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BlogalongaBond: Licence To Kill
After the success of The Living Daylights, the Eon creative team was back at the drawing board. With the apparent acceptance of a more serious Fleming-like 007 and with Bond actor Timothy Dalton pressing for a more gritty film, the EON team made a controversial move: they took 007 out of Her Majesty's Secret Service, took away his 00 number, and put him outside his normal operating parameters. In doing so, they create one of the best James Bond movies.

First off, we get the best performance to date by a Bond actor. Timothy Dalton had proved in The Living Daylights that he had the acting chops to play 007. Here, he surpasses not only himself, but also every other actor who has played Bond. If Dalton was easily visualized as Bond, he IS Bond in this film. He is exactly as Fleming described Bond. He is cold-blooded, almost humor-less, and a human being. He isn't the tuxedoed super hero of the Roger Moore films. Just look at the scene where Bond finds Della dead. Only Timothy Dalton could have given the proper emotion in the frantic cry of "Della!" and his reaction to looking over her body is classic Bond. Bond's reactions to finding Killifer in the warehouse, his resigning from MI6, and other scenes in the film prove that he has studied the Bond character enough to get inside the characters' head and become him. It's true that bond appears out of his usual attire in the film and that Dalton looks uncomfortable in them, but Bond doesn't dress in that attire and Dalton is simply acting in the role. Dalton looks incredibly well in the action scenes and, like The Living Daylights, it is hard to tell when it’s him and when it’s a stuntman, which is a good thing coming out of the Roger Moore films. Dalton looks well in the scenes with the Bond girls and his scenes with Sanchez are among the best Bond-Villain scenes since From Russia With Love and the early Bond films.

The weak point in the films main characters is the girl Pam Bouvier. Though she is a very strong character and Carey Lowell acts well in the part, the character seems out of place in a Bond film. Perhaps it is for the better that the character is tough and resourceful, which isn't what I am complaining about. My problem with the character is that she seems to be more of the usual 80's tough woman action hero, ala Aliens and the like. Not that the character is a bad thing, but does that type of character belong in a James Bond adventure? The character, in my mind at least, is a bit too strong for a Bond film. Otherwise, Pam Bouvier is a good Bond girl. Even though she breaks one of the oldest rules of Bond girls with her short hair, looks aren't everything to a Bond girl. She can take care of herself and she saves Bond on more than a few occasions. She is a modern and tough woman; though as I said maybe a little too tough for a Bond film. Overall, Pam is a good character and Carey Lowell does a good job playing her.

The villain, Franz Sanchez, is among the best villains of the series. He is also the more realistic of the series' villain, a drug lord from South America and in many ways a mirror, albeit evil, image of 007. Much like Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun, the relationship between the villain and Bond is complicated and there are some fireworks in their scenes. First there is the silent menace and quiet tension in the scene in Sanchez's office, and later a friendship between the two men that the audience knows is false. Sanchez has a lot of menace to him that had been missing from many Bond villains before him. Look at the scene where Lieter is fed to the shark, Sanchez looks menacing enough to kill Lieter, but he is evil enough just to maim him and leave him for dead. Sanchez's loyalty issue lead to the self-destructive paranoia that leads him to do Bond's bidding by killing off most of his own inner-circle. By doing that, Sanchez sets himself up for the trap that leads to the destruction of not only his empire, but also the end of his life. It's a great twist of irony in the end that Sanchez is killed by the very man who caught him in the teaser and whom he trusted. Robert Davi does incredibly well in the part and is very believable and at times one has to wonder whether or not he really is the character he plays.

As for the supporting cast, top notch to say the least. Talisa Soto does well in the part of Lupe, though it is hard to feel for her character due to her limited time on screen. But despite the limited time on screen, Soto shines in every one of her scenes and she just isn't another Bond girl. The viewer actually feels for her. David Hedison makes a fantastic return as Felix Lieter. Despite being much older than the last time we saw him, Felix is still in good shape and doesn't come across as old when firing a M-16 rifle at the bad guys in the teaser. When the shark maims him, we're shocked at it and even more shocked when bond finds his bloody and barely alive body at his house. Mostly the goons of Sanchez make up the rest of the supporting cast, led by a young and very impressive Benicio Del Toro, whose talents have improved tenfold since this film came out over twenty years ago. The characters of Truman-Lodge, Heller, and Krest are great characters, though they are a bit underused in the film. At least Krest gets a good death sequence, in one of the most original deaths of the series. The character of Joe Butcher is a fun character and well played by Wayne Newton, though a little out of place in this Bond film. The role of Q is increased big time for Desmond Llewelyn as he gets the largest Q part in the series and shines in the process. Robert Brown returns as M for the final time and finally manages to step out of Bernard Lee's shadow for the scene at the Hemingway house in Key West. Caroline Bliss returns also for the second and final time as Moneypenny and, as in The Living Daylights, doesn't spend enough time on screen to make an impression.

The film's action sequences are among the best in the series. The film's opening teaser sequence while not as good as the one in "The Living Daylights", is inspired and finds Bond, for the first time, not on a mission for MI6. The underwater/water ski/airplane sequence that takes later in the film is another inspired action sequence that showcases some of the best stunt work in the history of the series. The final action sequence in the film, the truck chase, is great. The stunts are unbelievably original and seeing an eighteen-wheeler truck doing a side wheelie is among the most amazing stunts seen on film. The various fights in the film are also good, especially the bar fight and the fight on the back of the runaway truck between Bond and Sanchez. The film has less action then The Living Daylights, but manages to surpass those action sequences and the plot never suffers.

The film's plot is among the most original in the series. It uses many elements from the Fleming stories, particularly Lieter's maiming by a shark in the "Live And Let Die" novel, and the Krest character from "The Hildebrand Rarity". The sub-plots of the Japanese drug lords and the Stinger missiles help to complicate the film. In many respects, the film's plot may well be what Fleming himself might have been writing about had he been writing 007 adventures in the late 1980's.

If there is a bad thing about this film, it's the score and songs. When John Barry came down with oesophagus cancer, EON hired the late Michael Kamen to do the score. Unfortunately, Kamen produced one of the worst Bond film scores. Like Monty Norman in "Dr. No", he makes way too much use of The James Bond Theme in the score. In many ways, the score doesn't have a central theme to it and instead uses orchestral hit and fast notes, much in the way that David Arnold does the current 007 scores. The film's songs are, for the most part, a letdown. The main title song, performed by Gladys Knight is instantly forgettable, as are the "Wedding Party" and "Dirty Love" songs. The only good song to come out of the film is "If You Asked Me To" and is a pretty good song, though it does kind of feel out of place in a Bond film.

Despite a terrible score, Licence To Kill is a great Bond film. With the best Bond performance of the series to date, a great villain, a good supporting cast (though some of them are out of place), good action sequences, and a good plot, it appeared that the series was well set to enter the 1990s. Sadly the series would run into legal troubles within a year or so of the film’s release. That fact, coupled with the lukewarm response of the film in the United States, led to the perception of it being a failure. Time though as proven otherwise with the film becoming a classic 007 film that ranks in the top five best Bond films.

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I read this going, hey, what about Art Malik? Then I looked it up & realized he was in The Living Daylights instead. I'll shut up now, & try to actually watch films before I comment on them. ;)

Edited at 2012-04-28 12:31 am (UTC)

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