Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Licence to Kill (1989) | Story

Plot Summary

When a drug lord violently ends Felix's marriage, Bond takes it personally and goes for revenge, resigning from the Secret Service in the process.


After The Living Daylights, I remember taking stock of the remaining Fleming titles and trying to figure out which could possibly be the basis for the next movie. "Risico" and "The Property of a Lady" had already been thoroughly adapted by For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, so they were out unless whole new stories were created for them (and neither are great enough titles to really warrant that). "The Hildebrand Rarity" would make a great seed for a movie plot, but the title is so clunky that I doubted they'd pick it. That left "Quantum of Solace" and "007 in New York." "Quantum" barely features James Bond, while "New York" is mostly about him sitting in a car. Not that anyone was going to make a movie called 007 in New York, even if it were the most exciting script in the world. It seemed unlikely that the movies could continue to adapt Fleming stories.

I also remember speculation among Bond fans about whether or not the movies would start to adapt the then-new series of Bond novels by John Gardner. I read the first two or three and wasn't a big fan, but the idea of adapting existing material was so ingrained at that point that it was hard to imagine completely original films. The first Gardner book is License Renewed, in which - much like Never Say Never Again - the Double-O section has been mothballed, but Bond is reinstated for a new mission. That would be a challenge to work into movie continuity, but it sounded like EON was headed in at least a similar direction when they announced that the next movie would be called Licence Revoked. Fans speculated that perhaps they were setting things in motion to follow Gardner's continuity with the next film.

That all turned out to be useless conjecture, of course. If Gardner's book inspired the title for what became Licence to Kill, that was its only influence. The writers' (Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson again) main motivation was to play to Dalton's strength as an intense, driven Bond. So they went all out with a revenge plot started by something horrible happening to Bond's best friend that's reminiscent of the greatest tragedy in Bond's own life.

The result has more in common with other '80s action movies than any particular Fleming story, but Licence does include elements out of a couple of books.

How Is the Book Different?

What happens to Felix is right out of the Live and Let Die novel, but he's not married in the book. Della is unique to Licence to Kill.

The character of Milton Krest is from "The Hildebrand Rarity," but his abusive relationship with his wife has been transferred to Sanchez and Lupe. Also Bond doesn't sleep with the abused woman in the Fleming story. That might sound more judgmental than I mean it. Lupe is a very different character from Elizabeth Krest. Where Elizabeth is completely powerless, Lupe is taking advantage of Bond and he's letting her.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

Felix's getting fed to the shark is super close to what happens in Live and Let Die, including the horrible note. Bond's infiltrating the marine warehouse afterwards is also in the novel, but instead of finding drugs in a vat of maggots, he's looking for pirate treasure in a tank of deadly fish.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

I'm going with the bar fight where a dude tries to fight Bond with a giant swordfish and Pam's shotgun creates a perfectly cylindrical hole in the wall. Those are things that would've worked in a Roger Moore movie and it's a shame to see them sneak back into Dalton's world.

A runner up would be the whole resignation and revenge plot, but that's not really a contradiction with Fleming's version. I can imagine a scenario in which Bond and M were so at odds that Bond was forced to quit. But it would have played out much differently than it does in Licence to Kill.

Cold Open

My favorite kind of cold open, leading directly into the events of the movie itself. We meet Felix, Sharkey, and Bond, and learn that they're all trying to get to Felix's wedding. Then the DEA shows up to let Felix know that Sanchez, the drug lord they've been trying to get forever, is in the area and needs catching. There's an especially cool moment when you realize that one of the DEA agents is played by Grand L Bush, who played Agent Johnson in Die Hard to Robert Davi's (Sanchez) other Agent Johnson.

At any rate, Sanchez is there to catch his girlfriend Lupe with another dude. Sanchez kills the rival by cutting out his heart, then beats Lupe with something that could be the ray tail from "Hildebrand Rarity," but I have a hard time making it out. There's an unintentionally funny slo mo shot of Felix and the DEA agents running in slow motion toward the camera. It's not ridiculous, but it's obviously borrowing from Tony Scott. That's not a bad person to borrow from if you're making an '80s action movie, but it's just thrown in there once without any attempt to marry it to the rest of John Glen's style.

Sanchez tries to get away in a small plane, chased by the good guys in a helicopter. Bond performs the big stunt of the teaser by getting lowered on a winch to the tail of the plane, then tying the cable to the plane so that the helicopter can drag it into custody. Bond fan Christopher Nolan did a similar bit in The Dark Knight Rises, just one of a few set pieces and plot points that he borrowed from Bond movies.  I'll try to remember to point out more as we go, but the fellas at the Pod James Pod podcast do a way better (and funnier) job of it than I'll be able to.

The stunt is cool, as is Bond and Felix's parachuting down to make the wedding. I love the Florida Keys setting too. A solid teaser and one of my favorites.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. The Spy Who Loved Me
2. Moonraker
3. Thunderball
4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
5. A View to a Kill
6. Goldfinger
7. The Man with the Golden Gun
8. The Living Daylights
9. Licence to Kill
10. For Your Eyes Only

Movie Series Continuity

Licence to Kill specifically recalls Tracy's death and uses it as additional motivation for Bond's revenge. I can't tell you how much I love Bond's gentle, but insistent refusal to play Della's innocent who-gets-married-next game. His smile is heartbreaking.

I have more to say about the difference between Robert Brown's M and Bernard Lee's, but I think I'll save that for tomorrow.

There's a "shaken, not stirred" reference that's pretty funny when Bond sends Pam away to get his drink and she angrily orders it with obscene hand gestures.

The only other continuity-related bit is that Sanchez doesn't know Bond either by sight or by name. Somewhere towards the end of the Moore era, they dropped the idea that Bond's a world-famous spy, which is excellent. I really hated that in the late Connery/early Moore period.

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