Brilliant Bond: Licence To Kill
Until recently (28th May 2022) I hadn’t seen a Timothy Dalton Bond movie apart from fragments. Having grown up with Roger Moore’s slapstick, eyebrow up and down and debonair, charming humour, I didn’t like Timothy Dalton’s Bond — too 1980s, too violent, charmless, the silly cello slide. However, having watched Licence to Kill, I’ve completely revised my opinion — what a brilliant Bond!
Prince Charles Cinema (Leicester Square, London) is showing the whole Bond canon to celebrate 60 years of Bond. The showing I saw also had a live Q&A afterwards with stunt man Paul Weston afterwards, telling us all things Dalton and Moore related and well, more! There’s a joke in here somewhere — what do you call a rush of men and me when the tannoy system announces that the Bond movie will be showing in five minutes and those in the queue with a ticket can head on down to the auditorium?!! A stampede?!!!
With no idea of the plot I was shocked by how violent and brutal Timothy Dalton’s Bond was. Yet this was also a very emotional and intelligent Bond who weeps for his friends and seeks revenge on behalf of his friends — whether his government will support him, or not…I can also see why as a tweenager I didn’t like this shift in Bond styles — it’s very adult content, no longer Smokey and the Bandits style family fun.
Compared to Roger Moore’s Bond movies and definitely Sean Connery, the beginning of a less sexist Bond universe. The stunts are full on — lots of water stunts — ski-ing behind a plane(!); a mask ripping underwater fight; things blow up (bases and fuel tankers), parachuting into a wedding. People are also dispatched in grim ways…
Robert Davi as the drug baron Sanchez is a splendid villain, complete with a shark for dispatching unwanted inconveniences and a display chameleon with a diamond necklace. He is ruthlessly unhinged and a good match for Bond — mixing drugs undetected into fuel which can then be carried across the borders and fleecing Chinese businessmen in the process. Ahead of his time, he is starting to genetically modify fish and marine mammals, as well as punishing his girlfriend cruelly. He is rescued from a sunken police van and spirited away, running to avenge himself on the newly married Mr and Mrs Felix Leiter, (as Felix was the one trying to get him jailed). Unsupported by the British and American governments, Bond goes rogue and embarks on a personal vendetta to deal with Team Sanchez, aided and abetted by Moneypenny and Q.
Along the way Bond encounters Pam Bouvier (informant and ex-military pilot) in a bar and they escape to bring about their revenge on Sanchez. She is the last of a list Leiter was working with left alive. Bond poses as a businessman who could be useful to Sanchez, with Bouvier as his Executive Secretary and seeks to stir Team Sanchez up against each other, planting suspicious thoughts in Sanchez’s mind.
Even more unexpected is Benicio del Toro as Davi’s young henchman and equally ruthless in dealing with Bond and Leiter.
So much of the Craig Bond is already in place..in this 1989 film. Brutal violence; more realistic, gritty action; battered Bond; the obvious villains with bizarre hair do’s; the fights on fuel tankers and the casino moments; a more emotional and yet deadly Bond (especially when he thinks women he loves are betraying him); a Bond happy on the water and messing about in boats; a Bond movie which responds to the growing presence of women as equals in the workplace and the world, and much more diversity in casting, even the shaken not stirred moment is already here!
Q turns up with gadgets and laughs, planted by Moneypenny.
Intriguingly Carey Lowell’s character (Pam Bouvier) challenges the Bond woman stereotype and Bond’s protective, arrogant sexism. She refused to be pushed into dumb woman roles — defending herself in an early Me Too moment and standing up to Bond when he tells her to dress the part or not follow him because he works alone; and rescuing Bond on more than one occasion. Bond woman with brain! Literally as rather than screaming for help, she is shown resourcefully managing situations and figuring things out for herself…
Other moments when this movie discusses the role of women are in the character of Lupe Lamora (still silly alliterative name, but highlighting the domestic abuse of women and people trafficking — she wants the power, influence and good life — but not the ethical/emotional cost that goes with it). Bond comes against Sanchez partly because of his abuse of women — in the killing of Della and in his scarring and brutalisation of Lupe. Even the bar dancer seems to keep on dancing during the bar fight because they don’t want to lose their earnings or perhaps this is typical night…This, Licence to Kill shows us, is what women have to endure to live, get out of economically disadvantaged and earn a living. Moneypenny herself is somewhat soppy, but does her bit to defend James.
Weak points of this movie are the random injection of Kung Fu fighting (still not sure why they were there on the roof at all!?!) and the play off of Lupe Lamora against Pam Bouvier as they fight over Bond. It’s a bit tedious and unnecessary, although Bouvier is partly getting the situation wrong and Lamora seems to live to enthrall strong, powerful men. However this does raise the issue of consent — a running joke is Bouvier and Bond saying to each other ‘ you should have asked’. This is no bum slapping Bond of the Connery era, but hints of the Craig Bond to come…(apart from the uncomfortable nearly naked woman dancing around the credits — seriously?!!) Amusingly I think some guys behind me were slobbering more over the United Artists logo!
For an ‘80’s film, this hasn’t aged too badly — not only does it question America’s War on Drugs, but televangelists and cults. Gritty but fun, (such as Bond hiding under a Sting Wray to avoid detection), I only wish Timothy Dalton had made more Bond movies and wonder if they could bring him back…as a new Bond is needed now….