License to Bitch about James Bond

Here we are with another installment of my James Bond series. Are you bored yet? I’m not, but I worry about you. I mean, there are a whole lot of Bond movies, and we’re not even up to the 90s and Pierce Brosnan’s smug little face. Anyway, this time we’re talking about License to Kill (or Licence to Kill, depending). People hate Timothy Dalton as James Bond. This is the movie that made me like him, God forgive me.

What I’ve learned about myself from this movie is that I like Bond films if they make some fucking sense. I wish I didn’t. So the premise of License to Kill is pretty simple: James seeks revenge for the death of Felix’s new wife and the mutilation of Felix himself by shark.

Felix Leiter (sp?)’s wedding day goes awry when the Coast Guard tell him they have one chance to bring in the drug dealer he’s been hunting. He and James do it, James leaping from a helicopter to a plane in order to tie the plane up and allow them to parachute into Felix’s wedding, triumphant. Big Ed from Twin Peaks questions Sanchez (the drug dealer, and our villain), and gets really pissed when Sanchez mentions his bribe – a standing offer of 2 million dollars to anyone who will “spring him.’

For an intro scene, it’s good, but not amazing. I was surprised how much I liked the film given the intro, actually. It’s funny, with that one good moment of James going from flying contraption to flying contraption. In fact, it made me wonder about the Daniel Craig movies (is it eerie to see our future together in this way, reader?). Because I think one of Bond’s defining characteristics, which both Dalton and Craig appear to be focusing on, is that Bond will do whatever is necessary for the job. The dialogue moments before James jumps from the helicopter is everyone else giving up, because he’ll be in Cuba too quickly for them to get him. James insists there’s still time. And, well, I guess there is.

Sanchez gets out, with the help of Big Ed, and his guys kill Felix’s wife and take him to a warehouse, where Sanchez drops him into a shark tank long enough for his leg to get eaten off. Then he drops him off at home, but James comes by before Felix can die, and off he goes on a mission of vengeance. He tracks down people with sharks (apparently, according to his friend Sharkey, having gone to every place in the Keys where anyone’s registered a shark. He uncovers hidden drugs in the marine tanks, specifically the maggots (I guess they’re food for the fish?). He gets jumped, fight, win, ok, at this point I think we know the drill here.

He tracks down Felix’s last lead, who is an ex-military fighter pilot named Pam Beauvoir. She meets him (she expected Felix) with a shotgun under the table in a bar, and they escape in a bar fight when she blows a hole in the wall and they zoom off in James’s boat.

James is ordered off the case, he quits, and then he goes off to wherever Sanchez is, posing as a rich, out of work hitman who likes to blow money at Sanchez’s personal casino. He gets hauled in by the Hong Kong drug task force (wow, yeah, this was way before Hong Kong was given back to China. Damn, I remember when that happened) after he fails to hit Sanchez, nearly gets drugged, but Sanchez hits the drug team first and believes they were trying to kill James, since he’s tied up and unconscious when he walks through the rubble. This gets him in good enough to cast doubt on Sanchez’s other people – he stole a bunch of money off his boat captain earlier, and plants it later back on the boat without anyone noticing – and generally shenanigans happen.

Sanchez has his own televangelist – who my mother pointed out was Wayne Newton in Latino-face – who sends coded messages about how much the cocaine costs and how much people want to buy. This guy runs a college of meditation which sits atop the secret laboratories. During a tour, one of Sanchez’s thugs randomly decides, with no evidence that I could see, that James is a narc, pulls a gun, at which point James sets everything on fire and they try to kill him. This obviously fails.

The last action sequence involves a bunch of tanker trucks and shooting, which culminates with Sanchez not noticing he’s covered in gasoline. He readies himself to kill Bond with a machete, but Bond asks if he wants to know why he did it all – at which point he shows Sanchez the engraved lighter he received for being Felix’s best man and uses it to set Sanchez on fire. I will say this is one of the best villain deaths I’ve seen, it was satisfying in many ways.

There’s a lot of fun with Q in the field, by the way – he takes his vacation and flies out to help Bond. Looking forward again, I think the palm-reading pistol in Skyfall is a call back to this film, since Dalton gets something similar.

So what the hell? I like this movie, though I guess a lot of people don’t? Based pretty much entirely on an old viewing of The Living Daylights I thought I hated Dalton’s Bond. Huh, well there you go. It’s not cut too badly; the scenes don’t drag on and the jumps from shot to shot make sense in a way they don’t throughout most of Moore’s films.

So I think you should watch it. But what do I have to say about it? It takes a simple and unrepentant view of revenge that might have something to say about James’s personal life and the way his service has affected it. He has no problem resigning from MI-6, and there’s no hint that M is “firing” him in order to allow him to hunt Sanchez with no incriminating ties back to an organization. No, Bond’s just fucking fired, though he’s re-hired in the denouement. Felix’s wife gives James her garter belt at the end of the wedding, too, and doesn’t understand why James gets suddenly quiet. Felix tells her, and reminds us, that James has been married once. I’m always surprised when references come up in the later movies, though I suppose I shouldn’t be. In fact, For Your Eyes Only also mentions his wife, and features the film’s love interest seeking revenge for the death of her parents. And that’s a Moore movie. Weird.

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