He disagreed with something that ate him (1989)
April 29, 2012 2 Comments
Assisting Felix (David Hedison) in the capture of drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) before delivering his friend safely to his expectant bride (Priscilla Barnes), James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is preparing to leave after the wedding when he hears of Sanchez’s daring escape. Finding Della dead and Felix missing, Bond sets off on Sanchez’s trail without the backing of MI6, having resigned when they forbade him from pursuing his vendetta. With only ex-CIA agent Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) and a holidaying, off-duty Q (Desmond Llewelyn) to help him, Bond – haunted by the similarities to his own wife’s murder – seeks revenge on the man responsible for Della’s death – a man who has found a way of dissolving cocaine into petrol in a bid to sell it, undiscovered to Asian drug dealers.
Finally, a Bond film I was actually alive to see; or at least I might have done if a) I had developed bladder control unusually early, and b) it hadn’t been the first ever 007 movie to earn itself a 15 rating. As such, this instead marks the end of my Bond education, License to Kill being the last instalment I had yet to see, having entered the franchise alongside Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye. Like The Living Daylights before it, Timothy Dalton’s second – and, sadly, final – entry in the series constituted somewhat of a high watermark for the series. One which, as yet, has never been matched, let alone beaten.
I’m not a big fan of serious; whatever the failings of Brosnan-era Bond (and there were many, as we’ll soon see), I rue the day that the franchise was rebooted, the eccentricities cut and the character Bournified. But while Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace felt like a step too far for a franchise built on the solid-ish foundation of double-taking pigeons and metal-toothed henchmen, License to Kill showcases a Bond who is both believable and characteristically bonkers. After all, credibility and high camp needn’t be mutually exclusive, just ask Dalton: a picture of psychological complexity and vengeful vigilantism who isn’t above feeding a foe to a school of electric eels. What more could you ask for?
From the poignant call-back to Tracy Bond’s death in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to his steely resignation from the secret service, Licence to Kill is a step above most films in the franchise thanks to its depiction of James Bond as a living, feeling, bleeding human being. For all the big budget bombast (the stunt work is, as always, second to none), there are an equal number of quieter moments that belie a depth of character little glimpsed between the Martinis and misogyny. Unlike the carpet-chested sex offenders and opposable eyebrowed punchlines of old, Dalton’s Bond is a layered anti-hero, one who can go a whole night without sex, a whole sentence without an innuendo, and a whole movie without a skirmish in skis. Or, somewhat ironically, a licence to kill.
But as I’ve said, the film is just as commendable for the trademarks it has kept as it is for those that it has finally retired. The sharks are back, but they’re no longer funnelled between swimming pools; Bond is furnished with a new set of boy-toys, but they are relatively low-key and excusable; and Carey Lowell steps in as the respectably named Pam Bouvier, a Bond girl who is both capable and equipped with – you’re never going to believe this – emotionS(!) of her own. The villain is nevertheless afforded his own quirk (an iguana he wears over his shoulder), but it is a harmless gimmick which does nothing to dampen the sheer terror he elicits thanks to a no-nonsense approach to megalomania, a horrifying tendency to explode the heads of his enemies, and a menacingly understated performance courtesy of The Goonies’ Robert Davi.
A dark and gritty take on the Bond mythos that still isn’t afraid to weaponise a model swordfish, Licence to Kill is another iteration of that happy medium that has – in my opinion – developed across A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights. With John Glen set to retire from the directors chair, and Dalton’s third film – tentatively titled The Property of a Lady – lost to legal disputes, the stage is set for a new Bond. A smilier Bond. An American Bond. James Bond.