Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Licence to Kill [1989]

I have, so far, enjoyed the hell out of writing this blog.  However, I have a confession to make: around roughly the third or fourth post, I was already having serious reservations about the format I was using.  Not the conceit itself: I still like the idea of using a funky kind of math to assess the Bond series.

No, my concern is that the breakdown of categories is moderately broken.  Specifically, I think that the current format is a little too restrictive.  I occasionally find myself wanting to write about certain aspects of the filmmaking process that are not represented in my formula: the sound design, for example, or the vehicles and weaponry.  I've occasionally wondered if I ought to take the marketing of the film into consideration: posters, trailers, and so forth.

Eventually, I'll do a 2.0 reboot of the blog, and implement that updated/improved scoring system.  When I do, I think one of the categories I'm going to add is one that assesses big-picture-type production decisions, by which I mean how the producers of the series are handling the series on a picture-by-picture basis.  That's a slippery category to define, and I haven't figured out how to do so.  However, I know the need for it when I see it, and Licence to Kill offers a couple of excellent examples.

Example the first: the original title for the film was Licence Revoked, which, to my way of thinking, is a much better title for this particular movie than Licence to Kill is.  The reason for that is simple: for the majority of the film, Bond does not actually possess a licence to kill.  Or a license to kill, for that matter.  Allegedly, the fear was that American audiences would not be intelligent enough to figure out what "revoked" means.  This is patently ludicrous; American audiences are dumb as hell, but they weren't put off by the fact that none of them knew what a moonraker is, or a thunderball.  Take it from someone who knows: they mostly just ask for a ticket to James Bond anyways.

Example the second: the tone of the movie was a conscious attempt to move into a harder-edged, more realistic vein, such as could be (allegedly) found in the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard movies.  In a sense, that can be judged in the Mission Briefing category, but the screenplay was written in service of the tone mandate, and the tone was mandated by a decision from the producers.
I think it would be worthwhile to have a category (or, more likely, a subcategory) devoted to deciding whether decisions like these were good, bad, or somewhere in between, and to have that stand somewhat apart from the question of whether the execution of the decisions worked.

So bear in mind that, at some point in the future (probably while we're enjoying the adventures of the next 007 to take over after Daniel Craig's era has ended), that will be happening.

For now, though, let's soldier on.  It's too late to turn back now.  So using the same old ragged system we've been using so far, what do we think of Licence to Kill?

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

I like Timothy Dalton's take on James Bond a lot, as I made abundantly clear in my review of The Living Daylights.  And I think he's pretty good in Licence to Kill, too, but nowhere near AS good.  The tone of the movie was supposedly tailored to suit his style, i.e., darker and more realistic.  Maybe that's true, but there are numerous scenes in which he seems a bit ill at ease, almost as though he's being weighed down by the material.

That's true of the entire movie, by the way, even the few scenes that take place prior to the attack on Felix and Della (for example, the above screencap from the wedding, in which Bond looks annoyed to even be alive).  Dalton is doing his very best to put across a fully-formed character, one who is as complex as any he might have played during his stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The aim was to show that Ian Fleming's character was that complex a creation.

Thing is, I'm not sure that's actually the case.  And if it is, it isn't inherently the case; such qualities need to be nurtured; they are not automatically present thanks to the increase in darkness and "realism."  The core idea of how to do that -- Bond goes on an unsanctioned manhunt as revenge against the people who harmed one of his best friends -- works.  Unfortunately, the screenplay itself fails to take advantage of the idea; it's far too simple-minded for that.  Here is a movie in which Bond is risking his job, and his life, to avenge a friend; and yet, all he does the entire movie is push away one friend after another: he is vaguely rude to Della, he continually tries to get Pam to go away, and he accepted Q's help only with the utmost reluctance.  Shouldn't Bond be leaning on Pam, and especially on Q?

Put simply, the screenplay fails to properly take advantage of its own conceits.  In the face of that, what chance does Dalton stand?  He's trying to play a symphony using a washboard and a Casio; it just can't be done.

But he does the best he can, and it's about as good as anyone could have done under the circumstances.  If you want a look at what a better version of the same movie with the same actor could have been like, consider the moment after Sanchez's death, when Bond leans against a rock.  You can see Dalton mentally gathering himself, and something happens inside James Bond.  We are not privy to it, but we see it happen, and it makes a certain kind of sense despite the fact that we are not privy to it.  I read it as Bond suddenly remembering that despite his having achieved his goal, Felix is still maimed, and Della is still dead; he's gotten his vengeance, but what good has it done, really?

It's a great moment, and if there had been more like it, this might be a great movie.  And Dalton might be more revered than he is today.  As is, though, this was his last run at 007, and for a great many people, it did not work.  Time has been kind to the movie, and it has its followers.  Still, it's hard not to be a little wistful for what might have been.

Points awarded:  004/007.  Dalton is good, but the material is not strong enough for him to really shine as he did in The Living Daylights.


Main Villain:  I've always liked Robert Davi.  Or, at any rate, I've liked him since 1985, when he played Jake Fratelli in The Goonies.  "Hey, Ma, I think I'm startin' to like this kid!"  Classic.  And ever since 1989 or so, I've felt like he is one of the elements of Licence to Kill that works, no matter what one thinks of the rest of the movie.

I'm pleased to say that this rewatch has done nothing to shake that conviction.

I've heard the criticism that Sanchez is definitely a villain, but not really a Bond villain.  Well . . . I don't agree with that.  He's got a massive amount of money, is able to rule his corner of the world (and has vague designs on increasing his influence), is a sort of bizarre mirror-image of Bond, and even has a pet that he keeps on his person at times.  The only marks against him are that he isn't being targeted by the British government and that his name isn't something exotic, like Dr. Blow or Rafael Powderburn or something jazzy like that.

Otherwise, I think he's a damn good Bond villain.  Screenwriters Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum made an interesting choice with him, too: they decided to make Sanchez the delivery method for a great deal of the movie's humor.  Whereas a great many Bond films finds 007 making quips left and right, here it is the bad guy who does most of the quipping.  "Remember," he tells President Lopez, who is essentially an employee of his, "you're only President for life."  Later, after he explodes another employee's head and gets brains and blood all over a couple million dollars' worth of cash, someone asks him what should be done with the money.  "Launder it," he says, with just the hint of a glimmer in his eye and just the suggestion of a smile on his lips.

Davi plays these moments expertly.  Why has this guy not had a better career?

Another Davi moment I love comes not long after he has decided that Bond can be trusted enough to be brought inside his operation.  He is discussing the previous night's assassination attempt on his life.  "Those men tried to kill me," he says.  "Who would do such a thing?"
Look at those lines on the screen for a moment, and consider how many different ways they could be spoken.  Then, grab your DVD or Blu-ray and toss it in the player, go to the scene, and see how Davi plays it.  He plays it as a joke: sort of a "gosh, who'd want to kill little old me" delivery.  But it's deeper than that.  He's making a joke of it, yes, but he's doing it in a way that lets Bond know it's a joke, and that Sanchez knows Bond knows it's a joke.  It even manages to become a sort of a threat: the idea of someone being able to kill him seems to have about as much effect on Sanchez as the threat of alien invasion must have: virtually none.  Because, like, who'd even believe there IS such a thing?  It makes Sanchez seem affable, but it also makes him seem formidable; this is not naivete, it's sheer confidence, and well-founded confidence at that.

Points awarded (Main Villain):  005/007.  Sanchez is formidable and Robert Davi is great.  I was tempted to go to 006 for this one, but I'm going to dock a point because while Sanchez says that loyalty means more to him than money, he doesn't seem to be terribly good at hiring people who actually are loyal to him.
Henchmen:  The most notable of the film's henchmen is Dario, who is played by Benecio Del Toro, in what was only his second movie role (the first having been Big Top Pee Wee).

"Don't worry; we gave her a nice honeymooooooooooooon.....," Dario says to Leiter when asked what has happened to Della.  This oddball line delivery presages some of Del Toro's more colorful line readings in The Usual Suspects and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and if it doesn't send a bit of a chill up your spine, you may be a rapist who works for a drug kingpin.

Anthony Zerbe plays Milton Krest, one of Sanchez's people in charge of actually making the transfer of coke and money happen.  Zerbe is a solid character actor, and he does good work in his scenes here; he seems simultaneously in control and unbalanced, which helps one be able to see both why Sanchez would trust him and why that trust could quickly evaporate.

Everett McGill plays Killifer, a DEA agent who goes turncoat and helps spring Sanchez in return for a $2 million payoff.  McGill is a little hammy, but he's okay.  He might be familiar to Stephen King fans as the one-eyed Reverend in Silver Bullet.  Which makes two people in Sanchez's crew who appeared in Stephen King movies: Zerbe had an important role in David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone.  (Can I start the petition now for Del Toro to be cast as Wireman in the frustratingly nonexistent adaptation of Duma Key?)

What can be said about Wayne Newton?  On paper, this is an awful decision, but I'll be turked if it doesn't work like a charm.  Newton is smarmy as hell, but he's also thoroughly convincing.  And hey, I lived during the eighties, when televangelists were arguably at their height; Prof. Joe Butcher seems completely plausible to me.  Casting Newton is this smallish role ought to have been a disaster; instead, it's a mild triumph.  Bless his heart.

Presidente Hector Lopez isn't actually in the movie all that much, but I wanted to include a screencap of him anyways, just to mention that he is played by Pedro Armendariz, Jr., the son of the man who played Kerim Bey so memorably in From Russia With Love.

Other notable henchmen: Anthony Starke plays Truman-Lodge, and doesn't don a suit of flying armor at any point; and Don Stroud plays Heller, Sanchez's chief of security.  They're both okay, but I got lazy, and screencapped neither.

Points awarded (Henchmen):  005/007.  Unlike many Bond movies, Licence to Kill features a roster of sub-villains who actually have some individuation, and seem competent.
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  005/007.  The movie has its problems, but I think the villains are pretty solid.  If The Living Daylights had had bad guys this good, it might be one of my two or three favorite Bond movies.

(3)  The Bond Girls

Which one counts as the main Bond girl?  You could make an argument for Lupe, since she's the first one Bond meets AND since she survives.  But since 007 ends the movie with Pam (and since Carey Lowell gets top billing), it's Pam.  So on we go!

Main Bond Girl:  The main Bond girl of record this time is Pam Bouvier, ex-CIA, ex-Army pilot, and general badass.  On paper, you've got to love that.  This chick basically IS James Bond, which actually manages to somewhat come off in the scene where she tosses a fuck at Bond mere minutes after meeting him for the first time.

Where the role falls apart somewhat is in the casting.  Pam is played by Carey Lowell, a former fashion model who had only had three film roles of any size up to this point.  Lowell isn't bad here -- in fact, she's rather good at times -- but she does not scream "badass."  What the film sort of needed was for Pam to be played by someone like Terminator 2-style Linda Hamilton, or, failing that, at least Aliens-style Sigourney Weaver.  (Jesus, how cool would that have been?)  Instead, the role was filled by someone who seems as if she was better suited to play Tom Hanks' deceased wife in the flashback scenes in a romantic dramedy (which is exactly what she did a few years later in Sleepless in Seattle).

That said, Lowell does reasonably well.  I buy her as a badass WAY more than I buy Barbara Bach as same in The Spy Who Loved Me, so if nothing else, this is a step forward.

Good lord.  I could stare at that above screencap for quite some time without getting bored.  Say, did I mention that Carey Lowell is really, really attractive in this movie?  Because she is.  Let's dwell on that momentarily, shall we?

I'd be remiss if I got out of this category before mentioning that the screenplay undercuts Pam's character a bit by having her turn into a somewhat stereotypically lovestruck woman who is jealous of Bond's involvement with Lupe.  Bad move, Wilson/Maibaum.  The character ought to have been more of a female 007, and a female 007 would never become as clingy as Pam becomes over the course of this movie.  We're docking a full point for this, in fact.

Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  004/007 003/007.  Lowell is miscast, and the screenplay takes some missteps, and as a result, what could have been one of the best female roles of the series is undercut.  Still, Lowell is fairly good, and is thoroughly easy on the eye.

Secondary Bond Girls:  "If anything happens to him, I don't know what I'll do.  I love James so much..."

Thus speaks Lupe Lamora at one point toward the end of this movie, in a moment that is embarrassingly badly-acted.  It's an embarrassing scene in general, really; there's no indication elsewhere in the movie that Lupe has feelings for Bond.

Elsewhere in the movie, Talisa Soto ranges from bad to mediocre to good.  She's awfully flat during a few scenes, several of which have extremely obvious dialogue-replacement looping; even skilled actors can sometimes struggle at being good during looping scenes, so the fact that Soto seems stiff in those scenes is no surprise.

But at other times, she does quite well.  Example: the scene at the beginning in which Sanchez is whipping her.  She seems genuinely distressed.  Wouldn't you be if Robert Davi had you bent over?

Like Lowell, Soto is -- obviously -- very attractive.  But for some reason, I couldn't get many decent screencaps that illustrated this fact.  So for those of you hoping for heaping handfuls of Talisa Soto cheesecake shots, I apologize; I have failed you.

Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  003/007.  Should I also have mentioned Priscilla Barnes as the ill-fated Della?  Maybe.

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  002.50/007.  It's a weak point for the movie, unfortunately.
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  There is some typically fine stuntwork on display in this movie, beginning with the aerial escapades at the beginning of the film:

A dude dangling from a moving helicopter jumps onto a moving airplane.  Thousands of feet above the ground.  I mean, really.  Who can fail to love that?  Later, another dude jumps out of an airplane onto the top of a moving truck.  I couldn't get a decent screencap of that, but trust me, it's spectacular.

There was also a screencap-resistant water skiing scene that is pretty badass, and elsewhere, there is a bar fight, a ninja attack, a tank shelling a house, and other such visceral pleasures.

However, I think it is fairly infallible for me to say that the best action scenes in the movie are the ones involving the tanker trucks toward the end.  There is some dynamite stunt driving here, including a scene in which the team one-ups Diamonds Are Forever's two-wheel-tilt driving scene by taking an entire eighteeen-wheeler on a similar ride:


If you don't love that, then I contend that you don't love James Bond movies.
Another terrific moment comes when a flaming jeep goes careening over the side of a cliff, and narrowly misses a plane that is flying by:

CGI can do anything in the world, but it can't -- and probably will never be able to -- replicate the thrill of knowing that on some bright, shiny day in 1988 or 1989, some dudes actually DID these things.
Points awarded (Action/Stunts):  006/007

Editing:  As frequent readers of You Only Blog Twice know, I typically have approximately jack shit to say about the editing.  But hey, guess what?  This time, I've got notes!

First up, let's consider that awful moment early on when Leiter and the DEA agents go charging in to the airfield and confront the Sanchez-employed pilots who are there.  Arguably, this scene belongs in the mix as an example of bad direction, rather than bad editing...but I'm going to opt to put it here, because no editor should ever have let this scene happen.  If the footage didn't exist to do something better, than editor John Grover should simply have figured out a way to cut around the scene.

Screencaps can help here.  First let's take a look at Leiter and the boys, charging in as if they are about to singlehandedly win the War On Drugs:

Then, we see what they are running toward:

Two dudes, who are just standing around.  They both look stoned; they may as well be Harold and Kumar.  These two hapless goons could be arrested by Big Bird and Elmo; there's no need for Leiter and his fellow agents to be charging in like they're trying to capture the beach at Normandy.  The effect of the two bits edited together is ludicrous.  It is absolutely awful, and how it made it into an A-list film is beyond me.

Grover -- the editor, not the Sesame Street character -- redeems himself a few moments later when Bond leaps out of a helicopter; the edit from the stuntman's roll to Dalton's roll is impeccable.  Action-scene editing on stuntwork like that is crucial.  And for the most part, the editing in the film seems to be strong, especially in the action scenes.  The tanker chase at the end is edited in a crisp, efficient manner; we're not talking The French Connection here, or anything like that, but the scene works like a charm, and you'd best believe that a huge portion of that comes down to the editing.

A couple of other notes.  One: some of Killifer's scenes have obviously been put out of order in the editing.  He's threatening Sanchez at the DEA facility one moment, then, seemingly a few moments later, he shows up at Felix's wedding for literally 23 seconds.  Then he's back with Sanchez for the transfer.  The idea, seemingly, is that Killifer left the DEA compound for just long enough to be at Felix's wedding for 23 seconds, and then came back for the prisoner transfer.  Ridiculous.  The intent must have initially been for all of the Sanchez lockup/transfer scenes to play as one sequence, which would mean that we would first have met Killifer at the wedding.  Bear in mind, I'm speculating here; but I think it's good speculation.  That sort of thing happens in editing all the time.  And I'm not even citing it as a negative here; I do think it helps the brief scene of Killifer at the wedding for us to know already that he is involved in the Sanchez arrest.

Final note: at the wedding, there is an extra who is dancing in such an annoying fashion that I cannot help but stare at him.  I actually tried to make a video of this person's brief appearance, but it didn't work too well.  So, screencaps it is: you're looking for the balding man, who is standing right above the guy in the swimming pool.  Check it out:

You might be wondering why I am including this in the conversation of the film's editing.  Well, I justify it thus: an editor ought to be on the lookout for especially annoying extras, and John Grover failed to remove this doofy wedding guest from the movie.  Hence, I view it as being his fault.  It's a lot of other peoples' fault, too; but I'm choosing to talk about it here.

Points awarded (Editing):  004/007.  That's probably too low by a point, but hey, I really hate that scene of Leiter charging the airfield.

Costumes/Makeup:  There are some lovely dresses, such as Lupe's red dress and Pam's purple one with the tearaway bottom.  I believe both of those can be seen in screencaps above, so I won't bother re-upping on them here.

On the hairstyle front (not technically makeup, but it's where I'm going to lump it), I have to ask: what is up with Timothy Dalton's hair in this movie?  It changes several times, and just sorta looks flat and weird in some scenes.

Yes, yes, I know; he's flying thousands of feet above the air right there.  Still, James Bond's hair should never be allowed to look like that; if you have to, you use seventeen cans of hairspray to hold that shit in place.

On the other hand, Pam's short hair is really gorgeous, and the wig she wears earlier in the movie is fairly convincing.  Not so much in the following screencap, but in motion it's fine.

Jesus, why am I talking about hair so much?!?

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup):  004/007

Locations:  The bridge in the Keys is cool; it showed up a few years later in True Lies.  "Hey!" said I when I saw that movie.  "It's the bridge from Licence to Kill!"

Elsewhere, Sanchez's villa is spectacular.  So is the Olympatec Institute.  I was tempted to include those in the production design category, but since they were both practical locations where the production filmed (and not spaces designed for the production), I figured they belonged here.

Points awarded (Locations):  004/007.  Not a series highpoint by any means, but certainly good.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  004.50/007
(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:  Say, here's a question: since when does Felix Leiter work for the DEA?  As far as I know, he works for the CIA.  Huh.  Musta swapped jobs between movies, I guess.

Speaking of Leiter, David Hedison is fine and all, and it's nice to have some mild series continuity on display . . . but wouldn't it have made more sense to ask John Terry (who played Leiter in The Living Daylights) to return?  I mean, I appreciate the Live and Let Die connection, but I think Hedison's casting worked against the movie ever so slightly, in practical terms.

Hedison seems to have had a lot of fun making the movie, though.  If nothing else, he sure got into firing an assault rifle (I am admittedly not at all sure that the weapon he referred to actually was an assault rifle):

Another Bond ally: Sharky.

What is the deal with Sharky?  Obviously, he's a close friend of Felix's, but who he is and how they know each other remains a complete mystery.  I feel certain that the movie's novelization clarifies these matters, but I'm unmotivated in terms of doing the research and finding out.

Elsewhere, you have got to love Q getting to be in the field with Bond.  It's a shame that that hasn't happened more over the course of the series.  You've also got to love that eyeroll Llewelyn gives when Lupe tells Pam that Bond stayed with her the night before.  And Q's fake mustache is reason enough for the movie's existence in and of itself.

I didn't get any screencaps to illustrate it, but it would be wrong of me to not mention that two series players (apart from Dalton) made their final appearances in Licence to Kill: Robert Brown, who'd played M serviceably since Bernard Lee's passing; and Caroline Bliss, who only appeared as Moneypenny twice.  Bliss is in this movie for what must be less than a minute, but Moneypenny -- being responsible for sending Q to help Bond -- is nevertheless her normal helpful self.  I feel kind of bad for Bliss, who must have assumed she had the role of Moneypenny locked down for the next decade at a minimum.  Ah, well.

Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  004/007.  Feels a point too low, but so be it.

Direction:  John Glen is on record as saying that he feels Licence to Kill is his best Bond movie.  I'm not at all inclined to agree with that; nevertheless, it is reasonably good work.  I do think there are occasional tone problems, but a lot of those can be laid at the feet of the screenplay.

Before I say anything substantive, let me point out that there are three literal doubletakes (Sanchez flying the plane, Corky Fornoff flying the plane, and Bond seeing Pam's new style) in the movie.  Not sure if I'm counting that as a pro or a con.  But doubletakes kind of crack me up.  So much so that I screencapped the best of the three:

Here's a valid question: how should we feel about the increased level of graphic violence in this movie, compared to the rest of the series?  The tone of the film, generally, is dark and grimy.  The scene in which Leiter is mauled by a shark is disturbing, partially because of the raw, bloody slab of beef that is used to prime the shark; but you can also see -- the water is murky, but it's there -- the stump of Leiter's severed leg.  And later, there's this:

This isn't exactly Saw or anything, but it's grosser than it probably should have been.  No wonder that people who had embraced the goofiness of Roger Moore's era rejected this movie; I empathize with them, even as I recognize that this harder-edged stuff is a perfectly valid way to approach James Bond.  Heck, for my own part, I'd be okay with a Bond film being NC-17; make it bloody, and make the sex feel real.  Make it an actual porno, for all I care.

But facts are facts, and the fact is that even as early as 1989, James Bond was something of an institution, and in some ways the series was seen as being at least somewhat family-friendly.  These are movies the entire family can watch on Thanskgiving, or Christmas, or the fourth of July.  Going the NC-17 -- or XXX -- route with that would, at this point, be a massive betrayal of that tradition, despite the fact that it would, arguably, be closer to Ian Fleming's tone.

Having Licence to Kill be a hard PG-13 is obviously less of a betrayal, but in a sense, it is a betrayal nevertheless.  It was certainly seen as such at that time.  And while I respect the intent -- and even much of the execution -- I think that ultimately, director John Glen must shoulder a good bit of the blame.  Not all of it; the screenwriters and even the producers have at least an equal share.
But the fact is that while the direction might theoretically have been a good one, Glen failed to make it palatable for audiences, who, on some level, were still looking for Roger Moore to show up and kick this new sourpuss out of his seat.  I feel like Glen made an excellent argument for Dalton as Bond in The Living Daylights; in Licence to Kill, he did not.  Audiences then didn't want their James Bond to have to contend with severed legs and exploding craniums; if Glen had found a way to make these things less confrontational, maybe the movie might have found a more receptive audience.

Points awarded (Direction): 003/007.  I feel like I'm being a point too harsh, and that I'm basing it more on the film's reception than on my own feelings about it; but I'm going to do it anyways, so nyah-nyah.

Cinematography:  Hey, you know how I typically tend to not notice the editing?  Well, I did this time, but it seems to have been at the expense of the cinematography.

Nevertheless, here are a few screencaps which at least vaguely speak to the film's lighting:

Alright, fine; it's not so much "a few" screencaps as it is a single one.  Sorry; best I could do this time, evidently.

Points awarded (Cinematography): 004/007.  Let's just assume it was more good than bad.

Art Direction:  I also failed to take much note of the production design this time out.  However, there is an exceptionally weird statue in the room where Bond wakes up in Sanchez's villa.  I love Bond's reaction to it (which you have to go frame-by-frame to really see, but hey, prt sc works pretty good when you go frame by frame):

Dude . . . what the fuck is that thing?!?  Other than Lovecraftian, I mean.

Points awarded (Art Direction): 004/007

Special Effects:  The fake maggots kind of suck.  Let's face it; they look like noodles.  However...

The foreground miniature of the helicopter-landing chamber at Olympatec is genius.  If not for the behind-the-scenes material on the Blu-ray, I'd have no clue it was an illusion.  Even knowing it, I can barely tell.  In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, let's have a look:

What's going on here is this: that pattern actually existed on the location, but -- obviously -- it did not serve as an opening to an underground helicopter landing chamber.  So the effects people built a miniature, which they placed strategically in front of the camera, in such a way as to perfectly cover up the actual pattern on the ground.  Then, they raised a moveable part of it to simulate the opening of a hatch to an underground chamber.


The tanker explosions are excellent, too.  We don't always think of those are effects, but they certainly are.

More 'splodies:

This seems like a good time to mention a weird tale that gets told on the behind-the-scenes documentary on the Blu-ray and DVD.  The crew had numerous odd occurrences while filming on location on the stretch of road used for the tanker sequences; so many, in fact, that everyone began to assume the site was haunted, possibly by the ghosts of a group of nuns who had died when their van careened off a cliff.

During one explosion scene, a still photographer captured the following image:


Final note on the effects: Kenworth trucks built a special truck cab designed to allow Bond to pop a wheelie.  Evidently, that can't be done by just any old truck with a skilled enough driver, which is kind of a bummer.  But hey, that's why we watch Bond movies, right?

Points awarded (Special Effects): 006/007.  Some great stuff in this one.

Gadgets:  For a relatively realistic 007 flick, this one has a lot of gadgets, and some of them are pretty good.  Example: the lighter Felix gives James (a genuine genuine Felix Leiter...), which is set up well as just a joke -- it's more of a mini-flamethrower than a cigarette lighter -- but is later brought back to good effect at a crucial moment.

Bond's manta ray disguise is cool.

How did he know where the Wavekrest's cameras would be, though?  How did he know it even had underwater security cams, or that people would be watching him on them, or when those people would stop watching?  Nevermind, forget I asked.

Dentonite toothpaste.  Funny.

The Bond-use-only sniper rifle is cool. 

The Polaroid with a laser beam is amusing.  Thankfully, it never comes into use in the movie.  I like that Q just brings a random assortment of gadgets, having no real clue what will and what won't prove to be handy.

That cracks me up, and I don't entirely know why.

Points awarded (Gadgets):  005/007.  They are cool, and they are used well, too.

Opening-Title Sequence:  Not one of Binder's best, but it still works reasonably well.  There is a somewhat odd focus on photography -- a reference to Pam using the Fauxlaroid? -- and the Chinese angle gets played up a bit more heavily than it probably deserved.  Still, it's not bad. This was the final time Maurice Binder worked on the series; he died two years later.  His contributions to the legacy of the series probably cannot be overstated.

Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence): 004/007

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  004.29/007
(6)  Mission Briefing

If I recall correctly, the last time I wrote one of these posts, I got to the Mission Briefing section and was sorta tuckered out, so I resorted to bulletpoints, which is a lazy way of doing things.

And I'm going to do it again!

  • The opening scene sets the wrong tone: confusion.  Felix is inexplicably working for the DEA; Bond is inexplicably a second banana; there's some dude named Sharky we don't know.  And the three of them are inside a Rolls Royce (I think), dressed in tuxedos, headed for a wedding.  It all makes sense once you know what's going on (except Leiter being a DEA agent), but I suspect that for most people, the first time they see the movie is...just plain confusing.
  • "What did he promise you?  His heart?  .....  Give her his heart."  Another good line of dialogue for Sanchez, who gets a fair number of them in this movie.
  • Sanchez's el weirdo whip is...kinky.  There's been a decent amount of kink to Bond villains in the past, so I guess it's good to see one finally own up to it a little bit.
  • An example of the sort of thing that bothers me, even though I know it shouldn't (even though I know that it in fact actually should): Bond and Leiter catch Sanchez while they are in a position to parachute in to the wedding.  That's lame, and it's kind of contrary to the intended tone of this movie.  But I can live with it.  Sort of.
  • "He was married once...but it was a long time ago."  This, one assumes, is a reference to On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Nice.
  • Wilson and Maibaum really do seem to have tried to return to Fleming as much as possible for this movie, the first to use a title that did not come from a Fleming title.  Example: the "he disagreed with something that ate him" gag, which is straight out of Live and Let Die (and a good piece of luck that that movie's Felix Leiter is in this movie, too).  Also: Milton Krest is a character in Fleming's Bond short story "The Hildebrand Rarity."
  • Is it plausible that M would come all the way to Florida to warn Bond off the hunt?  Probably not, but so be it.  However, I'm not sure I see how there can possibly be a way for Bond to come back to MI6 after this escapade.  I might consider using this as a piece of evidence later on, but for what, I'm not sayin'.
  • "I hope you don't snore, Q..."  Dalton doesn't get many funny lines in his two Bond movies, but he sells this one admirably.
  • Is that fire in the lab really such a huge deal?  Do these fuckers not have fire extinguishers?  Bond sets one measly little table on fire, and all of a sudden the entire facility if collapsing like it's the house of Usher.
Points awarded: 003/007.  I considered subtracting an additional point for the poor treatment of Pam Bouvier over the course of the movie, but I think that has been adequately reflected elsewhere.  Overall, this isn't a terrible screenplay; it just fails to take full advantage of its own best ideas.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:  The song has grown on me a lot over the years.  I never disliked it, but I've gotten to the point now where I actually like it, in an active sense.  I'm no Gladys Knight expert, but she did a solid job here.

Points awarded (Title Song):  004/007.  The song was written by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen, and Walter Afanasieff, whoever they are.  If there is a serious problem with the song, it's that the score's composer, Michael Kamen, had no input, and consequently the song has no reverberations within the score itself.  That always makes a Bond song seem a little weaker.

End Credits Song:  For the second consecutive movie, we got an end-credits song.  As before, it's a love song, but whereas I think "If There Was a Man" from The Living Daylights is excellent, I think "If You Asked Me To" is kind of awful, at least as a Bond song. It isn't a bad song overall; in the easy-listening sense of things, it has its virtues.  But boy do I hate Patti LaBelle's vocals.

If I had to listen to this song, I'd opt for the Celine Dion cover version that became a big hit three years later.

Points Awarded (End Credits Song): 002/007.  This is where I should probably mention that the movie has two other original songs, too: "Wedding Party" by Ivory, and "Dirty Love" by Tim Feehan.  Both are terrible, and it's a good thing I do not currently have a subcategory that could take them into account.  In any case, they are both used as source music, and can easily be ignored.

The Score:  When Bond is wearing the manta ray disguise, Kamen throws in a short, understated moment of the Bond theme to underscore it.  Conceptually, it's a good idea, but it's too restrained.  (The counterargument being that he holds on to it and lets it loose more a few minutes later when Bond goes water skiing.)  This isn't a bad score, but it's sort of bland and colorless; it's oatmeal with butter, but no sugar.  It doesn't hurt the movie, but it doesn't really give it a boost, either.

That's kind of how I feel about the score as a whole.  It's not bad; it's not good.  It's just there.

Points awarded (The Score): 003/007

Total points awarded (The Music):  003/007.  This category definitely weighs the movie down a bit.

Double-0 Rating for Licence to Kill:  003.75/007

The tally so far:

006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
005.58 -- The Living Daylights
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.42 -- For Your Eyes Only
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
003.96 -- A View to a Kill
003.92 -- Octopussy
003.77 -- The Man With the Golden Gun
003.75 -- Licence to Kill
003.66 -- The Spy Who Loved Me
003.09 -- You Only Live Twice 
001.43 -- Never Say Never Again
You Only Blog Twice will return in ... Goldeneye.  No, not that one; a different one.  It'll be a step outside the strict bounds of the blog, but trust me, it'll make sense.

Before I go, though, this: a collection of leftover images:

Please please PLEASE, somebody do me a favor and photoshop Michael Myers from Halloween into the right-hand side of the frame here...

Probably should've put this one in the cinematography section...

See y'all next time!


  1. It’s too bad they decided against “License Revoked” as a title. It works so much better, and it would be a perfect fit for this period of late-80s filmmaking. Even better if it was “License… REVOKED!” I instantly want to hear Ahnold say it, preferably while crushing someone’s windpipe.

    I’d completely forgotten Anthony Zerbe and Everett McGill were in this film. I watched it an awful lot back in the early 90s but probably haven’t seen it since, unfortunately. This whole Bond Villains section, above, surprised me. Actually, there’s a lot I forgot about it. Those stunts all look amazing. I only really remember the absurdity of timing their catching Sanchez with parachuting into the wedding – which has really stuck with me over time – and Felix Leiter’s “I’ll see you in Hell!” or whatever line he gets before dying. I didn’t like Felix so much in this one. I never quite understood why Bond and Felix were these best friends all of a sudden. I like it better when Felix is the guy who is always trying to catch up with Bond, and whom Bond's chummy enough with but it's more of a professional relationship. I guess I always assumed Felix was another in the long line of allies Bond might have to make short work of if the mission went that way. Hell, maybe that's why he's at the wedding in the first place.

    Not that I dislike Felix or anything, though this movie is my least favorite iteration of him. I just never understood how his death would motivate Bond to go to these lengths. But stony is the soil of a man’s heart. Or maybe it was just the grisly nature of them all. (Maybe it was being asked to be in the wedding party that so touched Bond – it was the moment he never knew he’d been waiting for - that he vowed to himself he'd go to any length to avenge his death. Like all who step into that inner circle of his life, they die; ergo, vengeance. It works. Like the parachuting-in thing (and I know exactly what you mean with the “know it shouldn’t bother me while knowing full well it should” inner monologue) I can talk myself into it.

    And yeah, he’s DEA now?? What? Ah well. It’s all the same, probably. Maybe Sharky has the answer.

    Is that an arm and talon made of fire extending from one of those explosions? Nice.

    Carey Lowell is something else in this movie. Nicely done. (Loved the screencap of the hapless drug runners being charged by Howlin’ Felix Leiter and his DEA Commandoes.) That screencap of the demented demon sheep sculpture or whatever Lovecraftian horror it is will haunt my days and nights.

    1. That's a great point about Felix's newfound status as Bond's BFF. That hadn't occurred to me.

      The idea, I guess, is that they were more friendly in the Fleming novels, and the producers were trying to return to Fleming a bit. But even there, I don't know that there's any indication Bond would be best man in Felix's wedding. (Or is Sharky the best man? It is unclear.) That might be a stretch. But since it hasn't occurred to me to question it in 24 years, I guess maybe they got away with that one.

      I'd also have to agree that if you opt to apply some connective logic to it -- involving Bond being all like "every GOD damn time I'm involved in a wedding...!" when Della gets greased -- then it begins to make more sense. Something tells me that the John Gardner (Gardener?) novelization has something to say about this.

      I'll tell you what doesn't have anything to say about it: the comic-book adaptation, which I'd intended to talk about at the end of this review. Boy, that thing is abysmal. Some of the worst art I've ever seen.

      Oh, well. There'll be a Bond-comics roundup on this blog one of these days, so maybe I'll just save it for then.

  2. I loved Dalton as Bond, but LTK was a let-down in terms of its Miami-Vicey storyline. Shame that Dalton wasn't allowed one more Bond film. I've often wondered how he would have gone if "Goldeneye" had been made two or three years after "Licence To Kill".
    Great write-up.

    1. Thanks!

      I don't know if it came across in the review, but I'm of two minds about the "Miami Vice"-yness (as you aptly put it). On the one hand, I think it was a bad direction for Bond to go. On the other hand, I think it'd be a real shame if over the course of its then-27-year-old history the series had never taken a risk and tried to really stretch the boundaries of what a Bond movie could be. This did that. Whether it did it well or memorably is another matter.

  3. I guess I like this one more than you do. It's not my favorite Bond movie, or even in my top 10, but I do like it. I'm forced to disagree about Sanchez's ability to hire trustworthy henchmen. Aaide from Heller, who is trying to cut a deal with the CIA (or DEA, whatever) to save his own ass, all of the henchmen actually are loyal. Crest flirts with Lupe a little, but he even says he's not stupid enough to actually try anything serious with her. Killifer is loyal. Lodge is loyal, if a bit too mouthy for his own good. Plus all those other nameless guys working for him seem to be wiling to drive through flaming gasoline for him. I'd say Sanchez is actually pretty good at hiring the right people.

    Apparently I'm in the minority in liking David Hedison as Felix Leiter. I'd place him as the 3rd best Leiter in the franchise, behind Jeffrey Wright and Jack Lord. Maybe with the Cold War starting to die out someone made the decision to switch Leiter to the DEA. I'm only guessing here.

    Like you, I'm puzzled as to why Robert Davi hasn't had a more successful career. The man exudes menace. He's one of the few Bond villains who seems like a legitimate physical threat. He doesn't hide behind stronger henchmen and mock Bond; he's in Bond's face the whole time. We hadn't seen a lot of that to this point in the series. That makes him stand out.

    Carey Lowell. Not the greatest actress to ever grace a Bond movie but she's undeniably HOT. Like you, I wish the screenplay had given her more moments to show her badassery.

    Great review, as usual. I thought you were gonna tear this movie apart. Perhaps the fact it is the last one for some time that won't feature Joe Don Baker heightened your appreciation of it? lol

    1. To be honest, I thought I was going to tear it apart, too. The time previous to this that I watched the movie, I didn't enjoy it much at all. One interesting side-effect in writing these reviews has been that in several cases, paying closer attention has actually made me appreciate movies I'd previously written off totally. It happened with "The Man with the Golden Gun," it happened with "Moonraker," and now it happened with "Licence to Kill."

      I don't know if this enough to power me through that stretch of Joe Don Baker as Jack Wade, though. We'll see. I have my doubts, but we'll see.

      You're probably right about Sanchez's relative skill at hiring people. When your employees are willing to drive through fire for you, I guess that really does speak well to your ability to inspire by example.

      As for the Leiter-at-the-DEA angle, I'm kind of itching to read the novelization and see what it has to say about this. The temptation may be unavoidable, so if I do, I'll update via comment here.

  4. I actually enjoyed Licence To Kill way more than The Living Daylights. However, as Roger Ebert said, there is something "missing" about this film. Look-wise, Licence To Kill looked like it suffered from budget cutbacks as it has a cheap made for TV look to it.

    1. I totally agree! I saw the review on YouTube and Siskel kept saying that it had a "raw, unfinished" look. It was funny because I don't think Ebert understood what Siskel was talking about. I totally got it though. I mean, watching it on Blu-rey is certainly more crisp and clean...but it still has that Miami Vice feel to it. I wasn't a fan. But I got over it. The scene where they are with Felix in the hospital is a perfect example.

  5. If I had to choose, I would put Licence to Kill above The Living Daylights. Yes, Daylights is more traditional but at the same time it was written with Roger in mind. I guess the producers figured they'd be able to lure him back for one more film after AVTAK, or they wanted their next actor to be a lot like Moore. But yes, I'm glad it was rewritten for Dalton however Licence to Kill IS the film that was written for Dalton in mind. It was great and I'm glad to see more and more people are liking his second outing. It was the precursor to the Craig era and it came before it's time. It is the darkest Bond out there. I was watching LtK with my gf the other day and she was cringing when Crest bit the bullet and Dario turned into dog food.

    Oh, I just wanted to correct you on something. It was changed to "To Kill" because people thought it referred to one getting their driver's license revoked rather than an agent losing their privillages. I believe they know what it meant. Goldfinger; Thunderball, etc. were already book titles by Fleming. But yeah, you're right when I first saw the name "Thunderball" I was confused out of my mind. But it stuck with me and it worked. Keep up the great reviews!!!!

    1. You make a good point that "The Living Daylights" feels a bit like a Moore script whereas "Licence to Kill" was clearly written with Dalton in mind. And yes, I absolutely agree that Dalton was doing what Craig was doing, only years ahead of time.

      I didn't know that about the title change. Thanks! I suspect the worry over audience confusion was mostly unfounded; if a movie looks good, people will go see it no matter what it's called.

    2. I had seen Robert Davi in an interview in LA before a screening of an original 35mm print of Licence to Kill and it was awesome. The man had a lot of interesting stories and did seem pretty high on himself but it was cool listening to what he had to say about his experience with Cubby and Tim. When he talked about Bond, it was cool, but it started to turn into a 45 minute monologue of his music and how he wants to be one of the greats. Long story short, since the movie theater was having a double feature and Davi's interview was between films, it became a bit pressed for time and Davi had to hurry it up. He then started signing autographs even when the lights went down for the feature to start. It was an interesting experience. I didn't really bother to get an autograph, seeing as how I didn't have any paper or writing material, but it was cool in the end being in the same room with one of the great Bond villains!

    3. I love him in "Licence to Kill," but all I'd be able to do is ask him about "The Goonies."

      I've never heard any of his music, but I heard somebody (on some podcast, I think) say it was very good.

  6. I rewatched LTK last night and mostly enjoyed it. Well, more than mostly, but not as much as I enjoyed rewatching TLD a couple of weeks ago, which is the opposite of how I remembered my enjoyment of the two movies from many years ago. It hadn't been as long since I'd seen LTK as it had for TLD, but even then, I'm sure it had been 25 years since my last viewing. In the time since, if asked, I would've said I liked LTK well enough, but not so much TLD. Now I would say it's quite the other way around. I very much enjoyed rewatching TLD for the first time (I would guess) since the 80s, I would guess), but I didn't get into LTK as much as I remember digging it.

    I don't mean to sound as if I didn't have a good time watching it, just that perhaps I was expecting to still like it more than TLD, and if I so enjoyed watching that one for the first time in a long time, then I might stand to reason that I would enjoy rewatching LTK even more. Instead, I was left with the same feeling of "liked it well enough" that I had 25 years ago, which really isn't a negative.

    Dalton is good for a second time and only strengthened my opinion of him in consideration to where I'd rank him among the Bonds. And now that I've had plenty of time to get over him replacing Moore (oh, you know, it only took 25 or 30 years), I really appreciate the energy he brought to the role. And speaking of stunts, rewatching the Dalton Bonds, I have to admit, the have some of the best stunts found in the series up to that point. That was a definite highlight of LTK. Lots of things going boom and jumping out of airplanes and shit!

    A couple of things in closing:

    The way Dario delivers the line, "We gave her a nice honeymoooooooooon," is absolutely chilling. No shit, it might be the most squirm-inducing moment in a Bond movie, and that includes Sean Connery almost getting his balls lasered off.

    I remember being pretty psyched that David Hedison was back as Felix Leiter in LTK. As I've mentioned before LALD was my favorite Bond movie from when I was a little kid until about a dozen years ago, and it's hard to say it's not still kind of tied with FYEO for my favorite. Such was/is my love for LALD, it certainly played/plays into my enjoyment seeing him in LTK. I liked Hedison as Leiter in LALD and I thought he was fine in LTK. However, there are two things I find absolutely, fantastically ridiculous about Felix in LTK. First, as you mentioned in your review, the slow motion storming of the airfield is so overwrought and out of place. I hadn't remembered that part since the last time I watched LTK (understandable, given how long it had been), but watching it again, I laughed right out loud. I couldn't help but to picture Felix taking over the movie and becoming the action hero! And the other thing that struck me odd, much the same way as the slow motion seemed out of place, but much more bewildering, didn't Felix seem awfully chipper at the end of the movie for a fellow who had lost a leg to a fucking shark and, oh, you know, whose wife had been raped and murdered??

    Anyway, it was fun to rewatch LTK and very entertaining to read your review again.

    1. "but even then, I'm sure it had been 25 years since my last viewing" -- I kinda wish I had a Bond movie that I hadn't seen in that long. It would almost (at least for me) be like getting to watch it for the first time, which would be cool.

      "Dalton is good for a second time" -- He sure is! I think I shorted him a point or two when I wrote this post.

      "oh, you know, it only took 25 or 30 years" -- I think a lot of people never managed to do it. I think Dalton is probably still the most underrated of the Bond actors; more so even than Laxenby. Yikes! Lookit that typo! I'm leaving it.

      "some of the best stunts found in the series up to that point" -- In that sense, Dalton's movies are a carryover from the Moore era. That 1973-1989 period of Bond films is staggeringly good as far as the stunts go.

      " "We gave her a nice honeymoooooooooon," is absolutely chilling" -- It might be the single most bastadly thing a Bond villain does in the entire series. And yes, squirm-inducing, too.

      "didn't Felix seem awfully chipper at the end of the movie for a fellow who had lost a leg to a fucking shark and, oh, you know, whose wife had been raped and murdered?? " -- You make a very good point. Let's blame it on the copious morphine.

      "Anyway, it was fun to rewatch LTK and very entertaining to read your review again." -- Thanks! I dig these updates, too. Keep 'em coming!

  7. Ugh. Excuse the typos, I was typing while distracted. There was a South Park marathon on television in the background and I kept getting caught up watching various parts of that. I suppose proof reading is better done BEFORE hitting "Publish." Although, upon reading my comment, I had to chuckle when I got to, "And speaking of stunts," when I hadn't yet spoken of stunts. I had a point to make about how well Dalton handled the stunts he took part in contrast to how bad Moore would have looked, but I guess I was thinking too far ahead and blew right by making that point.

    1. I swear, I've learned to just not even see the typos in people's comments -- because there's no way to fix them, so why worry? I leave 'em strewn in my own comments like breadcrumbs. (In my posts, too, but I can at least edit those when I see them.)

      Also, I would never begrudge somebody paying more attention to "South Park" than to leaving a comment on my blog. I mean, that's how it SHOULD be!

  8. I think you're the only other one besides me who ever properly articulated what was wrong with Dalton in this film. He was far too hostile to the people who were helping him and even threatened to shoot poor Pam because he thought he betrayed her.

    1. I guess the idea is that James is so inconsolable with grief over what's happened to Della and Felix that he is in a state of blind rage for much of the movie. It kinda works, but not really; and I think a lot of people have misread what's happening as lack of humor on Dalton's part. Seems like people have started to come around on both of his movies, though -- it's about time!

  9. See, I could have bought the premise had Felix been maimed in the second act. We needed a lot more time with Felix if we were going to believe that Bond would resign from the service in order avenge his injury. As for the Dalton films, Timothy was the best thing about them. He never got the scripts he deserved.

    1. True, although I'd say he fared better in that regard than poor Pierce did.

    2. True. Pierce was at the mercy of the crap that they gave him. Still I am not sure if I would still like Pierce as Bond even if they have him the right scripts. I've seen his other work and I honestly think he's better as a supporting player.

    3. I can't agree with that; I think he commands the screen when he's on it. (Not always to great effect, granted.) He's done some good supporting bits, but I think he was born to be a lead.