James Bond Retrospective: Review of LICENCE TO KILL

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

I saw this one a lot when it first came out.  Once in the theater, and then a ton on video.  Always liked it.  When I saw it a few years ago, I still liked it, though I noticed it wasn’t as good as THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.  Watching it again, I was hoping I would still enjoy myself.

This has the darkest story yet for a Bond movie.  After being the best man at CIA Agent Felix Leiter’s wedding, Bond finds himself overtaken with revenge when Felix gets brutally tortured while his wife is murdered.  M determines that Bond is a loose cannon, since he can’t keep his emotions in check, so he revokes his licence to kill. Bond escapes and tracks down the villain responsible, Sanchez.  007 poses as a freelance hitman so Sanchez will hire him, and that’s when he finds out about a big drug deal plot.  Bond is on a mission to ruin all of Sanchez’s plans and ultimately, kill him for his buddy Felix.

This has a solid pre-title sequence.  James and Felix are on their way to the wedding, but then they are made aware of where Sanchez is.  Since Felix has been tracking him down for a while, they go after him.  There’s some good shootouts as they try to capture Sanchez, only for him to escape in a plane.  Bond and Felix get in a copter and follow him.  007 gets attached to a rope and is lowered down onto Sanchez’s plane, where James hooks the plane so the copter can take control of it.  It’s a pretty nifty stunt.  The sequence ends with Felix and James skydiving down to the wedding.  Unfortunately, it’s followed by one of the weakest songs in the series, sung by Gladys Knight.  I will admit, that it has grown on me throughout the years, but it just doesn’t compare to the rest.

I almost liked this one as much as THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS this time around.  I think the darker elements are awesome. I also think it has some better action sequences than the previous film, but there’s a few flaws that knock the film down a few pegs.  But as a whole, it rocks!  There’s some good scenes in the first half, including Sanzhez’s prison van escape on a bridge, Sanchez feeding Felix to the sharks, and Bond waterskiing with out skis.  I also really liked the scene when M is suspending 007, and when he runs away, M is ready to do anything (including terminating him) to bring him back in.  That’s pretty heavy stuff.  But then there’s a sort of dumb fight in a bar that felt more like ROAD HOUSE than a Bond movie.

The second half has Bond infiltrating Sanchez and it’s riveting stuff.  Also, Q shows up to help in the field, which is tons of fun as Desmond Llewlyn seems to be having a ball. The finale with the Drug factory being destroyed and the Semi-truck chase is fantastic.  That chase has some of the best stunts even seen in a Bond film (it kind of resembles the truck chase in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), even though some of it is unbelievable, like when Bond drives the Semi on one side of its wheels.  But it’s still great.  Call me a sucker for over-the-top action.  The final fight between Bond and Sanchez is quick, but ultimately satisfying.

So yeah, I said earlier that there are some flaws.  Not too many.  The major ones involve the Bond girls.  First, there’s Pam, who worked for Felix.  She helps Bond out, acting as his personal assistant, but is also handy with a gun too.  The filmmakers attempt to have some hot chemistry between them cause that approached worked extremely well in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, but they seemed to fall for each other too quickly here.  I just didn’t buy into it, though I did like some of their exchanges.  Then there’s Sanchez’s mistress who immediately falls for James.  It just all seemed so forced.  And then having Pam getting jealous at Bond wasn’t something I ever wanted to see in a Bond movie.  It was romantic/comedy-type stuff that just didn’t fit with the revenge plot.  Also, I thought the Wayne Newton stuff didn’t really work.  It’s not that bad, but unnecessary.

Timothy Dalton does another great job as 007.  After his second film, he’s clearly perfect for this series.  unfortunately, the majority of filmgoers didn’t agree.  His performance is even more intense this time, but still has some tender moments.  Carey Lowell is all right as Pam.  It’s more how her character is written than her performance, though I don’t know why you’d cast anyone as a sexy Bond girl who has a lazy eye.  Huh.  Talisa Soto is fine as Sanchez’s girl, again it’s her character that is more of a problem than her acting.  Robert Davi plays Sanchez, and he’s one of more threatening villains.  He’s so overprotective of his girl, that when he finds someone sleeping with her, he cuts out his heart.  Davi’s performance is perfect. Anthony Zerbe is entertainingly sleazy AS someone working for Sanchez.  The movie also features a very young and skinny Benicio Del Toro as  Sanchez’s main henchman.  His looks are fiercely menacing.  I also love it when he tells Felix what they did to his wife: “We gave her a nice HONEYMOOOOOOOON”.  Love the way he says that!  David Hedison (who also played Felix in LIVE AND LET DIE) and Frank McRae also turn in some nice work.

This was director John Glen’s last Bond film, and it was a hell of a way to go out.  He seems awfully comfortable with this new darker tone.  This is also, I think, the most violent Bond film as people get eaten by sharks, a guy’s head explodes from depressurization, and some one gets chopped up by a machine.  And it’s quite bloody.  I wonder if it would be R today, even.  This was the first Bond film to get a PG-13 too.  The story is one of the best.  At least the revenge part is.  The romantic sub-plots occasionally get in the way.  If they were handled better, like in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, that would have been okay, but it’s more forced this time.  Michael Kamen composed the music this time.  He was very popular in this era of action filmmaking, as he did the music for DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON.  It definitely has a bit of those flavors in there, but it also sounds very Bond-like, as Kamen uses the themes from past films quite often.  Speaking of LETHAL WEAPON, the film as a whole has a different feel to it, almost like a Joel Silver production.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Dalton’s second and last film is one to be proud of.  The Bond girls are never fully realized, but the rest of the plot is.  It’s not the normal Bond everyone is used to.  Anchored by an engaging revenge plot, this Bond film has a great villain, a dark tone and several top-notch action set pieces.  This is a very solid entry that should be seen more often.  ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

- Rated PG-13 for some surprisingly gruesome violence, sensuality (again, with the side-boob), and some language.

- Running time: 2hrs 13min.

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Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews

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