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007: Worst Of Dalton – Licence to Kill

James Bond, Worst Of Timothy Dalton, Licence to Kill

To celebrate the imminent release of Spectre, myself and fellow Movie Moron contributors DalmatianJaws and Adam Mason have been delving into the massive catalogue of movies to bring you joint reviews covering the franchise’s highs and lows. Adam and I will discuss the remaining most critically acclaimed and derided movie of each Bond actor. This time around we’re reviewing Timothy Dalton’s second and last outing as Bond, Licence to Kill. Here’s the original trailer:

DNWilliams: Okay, so with Dalton being your favourite Bond and Licence To Kill being your preferred film of his, is it safe to say this is your favourite Bond movie?

Adam Mason: Of the ‘classic’ Bonds, definitely. I’d consider Craig’s run a ‘new’ age, with Skyfall taking the new crown. But, yes, Licence To Kill absolutely rocks the sh*t, in my humble opinion. It’s not a popular opinion and I’ve endured a hell of a lot of frank talks in pubs about it, but I’ll always stand my ground. It’s probably the most underrated of all the films, because it’s the one that bears most similarities to the Fleming novels. Remember, Connery inserted the suave into Bond. Fleming wrote a cold, unyielding borderline-psychopath.

DNW: While it’s definitely an enjoyable movie, it’s possibly the least-Bondlike of any Bond film before or since. It’s like they took the Bond character and stuck him in another franchise. One of the things that is great about this movie is the character of Bond, though, like you said. They definitely get that right.

AM: The only thing that’s a shame for me is that the ‘drug empire’ plot is so of the cinematic interest in the late eighties. Other than that, they manage to simultaneously adhere to and sufficiently adapt the decades-old formula, and I think it’s worthy of a standing ovation. Note that GoldenEye, the next reinvention, took it back to basics, slavishly following the old formula, save a fascinating villain who understood Bond as much as the audience.

DNW: There’s definitely a formula here, I’m just not sure it’s the Bond formula. Alright, let’s get into the movie – it opens up with Bond on the way to Felix’s wedding in Florida.

James Bond, Worst Of Timothy Dalton
AM: In a fabulous opening sequence unlike any other in the series.

DNW: One of the movie’s strengths to me is how much it hinges on Bond’s personal relationships. In a franchise where the main character, by necessity, has to remain in a kind of stasis, storytelling like this is really important.

AM: What I love is that they build on something established in the previous film – Bond defends his friends. It makes Dalton’s run flow better than the others. You get the sense that he, Leiter, Della and Sharky are all really close friends.

DNW: Really, really close. There’s a wholly inappropriate amount of kissing going on between bride and best man.

AM: It is Bond, after all.

DNW: True, but the writers could have thrown a couple of bridesmaids at him. Having there be such strong hints of a relationship between Bond and Della undermines his motivations fairly early on, or at least makes you question them. I quite like the issues it raises, but the potential complexity isn’t dwelt on, which can easily leave the audience shrugging it off as ‘well he’s Bond.’

AM: That is a fair point. I always just assumed that Della fancied Bond but both of them knew it wouldn’t work. That and Della is a lovely, friendly woman. So, the opening sequence – I think it’s very effective, managing to introduce villain Sanchez, henchman Dario, setup the plot and include an epic stunt as Bond lassos a plane mid-flight.

James Bond, Worst Of Timothy Dalton
DNW: It is an AMAZING action sequence. Really well executed and as a result very exciting. The Bond influence on Chris Nolan clearly extends beyond On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, because there’s a very similar set piece in The Dark Knight Rises.

AM: Indeed there is. The fire rises! The stunt pilots are incredible – Sanchez’s plane actually scrapes the tarmac as the plane turns during take-off.

DNW: As much as I love the scene though, I’m not wild about the contrivance of having it tied to the wedding the way it is. I’d probably like it more if it halted the ceremony completely.

AM: Having the men parachute in is perhaps ever so slightly contrived. Especially as the wedding party can somehow see the events as they unfold in the skies several miles away from their location.

DNW: Yeah, that’s the part that just doesn’t sit right with me in the context of the film. I get what they’re trying to do, it’s a very old school concept – the hero that can have a crazy adventure that proves to be only a minor detour – but the rest of the film doesn’t really have that old school sensibility. It’s as modern as it could possibly be.

AM: The opening feels very much like a transition period to me, as though the old jolly ways are done with as soon as the titles are over, because this is a far darker, more violent film than any other in the series.

DNW: That’s a nice way of looking at it. As you were saying, Sanchez is introduced here too, by way of a whipping scene which very much resembles a spanking scene, and for some reason that’s absolutely fine.

James Bond, Worst Of Timothy Dalton
James Bond, Worst Of Timothy Dalton
AM: Because he’s a bastard and a sadist. He also gets Dario to cut a man’s heart out.

DNW: He’s not a nice man, our Bond villain. He’s also not the most original character ever, but that doesn’t matter all that much either. It’s interesting that in the wake of completely flavourless Bond villains like Stromberg and Whitaker, a fairly generic evil drug lord is a huge step up.

AM: He could easily vanish, but he is given so much muscle, so much force of personality, that Robert Davi leaps off the screen. Of course, he becomes immortalised forever in the absolutely harrowing scene where he feeds Leiter to a Great White Shark.

DNW: Before we get to that – opening titles. How do you like them?

AM: They’re upsettingly standard for this point in the series. Although I am a fan of the theme tune!

DNW: Likewise. It’s such a good Bond theme. It’s contemporary (and by that I mean very 80s, which is great) but retains the Bond sound, due in no small part to borrowing the Goldfinger riff.

AM: I especially love the key change at the end, when Gladys Knight really belts out the lyrics.

DNW: Really good stuff. It’s also the most Bondlike thing in the film!

AM: Aw, you’re so mean. Immediately following the titles, Sanchez escapes from custody by a simple – if brutal – method of driving the van off a bridge.

DNW: Which they feel the effects of three dream levels down. No, wait…

James Bond, Worst Of Timothy Dalton
AM: Haha! We have to go deeper… And then we have our unforgettable moment with a shark and a massive slab of meat. I know you don’t think it’s very Bond, but what do you make of a villain owning a private shark? That’s so Bond it hurts.

DNW: It would be if he had a shark tank in a super-villain lair. As it stands it’s very Miami Vice – Sonny had an alligator in that show! The pet lizard that they introduce later gave me more of a Bond vibe, for whatever reason.

AM: Really? That’s so weird. I liked that it was explained as Sanchez owning an aquarium as part of his vast cover operation. Instead of him having to care for an exotic animal. Can you imagine the amount of care Blofeld’s piranhas required? Such a delicate digestion system.

DNW: It’s something to do in between cat-stroking and plotting world domination.

AM: And we’re back to Doctor Evil feeding his kitty. It’s amazing how perfectly Austin Powers got it. Anyway, back to Bond, where Dalton discovers the bodies of Della and Leiter…

DNW: This was frustrating. I’m really not quite sure why they didn’t kill Felix. It was 100% shot like a death scene. Sanchez even lets loose the totally not cliché “nothing personal, just business” line before doing the deed. Felix is mauled by a shark! It’s like they shot a death scene and just changed their minds about the whole dying aspect. And for what is essentially a revenge movie, that’s a really odd choice.

James Bond, Worst Of Timothy Dalton
AM: It’s very strange to me too, I don’t like that they went to all that trouble only to not kill him off. However, this is based on a similar scene in the Live and Let Die novel, where villains feed Leiter to a shark and he merely loses an arm. Fleming gave the character a hook for his subsequent adventures.

DNW: Of course, they kill Della though.

AM: Women In Refrigerators. It’s always worse for the women.

DNW: Women are the redshirts of the Bond universe.

AM: Haha! That makes Q the Bones of his world…

DNW: Dammit, Jim, I pimp Aston Martins, I’m not a used car salesman!

AM: It’s a Volcano Jim, but not as we know it. There’s also the awful suggestion that EVERY SINGLE MAN involved in Leiter’s death raped Della. Which makes me shudder every time.

DNW: The rape rubs salt in the wound.

AM: And Bond finds her body on the bed, with a gaping, bloody hole in her chest.

DNW: As I mentioned earlier, I really love that Bond has a very personal stake in this. There was a call-back to Tracy Bond during the wedding, which nicely emphasized that this machine of a secret agent has been shown as vulnerable and capable of heartbreak in the past. His face before he has his licence to kill revoked says it all.

James Bond, Worst Of Timothy Dalton
AM: Yes, and Dalton plays it absolutely perfectly throughout. There’s that fantastic moment when he discovers that Milton Krest’s aquarium is the one where Leiter was fed to the shark. It’s one second long, but his face hardens into a cold, deadly mask of hate. It’s tremendous to watch. From that moment on, he goes out of his way to not only kill those responsible, but to dismantle their entire operation.

DNW: It was at that point it felt like they’d limited Bond more than they should have tough. A large component of Bond is globetrotting, and they’d tied the villain inextricably to one location. And there’s always something a little off about Bond in the USA.

AM: Sure, but they could have kept him in the Keys for a while longer before he goes to visit Mexico – I mean, Isthmus. I like how the location is a little less glamorous than usual, it makes it feel slightly more authentic. Although he does manage to get into the most gorgeous hotels and casinos, even in a run-down city.

DNW: I wouldn’t expect anything less. I always liked the bit in Quantum of Solace where he refuses to stay in the crummy hotel MI6 set up for him and opts for the “cover” of teachers on sabbatical…who won the lottery. Bond is high maintenance.

AM: That made me laugh in an otherwise bleak film. But more on that later. Your thoughts on the scene where Bond feeds traitorous DEA agent Killifer to the same shark?

DNW: Ruthless. It definitely sets the tone and shows the extremes Bond is willing to go to.

AM: I love how he stares at the horrific scene with a neutral expression, unblinking. That, right there, is the kind of man Fleming wrote about.

DNW: Do you think it’s possible for Bond to go too far?

AM: He very nearly does, it that scene especially. If he’d thrown out a quip at that point, he would have become a full psychopath. Luckily, the job of lightening the moment is given to Sharky, while Bond is allowed to almost emerge from a trance. It’s very clever on the part of the writers. In fact, Dalton doesn’t make a single quip in this film because the deaths are all so violent – apart from Heller’s fate at the climax.

DNW: I think Bond probably does cross a line here, quip or no quip, just because it’s something of an unnecessary kill.

AM: Even though Killifer was the one who set all this in motion? Killifer was about to drop Bond in the same tank.

DNW: Yeah, you’re right, it’s me misremembering the circumstances. They do set it up quite well so that Bond can take his revenge guilt-free here. Lets talk Bond girls.

Part 2 (Of 2) >

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  • Sheridan Passell said
    Sheridan Passell

    Great chat. I rewatched it this evening (for the first time since I was a kid in 1989). It was better than I remembered. Enjoyed it quite a bit, but still prefer The Living Daylights.

    – As an adult I appreciated the acting job Dalton does in this. It’s a really good performance, with moments of nuance that are fun to watch.
    – The music adds to the SuperCop feel because the brilliant John Barry score from Living Daylights is gone, replaced by Michael Kamen who has some horrible cues, but also lazily ports over a lot of his Lethal Weapon score, so it often sounds like, well, Lethal Weapon.
    – The slow motion running in the opening sequence is perhaps the worst shot in the entire Bond franchise. And then everyone’s doing silly circles in jeeps. After that it’s ok.
    – It’s still impossible for me to see Sanchez and not think of The Goonies.
    – I only realised recently the significance of the weapon he uses to kill Sanchez, a (Felix) Leiter Lighter. Please tell me someone else didn’t realise this.

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  • Thomas Waddington said

    I have to say I watched it recently and I’m not sure I noticed the Felix lighter.

    I think it does have enough classic Bond elements to make it feel like a Bond film but also there is a heavy Indiana Jones influence at play here as well. Add a supernatural layer to the plot and replace Dalton’s anguished cynicism with Ford’s half-grinning, Hollywood version and you have the Jones movie that never was.

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