The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.
Synopsis: James Bond leaves Her Majesty’s Secret Service to stop an evil drug lord and avenge his best friend, Felix Leiter.
Stars: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto, Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Zerbe, David Hedison
Director: John Glen
Running Length: 133 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Though The Living Daylights introduced us to a strong new James Bond, it was a fairly generic entry in the long-running franchise. Coming in as a second choice, Dalton was working with a script that was intended for Pierce Brosnan so did the best he could. When it was time to re-up for another Bond, Dalton was met with a script that dug deeper into the personal affairs of 007 and provided the actor material that pushed the character further than ever before.
The first Bond film to be rated PG-13, Licence to Kill earns the rating with gritty violence that hadn’t been seen before in the franchise. Finding Bond on a mission of vengeance against the drug kingpin that brought death and destruction to a colleague, the movie has a different look and feel than the previous entries in the series. As the times have changed, so have the tastes of the audiences and the producers have wisely fashioned Licence To Kill around interesting character development and some of the best action sequences of the series.
Along with the strong work from Dalton, Davi is one of the baddest of bad men that Bond has encountered. Quietly evil, Davi never loses control over the situation which makes his character subtly menacing even though he appears benign. Among his henchman is a young Del Toro and the future Oscar winner should give you the creeps in his unhinged performance.
However, it’s the Bond girls that once again come up short. Soto has to do double work as Davi’s abused girlfriend and a secret confidant to Bond…she balances it nicely until she falls into the same trap many of these ladies have. Once she sleeps with Bond it’s like a switch is flipped and she loses all sense of confidence and independence. When she tearfully (and not very convincingly) confesses “I love James SO much” it seems to come from a love struck teenager rather than an otherwise fiery female.
Lowell fares worse in a part that’s both underwritten and underperformed. Again, though she starts out as taking no crap from 007, she inexplicably falls into bed with him and then latches on like a weepy schoolgirl. I know these roles are designed to fall on the stereotypical side, but it does get a bit exhausting with the umpteenth iteration of the same romantic plot point.
There are some really impressive stunts captured in the film, most notably an extended chase sequence that takes 007 from an underwater battle to a tense fight in midair. Gladys Knight lends her strong vocals to one of the less memorable title tunes set to another so-so credit sequence designed by Maurice Binder.
I’m not sure if director Glen knew this was to be his last Bond film but he really ups the ante here with a film that has a wonderful pace and some fine performances. Though it ended up being the lowest grossing Bond film, Licence to Kill should be considered one of the better overall adventures.