Friday, 8 April 2011

Licence To Kill (1989)

Licence To Kill was the second and final of the James Bond movies to star Timothy Dalton as 007. The first thing that has to be said about this film is that it is not by any stretch of the imagination a Bond movie.

It is for the most part a routine action cop movie. Even worse, it beings to that most tedious of movie genres, the rogue cop movie. It’s another movie about the dedicated cop who breaks all the rules to avenge his partner. While Bond at the beginning is still ostensibly working for the British Secret Service he is to all intents and purposes just a cop. His old CIA buddy Felix Leiter has been turned into a cop as well. There are no spies, no international intrigue, no diabolical criminal masterminds, the world is not threatened by shodowy organisations bent on world domination. There are just cops chasing drug dealers.

Felix Leiter’s wedding is interrupted by the pursuit of drug lord Sanchez (Robert Davi). The pursuit is successful but Sanchez bribes his way out of lawful custody and takes his revenge on Leiter. The remainder of the movie sees Bond quitting the Secret Service to avenge his buddy.

There are so many things wrong with this movie it’s difficult to know where to start.

The producers apparently decided the Bond franchise needed to be updated by turning him into just another movie cop, and by removing every trace of the wit, the style and the fun that had made the Bond series so immensely successfully. They got their just reward for this lame-brained idea when Licence To Kill predictably bombed at the box office.

The producers also decided the movie needed to be dumber and more violent than previous Bond moves. The result is an unpleasant movie with lots of gratuitous gore.

The other major problem is Timothy Dalton. It’s not that he can’t act, but whoever he was playing in this movie it certainly wasn’t James Bond. The theory has been put forward that this was an attempt to create a film Bond based much more closely on the character created by Ian Fleming in his novels. While that’s not necessarily an entirely bad idea if that was the intention here the attempt failed dismally. There’s not a trace of the darkness, the complexity, the mix of arrogance and self-doubt or the sexual perversity of Fleming’s creation. Dalton’s Bond is merely dull. He’s just a tough guy cop.

The kindest thing I can say about Dalton’s performance is that he’s not as bad as Daniel Craig.

Robert Davi as Sanchez gives us the first truly boring Bond villain. He’s just another movie drug baron.

There are two Bond girls in this one, neither of them memorable.

To compound the problems even further the plot drags unbearably. A Bond movie that not only has hardly a trace of humour and no sense of fun but that is also frequently boring is not my idea of a good time.

There are plenty of action sequences and lots of explosions, but while they’re impressive enough in their own way they’re mostly not terribly original. There’s a fatal absence of the visual wit you expect in a Bond movie.

It’s a movie that sums up the way the movie industry was changing at the time. It’s competently made, slick, soulless and dull. It’s not quite the worst Bond movie I’ve seen, but it comes very close. The 2006 Casino Royale is slightly worse, but only slightly.


cblaze said...

Awww... Though I agree with you on many many points and even agree it's a bad film - I've had a soft spot for Timothy Dalton as Bond - and kind of liked Licence To Kill for some reason.

dfordoom said...

cblaze, I think The Living Daylights sounds more like the sort of thing I'd like, so I'll add that one to my rental queue and give Timothy Dalton another chance.

cblaze said...

Oh, no, I wouldn't do that unless you were making it a goal to watch every "Bond" film. I was never much of a Bond fan - I appreciate the films but no fan - so it makes sense that everyone's least favorite Bond (Dalton) would be the one I would kind of like.

Every so often, your movie view is the exact opposite of what I expected - so for half a moment I wondered if you would actually like Licence To Kill for not being a "Bond" film.

dfordoom said...

Oddly enough I like On Her Majesty's Secret Service precisely because it's not a typical Bond film. And I liked Roger Moore as Bond even though I thought he was the furthest away from Ian Fleming's original characterisation of any of the actors to play the role.

I think that I didn't like Licence To Kill mostly because it didn't feel like a proper spy film, and I do love spy films. But it's still a whole lot better than Casino Royale!

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I have a confession to make - LICENSE TO KILL is my favourite Bond movie. I like it for precisely the reasons you don't. I've always felt Dalton was the best Bond, largely because of the accuracy of his portrayal in relation to the Fleming character. For me the vengeance angle of the plot, and the rogue nature of Bond is entirely in keeping with a character soaked in blood. It doesn't feel like a spy film because it isn't. And after 16 spy adventures, I salute this film for not being yet another.