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BOND RETROSPECTIVE 16: ‘LICENCE TO KILL’

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With NO TIME TO DIE arriving in theaters on April 8th, 2020, we’re doing a retrospective of all previous films in chronological order leading to the release. Today I reach Timothy Dalton’s final performance as 007.

***Spoilers Follow***

 

Licence To Kill

Composer Michael Kamen‘s influence is noticeable from the gun barrel alone. I love this change, which then segues into the Bond theme we all know and love.

Kamen’s score felt very contemporary at the time – and so it should. The composer was also responsible for composing the score for Lethal Weapon, Highlander and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Three Musketeers, and X-Men coming later. He also had many hugely successful collaborations with pop and rock legends. There are moments in the score which are reminiscent of the gritty 80s action films of those times. It’s a fit that seems fair for this is one tough Bond.

 

THE PRE-CREDITS

The pre-credits is a great adventure on its own. Bond’s CIA partner Felix Leiter (David Hedison, returning as the agent he played in Live and Let Die) is getting married. But before both men can get to the church on time, they must try and apprehend drug crime lord Sanchez (Robert Davi) who has made a trip to Florida. Sanchez makes a striking appearance when he and his men burst into a room where Talisa Soto (Lupe) is in bed with a man.

What did he promise you, his heart?

Give her his heart.

As the man is taken off-camera, his heart is removed by Dario (Benicio del Toro) who flourishes his shiny knife. Sanchez punishes her with lashes from a whip.

The pursuit of Sanchez leads to an airport shoot-out. Then proceeds to an air pursuit where Bond is lowered down on a cable that he attaches to Sanchez’s plane. (You can see where Christopher Nolan found inspiration for Bane’s plane attack at the start of The Dark Knight Rises). Bond catches his fish, then both men parachute down to the church, just in time. Brilliant.

 

THE STORY

Felix and the DEA have taken the opportunity to catch Sanchez, who usually never leaves “Isthmus City”, so the opening scene is a great victory for Leiter. But with the help of his minions and an inside man, Sanchez is sprung in a fantastic scene in the Florida Keys (this predates a similar scene in True Lies, 1994).

Sanchez’s men attack and kill Della, Leiter’s bride, then suspend Felix over a shark pool where he is hospitalized after losing a leg. Bond is now on his own personal vendetta. And now having his licence to kill revoked, becomes a free agent by infiltrating Sanchez’s organization to find ways to bring him down.

 

DELLA AND FELIX LEITER’S GENUINE LIGHTER

The scenes around the wedding are well played and you feel the affection between Bond, Leiter, and Della. The newly-weds even give Bond an inscribed lighter that really needs its flame adjusted! It’s great to see the films referring to Bond continuity. When Della gives Bond her garter for luck, implying he will marry next, she tells him:

Della: Next one who catches this, is the next one who –

Bond: No. Thanks Della. It’s time I left.

Della to Felix: Did I say something wrong?

Felix: He was married once. It was a long time ago.

 

KILLIFER

Bond and buddy Sharkey (Frank McRae) infiltrate a marine research facility owned by Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe), which is a cover for Sanchez’s operation. There’s a yucky moment when a henchman is consigned to a drawer full of maggots. Then to an exploding aquarium followed by the apprehension of the agent who double-crossed them all to help Sanchez escape. Killifer (Everett McGill) tries to bribe Bond, but 007 is having none of it, throwing the case of money at the agent who ends up in the same pool Leiter lost his leg in. The agent isn’t as lucky. I enjoy this tougher Bond.

 

LICENCE REVOKED

Bond makes it clear to Leiter’s DEA partner that he wants to get revenge. That partner escorts him to Hemingway House – a very picturesque location that plays like he’s about to meet a villain. Instead, we see M (Robert Brown), who has traveled here to tell Bond to get back to his job. Bond refuses and M informs him:

Effective immediately. Your licence to kill is revoked.

As Bond hands over his gun, there is a brief skirmish and he escapes. He is now truly on his own.

THE ESCAPE FROM THE WAVEKREST

A tremendous sequence. Bond sneaks aboard The Wavekrest to find Sanchez and instead learns that Krest’s goons have captured and killed Sharkey. Bond instantly responds by harpooning the goon before jumping into the ocean. As this happens, a seaplane arrives delivering drugs. A small remote sub delivers cash to the plane and the pilots return it with the drugs they have just offloaded. Bond destroys the drugs on the sub and as the divers approach, the tension racks up – you wonder how Bond will escape.

Of course, he does, beautifully. As the seaplane leaves, he harpoons the plane and is pulled away from his diver captors. Bond now water skis behind the plane before climbing up, discarding the pilots and escaping with all of Krest’s cash. Priceless.

 

THE BAR AFTER MIDNIGHT

Following a lead from Leiter’s notes, Bond meets Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) in a bar after midnight. We saw her speaking to Leiter earlier, and we learn she is an agent pursuing Sanchez too. Soon, Dario and his goons arrive and he gives the knife THAT flourish again. There’s a slightly cheesy barroom brawl. Lowell blows a hole in the wall with a shotgun and she and Bond escape by boat. They argue. Then smooch. (Well, it was still the 1980’s, I suppose).

 

ISTHMUS CITY

The fictional “Isthmus City” is run by Sanchez and Bond deposits the stolen drug money in the bank, knowing it will get attention. At Sanchez’s casino, we get Lowell in THAT dress. Bond is brought in to meet Sanchez by Heller (Don Stroud) and the scene is packed with tight dialogue and unspoken threat.

It is here that Q (Desmond Llewelyn) appears to help Bond with a case full of tricks. Moneypenny, the again underused Caroline Bliss, is secretly sent to help him. Bond, knowing that Sanchez’s room is behind armoured glass, uses plastic explosives from Q’s toothpaste tube to blow the window so he can kill the drug lord with his rifle.

But some ninja’s attack.

Yeah. Ninjas.

We learn that Hong Kong Narcotics have been pursuing Sanchez too, and Bond has stumbled into their plan. They are about to hand Bond over to the British when Sanchez attacks them using a tank (!) killing them all but leaving Bond unconscious and tied to a table. Thus, it looks like Bond is legit, a new partner that the Hong Kong agents were trying to torture.

 

SANCHEZ’S HOUSE

Bond walks into Sanchez’s luxury house (a gorgeous real-life location, not a set) and realizes that he is now trusted. Bond, encouraged by this, begins to plant the seeds that there may be others in Sanchez’s operation trying to work against him. Like Iago whispering doubts into Othello’s ear, Bond sows the seeds of suspicion. In a way, the job is done. From this point on, Sanchez’s suspicions bring him down.

 

SPLAT!

We return briefly to the Wavekrest, where Bond plants Krest’s own money in the pressurization chamber so it looks like he double-crossed Sanchez. Sanchez’s retribution is swift and severe. And the violence of this scene is what contributed to the certification for the film. Krest is put in the chamber with the money and the pressure increased beyond safety levels. Swinging an ax to burst a cable, the pressure is released and Krest’s head explodes. Splat.

“What about the money?”, says a goon:

Launder it.

 

THE INSTITUTE

We have learned that Sanchez runs a religious institute where televangelist, Professor Joe Butcher (Wayne Newton), plies his trade. Through his TV pleas, districts across the USA bid for drugs. Sanchez and the team head there to welcome foreign buyers and Bond, a trusted member of the gang, is brought along.

 

THE FACTORY

When Dario reappears, Bond realizes his cover will be blown (remember the barroom brawl?). Bond chucks some chemicals which start a fire that rapidly gets out of control far too easily. Sadly, this won’t be that last, stupidly easy, destruction of the villain’s place in Bond movies.

The goons throw Bond onto a conveyor belt that is used to pulverize the drug bricks. He is then suspended over the edge when Dario does that flourish with his knife again. Luckily, Pam is there to help and Dario falls into the mincer. More gore. Look away, kids.

As the complex is exploding, Sanchez and his men escape with tankers full of a gasoline mix that they use to Trojan Horse the drugs across the borders.

 

THE TRUCK CHASE

There is nothing to dislike in this chase. Brutal fights, truck stunts, missiles, a plane, the scene has the whole lot. Sure, it pays homage to Stagecoach, and consequently Raiders of the Lost Ark. And yes, it gets excessive when Bond does a wheelie with one truck and manages to ride another on its side to avoid a missile. But isn’t that the Bond Silliness audiences wanted anyways?

By the end, the goons have all been killed by Sanchez or gone up in smoke. We are left with 007 and the drug lord on a truck which skids off the road tumbling into a ditch. Both men are battered and bruised, and Sanchez raises his machete.

“Don’t you want to know why?” says Bond, pulling out the lighter and showing the inscription from Felix and Della.

There is a millisecond of recognition before that huge flame flickers and Sanchez erupts into a fireball. Bond runs and stumbles away as the gasoline ignites the truck in a truly HUGE explosion.

 

EPILOGUE

In the end, we see a cheery Felix recovering in hospital (did they forget Leiter’s whole storyline when they shot that 3-second scene?). Lupe has set her sights on some other rich guy, and our fiercely independent, but surprisingly huffy, Pam is pulled into a clinch by Bond. A very eighties ballad plays over the credits – similar in style to that of the previous film. And like that, little did we know, Dalton’s time as Bond was over.

 

STUNNED

I love this film. I remember bouncing out of the cinema, thrilled and stunned that Bond was tougher than normal. And why not? If Bond survived Kung Fu, Blaxploitation, and Star Wars elements, then it makes sense that it should tap into hot contemporary thrillers that were lighting up the box office.

The late 1980s saw an incipient rise of classic thrillers such as Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and more. Of course, those films were intended for adult audiences and Bond, until now, was family fayre. Many loved the changes and many disliked them. If twitter had existed then, #NotMyBond would have trended.

 

COMPETITION

The film was a financial success making a good profit. And it achieved critical and audience acclaim internationally. The film is still, somehow, viewed as a rare “failure” for Bond. This is possibly due to its underperformance at the US box office. Many attribute that to marketing errors by the MGM brass at the time and releasing the film in direct competition with Lethal Weapon 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and a little movie known as Batman. Yet the box office performance in the US was only one setback. Legal complications with MGM meant that EON was unable to mount a new film for years.

Despite Dalton wanting to return, the delays were too long and he ultimately had to walk away from the role. A damned shame. Lazenby deserved at least two more. Dalton at least three. And yet… the break ultimately paid off. Broccoli was able to cast a Bond he had wanted a long time for and could refresh the franchise.

REFRESHING

Licence to Kill was truly ahead of its time. I think you could remake the film almost entirely today and it would be accepted by current Bond fans. The franchise did need some refreshing. Between the release of Licence to Kill in 1989, and the arrival of Bond 17 in 1995, Russian Premier Gorbachev and his policies of reform (Perestroika) and openness (Glasnost), eased Cold War tensions and the Iron Curtain fell. Former Soviet countries were restructuring, the Berlin Wall was opened, and the evil bad guys for many a spy film were gone.

In 1994, James Cameron released True Lies, which took the spy genre and brought it up to date with cutting edge effects. Sure, it folded in a family drama and comedy, but it felt like a fresh new spy film. I bounced out of the cinema (I did a lot of bouncing in those days) thinking that Bond was dead.

Where could Bond, the sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War era, go next?

 

RICHARD MAIBAUM

Licence to Kill was Maibaum’s final contribution to a Bond script and there can be no doubt that his contribution to the Bond franchise is unsurpassed. Maibaum wrote or co-wrote the scripts for 13 Bond films. That must surely be a record, right? The only film he didn’t write was You Only Live Twice (where writing duties were given to Roald Dahl).

A close associate of film star Alan Ladd, Maibaum met Cubby Broccoli and in the 1950s wrote war films before being invited to bring Bond to the screen.

 

Production Cast
Produced by: EON Productions
Presented By:  Albert R Broccoli
Director: John Glen
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson
Composer: Michael Kamen
Licence to Kill” by Gladys Knight
Production Design: Peter Lamont
Cinematography: Alec Mills
London Premiere June 1989
Timothy Dalton
Carey Lowell
Robert Davi
Talisa Soto
David Hedison
Grand L. Bush
Anthony Zerbe
Anthony Starke
Benicio del Toro
Don Stroud
Wayne Newton
Everett McGill
Priscilla Barnes
Robert Brown
Caroline Bliss
Desmond Llewelyn

 

 

Teacher of Drama. And Media. Director of non-professional drama/musicals. Writer. Contributor to ReelAnarchy.com. Husband. Father. Ginger.

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