License to Kill brought gritty realism to James Bond

After 60 years, 25 films and 6 leading men, the james bond The franchise has been one of constant reinventions from era to era. Of Sean ConneryThe suave and debonair beginnings of the character in the 1960s for Daniel CraigA cooler portrayal of the iconic 21st century spy, the long-running film series has given viewers a variety of stylistic tones and aesthetics. Roger MooreThe performances of took the character in a lighter, more comedic direction that bordered on self-parody at times, giving viewers seven films that were a welcome breath of fresh air. When Pierce Brosnan took over, his approach to Bond struck a happy medium between Moore’s playfulness and Connery’s confident stoicism, bringing the franchise a healthy balance of reverence and fun. Part of what has made the series of films so unique and endearing over the decades is its ability to allow for different performative interpretations by a handful of actors, each of whom have put their personal stamp on Bond and left an indelible impression on audiences. in its own way. .


One of the most underrated portrayals of James Bond was that of Timothy Dalton. First appearance in 1987 Living daylights and ending its run just two years later, the British actor’s brief stint as a secret agent brought to the franchise a cold, hard insensitivity that had never been seen before. Dalton ditched his predecessor’s campy humor in favor of returning the character to Ian Flemingits darker and more brooding literary roots. Her portrait found a particularly unique blend of tone and material on its second outing, License to kill, which still remains a singular entry in the film series. Ahead of its time in presenting a vision of Bond highlighted by an increased level of violence and a stripped-back simplicity regarding character and narrative, the 1989 film imbued the series with a gritty realism, making it a outlier at the time but also an example of the path the franchise would take in later years.

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A vengeful rogue agent

License to kill opens with James Bond and his friend and confidant, DEA agent Felix Leiter, capturing notorious drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert David). After escaping from custody, Sanchez murders Leiter’s wife and maims the agent with the help of a hungry shark, subsequently fleeing and continuing to work on his criminal enterprise. Determined to avenge the atrocities committed against one of his closest allies, Bond finds himself cutting through the red tape of bureaucracy, eventually defying the orders of his superiors and going rogue on a self-proclaimed mission after his titular authority is revoked. .

The film represented a significant departure from the series’ traditional formula in several respects. Bond’s decision to go rogue with a personal vendetta marked a new kind of mission for the secret agent, who in previous films usually had to work within the confines of MI6 and on behalf of his rigid boss, Mr. As that loose cannon operating outside the conventional wisdom and parameters of his craft, he was suddenly granted a newfound and unfettered sense of freedom in pursuit of his enemy, beholden to no one and playing by his own rules. This unique situation allows for an emotional exploration of the character that was previously largely untouched. His pursuit of Sanchez is personal, not commercial, and this dynamic gives Dalton an opportunity to show performative strength in portraying Bond not as a professional, but as a man shirking traditional ethics and norms by asking justice for his friend at all costs.

A largely humorless story with a ruthless villain

In 1989, the audience was just one film removed from Roger Moore’s era as James Bond. Undoubtedly a talented actor whose portrayal of Bond has brought viewers some of the series’ most memorable and entertaining films, Moore has strayed considerably from the initial sentiment established by Sean Connery’s earlier films. While Connery’s films weren’t completely devoid of humor and levity, they paled in comparison to the amount of tongue-in-cheek gags and pun-oriented zingers that dominated Moore’s films. Once he left the role and Timothy Dalton took over, Bond films saw a sharp decline in comic relief and opted for a more reality-based approach to storytelling, peppered with darker undertones. which underscored the dramatic and dangerous nature of the events the characters faced.

What also separates the film from its predecessors is the nature of its villain. Franz Sanchez has no intention of taking over the world or deploying some kind of high-tech futuristic technology that threatens to spell doom for millions. While he’s as ruthless and ruthless as they come, sending several people to their deaths in various ways and inflicting torturous treatment on one of the film’s leading ladies, Lupe (Talisa Soto), his motivations revolve around the very real and treacherous world of the drug trade. He has his archetypal henchman, including a young Benicio del Toro like the sadistic Dario, but isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty dispatching his enemies and doesn’t make big speeches to Bond about the nature of what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. Instead, he embodies a simple but daunting characterization of the evil that exists as a force of human nature, concerned only with getting its product to potential buyers around the world and taking in shiploads of cash, no matter who or what stands in his way.

Extend PG-13 rating

What most distinguishes this Bond film from all others, before and perhaps even since, is the level of violence it employs. The first in the series to receive a PG-13 rating, License to kill ups the ante in terms of the brutality and downright petty nature of some of its characters. Consequently, this forces Bond to increase his own ruthless behavior by pursuing justice for his friend and thwarting Sanchez’s criminal enterprise. Among Bond, Sanchez, and some particularly unhinged henchmen, the film depicts a number of violent moments that still raise eyebrows and drop the jaws of casual viewers to this day.

In the pre-title sequence, Sanchez finds Lupe in bed with a random man and, through the implication of a single line of dialogue, her henchmen kill and remove the man’s heart (albeit off-screen) as Sanchez beats her with a whip. Whether it’s a nasty, overly violent introduction to the villain, it immediately lets the audience know what kind of man Bond will be up against and establishes a level of threat that lingers throughout. the length of the movie. Another act of savagery is Sanchez’s maiming of Bond’s ally Felix Leiter, which kicks off the agent’s mission in the first place. After being lowered waist-deep into the water, the helpless Leiter has his legs eaten away by a shark. While the character survives and is ultimately avenged, the sequence is nonetheless one of the most exciting moments in franchise history.

Perhaps even more shocking are the deaths of henchmen Milton Krest, Dario and Heller. The first is presented by Bond as intent on stealing millions from Sanchez, only to find himself thrown into a decompression chamber and the end result is, for lack of a better term, explosive. Towards the film’s climactic action sequence, Benicio Del Toro’s Dario has a bloody run-in with an industrial crusher, and Heller, attempting to double-cross Sanchez, eventually ends up on the wrong side of a forklift (leading to one of the rare puns by Dalton like Bond). In the film’s thrilling finale, which sees practical effects and incredible stunts as tractor-trailers smash through mountainous desert roads, the drug kingpin gets his well-deserved reward when Bond, in a hint of ironically, sets his nemesis into a blazing fire using a lighter that Leiter (pun intended?) gave him at the start of the film. While gruesome deaths have been a relatively common feature of James Bond films, License to kill certainly introduced viewers to a heightened level of violence never seen on the show, and, looking back, it’s a little surprising to realize that the film earned a PG-13 rating from the MPAA.

A preview of things to come

Released on July 14, 1989, to mixed reviews and the lowest box office take of any Bond film, the latter of which can be attributed to a summer release slate heavily saturated with blockbuster fare, License to kill was followed by a then-record six-year break in the franchise. At the time, some of the most negative receptions centered on the film’s violent content and the serious approach Dalton brought to the character, but the passage of time has been favorable to the change in tonal dynamics of the episode and to the reinterpretation of its intrepid hero. . While Pierce Brosnan’s subsequent tenure as Bond brought the franchise back to a level of high popularity and mainstream appeal that had waned with Dalton’s two films, and even some of Roger Moore’s, it would only be in 2006. Casino Royale that viewers would catch a glimpse of the character reminiscent of Dalton’s portrayal. Cold, brooding and possessing a similarly steely gaze, Daniel Craig’s Bond was a ruthless return to form. The reboot threw away many of the tropes that increasingly permeated Brosnan’s films, which had peaked with the 2002 movies. die another day relying excessively on silly gimmicks, infamously awful visual effects, and a villainous ploy that got into mockery-worthy territory.

A little like License to kill, Casino Royale took the series back to the drawing board, stripping down the character and his exploits into a more raw and straightforward depiction of a world recognizable to audiences. In the vein of Franz Sanchez, the villainous Le Chiffre in Craig’s debut was a more pragmatic match for the spy and, while not particularly interested in global chaos, was primarily concerned with monetary gain through the international arms trade. . Craig, like Dalton, kept the humor sparse and instead focused on a darker, tougher take on the beloved character. Like all leading men before him, Craig’s run as James Bond had its ups and downs, but was overall emblematic of an approach and tone that hadn’t been set. in theaters since Dalton’s turn on its second release. Although some audiences might not have been ready for the kind of Bond adventure they got when License to kill Released theatrically, it was undeniably a film that gave some insight into where the franchise was headed years later.

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