SPECTRE

Friday, October 3, 2008

Licence To Kill

#16Licence To Kill, simply put, is the most controversial James Bond movie (at least, so far...).

I think that it's safe to say that critical opinion about this film, both among "real" critics and Bond fans, is far more sharply divided that any other.

Yes, every Bond film is simultaneously someone's favorite and at the same time someone's worst. That's part of the fun.

But usually some sort of "critical consensus" forms about a movie. Yes, there are outlying opinions, but usually the reaction to a Bond film fall within a particular range.

But not Licence To Kill. This movie seems to be the literal definition of "love it or hate it." There rarely seems to be any middle ground--many, many reviewers have it amongst the best or amongst the worst. From what I've seen, there seems to be a greater standard deviation of opinions on this film than any of the other Eon Bonds.

Now, I'm a fairly tolerant person, opinion-wise. If you hate a Bond movie I love, or love one I hate, I can dig that. I don't agree, but I respect your right to feel that way. And usually, I can understand where our difference of opinion comes from, even if I disagree. If you like Diamonds Are Forever more than I do, or hate For Your Eyes Only, I can understand where you're coming from, even if I ultimately disagree. If you want to say that From Russia With Love is too slowly paced and rank it 7 spots below You Only Live Twice, well, I think you're crazy, but more power to you.

But, with regards to LTK, I have one question for everyone who absolutely hates this movie:

ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MINDS??

Seriously, LTK is a great, great James Bond movie. And yet, it gets nowhere near the respect it deserves. And those who don't like it...well, they loathe it. Even some people who should like it--they like the "realistic" Bonds, they hate the bloated spectacles and over-the-top humor--come out bashing on this film.

So allow me to alter the form of my review, for a least a little bit, as I defend the movie against some of the reasons people have used to diss on it.

**LICENCE TO KILL IS RACIST/USES ETHNIC STEREOTYPES

Even if this charge is right, it sure seems to be an odd place to bring it up, as Dr. No and Live And Let Die, just to name two, are far worse violators.

In some quarters, especially in 1989, it was fashionable to critique LTK as condoning stereotypes by having Bond oppose a Latin American drug lord. Somehow, that was racist, or at least ethnically insensitive, by somehow promulgating the one dimensional portrait of all Latin American countries as corrupt narcocracies.

Well, in the first place, there were corrupt Latin American governments that worked hand in hand with various drug cartels. Just a few months after LTK was released, the United States invaded Isthmus...oh, I mean Panama...and deposed Manuel Noriega for essentially turning his country into a one-stop money-laundering drug trafficking. So, "ethnically insensitive" or not, the portrait painted in this movie had the undeniable defense of being true.

Secondly, look at the history of drug lords in the Bond movies. We've had African Americans and Caribbeans (LALD), Greeks (FYEO), Afghans, white Americans, and Russians (TLD). So the viewpoint of the franchise has hardly been one of "all drug problems originate in South America." Even within this movie, we meet a pack of Asian drug lords. And virtually every one of Franz Sanchez's senior cronies is a gringo. So the objection only makes sense if your rule is "you can show every other nation and ethnicity as running drugs, but if you show a powerful Hispanic drug lord, you're suddenly offensive." Obviously, I reject any such rule.

**THE MOVIE IS TOO SERIOUS/NOT FUNNY

Richard Maibaum himself said this...he only worked on the outline and (some portion of) the first draft, because of the writers' strike of 1988. But it's a common criticism.

Were these guys watching the same movie I was? This movie has tons of humor. What it doesn't have are the groan-inducing puns and ridiculous "haha Bond is driving a gondola on dry land!" moments that passed for humor in other Bond movies. But Sanchez is hilarious (in an evil way, obviously), and there are lots of moments of dry humor and situational humor between Bond and Pam, Bond and the bank manager, Bond and Q, Pam and Wayne Newton, Truman-Lodge is hilarious...look, just watch the movie again. In many subtle ways, there actually is an awful lot of humor here.

In this film, Bond is a man driven mad by the need to avenge the maiming of his best friend and murder of his bride on their wedding day (which obviously James knows something about). The overt jokiness of the Roger Moore era would have been totally inappropriate in such a context. Now, you can argue that such material might therefore be inappropriate for a Bond film, and we can discuss that. But to say the film isn't funny enough? Please.

And if LTK is "too serious," well, so what? There isn't room for a more serious entry in the franchise? Are we to be locked forever into cookie-cutter, paint by numbers Bond movies, with no room to try anything new or different?

Maybe our tastes have changed. Just for the sake of comparison, why is this film "too serious" and "not funny enough," when the Bourne films are praised so highly? Go ahead an find me an iota of humor or non-seriousness in those movies...they make LTK look like a Matt Helm picture. Casino Royale (2006) was pretty grim-toned, as well. Maybe the late 2000's are a better fit for this type of movie than the late 1980's, with visions of pigeons doing double takes still dancing in our heads.

**IT'S NOT BOND--A MUNDANE REAL WORLD VILLAIN, NOT MANY EXOTIC LOCALES, ETC.

It's funny...the villains' plot in TLD and LALD was to run drugs. Was that "not Bond?" Goldfinger visited Miami (in stock footage) and Kentucky. Was that "not enough exotic locales?" Bond unnecessarily goes back for revenge at the end of Octopussy and TLD. Are those movies "Death Wish or Rambo, but not Bond?"

There has never been a static, arbitrary definition of what Bond is. OHMMS can be sandwiched between YOLT and DAF...Moonraker can be followed by FYEO followed by Octopussy. Whatever magic criteria you suggest that would somehow exclude LTK from being what Bond is supposed to be about is also going to have to exclude some films you do approve of.

**IT'S TOO VIOLENT

Whereas having your gonads crushed with a carpet beater is OK, I guess.

I recommend that people who say that LTK was "too violent" go and read the Fleming novels, because despite being written 30 years earlier, they had a level of violence that makes LTK look like Austin Powers. Bond was regularly tortured, and the villains and henchman died terrible, painful and humiliating deaths. Saying something is "not Bond" because it's "too violent" shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what James Bond is. Felix getting chewed up by a shark? Straight from the Live And Let Die novel (along with the exact wording of that note).

As to the actual violence in the movie, there's less than you think. Much of it is actually offscreen, with direction and editing to create the impression that's it's so bad. Lupe's lover's heart is removed offscreen, for example (unlike the heart removal in the also-PG-13-rated Temple of Doom). You don't actually see any of Felix's injuries (or Killifer's for that matter). We see just a red mist, not any of Dario's limbs getting ground up (not unlike the snowplow scene in OHMSS)...In a film titled Licence To Kill, about an agent with, you know, a licence to kill, and who has killed lord knows how many bad guys by this point in time, it's odd to get overly squeamish about violence, isn't it? This isn't a country club! Plus, compared with other movies out simultaneously, LTK has a rather light death count. More people died in Batman...more people died in Last Crusade (but that's OK, because they were Nazis!), and more people died in Lethal Weapon 2. For that matter, more people died in TLD, VTAK, TSWLM, etc, etc.

Enough. To heck with the haters. It's time to talk about why this movie rocks so hard.

As Michael Wilson ended up doing most of the writing, he gets most of the credit. There are a couple of Fleming crumbs around here--the character of Milton Krest and his boat the WaveKrest come from the short story The Hildebrandt Rarity, the title LTK was obviously a Fleming phrase (albeit never used as a title in his work), Felix's fate comes from the LALD novel--but the full story of LTK is wholly original to the movie. And Wilson knocked it out of the park.

The main idea is dazzlingly simple: Bond's friend is brutalized, Bond goes rogue to get revenge. That's it. During an era when many critics began to whine that Bond movie plots were "incomprehensible" and "impossible to follow," we get a simple premise that many of those same critics rejected as "not Bond." Sigh...


No wise crack allowed hereBut the beauty part is the way Wilson sets it up and makes it so very compelling. First, it's not just any friend, it's here-from-the-beginning ally Felix Leiter. And for the first time, a returning actor as Felix Leiter, which helps to strengthen the perceived bond between them (and, I should mention, someone who can actually act, which sadly has never seemed to be a requirement for the role). And it wasn't just that Felix was mauled--he was mauled on his wedding day, at which Bond was best man, and his wife was killed. Note the way we get a deliberate callout of Bond's previous marriage, so we remember Bond's OHMSS tragedy, and understand why he is so obsessed with getting revenge for Felix.

Secondly, there's no "I'm taking a leave of absence" while M winks at Bond going off on his own. Continuing the theme set up in TLD, the bureaucracy is set up against Bond. This is the American's affair, and besides, you're supposed to be in Turkey!! Meanwhile, the Americans won't do anything because of extradition treaties and sovereignty and, well, just because, I guess. There's no time, no institutional imperative, to help individual agents or seek true justice--that's "sentimental rubbish." So Bond not only has to undertake his incredibly dangerous revenge mission, he has to do it while overcoming opposition from the British, from the Americans, from the Isthmusites...and then Hong Kong Vice, and then his own allies. The movie keeps putting more and more obstacles in his way.

But, unlike some unfavorable reviews, this is no Rambo or Death Wish knock off. Bond doesn't go in like some Terminator, guns ablazing. In fact, not very much outright killing is actually done by Bond himself. Instead, he uses his wiles and skills to infiltrate Sanchez's group, and proceeds to gaslight Franz into killing most of his own associates. Watching Bond play Iago to Sanchez, and destroy him piece by piece, is enormously satisfying.

This worked for ConneryTimothy Dalton's performance makes it all work. His 007 sees his own tragedy replayed in Felix's life, and is obsessed, almost beyond the point of reason, with revenge. Some people didn't care for Dalton's take on Bond, and I can appreciate that, but I don't see how anyone cannot appreciate the performance he gives here. More than any other actor in any other Bond movie, here Dalton IS the personification of Ian Fleming's James Bond, a cold-blooded killer usually restrained by his mission for queen and country. Stripped of that, and driven by vengeance, Dalton gives us a Bond who you can believe has been pushed past the point of rationality, who will stop at nothing to get the bastard who maimed Leiter.

All I wanted to do was deal some drugs..was that so bad??Franz Sanchez makes a wonderful foil. Robert Davi gives us a smooth, self-confident drug lord, a man who is so comfortably the master of his own universe that he feels invulnerable. No, he's not interested in genocide, or blackmailing the world--why bother when you're already wealthier than anybody else, and control the government?? But gaze past the drug lord persona, and Sanchez is a classic Bond villain--self-absorbed, always speaking in platitudes which he doesn't follow himself, possessive, vain...give him a nuclear powered laser, and he'd fit right into most other Bond movies. Hell, when one of the Asian drug lords dares to merely ask a reasonable question, Sanchez sends the army to blow up his villa!! That's Blofeld worthy!

The fun part is the way Sanchez is done in by his own platitudes. He likes to go on about how it's not about the money, it's about the loyalty, and about his word. But like the televangelist obsessed with fornication, he's merely covering up his own weakness. Despite the "it's not about the money," everything he did was about dollars. He said he prized loyalty, but he always had to buy it. He threw cash around--to the president of Isthmus, to Killifer, to Bond after Krest is killed--as a reward. That's not loyalty, that's bribery. And Sanchez's loyalty was one-way...he allowed the merest whispers to sour him on Krest, on Heller, on Truman-Lodge. Granted, Bond did a lot to turn him paranoid, but the moment push came to shove, his only loyalty was to himself. The same with his "word of honor": once the heat was turned up, he was perfectly willing to rip off the Asians of their half-billion and their cocaine. Truman-Lodge calls him on it, and gets shot. Sanchez's fall is almost Shakespearean.

Without grabbing my stopwatch, I believe Sanchez probably gets more screen time than any other Bond villain, from the teaser until the end. And he gets more face time with Bond. And unlike most Bond villains, we get a real character arc with Franz. With that, and Davi's memorable portrayal, I'm very confident when I declare that not only was Sanchez the best Bond villain of the eighties, he's also the best Bond villain we'd seen in 20 years.

Bond and Sanchez also embody the theme of recklessness--Sanchez through overconfidence, Bond through obsession. Sanchez goes to the Bahamas to personally bring back Lupe, when he could have easily just allowed his goons to do it. By letting Leiter live, he blows Krest's operation out of the water. Even if Bond hadn't tracked it down, Felix had seen enough to lead the authorities there. Despite warnings, he takes the Asians to his secret lab. And he lets a former British agent into his inner circle, with virtually no background check or guards. Sanchez believes he's invulnerable, which leads him to keep taking ridiculous chances, which leads to his downfall.

Bond is also ridiculously reckless. Despite the fact that some of Sanchez's men had to have seen him in the Bahamas, on the WaveKrest, and in the bar with Pam, Bond strolls right into the lion's den. It's mere luck he's not outed immediately. When he comes out of hiding on the WaveKrest, unarmed and vastly outnumbered, that's pretty much the definition of reckless. He's so careless that he doesn't even notice he's being tailed by Hong Kong ninjas, and he's lucky his mission didn't end there (either being shipped back to England or killed in Heller's assault). He keeps rejecting assistance from Pam and Q, even though he can't possibly succeed without them.

But unlike Sanchez, Bond realizes what he's doing and shapes up. After realizing he's blown a Hong Kong vice sting and gotten some British agents killed, and after realizing he'd queered Pam's deal with Heller to retrieve the stinger missiles, he begins to understand the consequences of his actions. After the wake-up call, he's still driven and focused, but he's much more willing to accept help, and much more careful about the collateral damages his quest is calling. Only Sanchez's men get hurt after that.

Seriously...would you have pegged this guy for an Oscar?Speaking of Sanchez' men, Dario is one scary-ass mofo. The future Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro was a mere stripling of 22 when LTK was filmed, but he owns the screen whenever he's on it. The audience is unable to tear their eyes away from the palpable menace he radiates. Let me ask you--was there ever a creepier line in the entire history of Bond films than "we gave her a real nice honeymoooooooooon"?? It's too bad that in order to preserve Bond's secret, the story had to keep Dario offscreen for most of the middle of the movie (ostensibly to pick up the stingers from the contras, who had earlier kicked him out for being too nasty..hmmm). I do wish Wilson had found a way around that, as more Dario would have been a good thing. A great henchman.

Another thing the movie does is stuff itself to overflowing with a crazy wonderful set of characters. Even the smallest roles, like the bank manager, stick in your mind. From Professor Joe to Heller to Truman-Lodge to Krest to Sharkey to Killifer to poor poor Della, this movie is more populated than many other 007 films, chock full of memorable supporting roles and fun performances.

If this had been Moore, there would have been inappropriate musicThe movie is also enhanced by some outstanding stunt work, and great set pieces. The "lassoing" of Sanchez's plane, while ridiculous, is fun. The "waterskiing" scene is great (although I have to ask...since the plane didn't turn and was accelerating for take-off, how did Bond manage to catch up to it and grab on?? Bad physics, methinks.) Of course, the cherry on the sundae is the tanker truck chase. Yes, the trucks were specially modified to do the wheelie and the "drive on one side's wheels" (there's a great feature on that on the DVD), but they really did the stunts, and the whole sequence makes a thrilling climax to the movie. Great driving, great explosions, exciting direction...it's the most satisfying Bond climax since FYEO.

Oh-James-I-love-him-so click whrrrAlas, the movie isn't perfect, I will acknowledge. We have two Bond girls this time out, neither one quite reaching the upper tier in my book. Talisa Soto is...well damn it, she's frakkin' gorgeous. She's maybe even the most beautiful woman ever in a Bond movie. (Aside: The human race was doomed to extinction the moment she married Benjamin Bratt...their plan: to spawn a race of super-beautiful humans who will subjugate the ugly spuds like us...) Sadly, however, she's no great actress. Her range is quite limited, and her attempts to extend beyond that come up sounding flat and emotionless (at best). Lupe is also far too passive. Aside from lying about seeing Bond on the boat, she does nothing at all to help James rescue her or topple Sanchez. She's nowhere to be seen for the final half hour of the film, until the very, very end, where she shows up reaping the rewards of apparently inheriting Sanchez's belongings without doing any of the heavy lifting.

In the criminal justice system...Meanwhile, Carrie Lowell (currently seen 27 times a day on Law & Order reruns) fares a little better. She's no great shakes as an actress herself, but compared to Soto she's Streep. But the tone of her performance often feels the teensiest bit off. She's supposedly been flying in Latin America for years, and is now working for the CIA, but she never quite comes off with the requisite toughness...or at least not consistently She comes off alright in the bar scene, but after that she seems to cycle endlessly between competence and confusion, between plucky resourcefulness and helplessness. Part of that comes down to the script, but part of it is also Lowell's apparent inability (and director John Glen's?) to find a firm grasp on the character. Watching Pam is rather like riding a roller coaster, she's so all over the place.

That being said, Pam is a good companion for Bond, she's helpful, she's (mostly) good in the clutch. Unlike many Bond girls, she knows how to use her sexuality to get her way with men, like Professor Joe. She flies, she can handle a gun , she can improvise well in a pinch....Now if only she had thought to tell Bond about the Attorney General's deal with Heller, things might have gone better...

But oh, dear lord, what a TERRIBLE ending. Never has such a good Bond film worked so hard in the final 2 minutes to undo everything it's done so well for the previous two hours. It's uncanny how off-kilter and rushed it seems. Felix Leiter has recently lost a wife and a limb (it looks like he gets to keep the arm), but his phone call with Bond is jovial with no acknowledgment of what's gone on. "Go fishing? Great!! That'll make up for my lost honeymoooooon!" Meanwhile, Bond has risked his own life and limbs, and thrown away his career. Does Felix even say thank you? Nope. It's as if they beamed this scene in from a different movie!! Sure, you don't want to end on an overly grim note, but after a gritty and relentless story, aren't we entitled to some emotional closure, rather than a sitcom closing laugh?

Also botched in the ending? M passing on his message through Leiter. Even if it was gruff and unforgiving, we needed to see M say he wanted Bond back, not have that relayed through a third party. Bond's off-handed "why don't you hook up with the President, Lupe?" is so casual and so comes out of nowhere that the audience thinks that Bond has to be joking. As far as we've seen, Bond hasn't even met the President, and suddenly he's throwing the dude his cast-offs? Worst of all might be Pam, on the final drop of her emotional roller coaster. Suddenly she stalks off crying when she thinks Bond is going to choose Lupe...I'm sorry, this really hurts the character for me. Instead of screaming "Bullshit!" like she did earlier, or confronting Bond and Lupe angrily, suddenly Pam is a crier??

So much damage done in two minutes...the whole tone of the movie lost, characters behaving randomly...it's as if they didn't have the final scene done yet, and had some gopher on the set scribble something down with five minutes to go until filming. And don't get me started with the winking fish!

Still, despite that, this is a top tier, nay, top 5 Bond movie. I love virtually every frame of this movie, and could go on for much much longer if Ichose to. Would I want every movie to be like this? No. But I'm thankful that the producers have the good sense to throw a curve at us every once in awhile, that they're not so sedentary that they keep repeating the same movie over and over again. Having Bond do something completely different reminds us of how much we appreciate the usual trappings, while at the same time expanding our understanding of what is possible in this franchise. And as we take the first full steps into the truly post-Fleming Bond era, ironically we get the most Fleming-like Bond movie of all.

And so we come to the end of the Dalton era. Although it was a mere two films, it was a fairly good two films, with clever adaptations of whatever Fleming material was left, and a move to push the character in a new direction. Sadly, interminable legal entanglements would put the franchise on hold for six years, and Timothy Dalton decided to move on with his career rather than wait around. That's too bad, because I rather enjoyed his take on Bond, and I remain convinced that had he been able to put another couple of movies under his belt, his stature would be greatly enhanced. Instead, the "only two movies" label makes it too easy to lump him into a group with "only one movie" Lazenby. But after the iconic Bonds by both Sean Connery and Roger Moore, Dalton and the writers were bold enough to give us yet another completely different Bond, distinct from his predecessors yet true to his literary origins. Dalton didn't shrink from portraying Bond as rash, as a deadly assassin, a man with no time for bureaucracy, as a man jaded beyond belief yet willing to throw everything away for a friend, for justice. That was a radical break from the past, and Dalton made it work. Thank you, sir.

Whither Bond from here? After deaths and retirements among the Eon brain trust, after never-ending legal travails, Bond would go in an exciting, fascinating new direction. But all the media would hear is one phrase: "Sexist, misogynistic dinosaur." Sigh...

SNELL'S RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:


**Lupe's lover had armed guards, who were killed by Sanchez's men...who was this guy? Another drug dealer, a rival? Some VIP? Did he know what he was getting into? Surely Lupe knew the consequences of getting caught...did she warn him?

**Can a helicopter really keep pace with a plane? I admit to absolutely zero aeronautics knowledge, but that always seemed odd to me...

Is Franz flying casual?**How I always pictured my wedding day would be:

I cannot marry until I find a woman who understands why this is the COOLEST WEDDING EVER**"Don't let him take you alive." Really? Narcotics agents with suicide pills? Really? Then again, knowing how Sanchez treats cops he catches, maybe it's a good idea...

**Sanchez's financial wizard, played by Tony Stark, ladies and gentlemen!!

Invested cocaine money to found his own company...OK, not that Tony Stark, but actor Anthony Starke.

By the way, was it just me, or back in the day did everybody say that the part of Truman-Lodge should have been played by Michael J. Fox? He was in the limelight as uber-capitalist-wannabe Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. But Tony Stark is THE capitalist, so...

**My spellchecker reaaaaally hates the British spelling of Licence. I'm just sayin'...

**Isthmus is only the second fictional nation in the Bond franchise, along with San Monique in LALD. Not coincidentally, I'm sure, both depicted governments involved in narcotics trafficking. Oh, c'mon, Eon, did you really care whether or not Panama was offended? If you can say mad Russian generals want to run drugs, why can't you set this movie in a real country?

**So, I guess Bond forgot all his ninja training from YOLT, huh? He's taken out like a punk by two Hong Kong ninjas, and showed no martial arts knowledge at all.

Wait...aren't ninjas from Japan?**Since we're doing old home week, in bringing back Felix Leiter, why not bring back Quarrel Jr. from LALD as well? Who's this Sharkey cat?

**Not only is the theme song kind of blah, after its release it was found to be..ahem..."based upon" the horn line from Goldfinger. Credit was given, royalties were paid...but "blah" and ahem "based upon" make two strikes for this song. Matters aren't helped by the sappy "If You Asked Me To" over the end credits...

**So Sanchez has a huge hidden underground complex, an ultra advanced drug lab, state of the art for cocaine smuggling, costs millions of dollars...and one beaker of gasoline is enough to completely destroy it?

Seriously, I understand that drug lords might not follow OSHA standards or face fire department inspections...but since at any given time there are THOUSANDS of gallons of gasoline sitting around that complex, wouldn't you think there'd be SOME fire suppression technology around? That maybe the guys with extinguishers who ran in could have stopped what was a fairly small fire?

What, no sprinklers?**The Hemingway House is a private for-profit tourist attraction. So, why does MI-6 gets to use it?? Did they pay a lot of money? Is the Hemingway House owned by Universal Exports, and thus a permanent front for British intelligence? The federal government made the Hemingway House an official National Historic Landmark--would they let a foreign government use that as an HQ? Is MI-6 squatting? Are there secret MI-6 snipers in the Statue of Liberty??

A Farewell to Arms...get it? GET IT?!?**Wayne Newton is god. And Professor Joe Butcher is hilarious. No dissent will be tolerated on this matter. Danke Schoen.

Seriously, I LOVE this guy**Goodbye M, or rather Robert Brown as M. You give us a good farewell performance, a dynamite scene with Bond, but I still wish you'd had a final scene to reconcile with Bond (or fire him for good).

This isn't a country club...or a fraternity house...or...**Goodbye also to Caroline Bliss' Moneypenny. Too many tears, not enough sexy, sorry. At least she was bright enough to call Q for help.

**Goodbye, Albert Broccoli. This was the last film he would do any actual producing on, as he stepped aside to let his daughter and stepson take the reins. It's easy to forget Broccoli's contribution to the series, but without him, we would never have seen the Bond franchise, at least as we've come to know it. It was his deep love for Fleming's character that caused him to pursue the film rights several times, it was his passion for the project that convinced United Artists to commit to a six-picture deal when no one else seemed interested (and only days before Harry Saltzman's option on the novels expired). It was his commitment to Bond that kept him at it when the first two films didn't become break-out hits, and it was also his commitment that kept him from playing on the fame of his series by spreading himself too thin--he focused almost exclusively on 007. The stories are too numerous to tell here, but it's remarkable how there are almost no negative stories about the man. Thank you, Cubby, from all of us.

I forgive your ancestors for the vegetable**President Lopez is partially a blast from the past, as he is played by Pedro Armendariz, Jr., the son of the man who played the much beloved Kerim Bey in FRWL. It's too bad LTK couldn't give him more to do...

**I declare the Polaroid camera with laser beam flash that takes x-ray pictures to be the best gadget ever.

You know how much I want this camera??**This is the first time we've seen Bond playing blackjack. At first he loses, playing "like a real jerkoff," which convinces Sanchez that it's OK to raise the limits. Then Bond starts winning huge. Runs like that are fairly unlikely just with normal luck...was Bond counting cards??

**Bond was on the run, Q hadn't contacted him, yet...so where exactly does a rogue agent go to get a fake manta ray costume?? Does some shop in Miami specialize in those??

Seriously, where would you get this?**Maybe those stingers weren't such a threat after all...Sanchez's goons miss Bond's truck at close range (thanks to trick driving, admittedly), and Sanchez himself barely nicks Pam's cropduster when it's onlya few feet away!!

**Hat tip to Peter Lamont for some great sets, including Sanchez's crib, and the wonderful Olimpatec Meditation Institute.

Some things no Bond villain can resist, like massively insane HQ's**Bond Score: 2. Lupe and Pam. Cumulative Bond Score: 45

And, as always:

...eventuallyIt will take six years, though. But it will only take me a week...

21 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for your defense of this movie, as it's certainly far and away one of my favourite Bonds. It also happened to come to my mind earlier on this week, as I discovered that a friend of mine has literally seen every single Bond movie ever made except for this one! Naturally, I've been mercilessly prodding him to see it ever since.

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  2. You forgot to say goodbye to John Glen as well. I have mixed feelings about Glen's tenure, but I do admire (without fully loving) his entries with Dalton, and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY is pretty amazing as well. On the other hand, VIEW TO A KILL is as bad as it gets (well, except for DIE ANOTHER DAY, which I just pretend doesn't exist) and his non-Bond efforts are embarrassing.

    Still, I wish he'd been brought aboard for at least one of the Brosnan-era pictures, and I wonder why this marked Michael Wilson's last effort as a screenwriter. As you say, he did a fine job with this one.

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  3. Edward...yeah, I was running outta time, and I skimped on Glenn. Mea Culpa. I prefer to think that the problem with VTAK was the lackluster material he was given to work with, but perhaps that's just me. But his work on FYEO and LTK was first rate.

    Re: Wilson. This is 100% speculation on my part, but I suspect that after the writers' strike, there was some pressure on Wilson to drop the dual role of writer/producer, as that fence-straddling doubtless caused some bad blood with the Guild.

    Or, maybe, Richard Maibaum did a lot more of the writing on LTK than we thought, and Wilson believed he wasn't up to the task without his long-time writing partner. or, maybe as full time producer, he just got too busy...

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  4. Some reasons why I think this is a bad Bond film:

    -Dalton's unrelenting seriousness. I'm all for a grim-and-gritty Bond, but LTK is just too much (until, as has been pointed out, the impossibly cheery ending). Plus he seems to have aged ten years since TLD.

    -Awful, awful Bond girls. Lupe is a ditz (if an incredibly hot one) and Pam can't decide if she's tough or soft -- but she's consistently stupid, though. The terrible ending, which you point out, only put an exclamation point on the go-nowhere relationships with weak and vapid females that Bond was given to work with.

    -Dumb or gimmicky moments. The plane-waterskiing, driving the 18-wheeler on its sidewalls, using a handful of maggots as a weapon, lassoing a plane with a helicopter, exploding poor Kress in the decompression chamber... All these moments and others strike me as a regression from the franchise's rebirth with TLD.

    -Small plot. I'm not saying every Bond setup has to involve the threat of global destruction, but personal vengeance against a South American hoodlum is too mean and petty a premise. Every other Bond film, *ever,* was about Bond doing his duty -- for country and for the West.

    -Weak minor characters. I'm surprised that you name this as a strength, Snell. Krest looks like he should be washing windshields on a street corner. Professor Joe is a refugee from the silliest of late-70's Moore films. Baby-faced Truman-Lodge -- the least-intimidating organized criminal in history -- was apparently doing a summer internship in Isthmus before heading back to Baylor for senior year.

    I'm not a Dalton-basher (TLD is one of my favorites), and I realize that many Bond aficionados love LTK to pieces. But to me it will always be a flawed and insignificant part of the canon.

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  5. I agree with every word of your review; LTK is just a terrific, terrific movie.

    It also features one of my favorite character moments in any Bond movie, involving Q. You know how Q is forever complaining that Bond never ever ever returns his equipment in its original working order? Well, when Q uses the broomstick-microphone thing, after he's done, what does he do? He just blithely tosses it aside, the way Bond would. I love that.

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  6. I realize that I myself endorsed the "love it or hate it" conventional wisdom on this film in a previous comment, but I have to say that I mildly fall on the "con" side regarding LTK.
    Problems I have with the film not mentioned in your post or the previous comments:

    1) Atmosphere/feel issues. Some scenes look like they belong in a Bond film, but quite a few look they were shot on sets left over from an episode of Falcon Crest. Look at that pic you have at the end of your post of the giant hatchway of the meditation institute opening; that looks like it belongs in a Bond film. The pic of Carrie Lowell with the laser polaroid camera? Like many of the interior scenes, especially most scenes in hotels or bars in this film, it looks like Matlock could stroll in at any moment. Closely related, and in many ways a part of the same problem is...

    2) The music. One of the weakest soundtracks, and yes that includes Serra's work on Goldeneye (though obviously nothing plumbs the depths of NSNA). Kamen has done other soundtrack work that I've actually quite enjoyed, but I'd rate his work here as the least effective of all attempts to replace Barry. This may seem like not quite a fair criticism of the movie itself, but by this time the music had been pretty well established as a core part of the experience of watching a Bond film. Then there's:
    2b) The Theme Song. I can't remember where this was in your ranking of theme songs, but this places very near the bottom of the list for me. A big, blah, boring old drag. It starts of promisingly enough with the vocal bit accompanied by the Goldfinger-rippoff horns, but these sole cool elements in the song are quickly replaced by a boring MOR mellow-R&B number (by the hack behind the sound on Whitney Houston's albums, no less), never to return. To me, it reflect the way the film itself promises a darker, riskier Bond, then ends up just being pedestrian.

    3) I know a lot of people would nominate any number of Moore films from the 70s or 80s for this, and I've even seen some people online bitch about some Brosnan Bonds as looking "too 90s", but this is my personal choice for "Bond film that suffers the most for being dated & looking overly of its time (without the mitigating factor of that time being the groovy 60s)". My earlier cracks about it looking like TV shows from around that time have a lot to do with this. Also, if I had one chance to go back in time to give the Bond producers warnings or advice to help their films image in posterity, I would beg them to get Dalton a different haircut for this movie. I know it sounds petty & superficial, but we're definitely talking "worst Bond haircut ever" for this film. At least Moore was too old in his late-70s and 80s Bonds for them to give him anything too silly hariwise (and just for the record, Connery's DAF and NSNA toupees don't really count as "haircuts").

    4)The Bar Fight scene is like a cameo from Sherrif Pepper disguised as a room.

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  7. Tags--you find the waterskiing or tanker truck dumber or more gimicky than TLD's cello case sled or "driving in a circle on ice to cut a hole and sink a car"? It's hard for me to see them as a "regression" from TLD's sillier moments, which were far sillier than LTK.

    Tags again--small plot? TLD did its best to razzle dazzle us, but its plot was just as "small"--it was just about some idjits trying to get rich selling drugs, same as Sanchez.

    When you note "every other Bond film ever" was about Bond doing his duty--what, we can't ever vary that formula, even once? (Besides, since British narcotics agents AND the CIA were trying to take down Sanchez, they certainly felt he was a threat to England and the West, which puts Bond's vendetta well within that formula, anyway, even if he had his own personal reasons...and he's allowed his personal desires to influence his missions several times (OHMSS, for example)).

    Jaq--the best thing is how ridiculously unnecessary the broom/radio was...what, Q couldn't just use a regular walkie talkie? Did he bring it with him, anticipating its use, or did he just build it from scratch??

    Jack--yeah, but since the bar scene is Pam's best scene, I mostly forgive it. But yes, it pretty much was the worst Bond haircut ever (although the underwater scenes in NSNA are worse, toupee or no).

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  8. [Tags--you find the waterskiing or tanker truck dumber or more gimicky than TLD's cello case sled or "driving in a circle on ice to cut a hole and sink a car"?]

    Three things. First, I think the worst gimmicky things in LTK are indeed worst than than the worst ones in TLD. The maggot scene, for example, looks like it belongs in "Spy Hard." The 18-wheeler stunt from a "Dukes of Hazzard" episode.

    Second, there's an utter implausibility to stunts like the 18-wheeler bit, or (as you point out) Bond catching the plane he's waterskiing behind, or a helicopter lassoing a plane. The stunts in TLD, on the other hand, invite a certain suspension of disbelief but do not require the viewer to shut down his brain entirely.

    (Actually, there is one such moment in TLD, which you didn't mention -- but it's more a plot contrivance than a stunt: when Koskov's jeep collides head-on with a plane, and Koskov escapes with only some soot on his face. Ah, well.)

    Moreover, though, there's a greater emotional range to TLD that allows some over the top moments to be enjoyed in good fun. (I find, for example, the cello-sledding scene to be charming.) It's fun and serious in a balanced way. But LTK is more emotionally monotonous -- 95% grim and 5% cheesy.

    [Tags again--small plot? TLD did its best to razzle dazzle us, but its plot was just as "small"--it was just about some idjits trying to get rich selling drugs, same as Sanchez.]

    Drug-pushers may have been at the heart of TLD's plot, but it also ranged to a number of other areas: traditional Cold War espionage stuff, the international arms trade, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. That TLD was set in more -- and more interesting -- locations than LTK underscores its richer and more varied plot.

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  9. Tags, were gonna have to agree to disagree, because where you see grim and monotonous, I see gritty and true to the spirit of the novels. Different strokes, my friend.

    One parting quip--don't get too hung up on the "more and more interesting" locations. Maybe it's a factor, but TMWTGG did have more and more interesting locations that Goldfinger, after all (Kentucky? Really??)

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  10. [where you see grim and monotonous, I see gritty and true to the spirit of the novels.]

    That's what I think about FRWL or CR. I don't think the feel is quite the same in LTK -- and at any rate, its grimness is what makes the silly moments stand out all the more, and not in a good way. I guess that was my main point.

    As for locations, yeah, Goldfinger gave us many lovely shots of Kentucky's commercial zones. But, don't forget the Swiss Alps scenes. In fact, one of my favorite single shots in the entire Bond canon is where Bond and Tilly pull up to that Swiss service station. The wide vista, the mountains, the fluttering flags. I can almost feel the wind, and the incredible feeling of space that mountain regions give you.

    LTK has, essentially, no location. As Jack Norris said above, it could have been an episode of American TV crime drama.

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  11. I was a kid when LTK came out and I thought it was a good movie. Then again, I never have and don't like to dissect movies to the bare bones.

    Timothy Dalton was the Bond "I grew up" with, much like Sylvester McCoy in Doctor Who. Wasn't he still trying to get out of the Roger Moore shadow? I think that hurt him.

    Anyway, liked LTK, didn't necessarily love it, can't wait for Quantum of Solace.

    --GCII

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  12. Thanks to your defense of the film. I agree with you nearly 100% on all accounts. Robert Davi is perhaps the best villain of the franchise not created by Fleming. He's a true bastard and one you love to hate.

    While not as good as TLD, I do think that LTK along with most 80s Bond movies is very underrated. It is LALD done right. The action sequences are so fantastic they pretty much sold the movie for the critics at the time who gave it better reviews than TLD... had Dalton done more Bonds I believe he would be getting a lot much deserved of praise today.

    I agree that the Pam Bouvar character needed more polish, but I quite like Lowel's performance in the film and of all the American bondgirls in the Bond cannon she is easily the best. Talisa Soto on the other hand gives a poor performance, but she is very attractive and it more than makes up for ir.

    The weakest element here is the weak score by Michael Kahmen and the awful theme song by Gladys Knight which is at the bottom of my rakings lists.

    (****)

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  13. Two things you don't note about this film:
    1) You mention Soto's bad acting, and I can agree on some points, especially in the last half of the movie, but I think the chemistry between her and Dalton is great. They both act as if they've known each other for years, and strangely, it works amazingly. Lupe's the kind of girl Bond is very familiar with, one who uses her sexuality to move around and ends up in bad relationships but kind of likes it. Bond's the only type Lupe knows, and wants. It lends a great edge to the movie.
    2) I thought this would be in your notes, but what's with Bond and Della virtually MAKING OUT at the reception!?!? "It's a tradition..." 5 times? on the lips? Smooching?

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  14. Thanks for your defense of one of my favorite Bond films and my all-time favorite Bond. I agree with just about everything you said, including your criticisms (particularly the strange, light tone of the ending). Dalton and Davi create the best pas-de-deux of all the Bond films, and the unique, gritty plot make LTK one of the most original Bond films.

    I also like that you cite how funny the movie really is.

    You didn't mention Kamen's score. Am I the only one who liked it? Much as I love John Barry, I have a hard time imagining him score this much more grim, savage epic.

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  15. what's the hemmingway joke?

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  16. At the Hemmingway House, when Bond is ordered to turn over his Walther to M, he quips, "So I guess this is a farewell to arms?"

    Kids today, they're not educated in the classics...

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  17. Licence to Kill was on cable a week or two back, and I finally got to watch it yesterday! I'm not Jay's aforementioned friend, but this was the only Bond movie I had never seen, and it was pretty good. Way better than I had been expecting, yeah.

    There's a few holes: the biggest being I couldn't believe M would let Bond go. I've seen too many Prisoner episodes to think they would let him out.

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  18. Googum...I've always thought the, beneath the gruff exterior, M knew what Bond was doing and secretly approved. After all, he knew what Moneypenny was doing, and he had to know that Q's sudden timely vacation was no coincidence. That's why we really needed a resolution "come back to work, 007" scene between Bond and M, instead of getting it third-hand trought Leiter.

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  19. Wow, I must admit I have been spending all night last night and all this morning reading your various reviews of Bond films... incredible job!!! I really love the way you break down all the elements of every Bond film with so much love (this is coming from a lifelong fan who has seen every movies hundreds of times) and insight. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of LTK, which I find to be one of the very best of the series! Strangely, since my very first theatrically exposed Bond film (TSWLM), I have seen all the Bond films in the theater (some of them numerous times) with the exception of LTK. Maybe it was due to the death of my brother within the same year, but it seemed like LTK was handled very poorly with its advertising and it sort of came and went at the theater with barely a notice. The first time I saw the film was on VHS, and I remember finding the wrap up with the phone call to Felix being as awful as Dalton's haircut! I sort of wrote this film off at first, but then a few years later I ended up buying all the Bond films on Laserdisc (anybody remember those?) and after watching this film again I found the entire experience far more rewarding. Maybe it was due to having read all the books at this point, or the six year wait for Goldeneye had given me time to reevaluate the merits, but LTK had moved up quite a bit to become one of my all time favorites! Yes there are some cons to the film, but the pros far out weigh them. I remember when Pierce was signed I was hugely disappointed, because I was really just getting into Dalton's multi-layered Bond and wanted to see more (Pierce turned out to be much better than anticipated though). Though I really love every Bond film (I even have a lot of time for DAF, Moonraker, AVTAK, and DAD), I've always favored the more serious Bond films like FRWL, OHMSS, FYEO and LTK. Dalton's Bond probably comes closest to the Flemming books, and I really think that LTK (though not based on an original book) contains the tone more than most. Dalton's performance is superb, and you can just feel his knotting up inside and the boiling anger spilling over into his personal vendetta. Say what you want about Talisa Soto's performance, but she is smoking! And I think Dalton and her had great chemistry! Plus, the fact that she has a penchant for Spaghetti Westerns makes her pretty cool. Robert Davi is a superb villain, that is both charming and menacing without being campy (I think Sean Bean accomplishes this as well). I've really enjoyed your reviews immensely and look forward to reading more. Though I think I may disagree with you about Lazenby, I kind of think he is one of the very best Bonds, and I feel far more was required from him then was required of Connery at that time. I felt he did an amazing job for a non-actor, and I've never desired to see Connery in that role... as a matter of fact I'll go so far as to say he could have ruined that movie like he did DAF. Otherwise, I'm in agreement with your reviews, you're pretty spot on!

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  20. This was a great review and your opinion on Licence to Kill is so straight on and I'm glad there is someone who took the time to really praise and appreciate this totally underrated Bond film. In many aspects, although this film is different from what has come before it, there are many elements that haven't changed. I mean, Q is back and M is there telling that 007 is on a mission. It's basically like a reluctant actor being forced to do something he doesn't want to do while he has a tragedy on his mind that he must complete and solve before going back.

    I loved this review. Couldn't look away from the review. Great job and long-live Timothy Dalton!

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  21. One of the nice scenes I likes with this movie is the one where Della offers James her garter. A nice nod to his tragically brief marriage to Teresa:

    Della: Oh, James. I wanted you to have something. You know the tradition? The next one who catches this is the next one who...

    James: No. No. Thanks, Della. It's time I left.

    Della: Oh, James.

    [Throws James her garter. He catches it, smiles wrlyly and gets into his car]

    Della: Did I say something wrong?

    Felix: He was married once... But it was a long time ago.


    That said, I agree with the comment above about how Della and James were making out at the reception. For someone who doesn't know James' personally, it's somewhat inappropriate for her.

    The fact Felix knows about Teresa and implies understanding how she was lost to him is a clear nod that James and Felix are more than just professional acquaintances.

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