It’s no secret to anyone that follows me on twitter that I’m a huge fan of License to Kill, luckily for me and thanks to the Public Transportation Snob, LTK (will be written like this from now on) has been chosen as Movie of the Month over at the LAMB. In honor of that I’m doing an analysis of why I think the film stands out so much in comparison to most James Bond films. Check out my thoughts after the jump!
The plot of LTK is based on a recent Bond trope that has been used multiple times in sequels succeeding it (including Skyfall if I have understood the trailer correct). The trope is that James Bond (Timothy Dalton) has to go rogue to avenge his friend Felix Leiters wife who was killed by mega drug kingpin Sanchez (Robert Davi).
As usual its preferred that you have seen the film due to the detail I normally go into but also because of spoilers!
General Story Structure – Lately I have re-visited a bunch of the classic Bond films, most of them I haven’t seen since childhood and what strikes me with a majority of them is the total lack of a coherent story. I’d say that most Bond films are focused around a couple of amazing action/stunt sequences with a loose plotline trying to tie it together.
LTK is a completely different thing. Its very clear from the beginning that the main plot has to do with hunting down Sanchez and killing him. What I really enjoy is the diverse turns that the script takes on the way getting there.
The initial capture scene of course set-ups the whole Leiter vs Sanchez/Revenge plot. The bar brawl is used to introduce Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), I’ll get back to the bar brawl later. The over the top scene where Bond destroys the cocaine and steals Sanchez money is there so Bond can finance his whole going-rouge avenge scheme etc, you get what I’m saying. Simply enough I’d say that this structure is unique to the franchise at this time.
When revisiting the older Bond films I wished I had a “best of cut” so I could avoid the random and confusing main plot and just enjoy the action- and some of the classic scenes instead. The main example for this is “For your Eyes Only” that really doesn’t make sense at all plot-wise. Half of that film is unnecessary (I’m expecting some comments on this one).
The Action – LTK has hands down some of the best action scenes in the entire franchise. The plane hijack in the teaser is filmed using practical effects in all the glory that brings to a scene. We get a great choreographed bar fight that never gets to over-the-top, mainly because Pam Bouvier, again I’ll get back to Pam and the bar brawl later.
The first action sequence on Krebbs boat is the substitute scene for the normal mid movie car chase. This time Bond destroys a couple of million worth of coke and ends up waterskiing barefoot behind an airplane before boarding it and flying off with a couple of Sanchez millions (double whammy!). What I always found interesting with the scene was the fact that Bond cut up all the coke packages in close approximate to himself in the water I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable in doing that!!!! With that said this scene is brilliant because it manages to balance the over-the-top full on action mode that is what James Bond is all about without going to long (both Brosnan and Craig films have overlong action that get kind of boring) or to comical (read Roger Moore and Brosnan, yeah Pierce is a one liner machine too!).
Next we have the truck chase scene, which actually might be the action scene I like the least. It mainly has to do with the general feeling of LTK, most complaints about the film is that it doesn’t feel like a James Bond film but more like feature length episode of Miami Vice. I would never go that far, with that said I think its quite easy to come to the conclusion that the truck chase scene was there as a reminder what franchise we are watching. It’s totally over-the-top and again everything is filmed practically (maybe some models involved) but I do think it lacks the finesse and timing of the other LTK action. With that said it’s still a great sequence and it kicks ass with most Bond final showdowns.
Beside the obvious action sequences there are also a bunch of mini- and aborted scenes that are very well crafted. The main difference again with most other Bond films though is that even if the action scenes are great they don’t really stick out that much but feel incorporated with the story.
Pam Bouvier and the bar brawl – If I had to single out one reason why I really think License to Kill is so much better than most Bond films or atleast the ones produced before it, its hands down Carey Lowell aka Pam Bouvier.
To me it’s obvious that she is the only Bond girl that really plays in the same league as Bond. She handle herself at least as good as Bond, being street-smart after being undercover for years. She even saves Bond multiple times, including in the now three times mentioned bar brawl at the pier.
I also like the fact that she isn’t the typical doe-eyed whimsical bond girl. Her character is way more feisty (yet again probably helped by that street-smartness undercover work of hers), almost like a princess Leia in “a New Hope” state of mind. Favorite moment of this is when she argues why she has to be Bond’s assistant in the undercover plan. Hell most Bond girls don’t even get to participate in Bonds scheming rather than being “damsel in distress” saved by Bond in the final battle. There is a ton of examples where she matters in this film and that’s rare when being a Bond girl.
I’ll admit that the love triangle stuff is dated and a fossilized Bond trope but I’ll touch upon that later and it still doesn’t hurt the characterization of Pam Bouvier.
General chemistry – This is yet something I see different than most Bond films. I’ll be the first to admit that Dalton and Carey Lowell might have to much of an age difference to really sell the idea of them being involved with each other romantically but its weighed up by their brilliant Moonlighting chemistry. Also Pam Bouvier feels like the kind of girl that would fall for a grittier Bond, which Dalton perfects in this film. Its no secret I think Dalton is the best Bond and Daniel Craig should be pretty thankful that people don’t seem to remember Dalton’s films the way they do with Connery and Moore because if they did Craig wouldn’t be sticking out so much in a positive way. Beside Dalton and Lowell I need to throw in Q there as well. I actually would have loved to see a TV spinoff with the three of them solving a weekly crime together.
All in all I’d sum License to Kill up as a Bond film that was before its time both plot- and actor wise. Besides being killed in one of the craziest box-office summers in film history (Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Ghostbusters 2, Star Trek 5 and even Karate Kid 2) I think that is the main reason why its considered a lesser Bond with the general audience.
Thanks for sticking through this lengthy praise piece on a film that needs and deserves the attention. Let me know if you disagree or feel like joining the License to Kill banner parade.
I’m participating in a couple of blogathons with this article so for more Bond-fest klick the banner below for Bond month over at Fogs’ place.