Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Re-viewing Bond - LICENCE TO KILL (1989)

Because of an unexpected Christmas gift (from someone who I should expect such things from already) came the Blu-Ray disc of LICENCE TO KILL. This was given to me in response to my re-evaluation of QUANTUM OF SOLACE on the format and the idea was that perhaps LTK was the QOS of the 1980’s. I immediately disagreed with this description of the second Timothy Dalton Bond film as I really liked it when I saw it in a Cookeville, TN movie theater in 1989. I liked it a lot more than a much bigger hit from that year that is much better regarded- INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. To this day I think the third Indy film is a mess and hold TEMPLE OF DOOM up as superior just before I duck my head to avoid the rocks thrown by the Movie Police.

Back to LICENCE TO KILL. I liked the film then and I thought it would be a blast re-visit it with the new format (‘Blu Was Made For Bond’ insists the packaging). I was right- it was a blast- but one that left me sadder than it should have.
The beef against the film for years has always started with those who despised Dalton in the role. I am NOT one of those folks. I read the Fleming books long ago and know that in looks, manner, attitude and general bearing Dalton comes much closer to the character on the page than anyone before him. I will always love Connery above other Bonds as he was fantastic and defined the role but Dalton was just what this lover of the books was more than thrilled to see onscreen after Moore’s series of movies declined into intentional and unintentional jokes. Thank God, said I, for a serious James Bond throughout an entire film instead of one that turned into a cartoon character on occasion for the sake of a dumb joke.

But the second usual complaint about LTK turned out to be something I had to end up more or less agreeing with. Namely that by 1989 the series was trying to be too much like the other action movies being made at the time. Immersed in the period at the time myself I didn’t see that as a problem- bring on the violence; kick some drug lord ass; destroy a major re-occurring character to set up a standard revenge plot- full steam ahead! At the time it seemed like a new, bold direction for a single adventure- the ultimate ‘This time it’s personal’ action movie BS grafted onto Bond. And for the most part this element still holds up today. I like the idea of putting Bond on the vengeance track and Felix was certainly the way to do it but 20 years later it does seem a bit too … 80s. Don’t get me wrong- one of the things I love most about the series is the flavors of the movies from the different decades. The cool of the 60s as the films defined a new screen style and aesthetic and the more detached snark of 70s as the character morphed into a parody of itself too often than was smart are part of the reason I love revisiting these movies. They reflect the prevailing cinema winds of those times in a way that is both fun and educational for any with a mind to pay attention. But with LTK I think the series may have made the mistake of following the trends rather than trying to set them. Parts of it feel like they could be from just about any action film of the late 1980s. Far too many times the movie doesn’t feel like a Bond picture. It’s always well done with solid storytelling and a fairly interesting plot but it feels kind of generic in ways it should not. And that’s a shame because Dalton is quite good here as are the supporting cast. Two very gorgeous ladies add to the long list of fabulous Bond girls and even if Q should never have been wedged into the script Desmond Llewelyn does what he can.

The action scenes are good except for the opening DEA assault which begs the question ‘Where the Hell are all the other agents?’ Much has been made of the amped up violence that was eventually cut to avoid a possible R rating but it isn’t any more bloody than average as it stands.

Overall, I’m glad to have re-watched this one but it lost a notch or two in my opinion this time around. It’s still a good Bond film but it only falls into the middle range for the series and just barely at that. I still wish Dalton had gotten the chance for at least one more film but maybe a hiatus is what the series needed.


Brian Lindsey said...

Interesting perspective, Rod... Enjoyed it!

Shep. Burman said...

Hate to disagree with you. I think it still holds up pretty well on repeat viewings especially compare to most Bond films. I agree on it being less Bondish than most films but that is still in its favor! Nice write-up I need to check what you have written on the other films.