuck?”, I didn’t say to my dad because I would have got a clip round the ear. 23 years later the scene is just as powerful: Robert Brown finally gets his teeth into the role of M, Dalton looks like he wants to beat his boss to a bloody pulp and Bond effectively jacks in the only thing that ever meant anything in his life to avenge his friend. When I quit my job it’s going to be exactly like this.

Milton Krest's death
The scene for which the film probably most deserved its 15 rating might just be the series’ best death. As if we weren’t quite sure just how horrible Sanchez is, we get to see him burst his business partner’s head open over a matter of a few measly quid. Not that Krest didn’t deserve it: in one scene he wore SALMON PINK SLACKS.

The end
Once the film has finished blowing up half of South America in its stunning ten-minute tanker chase and Bond has exacted fiery revenge on Sanchez, it brings it all back down to Earth with a touching moment in which we almost see James Bond cry for the first time since his wife was killed. Without a word, Dalton conveys Bond's exhausted relief that it's all over, and when he nearly breaks down at the thought of everything he's been through it's almost too much to take.


And finally: As Timothy Dalton bade Bond farewell, he took with him several other names who performed their final double-0 duties on Licence To Kill, all of whom played a small part in making me the unbearable conversational bore I am today. So thanks to these guys for that:

* For a geekily fascinating analysis of the film's many journeys between the edit suite and the BBFC, check out these Melon Farmers

BlogalongaBond will return with GoldenEye

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
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19 comments :

  1. Really enjoyed reading that. Don't quite buy the argument that it's the best Bond but great stuff nonetheless.

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  2. Licence to Kill blended the overt extravagance of previous Bond with an intimacy, blending the two character traits of Dalton’s Bond. The action scenes vary from expansive vistas to the close up and faintly claustrophobic. Take Krest’s office at the Marine centre, all fake wood cladding and basic desk. As one of the main baddies in a previous Bond he would’ve had an onyx chandelier, fur lined ceilings and pet panthers. Licence to Kill also borrows traits from other 80s films, Sanchez is the man Scarface would’ve been, Truman Lodge has overtones of Wall Street about him and the drugs ‘n’ revenge theme pretty much ran through every blockbuster of the decade.

    As much as I admire Dalton’s portrayal there is one grating moment that defies comprehension. Why was the scene where he says to Sanchez “...things were about to turn nass-ty” not re-dubbed? It is said in a fucking Northern accent for Christ's sake. He’s Bond not George Formby.

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    1. Oh Arwell, I love it when he says 'nasty'! It's proper British! I think it's really endearing...it's a relaxed exclamation, perfect delivery I think, rather than bland R.P with arched eyebrow...I think it's quite a good thing that you and other viewers notice and remember the tone and delivery of Dalton's voice - who can say the same about the other actors? Whatever the moment and words, I think Timothy did an excellent job of conveying Bond so viscerally and fully through voice and facial emotions...
      When he rescues gorgeous gun-ho Pam in that gorg speedboat which breaks down and she snogs him (it's a wonder she waited that long!) I love the tone of his voice,how he chides her "now why don't you wait until you're asked?" - D.R.E.A.M.Y
      It's no where near as bad as Sean Connery teeth-foaming in You Only Live Twice - "Yeeshs, Iah stuudied Oriiental Laanguages at Cambreddge" - cringe - and who can believe that!?

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  3. Ahh, Carey Lowell and her wandering eye. I had such a crush on her when this came out. While I'm with you on most of these (Yes, I've read every single one), I'm not in agreement that LTK is the best Bond film ever made. It coulda/shoulda/woulda been if they'd lost the sound effects guy (slide whistle, again?? Swishing ninjas?) and played it straight the way they did TLD. By the end, it still makes me weep that Dalton didn't get to do GoldenEye but the film is too inconsistent to be the best. For me, it's like an album that has my all time favorite songs on it along with a handful of stinkers.

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  4. LTK is not the best Bond but it is most likely the last good Bond. For me it was also the last film that seemed to be rooted in the present as it were, without trying to be the 60s all over again i.e. the Dalton era. The cringeworthy addition of the old DB5 in Goldeneye told me all I needed to know for the next 10 years.

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  5. ATTENTION: Cubby produced all SIXTEEN bonds to this point, not 15. Are you excluding Thunderball because he was credited as "executive" producer?

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  6. Don't know why it took so long to come across your site but thank the gods I have. Being about 18 at the time Dalton took over and well into my life's addiction to all that is Bond, I had just finished reading all the books. The movies I had remembered growing up, had suddenly changed from being great fun to, damn these could have been better. After the first 10 minutes of The Living daylights my hopes and prayers had been answered. Bond finally started to resemble what Fleming put on paper. License to Kill with always remain bitter sweet for me as it was the last great Bond performance in my eyes. I do like where they've gone with Craig alot. I like Craig a lot as Bond. But to me, Dalton was the only one to bring the literary Bond to life and I'll be forever grateful for his too brief run.

    P.S I actually ran into Carey Lowell when she was filming a movie in our city a few years back. Film does not do that lady justice. She was hot. Just sayin'

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  7. I loved LTK (and still do). It had real grit, it was personal, Bond said eff the boss, he was feeling the Tracy/Della death connection, plus his pal Felix being fed to sharks and went into hyperdrive to get Sanchez. This was so refreshing to watch. The best Bond? No, but certainly none of the far better Bonds. I too wish Dalton could have done AVTAK or Goldeneye. Dlaton WAS truly the literary Bond come to life.

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  8. Loved this article. LTK was superb, not only as an action film but as a Bond film too. I saw it for the first time about a week ago and I can not put into words just how much I enjoyed it. It was long like most other Bond films but there was never a dull moment. Dalton definitely deserved at least one more movie and it's such a pity that because of all manner of reasons that couldn't be. Having never seen it before (I was only a little kid when it first came out), I can appreciate it entirely on its own merits.. with no comparisons to Miami Vice (like some people seemed to do when it first came out). IMHO it holds up like a fine piece of action and Dalton is completely likeable (and very engaging, he exudes a vulnerable darkness). What a kickass film.

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  9. Re. Only listing Cubby Broccoli as producer for just 15 films was BOGUS as he (and Harry Salzman) only let Kevin McClory have sole producer "credit" on Thunderball to placate that git who got the movie rights in the infamous court settlement. And then McClory got greedy by remaking the damned thing as Never Say Never Again (meh), then STUPID when he made a third try in 1997 by claiming that DALTON would star in it and that HE (McClory) deserved a stake in having created the WHOLE MOVIE SERIES (WTF?). Fortunately, NONE of those things happened, and the sorry bastard died having wasted all the profits he made from both versions of TB chasing a dream that wasn't even HIS. Jerk.

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  10. I love this blog, your reviews are great! I wish Timothy Dalton had gotten to do more Bond films he really was awesome in the role and the closest to Fleming's vision, although Fleming certainly loved Sean Connery in the role. Glad to see someone else who liked Carey Lowell, I always feel she gets unfairly bashed for her role in this film.

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  11. This is a great read! I don't think I've ever come across TD as 'T-Daltz'!!! Totally agree that it is a mahhusive bummer that he only did two - really sad, I think the softer-brained masses would have warmed better if he started way back, I think on 'For Your Eyes Only' - TD's Bond dourness would have created some interesting chemistry with Carole Bouquet I think, and they would have made a very attractive pair...and then onto AVTK...but cannot imagine Grace Jones with TD...yikes! I think Roger was the best man to subdue her...
    Anyway, so nice to find a website that is not bashing the clearly best Bond! Connery was of his time and pretty fab, but, really, Timothy Dalton is truly, madly, deeply Fleming's Bond...and he is extremely hot whilst doing it!
    LTK was pretty raw, scorching and shocking I think when it came out - I don't think the critics or the masses could get over the whole Bond-perma-tan-arched-eyebrow thing...and it was such a brooding, brutal departure, with little patience for witty one-liners, and Timothy is derided for not having much humour...but really, realistically, your best mate has just been half-eaten, you've been fired, you've ended up in a 'shit-hole' (Pam's words, not mine!) so not much opportunity for martini's, sex and belly-laughs when real revenge is on the go...

    However, I think LTK is one of the best in the series, along with TLD which I think is number one with Dr No - LTK is a great title, it's rollicking, stylistically refreshing in every way - from camera shots, story development and costume - it's a slice of the deluxe 80's, and full of action which really knackers Bond...the airbourne pilot-cash fight and the spectacular ending scene with the oil tankers are imaginative but believable.

    But I think my favourite action sequence is the excellently tacky bar brawl where he meets Pam...everytime I see it, it feels so real, like you're the fifth person sitting at that table, and it's really funny - I notice another moment Neil where TD actually swears and it has not been edited out: when one of the baddie's attacks him with that huge plastic swordfish (as you do, perfectly normal night in cornwall) in the bar, it pierces through the chair TD has picked up, missing his eyeball, where he then silently exclaims "F***!!!" - love it!
    It also looks like he wants to say "F***" when he realises that he carrying a tiddly W.PPK in comparison to Pam's moose-killer shotgun in a bar full of murderous maniacs...I love it how she tells him 'You just hit the deck and stay there'!!!

    I think TD shows true, modern respect of and towards women in TLD & LTK - I think he is the first and only true gentlemanly Bond towards the ladies and, dare I say, *romantic*...his female interactions are refreshingly realistic and he lets their personalities and agendas blossom...his pairing with Cary Lowell is superb and has real entertaining chemistry, as he did with Maryam D'Abo in TLD, but here he meets his match, and I love it how they bicker and tell each other off, but they are truly there for one another in the end...

    I agree, aside from the scary casino back-combing some poorly inept flunkie has moulded TD's hair into, (maybe it was a tropical climate reaction?) and some fluffy nonsense from Lupe (would have loved to have seen her in a proper face-off with Pam cause she would have gone down baby) LTK and TD are super cool and totally, totally under-rated...but nice to see some people appreciate it here!

    Would like to know people's favourite quips/scenes!

    I love it when:

    "I just saved your life back there, if it wasn't for me, YOUR ASS WOULD'VE BEEN NAILED TO THE WALL"
    - "YOU saved MY life?!?! It's a tough business you run, MS. Bouvier!"

    When TD-Bond sees Pam for the first time after her make-over, in the bank...

    Classic sexy hotel lift scene where Pam generously lends Bond her garter-gun...

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    1. Glad you like it. Also thanks for doubling the length of the post ;-)

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  12. Very enjoyable review...found myself laughing out loud in a lot of parts! good job!

    I have always enjoyed Licence to Kill and despise how it got poor reviews and is constantly slated as being out of touch with other bond films. It's the unconventionalness and the non-conformity that I have always liked about this film. The action is rip-roaring and I have always felt that I would NEVER want to fuck with Fran Sanchez. Dalt may be a hard bastard but this guy is an even harder bastard. Sure Dalt even knew the only way to kill him would be to catch him off guard as he was shafted when Sanchez had him all ready to be slaughtered after falling off the tanker!

    This is a dark bond film and the darkest in the series...the deaths are gruesome and as you say, Bond leaving OHMSS to pursue a vendetta and exact revenge for the brutal murder of Della and the horrible attack on Felix Leiter was a perfect metaphor. I actually think one of the taglines for the film was "Bond as you've never seen him before".

    I love this film and it will always get a watch when it's a bank holiday weekend or I want to flick on a bond film that I know will have me entertained. I love the one-liners and banter from Sharky and T-Dalt and the rest of the crew and I always find myself giggling. One of my favourites: Pam "It's Ms. Kennedy and why can't you be *my* executive secretary. Bond just laughs "We're south of the border. It's a man's world" LOVE THAT DELIVERY! I might sound like a misogynistic bastard...but let me assure all...I am not! haha

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  13. How refreshing to see someone singing this film's praises - and rightfully so! I champion this film whenever Bond films come up in conversation, particularly when ill-informed fans say how dark/human Daniel Craig is. I wholly agree with everything you said. The film is superb, and only gets better with age.

    And thanks for linking to the Melon Farmers article; I write those :)

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  14. Glad you like it GJ. I LOVE what you did on it for MF!

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  15. Thanks :) I did detailed pieces on GoldenEye and Die Another Day too, as well as supplying a list of cuts for the entire series. I'll be doing more writing for the site, as well.

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  16. I find it on the low end of my ranks. I think it's because I don't like the villain. In this story at least.. It seems like they would have more consequential things for a rogue Bond to deal with than a drug trafficker. You have Bond on a personal vendetta, you would think it would have a more consequential person to reveal than Sanchez. Now would have been a good time for someone like Dominic Greene. A more interesting character, but someone to that effect..Something big that only makes Bond more determined. It would have worked here, unlike in 2008 in...that movie.

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