Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly watch of something in my personal movie library, and then blogging about it, because I'm o so lonely. This week, we return to the world of 007 with 1989's License to Kill. This originally appeared in my notes at June 1, 2013.
Well, now that I've finished working my way through every Star Trek movie, I can get to the Blu-Rays I've been buying and stockpiling while I was going through that endeavour. And it seems to be a shit-ton of James Bond movies. I couldn't help myself! In the wake of Skyfall, James Bond Blu-Rays got dirt cheap, so I started upgrading my DVDs. And once that was done, since they were still dirt cheap, I decided to get my second-favourite James Bond films. I think I'm satisfied with the James Bond section of my home library, so I'll be giving it a rest now.
Oy vey. I just noticed now that, in the wake of Star Trek Into Darkness, all of the Star Trek films on Blu-Ray have gotten dirt cheap. I guess I'll be upgrading those next.
Anyway, back to Bond. I blogged it before when I was talking about The Living Daylights. Even though he only made two James Bond films, Timothy Dalton IS the James Bond of the 1980s. In his two films, we see the typical Bond villains turned into drug lords getting rich off of poisoning America. And now where is the more blatant than in License to Kill. Our villain - Franz Sanchez - is a Central American drug kingpin whose multi-billion dollar operation gets on James Bond's very bad side.
In fact, watching it again tonight, I finally realized that License to Kill is just a typical 1980s cop movie, forced into the James Bond movie. Let me give you the barest of plot descriptions: when his partner is killed, our hero quits the force and goes rouge to take down the drug kingpin responsible. THAT'S HALF THE COP MOVIES OF THE 1980S! And here we have James Bond playing out this scenario.
I know a lot of people regard this as the finer of Dalton's two James Bond movies. The general James Bond fandom thinks so. John Glen, director of many Bond movies including License to Kill, considers this the best of his Bonds. But me? I was always rather indifferent towards it. I've seen the pre-credits sequence many many times during those frequent TBS James Bond marathons during my college years, and after I saw that, I'd generally go, "Oh, it's License to Kill. Guess I'd better go do my homework now." This is usually the one that would come in when I figured it was time to give Bond a rest. I think, only once, I sat down and watched the whole thing from start to finish, and I walked away going, "That just doesn't feel like a James Bond movie." Again, in addition to the 1980s cop movie formula, this was, at the time, the darkest and grittiest James Bond movie to date. It turned off a lot of people at the time, but they've come to embrace it.
In our classic James Bond pre-credits sequence, we James Bond in Florida. He's best man at his best friend's wedding...CIA agent Felix Leiter. But, on their way to the church, their flagged down by Leiter's colleagues in the DEA. Sanchez has been spotted sneaking into American airspace to reclaim his runaway mistress. Seizing the opportunity, Leiter goes after Sanchez, with Bond going along "as an observer." But of course, there's a dramatic shootout, Sanchez escapes in a plane, but Bond and Leiter pursue in a helicopter. They eventually capture Sanchez by snagging his airplane with the helicopter's winch, and plucking it out of the air...something Christopher Nolan would totally rip off for the opening of The Dark Knight Rises. With Sanchez in custody, the helicopter flies over the church, and Leiter and Bond skydive in just in time.
Cue opening titles!
But the victory is short lived as Sanchez offers a $2 million reward for whomever can bust him out, and a corrupt DEA agent takes him up on that offer. However, the celebration continues at Leiter's wedding reception. I do like one little tip of the hat to James Bond continuity, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Della - the new Mrs. Leiter - notices that Bond is unusually despondent at the wedding reception, to which Felix replies, "I think it's because he was married once...but that was a long time ago." Once all the guests are done, the honeymoon for the Leiters lasts all but minutes, as Sanchez bursts in, looking for revenge. Della is murdered, and Felix is tortured by feeding his legs to a shark.
When Bond discovers this, he's furious. Of course, by this time, Sanchez is now safely back home is his Central American empire of Isthmus. The DEA say that now that Sanchez is off American soil, they can't do anything. This doesn't stop Bond, though. He launches his own investigation, and finds the marine biology lab where Felix was tortured. Turns out it's a front for Sanchez's drug smuggling, and Bond takes out the facility with ease.
But, that was rather noisy, and the DEA tip off Bond's bosses as to what Bond is up to. M comes to Florida to tell Bond to let go of this personal vendetta and let the Americans handle it and get back to work, to which Bond responds by giving his resignation. M will have none of this, and instead places Bond on suspension, and telling him to turn in his gun and that his license to kill is revoked. Other agents move to take Bond into custody, but Bond fights them off to continue his vendetta, and M wishes Bond luck under his breath.
See what I mean by this is an 80s cop movie? This is the whole, "You're on suspension! Turn in your gun and badge!" scene. But, since Bond doesn't have a badge, they revoke his license to kill. Fun trivia fact: this Bond movie was originally called License Revoked, but they changed it at the last minute to License to Kill. The popular urban legend behind the name change was that, when they did their market research, they found that too many people associated the phrase "license revoked" with driver's licenses, so they figured they should change it, lest people thinks it's about Bond's misadventures in traffic court.
Now that he's on to Sanchez's drug smuggling operation, Bond follows the ships to international waters where the exchange takes place and busts it up, destroying a bunch of drugs in the process and making off with millions in dollars of drug money. Bond returns to Florida and goes through Felix's files for his next lead, and discovers one of Felix's informants named Pam Bouvier, played by future Law & Order ADA Carey Lowell. Once Bond saves her from Sanchez's henchmen - led by an incredibly young Benicio Del Toro - Bond implores her to help him get to Sanchez's homeland of Isthmus, so he may continue his campaign. Since she's now a marked woman, she agrees.
Fun trivia fact: heading to Isthmus is just the second time that Bond goes to a fictional country. The other time was in 1973's Live and Let Die, where he heads to an island national called San Monique, which is also ruled by a drug lord.
Upon arriving in Isthmus, Bond starts spreading around all that drug money he captured in order to attract Sanchez's attention. Bond then sets himself up as a mercenary looking for work, hoping to get close to Sanchez. As this goes on, Sanchez's mistress, Lupe, recognizes Bond, as Bond had a brief encounter with her at the opening and they ran into each other when Bond busts up that drug deal, but she doesn't rat out Bond, instead keeping her mouth shut and helping Bond when she can in order to free herself from her abusive lover. And then, in the middle of all this, Q shows up to remind us that this is a James Bond movie, and equips Bond with some of those trademark spy gadgets.
When Bond's first assasination attempt on Sanchez goes south, Bond is able to turn it to his advantage. He's able to convince Sanchez that the "assassin" was actually after him. Having won Sanchez's trust, Bond proceeds to dismantle Sanchez's operation from the inside, first by taking all that drug money and planting it back on the smuggler's boat, so that way when the smuggler shows up and tells his tale of how the deal went south, it looks like he's lying and Sanchez quickly kills him for betraying him.
With this, Bond is able to score an invitation to Sanchez's massive drug lab, which is fronted as a religious compound run by an American televangelist. According to the producers, with corrupt televangelists making headlines in the late-1980s, they wanted to offer some kind of wry commentary on it all. And then, they got a call from legendary Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton saying he'd always wanted to be in a James Bond film and, well, that's how we get Wayne Newton as a televangelist in a James Bond film.
At this lab, Sanchez is trying to finalize a deal with an Asian drug cartel to get his product into Asia. But, at this time, Benicio Del Toro finally returns from...wherever he was, immediately recognizes Bond and rats him out to Sanchez, and the stage is set for our final showdown. See, at this massive drug lab, Sanchez was demonstrating his new drug smuggling technique, where he's able to safely dissolve the drugs in gasoline, and then safely extract them. So our final battle takes place on a convoy of trucks loaded with gasoline. Many fireballs ensue. Many ridiculous driving stunts ensue. Seriously. Bond pops a wheelie with a semi. But of course, as it all ends, Bond is finally able to immolate Sanchez, thus avenging Felix and his bride.
Time for the mega-happy ending. Felix recovers in hospital, and tells Bond that M is looking for and wants to offer him his old job back. Lupe, finally free from Sanchez, is ready to get on with her life. And Bond hooks up with Pam. The end. James Bond will return.
I guess my main complaint with this, and why it isn't my favourite of the two Dalton Bonds, is that it doesn't feel like a James Bond movie. It's an 80s cop movie. I mean, I said with The Living Daylights was that, with his back to the literary roots approach, Dalton tried to do with Daniel Craig is currently doing. And the world wasn't ready for this darker, grittier Bond. But, with License to Kill, they went just a little too far with the darkness and the grittiness. I still like the light and quippy Bond. In License to Kill, Bond doesn't get too many quips in.
One last thing before I go. What really makes this feel like a 1980s cop movie is the score by Michael Kamen. At this time, Kamen was also doing the music for the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon franchises, and man, does the music sound like it. Close your eyes, listen just to the music in this film, and you'll think that Die Hard is on TV. That is...until the James Bond theme kicks in.
And one last trivia fact: with the economic climate towards the entertainment industry in the UK at the time, this is the only James Bond movie with no scenes filmed in the UK.