Well folks, after two films the Timothy Dalton experiment has come to a close. Thank goodness.
In Licence To Kill, Bond leaves MI6 after his friend and DEA agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison) is attacked on his wedding day. His wife is killed and Felix looses a leg after being tortured by sharks. Ew. The man responsible is Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), a ruthless Central American drug lord. Ruthless Central American drug lords were all the rage in the ’80s.
Bond has threatened to leave MI6 before, but the issue is usually resolved by M (Robert Brown) granting him vacation time or Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) shuffling paper work at HQ. Not this time though. M refuses to approve of Bond’s vendetta and 007 goes rogue from the agency.
It is not a bad set up for a Bond film, but Dalton’s desire to roll back Bond’s character to the cold, humorless one Ian Fleming set in his novels was not working. It might have if the rest of the film was toned down as well, but understandably there was no desire from the rest of the team to do that.
Licence to Kill is the 16th film in the franchise and audience expectation to see a good popcorn flick with plenty of fun action is set in. The filmmakers made an effort to fulfill that in spite of a stagnate budget. The money allotted for making a Bond film in the ’80s remained the same and it showed by 1989. With the rising costs, they were forced to film in only two… TWO locations. Florida and Mexico City. Still, they put together some great action sequences, one involving Bond hijacking a plane from a helicopter in mid-air, and the last third of the film sports some excellent stunt work involving semi trucks dodging missiles on nine wheels.
This contrasts with Dalton who, if he was having fun, did not look like it. There is not one big mistake he makes as Bond that sticks out. It is really the subtle way how he carries himself as the character. There is one scene where Sanchez lays out a pressed suit for him to wear to dinner. Dalton comes down the stairs disheveled, wearing only the slacks and shirt. The top two buttons on the shirt are undone and sleeves are rolled up. His appearance does not say, “I’m ready to match wits with a master criminal”, but says “I’m ready to order a hamburger at the drive thru.”
I do appreciate some of Dalton’s thought process. He and Davi wanted the hero and the villain to be “reflections of each other”. A theme that Fleming hinted at often in his novels. Instead of Bond using brute force as he normally does, he sabotages Sanchez’s operation from the inside with deceit and doubt. Bond frames people in Sanchez’s organization, making it appear that the villain is being manipulated by those who are close to him.
It is a cool idea, but the flaw is Sanchez comes off as too gullible (dumb) to be the head of a major drug cartel. All Bond has to do is plant some money in the right spot, and suddenly Sanchez is torturing his long time associate with sharks. Sanchez doesn’t even think to question the new guy, who he knows as a former British spy. It may sound like a nitpick, but the film spends a lot of time with these two going back and forth.
Now for the continuing competition with my wife, Sarah, to guess how long it would take Bond to first get laid during each of these films. This time, Sarah got snake eyes when rolling the dice! This meant I had to decide if Bond would get laid “over” or “under” 11 minutes. I went with over and easily strolled my way to another point as Timmy did not seal any deals until 57 minutes in.
Point goes to Mars-Man!
Sarah – 8
Mars – 4
Dalton is not entirely responsible for the failures in Licence To Kill. A stronger script could have helped him out much like how George Lazenby was aided by the strong writing for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Here… oof. Bond is stuck in a love triangle with two woman he has no chemistry with, Wayne Newton is the film’s comic relief without any jokes, and Sanchez’s entire base of operations is burned down after Bond sets off a small kitchen fire.
Still, Dalton needed to read the room better. After the first two films in the series, Goldfinger shifted the franchise from spy thriller to pure male power fantasy. The actor in the role of Bond at the time, Sean Connery, was able to adapt to this change. He delivered one liners and was suave while doing it. Dalton may have lacked the same skill but he knew the drill. These films are set to thrill with no room to chill.