Licence to Kill

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Every Bond has his predilections. Connery, for instance, seemed to favour fine wines and slapping women about, while Roger Moore loved bad puns, raised eyebrows and lots and lots of snatch. Then you have Brosnan who enjoyed fiddling with the knot in his tie and mowing hundreds of people down with machine guns (as for Lazenby's speciality, well, he liked playing dress up). But with Timothy Dalton it always seemed to be about fighting and good old revenge. Sure he enjoyed the company of many beautiful ladies, but he always seemed happiest when smashing someone in the mouth or feeding them to a shark. And so it is with Licence to Kill, one of the best of the Bond series and only outdone in the violence stakes by the recent Casino Royale.

But even as violent as Casino Royale is with its gonad abuse, it doesn't have men getting their legs munched off by ravenous sharks and seedy bonk-eyed sleazebags getting their heads exploded, does it? So maybe Licence to Kill still holds its crown as the most violent Bond film. But whether that's the case or not is unimportant. What's important is that Licence to Kill is a great Bond film and that Dalton is sorely unappreciated as 007.

It's something of a mystery to me why Dalton gets such a hard time from some people. The main complaint is that his Bond is humourless, or even bland. Well, I certainly don't think he's bland and I have no problem with him being humourless. I mean, as much as I love Roger Moore as Bond, he'd run his course. We needed a break from the one-liners and double entendres. Therefore I rather enjoy watching a Bond who just wants to bust heads and maybe score a little snatch on the side.

And while on the subject of snatch, Dalton gets spoiled in this film. Sure he doesn't get the sheer volume of lovin' that Moore was accustomed to, but quality is better than quantity, right? After all, Grace Jones would hardly be anyone's first choice shag, would they? Well, at least nobody who's sane. Carey Lowell, on the other hand is one of the best looking Bond girls and one of the least grating. And while Talisa Soto has negligible talent as an actress, she's at least worth a seeing to.

It's also worth noting that Bond seems to have something going with Felix Leiter's wife. In the opening scenes they're continually kissing and grabbing one another, and then she lobs her garter in his direction. They're far too touchy-feely to be just friends. So therefore is Bond's revenge dictated by the rage he feels at having his pal become a shark sandwich or at losing a piece of beloved totty? Probably a bit of each actually.

But one of the film's main strengths is that the bad guy, Sanchez, is actually quite likable. Everything he does is motivated by greed or personal injustice rather than psychosis – he feeds Felix to the sharks because he's investigating him, he whips his girlfriend because she's cheating on him and he explodes Krest's head because he believes him to be stealing. Therefore you get the impression that had he not killed his friends, Bond and Sanchez might have got along quite well with one another. They certainly have plenty in common. They both like women, they both like the fine things in life and they're both aroused by violence. But at the same time neither one is needlessly cruel. They do what they have to do and that's it. As much of a cliché as it is, they're mirror images, and the film is made all the more interesting by the excellent rapport they have.

And it's also quite telling that Sanchez, in some respects, is more Bond than Bond. Certainly when it comes to one-liners. Just take the scene after he kills Krest. What's his response to a whole wedge of cash getting splattered with bits of brain and skull? "Launder it." And I love the bit where Sanchez kills his annoying accountant. "It's time to start cutting overheads." It's a bit of a shame he has to get killed.

But at least Sanchez gets killed in style – being burnt to a crisp is always a good way to go. And the final action scene is excellent with its exploding tankers and gravity defying juggernauts. And it also sees Bond getting bruised and beaten long before Daniel Craig did the same.

And it's also wonderful that Bond is a bit of a bastard in this film. He plays mind games with his rival, leading him to believe they're pals; he sets up Krest and watches impassively as he dies; and he grabs women by the hair while threatening to kill them. Wonderful.

The only thing that lets the film down somewhat is the political correctness. You get the impression that with Carey Lowell's character they're trying a bit too hard at times to prove that women can be more than ornaments. Not that this is Lowell's fault, as she's a terrific Bond girl, but all the "Yes, sir" stuff and the harbour pilot sequence is a bit heavy handed – the Bond universe is still a bit uncomfortable with women who aren't just there to be nailed.

Another small problem is Felix Leiter. At the end he looks far too happy for someone who's just had his wife killed and vital pieces of his body bitten off. Wouldn't he be just a little bit downcast? But no, he laughs and jokes with James, apparently oblivious to his future as a wheelchair-bound widower.

That aside, though, Licence to Kill is a terrific entry in the Bond series. And it also gets extra points for giving Q a decent role. Certainly any film that features a Welshman disguised as a moustachioed Mexican road-sweeper must be doing something right.

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