Thursday, August 9, 2012

Film Review: Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill
  • Publisher: MGM / United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 14 July 1989 (USA), 4 August 1989 (UK)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: John Glen
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
  • Writers: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum

The Girls: Pam Bouvier / Kennedy (Carey Lowell), a CIA informant working on the Sanchez case. Her chemistry with Bond is much rockier than most Bond Girls, since he's always brushing off her attempts to stay and help him. And I don't usually take this side in these situations, but I have to say... she's right. 3 out of 5.

Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto), Sanchez's girlfriend. In the beginning of the movie, she is beaten by Sanchez for cheating on her. Even though she willingly committed the infidelity (as far as we know), this scene, along with her subsequent aid for Bond in fighting against Sanchez, left my heart rooting for her. 5 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (David Hedison), 007's ally, now working for the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency). Note that this was the same guy who played the role in Live and Let Die.

Sharkey (Frank McRae), a boat-pilot and friend of Leiter's. Killed offscreen by some of Krest's henchmen. Essentially a copy of Quarrel Jnr from Live and Let Die, so why couldn't they have recycled him instead of creating a new character? 2 out of 5.

The Villains: Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi, from Showgirls), a fugitive, highly-connected drug lord. Far-removed from the take-over-the-world types of Bond villains, Sanchez is quite versatile in his personality, able to establish a good friendship with anybody who, to his knowledge, is not out to cross him. But if you are, then you really need to run like heck. Notice how Bond uses this temperament against him. Set on fire by Bond5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe), Sanchez's partner in crime. He shows up drunk in one scene, yet for some reason feels that way for the entire movie. Blown up in a decompression chamber by Sanchez2 out of 5.

Dario (Benicio del Toro, from Star Wars: The Last Jedi), a young bodyguard of Sanchez's. Such a dangerously awesome man who was not given nearly enough screen time, given his potential and backstory with Pam. Dropped into a cocaine grinder by Bond and Pam. 4 out of 5

Truman-Lodge (Anthony Starke), Sanchez's financial adviser. Shot by Sanchez after one too many annoying comment on his losses - thank you, amigo. 1 out of 5.

Professor Joe Butcher (Wayne Newton); a comic-relief character, he heads the religious charity which serves as the cover for Sanchez's operations. The fact that he uses his catch phrase "Bless your heart!" instead of profanities should tell you all you need to know. 3 out of 5.

The Gadgets: A sniper rifle with a handprint-scanner lock disguised as a video camera, plastic explosives hidden in a tube of toothpaste, and a detonator in a pack of cigarettes. Fun Fact: The latter necessitated an anti-smoking warning during the end credits, and from then on, Bond was very seldom seen smoking. Pam accidentally demos an X-ray Polaroid camera with a laser gun, and Q uses a communicator broom in the field.  4 out of 5.

The Locations: The United States (Florida), and the fictional nation of Isthmus. Given the sensitive nature of the War on Drugs that was flaring up at the time, I'm sure the decision to use the second fictional nation in the film series was intentional. But for what it's worth, the name implies a location like Panama's, while the scenes here were filmed in Mexico and the flag is similar to, if not that of Guatemala.  Furthermore, when this story was revisited in the video game 007 Legends, it was explicitly set in Mexico.

The Theme Song: Performed by Gladys Knight. Unlike the last two theme songs, they chose a legacy artist this time around -- Knight hadn't put out a studio album for ten years -- and she gave us a prime example of late-80s R&B, if you're into that sort of thing.  I like it as a song, but not quite as a James Bond theme song, even if they do sneak in the horn riff from "Goldfinger".  And that line "I've got a license to kill / anyone who tries to tear us apart" is kinda creepy when you think about it, so... don't think about it. The end credits song is "If You Asked Me To" by Patti LaBelle, which is much the same. 3 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: Camera and casino motifs, with a lot of green and brown colours. Notably, the only opening sequence with product placement -- for Olympus cameras, which aren't even used in the film itself. 1 out of 5.

The Novel: Licence to Kill uses an original screenplay, but two aspects were borrowed from different books. The scene where Leiter is fed to sharks comes from 1954's Live and Let Die, and the character of Milton Krest comes from "The Hildebrand Rarity", a short story from 1960's For Your Eyes Only.

The Plot: Our story starts with Felix Leiter en route to his wedding, escorted by his best man James Bond, when some DEA agents intercept him, regarding a lead on the drugs kingpin Franz Sanchez. With 007's help, they capture him in mid-flight, with enough time to drop into the wedding. Cue opening credits. We return to Sanchez, who offers a US$2 million reward for whomever can free him. Ed Killifer, the federal agent guarding him, takes the offer and has him sprung out in transit. That night, some goons raid Leiter's home, killing his wife and taking him to be partially eaten by sharks.

007 scouts around the Florida Keys for places that deal in sharks, ending up at a marine laboratory run by a mister Milton Krest. That night he sneaks into the place, discovers some cocaine, and throws Killifer into the same shark tank that claimed Leiter's arm. Once the police discover his actions, Bond debriefs with M at the Hemingway House (of all places), where he resigns, officially abandoning his 00 status and licence to kill, but makes a break for it instead of going quietly. His next stop is the Wavekrest, a yacht owned by Krest, where he intercepts a drugs trade between Krest and Sanchez's camp, and flies off with US$5 million that was supposed to go to Sanchez. That done, he tracks down Pam Bouvier, Leiter's only living contact on the Sanchez case, at a bar in the Bimini Islands. After rescuing her from the henchman Dario, she agrees to fly him into the nation of Isthmus so he can go after Sanchez.

In Isthmus City, Bond spends some of the money at Sanchez's casino, attracting the attention of his girlfriend Lupe Lamora, and eventually the man himself. After scouting his office and gaining his trust, 007 sets up an assassination attempt on Sanchez. He catches Pam making some sort of deal, and tries to make the shot nonetheless, but is stopped by some ninja agents (!) from the Hong Kong Narcotics Bureau. They try to interrogate him, but he is rescued by the (Sanchez-bribed) police, and wakes up in Sanchez's villa. He suggests that Krest paid the assassin from the night before, and Lupa helps him escape. When Bond confronts Pam on what she was doing that night, she replies that she was trying to negotiate the return of some Stinger missiles Sanchez had bought, but the attack scared off the other party. That night, Krest arrives, 007 plants the drugs money in his yacht, and thinking he paid to have him killed, Sanchez kills Krest in a decompression chamber.

But 007's not out of the woods yet: he is escorted on a tour of Sanchez's drugs plant, along wih some Asian cartel leaders whom the man made a deal with. They are shown their product: a new type of crack cocaine that can be dissolved into gasoline for smuggling, and later be re-formed. Bond torches the place but is caught, and Dario leaves him to die in a grinder, only for Pam to come and kill him in turn. The two give chase, taking down the tankers one by one, until Bond is confronted by a petrol-soaked Sanchez. He sets him on fire with a lighter given to him by Felix Leiter at their wedding -- EPIC. WIN. We end with a party at the ex-Sanchez villa, where Bond sets Lupe up with the Isthmus president and hangs with Pam. You are now free to turn off your TV.

I'll admit it: this is among my favourite James Bond films of all time, definitely within the top five at least. As I grew more experienced in exploring the franchise, my interest shifted towards the more plot-driven films, generally from the 80s and 90s. And what a plot we have here. Experienced film buffs will draw parallels to, for example, Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, in that the hero sows the seeds of distrust within the villain's organisation. And then you have side plots such as the one with the Stingers, which forces Bond to realise he can't just go down his narrow path of revenge without affecting the goals of other people. Of course, killing Sanchez fixes some of their problems, too. But the end results aren't pretty: among the more gruesome deaths, the stronger profanities, and the drugs references, this was the first James Bond to be rated a PG-13 in America and a 15 in Britain - and they still had to make a few cuts to avoid the next level up. But if it helped the writers take their job seriously, it paid off.

The Call: 90% (A-)

But the aftermath wasn't all good. After the release of Licence to Kill, the franchise suffered its longest hiatus to date, with six years separating this and the next Bond film. The primary reason was a lawsuit, where MGM/UA was bought out by Qintex with an intent to merge it with Pathe, but Danjaq (parent company of EON Productions) fought back to keep control of the franchise. I know, that's a lot of companies to remember. Not helping matters was LtK's relatively poor performance in America, having come after numerous summer blockbusters including Batman, Back to the Future Part II, Ghostbusters II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, to name a few. When the series did bounce back, it would never again premiere in the summer season for that reason. For what it's worth, the franchise also had to deal with the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, which had contributed to so many of the franchise's plotlines, and the deaths of numerous high-profile crew members, including screenwriter Richard Maibaum and opening titles designer Maurice Binder. But six years and one change of star later, James Bond came back better than ever, which we will learn about when...
IchigoRyu will return in

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