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Licence To Kill (1989)

James Bond

Oh yes, the late eighties, and you thought this kind of thing was over!
Oh yes, the late eighties, and you thought this kind of thing was over!

Bond: Timothy Dalton (The Living DaylightsHot Fuzz)

Bond Girl: Pam Bouvier  Played By: Carey Lowell (Sleepless in Seattle"Law & Order")
Bond Villain: Franz Sanchez  Played By: Anthony Zerbe (PapillonThe Dead Zone)
Bond Minivillain: Milton Krest  Played By: (The GooniesShowgirls)
Villain's Goon: Dario  Played By: Benicio Del Toro (TrafficSin City)

Genre: Action Adventure Thriller (UK, USA) 

Directed By: John Glen (The Living DaylightsA View to a Kill)

Overview: After James' friend Felix Leiter is brutally attacked by an escaped drug lord, Bond goes on a personal vendetta to wreak vengeance on Franz Sanchez. And.. if I may add, the sinister plot... for once it's not actually one where there's something MORE sinister, it's just regular sinister.


I stated in my review of A View To a Kill that "My reason for seeing all the Bond films, besides having a generally safe Blog-00-7hon topic, is mainly because I have never really seen any."

When I said 'never really', I meant that I have only ever seen one, and even before I KNEW Bond, I somehow knew, even in my inexperienced youth, that I should never really consider License to Kill to be 'a Bond', just as y'all should not truly consider Never Say Never Again and Casino Royale '67 'official Bonds'. My only real recollections about this film from my childhood included the Bond girl pulling a gun on televangelist-fakin' Wayne Newton, and I remember that being sexy...and I remember how frikkin' hard it was to jump from a plane onto a tanker truck in the Amiga game.

Before I get into my particularly insightful commentary piece, I wanted to share with you the parts I enjoyed most in License to Kill.

A.) The refreshed memories from such scenes as the daring jail break and the brutal attack on Leiter;  those "Oh yeah that's what movie this is from!" moments brought me joy, but of course, you, dear reader may not experience such joy that is my own childhood.

B.) Frank McRae, the man who played the role of Sharkey - a very bit part, but one rife with laughable, overzealous, Shatner-grade melodramatic acting. It's obvious that director John Glen was either too busy focusing on the stars, or, as I'm more included to believe, he saw what casting threw at him and gave up trying to tone Sharkey down right from the start. It is a genuine sight to behold kiddies. As an appreciator of a weekly event I have entitled Hecklefest, you may not experience this joy that is my own twisted love of kitschy caca.

What I'm getting at is, unless you're into macho Regan-era films like Rambo 2, odds are you might just wonder what's wrong with this film. And that's really what I'm looking forward to sharing with you today kiddies.

Wayne Newton stars as Jim Bakker!
Wayne Newton stars as Jim Bakker!

The mood of License to Kill is distinctly unique in that it is the most unlike any 007 film yet, including On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and here's why: The US has been officially involved in James Bond Films since 1981's For Your Eyes Only but never has a Bond film so perfectly distilled American Republican sentiment. It has been quite a while since I watched a film that served to, rather than engross me in the story, made me consider the sociological reasons for and impact of such a perfect little propaganda film. Firstly, let me clarify, Bond #16, though official, is in fact NOT a Bond film. Granted one of the writers of this screenplay was Bond franchise mainstay Richard Maibaum, who has written 13 of the 16 Bond screenplays since Dr. No, until Licence to Kill, but author Ian Fleming had nothing to do with this. He had no part in writing the novel, the screenplay, the short story or ever using this title in any of his written works. With the Ian Fleming lynchpin removed, the differences and Americanizations in Licence to Kill are glaring. For the first time this earned the more severe PG-13 rating, for graphic violence. We also have the classic 'give me your badge and gun' cliché. As American as apple pie, M and James have this lovely exchange:

M: This private vendetta of yours could easily compromise Her Majesty's government. You have an assignment, and I expect you to carry it out *objectively* and *professionally*!

James Bond: Then you have my resignation, sir!

M: [incensed] We're not a country club, 007! Effective immediately, your licence to kill is revoked, and I require you to hand over your weapon. Now. I need hardly remind you that you're still bound by the Official Secrets Act.

James Bond:  I guess it's, uh... a farewell to arms.

From here on James is hot on the trail of a drug lord. Now I'll admit that the story is interesting, entertaining, explosive et al, and it's nice to see a young Benicio Del Toro, but it's also grossely Americentric, intensely topical for the year it was made and just perfectly Reagan-publican. Between the fear mongering and American-style justice I can't decide which disturbed me more. Let's look into the undercurrent that I suspect was really going on: the Vilification of Pablo Escobar, the War on Drugs and Televangelism Scandals.

It's obvious that American studios had a huge influence on Licence to Kill. Without a doubt the character Franz Sanchez is entirely based on Pablo Escobar, most famous of the 80s Columbian drug lords and head of the Medellín Cartel. In fact the term "plata o plomo" (money or lead), referred to as our villain Sanchez's way of dealing with officials, is attributed to Pablo Escobar.

Let me put you in the era just a little bit. Think back to 1985 and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign. Think of how out-of-control the Miami drug situation was getting. Murder rates were on the rise and Miami PD posed absolutely no threat to the dealers who were building that city from the ground up with bricks of coke, not to mention the popularity of "Miami Vice". Cocaine and the busting of Colombian drug lords was definitely a hot topic in the 80s, and by '89 it was time to make drugs wrong again in a big way. Showing how ruthless the lords are and then blowing them up with the best Hollywood pyrotechnics we've got is a great tool. A nice little touch is added in with the scene where we discover that a televangelist is nothing more than a distributor's cocaine marketer, using televised codes to set prices and take orders. Enter the twist of the knife to the mass unveilings of embezzling Jim Bakkers, the whoring Jimmy Swaggarts, and the not-so-faith-healing Peter Poppoffs. 1988-1989 were not good media years for televangelist scandals.

I don't really remember all that much about 1989, but I do know that Licence To Kill is one of those strange movies that isn't what you'd call great or important, but that somehow serves as a genuine yardstick that sums up a decade, the kind of film that you give to an alien species trying to grok us by saying "Explain your culture's decade in 2 hours".

No Licence To Kill isn't good, but it's a pretty good litmus test of what was going on in America, and the though the mood of the film was lacking the moods of Reagan and Bush were as clear as day.

Tanker trucks star as ever Republic fantasy come true!
Tanker Trucks star as every Republic fantasy come true!

Bond Gadgets:

X-ray photographing Polaroid with laser flash.
Medium format camera gun, only usable by one pre-assigned person.
Explosive alarm clock.
Dentomite, the plastic explosive in a tube, usable with a pack of cigarettes detonator!

Oh My Lord, I just realized something... Would my mother approve of what I've been doing for all these years?
"Oh My Lord, I just realized something... Would my mother approve of what I've been doing for all these years?"
"We can play that game too. Whatever you want, freak"

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 7 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 74% (... A Franchise)

Personal bodycount: 9 - including one barehanded!

Foiled Assassinations: 5

Near Misses: 1

Dames Bedded: 2

Martinis Drank: 0

What's all this?

| | | | | | |

I had to go back and look at my old review to remember what I thought about this one. I think it had more kills than most Bond films but other than that I wasn't too impressed. I think Dalton's short lived Bond career proves not many other viewers were too impressed either.

Actually, I read that it was Dalton who didn't want to wait for the results of an ongoing legal dispute that was holding up the production and shooting dates of GoldenEye. Dalton bailed to free himself up in hopes of actually WORKING. but yes between you and me it's not Dalton that made the movies bad, it's the movies that were terrible long begfore he stepped in.

It's obvious that American studios had a huge influence on Licence to Kill.

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