'License to Kill' Review By slysnide

Revenge is a young man's game. And Dalton plays it best.
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Visuals
Producers Albert Romolo Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson, and screenwriter Richard Maibaum wasted no time after the release of "The Living Daylights" (1987) before jumping into pre-production on the next Bond film. Between the three of them, they decided that they needed to showcase a darker Bond to redeem the lighter side of Roger Moore's Bond which not all fans liked, and Dalton didn't really take advantage of that in his first outing. As for a story, a plot involving the 'Golden Triangle' drug ring was proposed, with filming to take place in China. While on a visit there by invitation from the government, they conceived a chase sequence on the Great Wall, and a duel among the Terracotta Army. These ideas fell through however when "The Last Emperor" (1987) was released later that year, which to the trio took away the novelty of filming in China where any major film had not been set for some time. Meanwhile, the "Eads Levy" act was abolished in 1985, so now it was becoming a bit too pricy for EON Productions to use Pinewood Studios or anywhere in the U.K. as a location, so the trio settled on setting the story in the tropics, while still maintaining the same idea for the plot. Florida & Mexico would serve as ideal filming locations.

When the WGA suddenly went on strike, Wilson was left to develop a script from the outline he and Maibaum had written. The duo had drawn upon elements in other Ian Fleming tales for this being first film to not share a Fleming story title for the film's title. Wilson wanted to explore the japanese ronin tales, centering on the destruction from within type scenarios that were prevalent in the films of Sergio Leone & Akira Kurosawa, with the latter's film "Yojimbo" (1961) serving as a template for Bond and Sanchez (the drug lord lead villain). This scenario heavily focused on the hero's destructive nature creating distrust to the point where the villain eventually finds a way to bring themselves down. A similar template was used in Fleming's version of "The Man With The Golden Gun" (1965). However, the violence would be more graphic, which would go on to earn criticism for getting almost too real for a Bond film. Wilson also created the fictional banana Republic of Isthmus so as not to make any direct correlation with any Latin American country, despite that the eighties Latin American drug violence served as the film's backdrop. Panama was the basis for this republic, and United Artists would go on to claim that the film was "torn straight from the headlines of today's newspapers." Though correlations could also be made with Mexico & Columbia, so it was basically exploiting that situation like all the other action films and television crime dramas had already been doing throughout the decade.

Casting was underway before the script was even near completion, resulting in Cary Lowell having to audition with lines from "A View To A Kill" (1985). Surprisingly, she still got the part. She didn't consider herself glamorous, and acknowledged that she had "huge shoes to fill." She even had to wear a wig for many scenes, but the filmmakers allowed her character, the ex-army pilot and CIA informant Pam Bouvier to cut her hair to showcase Lowell's real short blonde hairstyle. Cubby's daughter Tina and Richard Maibaum had suggested Robert Davi for the villainous drug lord after Maibuam saw him in the television movie "Terrorist On Trial." Davi researched Columbian drug cartels and would stay in character off set as he was a method actor. Davi also read "Casino Royale" (1953) and was inspired to base his character on a mirror image of James Bond via the characterization of LeChiffre. In addition to his already more than helpful preparations, he played Bond while his character's mistress Lupe Lamora was cast. He chose Talisa Soto among the twelve actresses who auditioned, claiming he "would kill for her." Anthony Zerbe was cast as Sanchez' legitimate business front man Milton Krest who dares to defy his bosses' orders. Newcomer Benecio Del Toro was cast as Sanchez' henchman Dario as he appeared to director John Glen to be "laid back while menacing in a quirky sort of way." Even Las Vegas personality Wayne Newton was cast in a small role after requesting permission via a letter to the producers, expressing his love of the franchise. And lastly, a surprising casting choice came with Pedro Armendariz Jr who's father committed suicide during production of "From Russia With Love" (1963) was granted a role as the Isthmus Republic's president.

In his sixteenth adventure, 007 James Bond (Timothy Dalton) seeks to avenge the maiming of Felix Leiter (David Hedison) which takes him on a rogue mission in pursuit of drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) and a web of mystery which gets more complex at every turn. For Sanchez is far more sophisticated than most drug lords, and Bond will require all his skills to catch him, especially with a revoked license courtesy of M (Robert Brown). Along the way he'll team with CIA informant Pam Bouvier (Cary Lowell), and even Q (Desmond Llewelyn) who agrees to help out Bond for a change. What ensues is a fiendishly dangerous adventure which will take Bond through the tumultuous world of Latin American drug cartels in the most unique and darkest Bond films ever crafted.

Production lasted for a solid four months, from 18 July to 18 November 1988. Mexico doubled for Isthmus, with numerous locations in Mexico City serving as major locations in Isthmus. The villa Arabesque in Acapulco doubled for Sanchez' villa. Key West doubled for the major action sequence in the beginning of the film. Underwater scenes were shot near Cancun, where champion water-skier Dave Reinhart performed barefoot waterskiing, and Jake Lombard once again performed daredevil stunts involving jumping from a helicopter to a plane, while Dalton himself participated in parachuting with David Hedison to the ground. Trick photography by Alec Mills would later enhance the realism of the shots. The climatic tanker chase was filmed along La Rumorosa Mountain Pass in Mexicali which proved to be the most dangerous location yet. The highway itself had already been closed for safety reasons, yet the Bond troupe brought sixteen eighteen wheeler tanker trucks along for the ride. Remy Julienne served as the main truck driver, and he requested numerous modifications for the various trucks which Kentworth satisfied. One truck was modified to have a hidden driver so actress Cary Lowell could seen as driving the truck, while others had their engines tweaked to run faster. The extra suspension on one truck allowed it to lift its front wheels high in the air. Meanwhile, John Richardson's special effects did such a gruesome job with the demise of one character that they had to tone it down for the final cut. Cubby meanwhile became too ill to continue producing, leaving Wilson to handle the job alone for the remainder of the Mexico shoot. Ultimately, the film finished production on time, and returned to Pinewood Studios for post-production services only.

Timothy Dalton once again showcases his independent action hero side, rather than an angry brit, but his chemistry with Q pays off in a few funny scenes. The dark tone was preferred as it took Bond in a totally new direction. It was certainly proper for the time period, and the graphic violence certainly makes that point clear. On the flip side of Dalton's performance, Robert Davi made for a great villain. The best among all lead and supporting characters in the Dalton Era. He was intimidating, always knew what he wanted, and was damn ruthless. Also impressive was Benecio Del Toro's performance as Dario. He was quiet, quirky, slick, and conniving; everything you'd want in a henchman; the best in the Dalton Era. However, I wasn't too impressed with the film as a whole, as it ran like a better version of "Miami Vice" (1984-1989) with a little "Scarface" (1983) and eighties action movie material thrown in. Picture that and you've got a pretty good image of the sixteenth James Bond film. While I enjoyed it more than its predecessor, it wasn't much better, only slightly really. Dalton was just even further than Bond here. He was a dark, violent version of the fantasy agent we've come to know, making his characterization here far more fitting for Daniel Craig's Bond. For Dalton almost seems a bit too clean cut for the dark version he's portraying on screen if you get my meaning.

When released, various television shows and films were upset that Bond was rolling on their turf as the content was the subject matter of pretty much all eighties action films and crime dramas. Critics disliked the graphic violence, saying it was going way too far for Bond, while others liked the unique change in story, especially deeply the personal dimension added to it. It was a true revenge story, but all these differences from the previous Bond films didn't hinder the thirty-two million dollar film at the box office, as it walked away with $156,000,000. Granted it was lower than the predecessor, I think it benefits the franchise in the long run for continuing to showcase Bond's past, and his more personal side, as both elements drive the character driven film. Reviews remain mixed, though I still like it as a good installment; truly unique, but not great. Overall, I'm glad the development hell for Bond17 came along, for had Dalton stuck around I don't want to dwell on what they would've done with the character after this performance.

This was director John Glen's second best film, second to "Octop*ssy," and it also marked the final film for him, cinematographer Alec Mills, longtime main titles designer Maurice Binder, actor Robert Brown (M), actress Caroline Bliss (Moneypenny in the Dalton Era), and veteran Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum. They are all missed in the franchise. Their touch was clearly visible to diehard fans, and their films will always be cherished whether we're crazy about them or not.

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Comments (8)

  1. slysnide

    @corey: It is, very adventurous, but Chris Walken was by far the best villain in "A View To A Kill" despite that the film on the whole was quite tame. See one or both tonight man. You shouldn't be disappointed.

    3 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  2. Corey W.

    @slysnide I have a few DVD collections on all the BOND flicks, yet I still haven't seen them all. There are a few Moore flicks I haven't seen yet like A View to A Kill and Octop*ssy. I should get on them though as soon as possible. Octop*ssy seems good.

    3 years agoby @coreyFlag

  3. Ghostman

    I really liked this one, at least Dalton got better at being Bond. Can't wait for your Brosnan reviews! he made James Bond into a cheesy 90's action star, which I loved watching as a kid :D

    3 years agoby @ghostmanFlag

  4. slysnide

    @corey: I really wanted Dalton to play Bond in "A View To A Kill" since that film was really brought down by Roger's advanced age restricting what they could and couldn't do. Dalton would've been perfect for that film. Although seeing the Moore films as a little kid, they kinda grew on me. I still like them, as the plots are really just as ridiculous as some of the plots from the Connery Era. I mean I still can't see what the big deal is with Scaramanga monopolizing solar power. It wasn't like he was gonna kill millions to do it. He was basically just an unofficial assassin for the chinese government who also freelanced to fund his exploits. But that's far from leading Bond villain material, despite that I really liked that film. :P

    @ejk1@skywise: This oddly enough is the only film in which sharks bothered me. Like every critic out there regards "Jaws" as a horror film, but with those three personalities of Quint, Brody, and Hooper on the ORCA being played by those actors, I can't help but regard it as a somewhat comedic adventure film with a sad first half. I mean I don't freak out when the shark attacked people, but when it started snatching kids at the beach, it was just sad and not horrific. Definitely the feeling of two completely different films from the first half to the second half.

    3 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  5. skywise

    @slysnide such interesting reads! I have enjoyed them all.

    @ejk1 Nothing in this world scares me....except sharks.

    3 years agoby @skywiseFlag

  6. ejk1

    @slysnide The shark scene with Leiter has always been nauseating to watch. But the film is pretty good, on the whole.

    3 years agoby @ejk1Flag

  7. Corey W.

    Great review @slysnide. I always loved this one and Dalton as Bond. Wish he played him longer. To be honest, I hated Moore. His movies were the cheesiest. Fun, but not that great

    3 years agoby @coreyFlag