Licence to Kill: brutal brilliance
It's 1989. You're Eon. Bond's becoming passé. The Living Daylights, while establishing a return to the Fleming roots, suffered from a complicated (and, to be honest, dated) plot.
Audiences just don't connect with traditional spy thrillers anymore. So, what do you do? You go dark. And then immediately regret that decision when all the fans hate it. Except me, of course.
Licence to Kill, the film that bombed the box office, the film that killed the franchise for six years, is my absolute favourite in the series. I'd even go as far as to say it's one of my favourite films ever made. Licence is quite a controversial one among the fandom; people either love it or hate it. So, before I get into my absolute love for this film, let me first address the issues people have with it.
I think the only reason people object to the revenge and drug baron plot is because of the direction and cinematography being somewhat bland and TV-film-like. Live and Let Die and Quantum of Solace explore similar scenarios but don't get flack for it.
The simplicity of the plot signifies that this entry will rely mostly on character drama, which, to me, is much more engaging than a complicated megalomaniac scheme.
People complain that it doesn't feel like a Bond film. Bond loses his 00 status in this one — he's not with MI6 anymore — that's the point. It's not going to be as stylised and sophisticated as the previous entries. If you find the film too dark or too gritty, that's entirely fair. It can be brutal at points.
I love the brutality of Licence — although I'm aware that it's not for everyone. My only issue with the film is Talisa Soto's acting, but her character isn't integral to the plot so it can be overlooked.
Now I'm done defending this film, let's explain why it's fantastic. Firstly, it's got the best performance from a Bond actor. Timothy Dalton as James Bond, who's lost almost everything, who's been pushed over the edge, and is driven by revenge, is just phenomenal here. He's just as incredible as he was in Daylights, but I think the script works better for his take on Bond in Licence.
Gone are the Moore-ish comedy elements, instead replaced with a more manipulative side to 007's personality. The scenes where Bond plays Sanchez by pretending to be loyal to him are reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's 1961 samurai classic Yojimbo (more famously remembered as the 1964 western remake, A Fistful of Dollars), and are incredibly well-written and acted by both parties.
Robert Davi deserves a lot of credit. His portrayal of Franz Sanchez is both slimy and likeable. You really dislike him, yet he's a joy to watch. His henchmen are also really enjoyable. Dario is deranged, and it works so well. Professor Joe is hilarious in every scene, and even the minor characters like Truman-Lodge and Ed Hurley... sorry, Killifer, have left a lasting impression.
Q also has a lot to do, which really shows off Desmond Llewellyn's charm and flair for the role. All while also showcasing the Dentonite toothpaste, my favourite gadget in the series. The way he plays off of both Bond and the charming Pam Bouvier is excellent. People who say this film is devoid of humour must have forgotten about these scenes.
But part of the reason I love this film so much is the emphasis on the darker side of espionage. Felix Leiter gets his leg bitten off, his wife gets killed, and it's implied that she's also raped. People get harpooned, eaten by sharks, and electrocuted. Heads explode. It's all grim stuff. But it's all brilliant.
One of my absolute favourite scenes in the series is the scene where Bond discovers the bodies of Della and Leiter. It's really tense, and the handheld camerawork makes the disturbing nature of the scene incredibly effective.
Despite the harder edge, the film never fails to be entertaining, best exemplified through some of the greatest action scenes the series has ever showcased. The opening sequence where Bond hooks Sanchez's plane is incredible at setting the darker, more action-heavy tone for the film. The escape from Krest's base, which involves some thrilling underwater and water skiing action, is precisely how an underwater fight sequence underwater should be done.
The underwater sequence doesn't slow the pace purely because it's underwater (here's looking at you, Thunderball) — it's continually moving and flowing. The highlight of the action is the tanker chase, which is the single coolest sequence in the franchise. So many explosions, nail-biting stunt work, and a taut and brutal fight scene between Bond and Sanchez make this the standout action scene of the series for me.
The dark tone, phenomenal performances, intriguing plot, and incredible action scenes mean that this is a Bond film made for me. I love pretty much every frame of the film this is printed on. Well, except for that bloody fish at the end.
Oliver is a student living in London. He's a fan of all things dark and morbid, which explains why his favourite Bond film is Licence to Kill.