James Bond Declassified: LICENCE TO KILL
The late '80s were not kind to our favorite super-spy
File #15: LICENCE TO KILL
This series will trace the cinema history of James Bond, while also examining Ian Fleming's original novels as source material and examining how faithful (or not) the films have been to his work.
Directed by John Glen
Screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson
CHARACTERS / CAST
James Bond / Timothy Dalton
Pam Bouvier / Carey Lowell
Franz Sanchez / Robert Davi
Lupe Lamora / Talisa Soto
Milton Krest / Anthony Zerbe
Ed Killifer / Everett McGill
Sharkey / Frank McRae
Truman-Lodge / Anthony Starke
Hawkins / Grand L. Bush
Dario / Benicio Del Toro
Perez / Alejandro Bracho
Braun / Guy De Saint Cyr
Loti / Diana Lee-Hsu
Mullens / Rafer Johnson
Colonel Heller / Don Stroud
Kwang / Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
President Hector Lopez / Pedro Armendariz
Professor Joe Butcher / Wayne Newton
Della Churchill / Priscilla Barnes
Felix Leiter / David Hedison
Q / Desmond Llewellyn
M / Robert Brown
Miss Moneypenny / Caroline Bliss
1989 was one of the bloodiest box-office summers of the decade, with Batman, Indiana Jones, Dead Poets Society, and Lethal Weapon II leading the charge. While those franchises flourished, it seems like certain producers were more interested in battling the budgets than anything else, and for Star Trek V and James Bond, it was a very rough summer, indeed.
Right from the start of development, Licence Revoked seemed like a problematic entry in the series. There was a writer’s strike in 1988 that knocked Richard Maibaum out of the movie’s development early, leaving it all on producer Wilson. If you believe John Landis, this film was offered to him repeatedly by Cubby Broccoli, and Landis turned it down because he knew the script wasn’t ready. If that’s true, that would have made Landis the first American to direct a Bond film, and I’m guessing it would have chapped Speilberg’s ass majestically. By now, the story about how Spielberg kept trying to direct Bond movies only to be turned down because he wasn’t from the UK, leading him to create Indiana Jones with George Lucas as their way of making Bond movies, has become legend, and this particular summer, their world-traveling hero kicked the shit out of Bond. It was hardly a fair match, though, thanks to maybe the worst work John Glen ever did and a very strange script. Much of the development period was spent trying to center the film in China, but over the course of the ‘80s, United Artists had been gradually squeezing the Bond producers, keeping all of the films somewhere between $30 million and $40 million to produce. By the end of the decade, that money wasn’t going nearly as far as it used to, and the decision was made to shift everything to Mexico as a way of shaving costs.
The other thing that defined the tone of this film was Dalton himself, and the writers just weren’t able to figure out what to do with him. Dalton is enormously charming, with a savage wit, and he can certainly play funny. They were so determined to run from Roger Moore’s Bond, though, that they turn him into a snarling asshole for most of this film, and the result is one of the least fun Bonds, a low-rent revenge story that feels more like the Joel Silver movies (and the clones of those films) that were starting to clog screens at that point…
We open with the Dalton gun barrel and then we’re right into it with a radar plane flying over the ocean near Cuba. There’s a plane landing on a tiny island in the Bahamas and the DEA is tracking it because there’s someone onboard who they are very, very interested in.
It just so happens that Felix Leiter is getting married in Florida with James Bond in attendance, and they’re on their way to the church as all of this is going down. The DEA flies in to get Leiter, and he takes Bond with him, even as their buddy Sharkey (Frank McRae) yells at them.
We meet the bad guy from the plane, a younger and way-less-Republican Robert Davi, playing Franz Sanchez, a powerful drug lord who has managed to evade capture for the better part of the decade. He’s there to pick up his girlfriend, played by Talisa Soto, and to discipline her for running away. Like, whip her hard enough to break the skin type of discipline. Right away, this guy’s a real piece of shit, and Davi plays him without even trying to lighten him up or humanize him.
Frank McCrae’s trying to keep Priscilla Barnes busy at the church because you gotta love a Bond movie that opens with schtick.
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