27 April 2012

BlogalongaBond- LICENCE TO KILL Review

I feel like Daniel Craig had the same problems, 20 years later, as Timothy Dalton had in Licence to Kill. Hot on the heels of The Living Daylights, which I've demonstrated to be a pretty fucking brilliant Bond film, comes the second of Dalton's outings, which isn't quite as fucking brilliant. The same problem that dogged Quantum of Solace a few years ago, then, after all that praise for Casino Royale. Not to mention that Santum of Quolace very much followed the same kind of plot as this one.

With the actor playing CIA agent Felix Leiter having been replaced on every consecutive appearance thus far, it's a bit random to have David Hedison (Live and Let Die's Felix) returning to the role in lieu of The Living Daylights' John Terry. Then again, it's important that we feel for Felix when he and his new wife Della are attacked by a fiendish drug dealer, Sanchez. Bond's certainly not best pleased, when Felix is grievously injured and Della is killed, and his mission of revenge prompts M to revoke his licence to kill, not that such disciplinary action gives 007 much pause.

After the transitional phase of megalomaniacs and Russian defectors who populated the previous film, 1989's Bond villain is a cartel of drug dealers. We've seen the series trailing popular trends in cinema ever since Bond started arching his eyebrows at much younger women, back when Hedison first played the role, but here we see the series settle into that most generic of action movie plots- the revenge movie. Not that it isn't very good with that sub-genre. The Bond of For Your Eyes Only, who warned Melina Havelock to dig two graves if she wanted revenge for her family's deaths, is nowhere to be seen in another spectacularly scowling performance from Timothy Dalton.

We also get the most overt references to the death of Tracy Bond since it actually occurred, and it only took two decades to get here. The parallels between the short-lived marriages of Bond and Felix are unmistakable, and perhaps Bond takes so unkindly, so quickly to avenging Della's death this time because he didn't seem all that bothered about his own wife back in the day. Either way, Dalton's a bit angry about it. As well as being closer to Bond on the page than any of his peers in the role, he's the one who does the most actual spying, once again infiltrating the enemies' ranks as a self-styled "problem eliminator", rather than fucking about with hover-gondolas.

You could sort of count A View To A Kill's useless horse subplot as that kind of behaviour too, but the way that his undercover mission was written, Moore might as well have been wearing a friendly sticker saying "Hello, My Name Is James Bond, You Should Kill Me", while sporadically shooting Zorin's associates. This Bond is, once again, more ruthless and cunning in his deception of Robert Davi's Sanchez, a truly menacing villain who is quite masterfully manipulated into killing members of his own team by our hero. In this regard, co-writer Michael G. Wilson cannily compared the film to Yojimbo, and there's something about the idea of Dalton's Bond as a lone samurai that's quite intriguing.

The villains in this one are pretty spectacular, with Davi's performance making his character just as treacherous as the pet sharks seen in the movie. Moreover, the film is notable for an early turn by Benicio del Toro, who just exudes star appeal, despite not having too much to do. His Dario is terrifyingly mellow, and possibly one of the all-time great henchmen of the series. Bond's main lady friend gets a satisfying update too, with Carey Lowell playing one of the few properly fleshed out female characters we've seen in the series' history, and her sparky chemistry with Dalton makes Pam Bouvier a vast improvement on the surprisingly chaste characterisation of her predecessor, Maryam d'Abo's Kara.

There's a lot of distance between this and the regular franchise formula, but why does that feel like a bad thing? This feels like the single most overtly American-oriented instalment of the series. It's set entirely in America and Mexico, with not a single sight of Bond's home turf. It adds to the feeling that he's gone off-ranch when he pursues Sanchez, but it does transparently gaze towards international marketability. How foolish it seems, in hindsight, for Eon to have gone to all that effort and wound up launching the film under the wheels of 1989's summer juggernauts; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part II and Batman.

Licence to Kill waives many of the concessions I allow when reviewing this series, by departing from the formula and taking a more adult approach with the violence and the plot. It largely acquits itself well, but seeing as how Dalton only made two films, I'd have liked to see him play Bond in at least one more film that actually felt like a Bond film. This one occasionally feels like he's playing Bond in the midst of a plain old 80s action thriller, albeit one with a cracking villain and a lasting exhilaration from watching its hero be so damn angry all of the time. And, of course, it's a bit better than Quantum of Sausage.


#16- Felix has put his life on the line for Bond, "many times". Presumably all off screen. Still, that explains why he's so often regenerated...

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With GoldenEye... in May.

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