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Topic: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

I have mixed views on the Timothy Dalton era of Bond. While TLD is a top ten classic in my view, I've never held LTK in the same regard. This trifling monograph I wrote a while ago tries to explain why...



James Bond’s Darkest Hour?: The Flaws of Licence to Kill


By 1985, the James Bond series was struggling. Roger Moore’s final entry, the decidedly weak A View to a Kill, held the ignominious honour of being the first Bond film not to crack the top ten highest-grossing films of the year worldwide. Beaten out by spectaculars such as Back to the Future at the #1 rank and Rambo: First Blood Part II at #2, as well as, more embarrassingly, Police Academy 2 and Rocky IV, A View to a Kill was also raked over the coals by critics. With excoriating savagery, Pauline Kael from The New Yorker said: “The James Bond series has had its bummers before, but nothing in the class of A View of a Kill…”. But the two Bond films which received the most mixed critical receptions previously- the ‘bummers’ Kael appears to be referring to- were Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker, the first and second highest-grossing films of their respective release calendars. Something had undeniably changed in the cinematic atmosphere since the franchise’s identifiable financial and cultural ‘golden years’ of 1964-67 and 1977-79.


I would argue that this is due to the rise of the action film as its own genre in the early 1980s; for the first time, James Bond had rivals. Raiders of the Lost Ark set the trend in 1981, followed by Rambo; what set this apart was that Bond faced competition on its home turf. What I mean by this idea is that while in the 1970s, Bond had amiably copied the prevailing voodoo, kung fu and science fiction crazes of the time, now Bond was being forced to imitate a new wave of adventure films, the genre which Eon Productions had itself helped to invent in 1962 and dominated for the next twenty years. These films were faster, leaner and-usually- far more violent than Bond tended to be. Assisted by the creation of the PG-13 rating in 1984, Indiana Jones and Sylvester Stallone engaged in more realistic and brutal bouts of fisticuffs in a new era of Reagan-inspired American confidence. Against this backdrop, James Bond was beginning to seem old-fashioned, its formula generic, its action sequences tame and lethargic. While A View to a Kill’s trailers loudly protested that “in the world of action, the highest number is still 007!”, the critics and the public were starting to have their doubts. It didn’t help that in 1983, Sean Connery had made a much-publicised return to the James Bond role in Never Say Never Again, a witty and cheerful parody which easily made in excess of $53,000,000 at the box office, within touching distance of that year’s supposedly ‘official’ 007 entry, Octopussy, at $67,000,000.


In 1986, Albert R Broccoli made drastic changes. Roger Moore stepped down and was replaced by the younger, darker-haired Timothy Dalton. The keyword, from the outset with this incarnation of Bond was ‘tough’. Posters for Dalton’s first instalment in 1987, The Living Daylights, heralded ‘the most dangerous Bond ever’, a man who was ‘living on the edge.’ In an obvious effort to keep pace with filmic trends, this Bond was a colder, overtly ruthless portrayal, who engaged in genuinely gory fight scenes that pushed the boundaries of the PG rating. Critical reception was warm, yet it must be noted here that The Living Daylights managed to gross $51, 185,000- only a slight increase over AVTAK’s $50,000,000 and a minimal rise in terms of the blockbuster number-crunching of cinema. The 1987 entry also failed to break into the top ten. Yet Eon Productions’ spin declared Dalton a success, and at this point someone- a studio head, a marketing guru- made a mistake. It was surmised that The Living Daylights had succeeded because of its darker tone, not in spite of it, or merely because of the hype surrounding a new Bond regardless of what the actual product turned out to be like.


This assumption was bolstered by the arrival in 1987 of Lethal Weapon, a violent action picture starring Mel Gibson which became the eighth-highest-grossing of the year. In 1988, a similarly violent action escapade starring Bruce Willis and entitled Die Hard shot to the front row at #10 in the most successful films of the season. Surely, this was more evidence that what audiences wanted most of all was to watch tales of seething bloodlust, played out by tough hard men, deadly professionals, former cops or soldiers with steel in their eyes and itching trigger fingers, with a healthy dose of swaggering American bluster.


In 1989 marketing began for Licence to Kill. Filmed entirely in the United States, its posters featured a glaring Dalton and the tagline: “James Bond’s bad side is a dangerous place to be.” This would be a harsh, uncompromising, dark, bitter Bond, combining everything that audiences worldwide had shown that they wanted from a modern action film. Nothing could go wrong. Or could it?


It’s well known among Bond fans that Licence to Kill remains the least financially successful film in the series. Facing a perfect storm of critical opprobrium and very strong competition from Tim Burton’s Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Licence to Kill was distinctly underwhelming in the UK. It underperformed more dramatically in the United States. Clearly, this was not proving the sure-fire hit it had been designed to be. Yet why was this the case? Since 1989, many explanations have been put forward, including an overstuffed box office schedule and general ‘franchise fatigue.’ But neither of those explanations are quite convincing. Although the competition from Indiana Jones and Batman was indeed a menacing prospect, James Bond was just as big a ‘tentpole film’. For Your Eyes Only had done decent business against Raiders of the Lost Ark in the summer of 1981.  The ‘franchise fatigue’ explanation also doesn’t hold water, especially since this was only Dalton’s second Bond film, coming after a moderately successful debut and much advertised pop culture festivities surrounding the cinematic Bond’s 25th anniversary in 1987.


Instead I will examine the content of the film itself- and this, unfortunately, provides some explanation for why Licence was poorly received. Hilary Mantel in The Spectator took issue with the film’s violence, declaring that “there is a smirking perverse undertow which makes the film more disagreeable than a slasher movie.” While It might appear a little exaggerated for the violence in Bond to be decried in such hair-raising terms, Mantel has a point. While there are a few individually violent sequences in The Living Daylights and A View to a Kill, none come close to the almost gleeful and lengthy killing in Licence to, ahem, Kill.


Felix Leiter is fed to a shark and maimed, bloody gore floating in the water; the devious Milton Krest’s head explodes onscreen, providing the opportunity for more buckets of red stuff; the sadistic henchman Dario falls into a rock crusher; and so on. All of the film’s villains meet spectacularly grisly and bloody ends in a style and level of violence completely alien to the screen Bond. Even with the slam-bang gun battles of the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films, and the torture scenes of Casino Royale and Spectre, Licence to Kill is still an astonishingly grim affair today, more so from the perspective of 1989. For comparison, when filming For Your Eyes Only Roger Moore refused to perform, and had to be heavily persuaded to agree to, a scene where Bond kills a henchman in cold blood.  In Licence, by contrast, a battered Dalton sets the villain on fire with a lighter and the character is seen writhing for several seconds in agonised incineration.


Similarly, Roger Moore complains about scenes in A View to a Kill where the villain uses a machine-gun to slaughter several of his own workers, laughing maniacally as he opens fire. But the cartoonish antics of Moore’s tenure, occasionally violent as they are, stand a million miles away from the style, tone and direction of the repeated scenes of slaughter in Licence to Kill. Reflecting Mantel’s comparisons to a “slasher movie”, Licence to Kill was handed a 15 rating from the BBFC and an R restricted from the MPAA, and this was only given after censors warned that the original unamended cut would garner an 18 rating, joining the company of Scarface and Friday the 13th. The 15 rating was still unknown to Bond at the time, and echoes the finished film. Bond is ruthless; his allies coolly professional; his enemies a cabal of drug dealers. To children eagerly awaiting the next instalment, the message was clear: this isn’t your father’s Bond- and it’s not aimed at you, either. Was this really, audiences wondered, the same series that had released Moonraker ten years earlier?


But the real problem wasn’t the violence- though that may well have hurt the film’s box office, as well as adding little to the film. The most serious flaw is the plot, featuring as it does Bond going rogue and disobeying M’s orders. Variations of this idea have since featured in Die Another Day, Quantum of Solace, and Spectre, yet in Licence to Kill it simply does not work. In previous films, such as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, there was palpable tension between Bond and M, but for Bond to blatantly ignore M’s instructions and go outside the law is a foolishly misguided development. If we examine Umberto Eco’s Structuralist analysis of the original novels, M symbolises Britain- Bond may sometimes doubt and question M’s behaviour, and M may disapprove of Bond’s cavalier methods, but the two maintain a basic respect. For Bond to abandon the familiar trappings of M’s office entirely is a move that damages the character, as he is implicitly disloyal to Britain and is no longer acting as the UK’s own ‘world policeman’. Thus, Bond- and Dalton’s portrayal- loses the audience’s sympathy as a protagonist.


In the end, Licence to Kill is hamstrung by compromises made to alter Bond to fit the changing action genre of the mid-Eighties to mid-Nineties, but at the same time the film misunderstands the use of violence in those same films it attempts to imitate. For example, while Die Hard is full of copious and violent gunplay and cold-blooded shootings, this is tempered with a strong element of arch, ironic humour; Bruce Willis mocks the film’s villains, his dialogue calling attention to the ridiculous scenario in order to deliberately bring a knowing satire. In Licence there is little such respite beyond a comic interlude featuring Q, and so the piece succeeds in being grim, cynical and sinister, but lacking the normal sense of fun of a James Bond adventure. The presence of semi-parodic humour is an attribute found in all the better Bonds. Even Sean Connery, as early in the series as Dr. No, points out the absurd nature of No’s ambitions: “World domination, the same old dream.” 


Without this finely balanced atmosphere of comedy and tragedy, where gadget-laden Aston Martins exist alongside excruciating torture devices, Licence to Kill sinks into the lowest tier of Bond films. When the drug dealer Franz Sanchez has Bond at his mercy after a brutal pursuit on winding desert roads, he is reduced to asking “Why did you do it? Why?” When one considers the serious pitfalls to which Licence succumbs, the audience may well be left wondering exactly the same questions of the production team.




Does anyone else have any thoughts to share on why LTK turned out to be a bit of a flop? Critical reactions, audience/ franchise fatigue, the violence, or something else?

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Hello, SpectreOfDefeat, welcome aboard.
I trust our man Higgins will be posting in this thread soon. He's our resident expert in LTK and all things Dalton.
In the meantime, I enjoyed reading your essay and hope you have similar ones on other Bond movies.

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

And by "expert" we mean "hater"  ajb007/lol

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

There is a lot to touch upon in your essay, but for now I'll comment on the plot. I think the plot of LTK is one of the strongest in the series. The way Bond manipulates events and the villain himself to bring him down is smart and interesting. Sanchez actually kills more of his closest crew than Bond does. LTK has fewer gaping plot holes than most action films, including Bond films.
In my opinion (and many others) Sanchez is among the best Bond villains. He's believable, but still larger than life. He's scary, but still seductive. You comment on Bond going rogue. Now the hero going rogue has been over-used. Ethan Hunt has barely been on an impossible mission where he isn't a rogue agent and Bond himself needs some missions where he doesn't go rogue. But back in 1989 this wasn't a problem. Back then this was fresh and exciting. Bond hadn't done it before, but the attack on his best friend and the killing of Della was enough motivation to make it believable and acceptable.

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Very interesting essay. Thanks for posting. ajb007/martini

"Any of the opposition around..?"

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Thanks for the feedback/commentary so far all.

I accept the point that Sanchez is a good, even great, villain; but one strong villain does not a masterpiece make (see Golden Gun for another example of this.) To me Sanchez has always felt a bit out of place, his gritty drug-dealing more like a character from Scarface or a similar Eighties crime-fest than Bond.


You're right, Number24, that the "Bond going rogue" trope has become tiresome and overplayed in recent years (by my count, Bond has now 'gone rogue' in one form or another in LTK, Die Another Day, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and Spectre, as well as William Boyd's Solo over on the literary side of things). The point I was trying to make is that while Bond going rogue may have been fresh ground for the series in 1989, the basic plot device itself is rather weak irrespective of context. As said, it weakens the Bond-M relationship and Bond's duty to Britain, spoiling the 'world policeman' aspect of the fantasy. If there had been a scene in LTK where Bond actually reconciles with M after killing Sanchez , this might have been a good problem solver.


Or should I say, more of a problem eliminator  ajb007/smile

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

A great villan doesn't make a great film, but a good plot goes a long way. LTK has that.
Bond has a lot of loyalty towards Britain and M, but he has shown a cynical view of MI6 before. The PTS of TLD is one example. Bond goes rogue in OHMSS, oneof the most Flemingesque movies in the series. Because of this I'd say Bond going rogue in LTK isn't a problem. It wasn't before Craig's tenure goeing rogue became a real problem because he does it far too often. Going rogue is something that can be done perhaps once for each Bond actor .... tops.

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

"Bond has a lot of loyalty towards Britain and M, but he has shown a cynical view of MI6 before." I'd argue that this is exactly the situation the Bond films need to be in; Bond remains deeply loyal, but with undercurrents of scathing cynicism and tension that recur from time to time, as in the Bond-M scenes in TLD, GE and TWINE. The almost amiable relationship of equals between Moore's Bond and Robert Brown's M in OP and AVTAK depicts the dynamic as much too friendly and cordial, for example.

As for the strengths of the plot, does this apply to Sanchez's drug-smuggling operations as well? Drugs was obviously topical at the time of release with President George H.W. Bush setting up the US Office of National Drug Policy in 1988, and the appointment of a national drug czar in 1989, but I would question whether making use of such a serious issue went down well across the Atlantic. It ought to be remembered that drugs was a major social concern in the US throughout the decade, what with President Reagan's increased federal funding to tackle the problem and Nancy Reagan's famous 'Just Say No' initiative. I think it could be said that having James Bond take out drug lords was possibly an insensitive/inappropriate geopolitical innovation for a Bond film, and a world away from mad Soviet generals and billionaire industrialists.

Any thoughts on the violence? As said, the levels of strawberry jam on display are considerably higher than usual. Perhaps this was intended to be imitative of Fleming- though one questions how widely this was appreciated at the time given that an entire generation of Bond fans had now grown up only knowing the cinematic Bond. I do like the idea though of using the LALD shark mauling and I think that is one of the most menacing scenes in the film.

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Addendum:
With regards to OHMSS's depiction of 'going rogue', I had never thought that counted in the grand scheme of things since Bond returns to M's employ halfway through the film, i.e before completing his mission. Maybe it does...

For LTK I would have preferred something similar to the briefing scene in the film version of Golden Gun, when M gives Bond an off-the-books mission to find Scaramanga. Hence Bond is technically still obeying orders, but is also outside of the usual norms of an assignment.

Any other thoughts re the questions about the plot violence etc in my previous post?

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

What is worst: dealing with a serious issue in a mostly serious movie like in LTK, or dealing with a serious issue like heroin in the more light-hearted LALD? I'd say the drug element strenghtens the plot of LTK because the movie is about more than Bond's personal vendetta. In fact Bond has to take in the fact that just blindily going after Sanches is hurting the wider picture of destroying Sanches's drug empire. Is LTK too violent? Possibly. I think the movie had to be more violent than most Bond movies becausne of the themes of LTK and the strenghts of Dalton, but a couple of times they should have restrained themselves.
LTK is in my opinion a strong entry, but it's one of those movies that is good partly because it is different. Bond can't go into space like he does in MR in many movies, he can't deal with the supernatural like he did in LALD in many movies he can't go rogue and go on a bloody rampage of revenge like he does in LTK in many movies. But as exceptions it works.

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

I have to say I enjoy discussing  LTK with you. This topic often gets sidetracked when a certain member starts talking about Dalton's "tears", but now we're talking about real issues.  ajb007/biggrin

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Many thanks for your kind remarks, Number 24.  Rest assured that I will strive to maintain a degree of proper serious criticism, as appropriate when discussing the earnest gritty Dalton era. I think the two Daltons are actually some of the more interesting films to talk about as they see the series caught in transition between the raised eyebrows and smirking camp of Moore and the darkly personal angle of the Craig films. Both of those other eras have been successful, while Dalton's general reception is more mixed and this makes for interesting talking points beyond the usual consensus of statements like "GF good. AVTAK bad."

On the subject of comparing LTK to LALD, I think both fail in their treatment of drugs issues though for different reasons. I think the heroin subplot in LALD sits very uneasily alongside Moore's lighter, smoother Bond, especially against the early 1970s backdrop when the Nixon administration (like Reagan a decade later) was very concerned about drug-related crime. LTK on the other hand uses drugs as the background for Bond's revenge spree, yet treats the subject a little glibly also and perhaps demonstrates that James Bond isn't really the arena for rich social commentary. It can also be questioned whether, in context, it was a good idea for Bond to tackle so-called 'real crime', i.e. drug smuggling epidemics, rather than megalomaniacs plotting to flood Silicon Valley or start World War III.  I guess it can be argued that the drug smuggling angle adds to Sanchez's villainy and 'evil aura', but you don't catch many fans saying that about (for example) Kristatos in FYEO or General Koskov in TLD, both of whom dabble in heroin trafficking. What do you think of this side of the argument?

With regard to violence, I would say that while there are a few scenes (the shark attack) that are effectively shocking, other sequences, such as the death of Milton Krest, are excessively sadistic and should have been trimmed. While there is a point that darker themes needed more violence, it comes across as cynical and trying to cash in on the violent action craze of the Eighties. While in 2020 we are used to torture scenes slipping into the 12A-rated Spectre, in 1989 such bloody violence was the preserve of R-rated action (Die Hard) or horror flicks of the sort decried as schlocky trash(Friday the 13th). It did not fit the 'Bond image'- which up until TLD was that of a PG family franchise. Thus I would say that the potential box office/reputational damage to the series (see Hillary Mantel's strongly-worded take in my original post) outweighed artistic reasoning for the violence. Perhaps this doesn't matter so much in retrospect?

I will agree though that along with MR, OHMSS and CR, License to Kill is one of the most individual, distinctive films in the series despite its mixed reception at the time. Do you think a more formulaic/generic adventure along the lines of TLD would also have struggled, or that the prevailing climate was set against Bond whatever route it took, tying into the franchise fatigue argument I tried to debunk earlier?

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

...Roger Moore’s final entry, the decidedly weak A View to a Kill, held the ignominious honour of being the first Bond film not to crack the top ten highest-grossing films of the year worldwide. Beaten out by spectaculars such as Back to the Future at the #1 rank and Rambo: First Blood Part II at #2, as well as, more embarrassingly, Police Academy 2 and Rocky IV...

This comparison is interesting.
Usually we just see the stats comparing LtK to contemporary releases, to demonstrate that film's failure, so it's good to put into context the films' popularity were on a downward trend even when Roger was still Bond.
At the same time they replaced the actor, EON was also faced with the need to change the tone of the films, yet risked losing their old remaining audience if they did so.


Anecdotally, Octopussy was the last Bondfilm I saw until the hype of Goldeneye over a decade later. The ending scenes of OP were just too silly, and that's all I remembered leaving the theatre, and the publicity for aVtaK with MTV star Grace Jones so prominent looked even worse.
But the real reason for me, was I was in my late teens/early twenties, running with a pretentious artschool crowd, and we only went to repertory house artfilms, not blockbusters at the cineplex. I didn't see any of those other films on the list either.
That's just me. But the ironic/pathetic thing is, I did read the reviews for LtK and recognised from the plot summary they were finally going back to Fleming, and wanted to see it.
But I couldn't get anybody to go to theatre with me, so went to watch some plotless wonder by Jim Jarmusch instead. Peer pressure was to blame in my case!

And yes my pretentious art school friends kept informing me Bond was a sexist misogynist relic of the cold war whenever I started babbling about how cool the old movies were.




With regards to OHMSS's depiction of 'going rogue', I had never thought that counted in the grand scheme of things since Bond returns to M's employ halfway through the film, i.e before completing his mission. Maybe it does...

No that's not when he goes rogue. When Bond meets M closer to the end, M refuses to let him rescue Tracy, so Bond instead teams up with Draco's men (Corsican gangsters) to attack Piz Gloria and rescue Tracy.
Do British forces even join in the attack, knowing it's their chance to finally get Blofeld? All I remember is Draco's men.


I think it could be said that having James Bond take out drug lords was possibly an insensitive/inappropriate geopolitical innovation for a Bond film, and a world away from mad Soviet generals and billionaire industrialists.

Drug traficking was not just the plot of the Live and Let Die film, it was the plot in the first chapter of Fleming's Goldfinger (and the precredits of the film) and Risico, and Fleming's Man with the Golden Gun, which LtK is an unofficial adaptation of.. So not an innovation at all, and  true to Fleming.
Fleming was also involved in the production of the antidrug film The Poppy is Also a Flower before he died.

Sanchez is similar to the reallife politician/druglord Manuel Noriega, and Isthmus City obviously a fictionalised Panama, but I think it was after this films release that the US invaded the country and captured Noriega. Still, Noriega was in the news a lot in the years leading up to that invasion.
(the previous film was also very ripped-from-the-headlines with the Soviet/Afghan war ... the two Dalton films are probably the most realistic plots of the whole series)


Any thoughts on the violence? As said, the levels of strawberry jam on display are considerably higher than usual.

This is absolutely true.
The Craig films are probably more violent, especially with passersby getting hit by stray bullets in his first two movies (this random detail bothers me). Mr White's onscreen suicide is also a very shocking moment.
But Licence to Kill isn't just more violent than whats come before, there are multiple atrocities to the human body unlike anything before or since. Some shown, some even worse left to our imaginations.
Doesn't the Sanchez cut out Lupe's lover's heart at the start of the film?
and Benicio's line "We gave 'er a nice 'oneymoooon" suggests a violent gang rape before the bride was murdered.

Last edited by caractacus potts (17th Jun 2020 16:53)

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

caractacus potts wrote:

When Bond meets M closer to the end, M refuses to let him rescue Tracy, so Bond instead teams up with Draco's men (Corsican gangsters) to attack Piz Gloria and rescue Tracy.
Do British forces even join in the attack, knowing it's their chance to finally get Blofeld?

Nope, it's all Draco's men.

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

"When Bond meets M closer to the end, M refuses to let him rescue Tracy, so Bond instead teams up with Draco's men (Corsican gangsters) to attack Piz Gloria and rescue Tracy.
Do British forces even join in the attack, knowing it's their chance to finally get Blofeld?"

I defer to others' knowledge; I got the OHMSS point slightly wrong here. Oops. Correction accepted.

"Drug traficking was not just the plot of the Live and Let Die film, it was the plot in the first chapter of Fleming's Goldfinger (and the precredits of the film) and Risico, and Fleming's Man with the Golden Gun, which LtK is an unofficial adaptation of.. So not an innovation at all, and  true to Fleming."

I meant an innovation in the context of keeping up with the changing times of the 1980s, what with President Bush Snr setting up the US National Drug Policy Centre in 1988. Still it does have its origins in Fleming as well as drug plotlines featuring in LALD and to a lesser degree FYEO and TLD.


"I guess it can be argued that the drug smuggling angle adds to Sanchez's villainy and 'evil aura', but you don't catch many fans saying that about (for example) Kristatos in FYEO or General Koskov in TLD, both of whom dabble in heroin trafficking. What do you think of this side of the argument?"

Anyone else like to chip in on this section of the film/the essay theories already under discussion?

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Actually, I guess it bothers us as much because even Escobar saw the movie and was a fan of it because of how close it'd be to how they'd actually operate which is pretty interesting to me.
I remember that from an interview with Robert Davi some years ago.

Sanchez was just particularly fixated on that part of his character as the basis of his character.
There's a difference between dabbling and doing that full on and as successfully as Sanchez did.

And honestly? Kristatos and Koskov are forgettable as hell. Sanchez isn't. Why is that?

a reasonable rate of return

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Dirty Punker wrote:

Kristatos and Koskov are forgettable as hell. Sanchez isn't. Why is that?

Kristatos is an intentionally low-key villain, deliberately underplayed to suit the tone of the story as a contrast to MR.
Koskov is only slightly more memorable, and has to share his time with Whitaker. Kara is more developed as a character.

Sanchez is the focus of the story of LTK, and has time spent building his character. He's also very well played.

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

I wrote:

Drug traficking was not just the plot of the Live and Let Die film, it was the plot in the first chapter of Fleming's Goldfinger (and the precredits of the film) and Risico, and Fleming's Man with the Golden Gun, which LtK is an unofficial adaptation of.. So not an innovation at all, and  true to Fleming.

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

I meant an innovation in the context of keeping up with the changing times of the 1980s, what with President Bush Snr setting up the US National Drug Policy Centre in 1988. Still it does have its origins in Fleming as well as drug plotlines featuring in LALD and to a lesser degree FYEO and TLD.

I get what you mean though, for the mass audiences that filled theatres for the Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, Bondfilms were about comicbook style megalomaniacs planning to blow up the world.
Mainstream audiences never really cared about what's true to Fleming, and in fact seemed to get confused whenever the films did return closer to the source material. Just returning to Fleming was a risky innovation!
And the much more successful Brosnan films did draw more influence from their most spectacular scifi oriented predecessors rather than actual Fleming content, proving that's what audiences valued in a Bondfilm.


I think its James Chapman's book License to Thrill, where he argues Dr No was incredibly violent for its time, controversial even. It opened the doors for more cinematic violence. Yet only a decade later, at the time of films like Deliverance or Texas Chain Saw Massacre, new Bond films were something parents took their kids to see and wallowed in the nostalgia.

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

"Actually, I guess it bothers us as much because even Escobar saw the movie and was a fan of it because of how close it'd be to how they'd actually operate which is pretty interesting to me."

And this ties well into the crux of one of my criticisms; LTK strays into the realm of 'real crime' with real consequences, to an uncomfortable degree. This I would say lessens the fantasy enjoyment one usually gets out of Bond.

Interestingly, the two most 'realistic', grounded Bond films pre-Craig are FYEO and LTK, both of which happen to feature drug smuggling.

"And honestly? Kristatos and Koskov are forgettable as hell. Sanchez isn't. Why is that?"

I agree that Robert Davi gives a charismatic performance in LTK; though I still find the character conceptually off-putting. Having Escobar or Scarface as a Bond enemy doesn't fit the traditional mould, and the drug-smuggling plot doesn't threaten the security of the entire world in the same way as (say) TB, YOLT or TSWLM. It goes back to the problem of uncomfortably realistic, adult villainy, with lashings of overly gory violence. I just think the general tone and style of LTK is badly out of kilter with the rest of the series.

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

That's largely why Scaramanga some people don't like too but could never put their finger on why, though decidedly he's a bit more exotic with his lair and stuff.

"Common villains" with truly great actors. That's why these end up such mixed bags.

Coming from a background where it was my first proper Bond movie since my dad saw it in the cinema and wanted me to experience it as it was his personal favourite.....honestly I got different expectations from the series that didn't really get scratched until I got to the Craig era. It's funny how that works. Makes it be even more like a odd movie out type thing.
Still love it for that though.

But as Marty said "guess you weren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it". In some twisted way that's what happened.
That's why LTK is appreciated so much now as the "prototype".

a reasonable rate of return

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

That's a good comparison a la LTK and Golden Gun. Arguably the films are inverse to one another. LTK starts off very silly (plane skydiving) but quickly turns much darker (everything after the PTS). On the other hand Golden Gun starts off dark (creepy funhouse, Bond in fear for his life) and then turns very silly (kung fu, Sheriff Pepper).

I can see how perceptions might be different if LTK was your first Bond film...but as you say GoldenEye was a pretty jarring change, indicating that LTK's stylings were perhaps not too popular.

I think the Dalton popularity renaissance of recent years tends to cloud over how badly the film was actually received in some quarters in 1989...

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Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Was jarring when some old regular members shat on Dalton so hard when I first got into this site now  ajb007/lol  ajb007/lol  ajb007/lol

Barbel wrote:
Dirty Punker wrote:

Kristatos and Koskov are forgettable as hell. Sanchez isn't. Why is that?

Kristatos is an intentionally low-key villain, deliberately underplayed to suit the tone of the story as a contrast to MR.
Koskov is only slightly more memorable, and has to share his time with Whitaker. Kara is more developed as a character.

Sanchez is the focus of the story of LTK, and has time spent building his character. He's also very well played.

Very true.

On another note, Licence To Kill's art department was obviously talented but it was pushed out the door and sort of had to endure the fact that there were writing strikes happening a la 2008 with Quantum too. But at least we got a full movie out of it.
It's also schizophrenic in tone and how crappy lighting/styling can be and how they literally got the Miami Vice costume director for this movie when she was very obviously out of her depth considering what happened in Season 3 and beyond when Mann wasn't around.
And then you have the push and shove from Dalton trying to make himself closer to what Fleming wanted but also was out of his depth, "look" wise.

If this movie was released in the fall maybe it'd do better? But then again I'm talking out a different hole that needn't be discussed, I'm pretty sure that discussion's been had aswell since if memory serves Batman was going to be released towards the end...and that a classic.

a reasonable rate of return

23

Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

"If this movie was released in the fall maybe it'd do better? But then again I'm talking out a different hole that needn't be discussed, I'm pretty sure that discussion's been had aswell since if memory serves Batman was going to be released towards the end...and that a classic."

Not forgetting Back to the Future Part II, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2...but that argument as I explained earlier doesn't really convince. Those were big films, sure, but so was Bond.

"Was jarring when some old regular members shat on Dalton so hard when I first got into this site now"     

I feel I ought to gently point out that I do like Dalton's approach overall and TLD is a top ten film in my current rankings. It's only LTK in particular that's in the sights- and I don't specifically criticise Dalton's performance in the original essay...

24

Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Something that slipped my mind; Davi in that same interview mentioned that they were toying with the concept of Lupe to be a "bad girl" sort of adding a BDSM, twisted killer sort of element to it.
Which sounds way too dark, even for my standards. Luring men to kill them.
"Definitely Miami" wants its plot line back.

I misremembered that one of the LTK posters was leather themed so that concept didn't go as far as I thought.

a reasonable rate of return

25

Re: James Bond's Darkest Hour: An Essay on Licence to Kill

Wow, best new thread at AJB for quite some time.  Thanks, SpectreOfDefeat!

My own LTK take, which includes many points already stated by others:

-- As many have noted, the movie business shifted a lot in the 1980s, forcing Cubby and team to change their game.  Clearly, the team's major responses were darkness, lack of humor and (for a Bond film) extreme violence.  But somehow, they went too far and at the same time not far enough.  Maybe this means the task was impossible, but for the first time with LTK, a Bond film felt derivative of other films, rather than vice versa.  That it took 27 years for that to happen is quite remarkable.

-- Beyond the broader trends in movies, they were dealing with a new star who was arguably in a no-win situation.  Moore had been Bond for nearly 15 years, and were we only a few years past the Connery reboot, which reminded everyone that he had been Bond for the more than 10 years prior to that (nobody but hardcore Bondists even remembered Lazenby back then).  Dalton, while a fine actor, was cut from a different cloth in terms of screen presence, and his Bond somehow felt "smaller" than that of his predecessors.  Brosnan, while imperfect in the role once he got it, was in my opinion really the only person who could have successfully succeeded Moore -- shame that it wasn't in the cards until later.

-- Just as the main character felt "small", so too does the film.  Not solely because of a narrow plot, although that's a contributor, as noted in the next point.  After all, we've seen fairly narrow plots before -- FRWL, LALD and FYEO are examples.  But they all manage to seem broader than they really are, while LTK feels very constricted.  It's hard for me to articulate exactly why.  Maybe it's the fact that there's no globe-trotting; the film takes place entirely in the Florida Keys and Isthmus, which are similar enough to feel like opposite sides of the same town.  Maybe it's the lack of OTT action sequences like a long boat chase through a swamp, skiing down a bobsled run or dangling from a cliff.  Maybe it's that Sanchez, while portrayed brilliantly by Davi as a man of genuinely scary menace, isn't an archvillain like Blofeld or a gallivanting dual-identity type like Kananga.  Who knows, maybe it's that late-80s Thunderbirds are not your dad's Aston Martin or Lotus.  Whatever the reason, the common criticism that LTK resembles a TV movie is spot-on.

-- Regarding the LTK plot (and setting aside my annoyance that Craig's Bond knows no other way), the "going rogue" thing as a concept doesn't bother me, as Bond clearly did so at the end of OHMSS.  The difference is, in OHMSS he was not only rescuing Tracy, he was fulfilling his operational objective and foiling Blofeld's much larger scheme.  In LTK, he is acting solely out of personal revenge; that he foils Sanchez's drug operation appears merely incidental.  It feels like the writers knew they needed something more compelling than just revenge, but they weren't quite able to make it matter enough.  So the drug plot feels added-on.  For what it's worth, I have the same feeling about QOS, in which revenge is Bond's sole motivation and the rest of the plot is fitted around that.  It doesn't work in that film either.

-- Despite its shortcomings, I would happily watch LTK ahead of many other Bond films, including DAD, QOS, AVTAK, TND and TMWTGG.

Hilly...you old devil!