Sunday, December 7, 2014

Licence to Kill

  It's hard to go wrong with Dalton as James Bond. Even though Licence to Kill isn't as good as The Living Daylights, that doesn't mean it's not a damn fine Bond flick in it's own right. It's a revenge thriller actually. In one of the most personal stories of the whole franchise, Bond's longtime buddy, Felix Leiter, an American CIA agent, gets married. However, a fiasco with an international drug lord paints a target on Leiter's back, resulting in his new wife's murder, and landing him in critical condition. Bond is outraged when red tape and due process prevent both him and the Americans from doing anything to investigate or retaliate. Nevertheless, It doesn't take Bond long to realize the only way Felix's attackers will be brought to justice, is by disregarding orders and taking matters into his own hands. Tendering his resignation from MI6, Bond sets out on his own to track down the drug lord, putting himself smack in the middle of a very dangerous business...

  Licence to Kill is a big departure from the average Bond formula. None of it was set in London, really. No megalomaniac villain. No trademark car. Bond doesn't really sleep around. Mainly though, the big thing is that the story revolves around a character that Bond knows. It's personal this time. When Felix is in danger, and his wife killed, it feels gut wrenching. This is a character who's been helping Bond since Dr.No, the first movie. I'd seen it before, but couldn't remember whether or not Felix ended up dying. Even though the bad guys are rather simple, their ruthlessness makes them stand out. Makes them memorable even. I should point out that Felix and his new wife were attacked on their wedding day. She was raped and killed (offscreen thankfully) and he was part-ways fed to a shark. As you could imagine... Bond was beyond furious.

  The villain is a drug lord. Not a drug lord with a crazy plot for world domination, or a drug lord who steals spacecraft, just... a drug lord. He's an elaborate drug lord, but still... just a drug lord. Bond is repeatedly told that there is more at stake than his own personal vendetta, but nobody else in the movie is remotely competent enough to see their objectives through. In the end, Bond's personal vendetta is the only thing that gets the job done. Everyone delivers their A game here. The acting ranges from great to flamboyant scenery chewing, but it's never stiff or boring. There's something hopelessly fun about Robert Davi's role as drug lord, Franz Sanchez. Even his name has a nice ring to it. It's the sort of name only a writer could come up with. It's great.

  Possibly even more interesting is a young Benicio Del Toro as Dario, Sanchez's personal henchman. He's loyal, like any good henchman. Yet there seems to be a little more than a boss/employee relationship between then. Instead it feels almost familial. Unfortunately his character is never developed much, as can be said for almost all the characters in this one. It stands in stark contrast to it's predecessor, especially with the Bond girl(s). We have two here, both I believe aren't really worth the mention. They feel like character archetypes, and at least one of the girls is responsible for the lion's share of stiff acting in the film. Bond himself is the anchor of the movie, grounding the action scenes, the humor, and the innuendo. Dalton juggles it all with a fiery intensity that the franchise needs more of.

  The movie is lacking Bond's trademark Aston Martin, but that doesn't mean there's any shortage of vehicular stunts. The climax involves two eighteen wheeler semi trucks in a chase down a mountainside. It's some downright explosive stuff. One of the most thrilling climaxes in the franchise up to this point. It's easy to enjoy the movie on the whole, seeing as it's stuffed full of high octane action like that, but it pales in comparison to it's predecessor. Licence to Kill is good, make no mistake, but it only just edges out above middle-of-the-road Bond fare. Come for the action and well made spy thrills, but stay for Timothy Dalton as Bond.  Given that this was his only other outing as Bond, I'm inclined to give it higher marks, simply because he's so great as Bond... but one can't help wondering what the franchise would've looked like if he had a few more movies after this one.

  Nevertheless, Licence to Kill is a great action movie that fits the era it was made in, to a T. The villains, the gadgets, the humor. It all works splendidly. Also worth pointing out is how Q's attitude towards Bond is different in this one. Gone is the casual disdain for Bond's antics, and it's been replaced by a grandfatherly concern and moderate indifference. It's a nice change, and fitting as well seeing as how Bond is not the irresponsible playboy that Roger Moore had played him as. I can't imagine anyone looking back on Timothy Dalton's movies as Bond with any sort of disappointment or ire. He was a great Bond who should've had the opportunity to make more. On that alone Licence to Kill is worth watching. In the vast middle ground of 007 outings, this one is one that manages to stand out as one of the better ones. It's not bad, it's not great, but it's good. Better than a lot of the Roger Moore movies, that's for sure.

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