Monday, October 1, 2012

Brandon Peters dissects the 007 series part 16: License to Kill.

With Skyfall dropping in theaters in just a couple months, along with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, a close friend and fellow film nerd, Brandon Peters, has generously offered to do a comprehensive review of the entire 007 film franchise. Today is the sixteenth entry, with a full review of  Timothy Dalton's second and sadly final turn as James Bond, License to Kill. I hope you enjoy what is a pretty massive feature leading up the November 9th release of Skyfall. I'll do my best to leave my two-cents out of it, give or take a few items I have up my sleeve (including a possible guest review from my wife as she sings the praises of her favorite 007 film, you won't believe what it is). But just because I'm stepping aside doesn't mean you should. Without further ado...

License To Kill
Director:  John Glen
Starring:  Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Benicio del Toro, Talisa Soto
Rated: PG-13

Why don’t you wait until you’re asked?

Why don’t you ask me?

                        ~Exchange between James Bond and Pam Bouvier

Kills:  6
Girls:  Lupe Lamora, Pam Bouvier
Car:  Lincoln Mark VII LSC
Locales:  Miami, Republic of Isthmus
Odd Villain Trait:  Dario is an lunatic with a silver tooth and a switchblade
Song:  “License To Kill” performed by Gladys Knight*
Other notable song:  “If You Ask Me To” performed by Patti LaBelle

Director John Glen finishes out his tenure as director of the James Bond franchise delivering the film he was trying to make with his first effort (For Your Eyes Only).  The film takes a much darker and gritty course than any preceding 007 entry.  The script and direction plays in favor to Timothy Dalton’s strengths as James Bond that would make Ian Fleming smile if he were around to see it.  In a summer movie season packed with more colorful large scale pictures the initial reaction to License To Kill was not that of a positive one, and audiences did speak with their wallets.

On the day of fellow CIA associate Felix Leiter’s wedding, Leiter is able to capture the elusive drug kingpin Franz Sanchez.  Sanchez is able to sway a CIA operative to help him escape custody during a transfer.  He returns to stake his vengeance on Leiter and his new bride, killing her and severely wounding Felix.  All this magically happens on the same day, no doubt.  When James Bond gets word he goes rogue, teaming with CIA informant Pam Bouvier and vowing to infiltrate and take down Sanchez on his own terms.

Once again, the James Bond franchise takes it inspiration from other sources.  This time, the film fits right in line with the “hard R” violent action pictures on the 1980s.  The violence is bloody and it looks like it hurts.  If you add some curse words, there wouldn't be much separating it from them.  Also, Sanchez’s home base and operations come right out of the Brian DePalma film Scarface.  And at times the movie really looks and feels like you’re watching Scarface.  The meetings between Bond and Sanchez capture very much the vibe Tony Montana and Alejandro Sosa’s first meet up. 

This style also plays benefit to Timothy Dalton’s Bond.  The guy already felt comfortable with his place as Bond in the last film, but here he elevates it.  The character of Andrew on Buffy the Vampire Slayer definitely had it right, the man truly is an overlooked gem of the series and it’s a shame this would be only his second and final appearance.  He takes the cold gruff of Connery and builds his character out of it.  He doesn’t really carry the swagger or smoothness of Roger Moore and Sean Connery, but you really buy this guy as a secret agent able to muscle out of sticky situations.  Maybe Dalton is more in line as the “action hero James Bond” as his type.  By the end of the film, we also get to see Bond more beat up and bloodied than ever before.  So far in this series, he IS the closest representation to the literary character we’ve had (although, looks-wise, he’s more handsome than the pages describe). 

Another benefit to the Dalton era is that he did as much of the stunt work as was allowed.  This really brings an extra layer of thrill to watching it.  It’s a challenge to try to find Dalton’s stuntman when watching an action sequence.  The biggest highlight comes early on during an underwater escape that winds up in him harpooning a plane and barefoot skiing behind it.  Many of the action scenes in general just give that real vibe you don’t get anymore.  And the violence and blood level are taken up many levels as well.  This is the first Bond film to get a PG-13 rating as well.

Its almost criminal that Robert Davi as Franz Sanchez is never in discussion when great Bond villains are the subject.  This man is incredibly scary and dangerous.  He is also pretty ruthless.  Sanchez is a very dark and disturbing individual when it comes to disposing of those who cross him.  And when he thinks he’s been betrayed, he becomes a loose canon.  When Bond befriends him in an attempt to infiltrate and learn more about his operations, you are just sitting and praying he doesn't discover Bond’s true motivations.  He may lose his cool, but he’s always in charge and no one dare step in front of him.  The character of Sanchez and his operation is a successfully executed version of Dr. Kananga from Live and Let Die.

The Bond women in this one aren't as strong as the lone one in the last outing, but they aren’t any slouches either.  Lupe Lamora is a much better rendition of Andrea from Man With The Golden Gun.  She’s stuck with Sanchez due to his obsession with her, but wants out bad.  And I don’t believe Bond to be in love with her, but sleeps with her to earn her trust and assistance to help him take down Sanchez.  While she’s not perfectly characterized, Cary Lowell’s Pam Bouvier comes off as extremely likable and charming.  For the first time, Bond sleeps with 2 women and it results in a love triangle with emotional consequences.  I do enjoy that while Bouvier is a little bit school-girl upset, she is still is able to push it aside to accomplish the mission at hand with class.  None of her feelings toward Bond cloud her ability to take on the mission.  

One of the only missteps in the film, and I’ll allow it because I like the character, is the over usage of Q.  He appears to help out Bond, but sticks around and feels shoehorned in to the plot and action.  His quipping and goofiness feels a little out of place in this dark revenge story.  They probably felt they had to put him in somewhere, and decided he’d be there to give a break from the tension, but in the end, he just doesn't work.

The summer of 1989 was a big summer of franchise releases at the box office.  Tim Burton’s Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Ghostbusters II, The Karate Kidd Part III, Lethal Weapon 2, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child all came up to bat that summer.  Somewhere lost among all this was License to Kill.  While grossing $156 million worldwide, the movie was on the lower end of the Bond intake.  Budgeted on $32 million, it only managed to gross $34 million in the US.  This film really isn't near as bad as this box office is suggesting.  Its quite good and much better than most of those franchise films that out-grossed it.  However, you have a dirty, violent gritty Bond film that just isn't the fun family get together at the movies.  

All the previous entries you could take the kids to and everyone would have fun.  License to Kill was far too adult.  It turned off the family going crowd and didn’t have the hard R rating to attract the action crowd like a Lethal Weapon.  It was just sifting in its own little corner not attractive to any core audience.  The summer is a place for big movies like a Bond film, but this one was far more suited for a November release (which, not surprisingly, is where they would move to).  Unappreciated on its initial release, License To Kill stands the test of time far better than most of its predecessors.  It’s a welcome change of tone for the series.  A lot of people knocked it when it came out due to “straying too far from the path”, but why wouldn't you want that (as long as the film is a competent acceptable piece of good entertainment).  This was the 16th film in the franchise, heaven forbid we give something new a shot.  

Timothy Dalton gives a top notch Bond performance to compliment his already superb debut.  The filmmakers give us a story driven and somewhat original story to follow.  It’s gritty, violent and has a narrative and action pieces that are both engaging and genuine.  You don’t see movies like License To Kill made anymore.  It’s a real treat to throwback to this era, which this film surprisingly still holds up strong even being a byproduct of it.  Sadly, Timothy Dalton’s James Bond era is only this one-two punch.  Looking back, hopefully more will take a look and appreciate him and the films in this short lived tenure.  James Bond would now go on its longest hiatus (six years), losing Dalton along the way, before lighting up movie screens around the world.

Brandon Peters will return in Goldeneye

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*Eric Clapton made a title song for the film, but it was rejected by the producers.


Jim Zale said...

The problem with this film was the terrible acting of the secondary characters. Felix Leiter and his wife shot this film in the foot at the start, and the dueling semis kind of finished it off. But Anthony Zerbe blowing up was awesome!

James O'Leary said...

This was the first time an actor repeated the role of Felix Leiter. And while David Hedison was in the comedy relief mode of Felixes in "Live and Let Die", here he was quite competent and you feel a real friendship between him and Bond. It made the revenge all the more believable. I always liked Timothy Dalton's Bond and wish he had done more. I also wish they had kept the movie's original title "License Revoked", but it was felt Americans were to dumb to get it. As it turned out, the whole movie went over their heads.


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