Monday, December 28, 2015

Film Review: Licence to Kill

"Licence to Kill"  *** (out of ****)

James Bond is armed and dangerous with a "Licence to Kill" (1989).

After appearing in seven movies as secret agent 007 James Bond, Roger Moore would walk away from the franchise, due to his age. Mr. Moore's final movie as James Bond would be "A View to A Kill" (1985), which is much better than most people would have you believe. As of the date of this review no actor has played the character in more movies than Mr. Moore.

During the period Mr. Moore played the character there were some who criticized the direction the series was going in. Mr. Moore was replacing Sean Connery (the actor George Lazenby played the character once inbetween this transition) as the character and had very big shoes to fill. The majority of movie audiences believe Mr. Connery was the definitive actor to portray the character.

Critics believed Mr. Moore was a bit too comical. The movies started to become something of parodies of the earlier movies such as "Dr. No" (1962) and "Goldfinger" (1964).

With Mr. Moore walking away from the franchise this would be a good opportunity for producers to once again change course and have the James Bond series move in a different direction.

Timothy Dalton, a Welsh born British actor, was not well known when he was chosen to play the secret agent. Mr. Dalton however would indeed take the series in a new direction. If Mr. Moore was too playful with a wink of the eye and a smile on his face, Mr. Dalton was going to take the character serious. With Mr. Dalton playing the lead role James Bond is all business. This new James Bond is a little rough around the edges. Mr. Dalton's Bond lacks the suave manner possessed by Mr. Moore and Mr. Connery's interpretation and all of the humor associated with both men. In fact, looking back at Mr. Dalton in the role, one could now say Mr. Dalton was the precursor for Daniel Craig and the reboot the series has gone through with Mr. Craig as James Bond.

Mr. Dalton would make his debut as James Bond in "The Living Daylights" (1987). The movie would become one of the highest grossing movies in the series. Audiences watching "The Living Daylights" would instantly notice a difference. Women aren't throwing themselves at Bond. Bond doesn't always have a quip or double-entendre ready. Bond isn't distracted by a beautiful woman. If box-office returns are any indication of anything, it would suggest the American movie going public liked the new direction the series was headed in.

And that is where we find ourselves with the sixteenth entry in the James Bond series, "License to Kill". In an attempt to repeat their success, the producers, Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, tried to keep everything the same as "The Living Daylights". Both movies were directed by John Glen, who directed the last three Bond movies Roger Moore starred in as well. The series would push the limits of the Bond formula completely altering it.

This time around James Bond goes rogue. He gives his resignation to M (Robert Brown) after his friend, Felix Leiter (David Hedison), a C.I.A. agent, is attacked by a shark and his wife (Priscilla Barnes) is murdered on their wedding day. Bond knows who is responsible for this, a drug lord named Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) and plans on hunting Sanchez down and killing him for revenge.

For today's audience, who have seen "Skyfall" (2012) and "Spectre" (2015), this plot may not seem that unusual however "Licence to Kill" was a major departure from the Bond formula. The Bond movies ran like clockwork. The movies begin with Bond on a mission, chasing after a bad guy. The sequence ends with a fantastic, cliffhanging stunt. Roll title credits. Bond walks into M's office, engages in some banter with Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss), and learns of his new assignment. Next he meets the villain and a pretty girl, in a social environment of course, perhaps at a casino, and uncovers the villain's scheme for world domination.

Bond did as he was told. He took pride in his job and defending the queen. In "Licence to Kill" Bond looks tired, beaten and talks back. Bond isn't a "happy agent". He is constantly put in life or death situations. Bond has no problem walking away from this lifestyle.

For the most part Mr. Dalton was a decent Bond. I can accept him as a secret agent tired of the spy game but I have trouble accepting Mr. Dalton as an action star. He delivers his lines nicely. Has a stern face, so we know he is serious. But I have trouble believing Mr. Dalton is an action star. Yes, it is true Roger Moore didn't look like an action star either but those stunts were poking fun at themselves. In that context I could accept Mr. Moore as Bond. Without the humor and charm and self-knowing nod, it is difficult to accept everything in "Licence to Kill" at face value. Sure, some of the action sequences are good and exciting, but, it makes Bond become more of an action movie star, nothing of which uniquely sets him apart from any other action movie. I suppose that is my difficulty with Mr. Craig in the role as well.

It was once said a James Bond movie is only as good as its villain. The more eccentric the villain and their diabolical plan for world domination, the better the movie. "Licence to Kill" doesn't have one of the great and memorable Bond villains. Sanchez reminds me of a "Scarface" rip-off. Sanchez doesn't want to rule the world. He is not working for the Soviets. He is not a spy. He simply wants to make money. He is a drug dealer. As such, he doesn't seem to pose much of a threat for James Bond. You don't feel Sanchez will get the better of Bond.

Unfortunately the Bond girls aren't that memorable either.This time around there is Pam Bouvier (Pam? What kind of Bond girl name is that? What ever happened to names like Pussy Galore?! She is played by Carey Lowell) a CIA informant who was working with Felix to expose Sanchez's drug deals. Bond hopes she can lead him to Sanchez. There is also Sanchez's girlfriend Lupe (Talisa Soto), who is not in love with Sanchez and wants out of his lifestyle. After a few brief meetings with Bond, she claims to love him. This feels completely out of place since Bond never makes a pass at her during their first meeting.

Finally I must say the title song, performed by Gladys Knight, is rather disappointing as well, even though it was a top ten hit on the UK charts. The song is not memorable. When you think of memorable Bond songs, the theme to Licence to Kill does not spring into anyone's mind.

For all of my criticism though "Licence to Kill" is worth watching. It is a different kind of Bond story. Some would say it is a welcome departure from the usual formula. For me, it works as an action movie not really a Bond movie. Personally I like Bond as suave and charming and with a dash of humor. Not to say I don't like Timothy Dalton in the role. I prefer him over Daniel Craig. Mr. Dalton looks like a James Bond. Not true with Mr. Craig.

"Licence to Kill" would be the last time Mr. Dalton would play James Bond. Legal disputes over the franchise would last several years. Mr. Dalton was originally slated to appear in one more Bond movie but after the long lasting legal dispute Mr. Dalton says he simply lost interest. This would pave the way for Pierce Brosnan to play the character. In my opinion, the last effective actor to play Bond.

If you like Daniel Craig as Bond you may want to see "Licence to Kill" and "The Living Daylights". I'm sure one would agree Mr. Dalton set the stage for Mr. Craig. If you like your Bond a bit more serious and rough around the edges, "Licence to Kill" will please you.