A review of Licence To Kill


Licence To Kill divides Bond fans perhaps more than any other film in the series. I know people who think it is the best James Bond film ever, and I know people who think it is the worst James Bond film ever. It is generally seen as the death-knell for Dalton's Bond and a bust, but it should be remembered that the film did good business outside of the US and Dalton would certainly have returned for a third and possibly fourth had the litigation problems not occurred.

The pre-credit sequence is not the most spectacular in Bond history but it does an excellent job in conveying the friendship between Bond and Leiter and introduces Sanchez as a menacing and physical villain with a sadistic streak. Again, Timothy Dalton is in the thick of the stunts which always makes the whole thing more believable. His capture of Sanchez and parachute jump with Leiter is a lot of fun. We also get our first glimpse of Lupe Lamora; and ex-model Talisa Soto does a creditable job throughout the film. Maurice Binder's title sequence was his best for years and Gladys Knight's theme remains completely under-rated.

The wedding sequence gives Dalton his lightest scenes of the film. Hedison is a bit old to reprise the Leiter role, but he is likeable enough and he and Dalton have a believable friendship onscreen. Killifer's springing of Sanchez underwater is a nice set-piece and veteran Anthony Zerbe is well cast as Milton Crest (LTK's casting is often disparaged but I think it was reasonably spot-on. We also meet Dario for the first time, an early role for Benicio Del Torro). Dalton's reluctant acceptance of the garter is a touching moment. Timothy was considered for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, so it isn't too much of a stretch to believe he lost his wife "a long time ago" as a young agent.

Leiter's introduction to a shark is one of the grisliest scenes in the series. It's not hard to see why the film earned a dreaded 15 certificate in the UK. Dalton's grief on finding him and Della is a tad overwrought and Michael Kamen (like David Arnold in Tommoerow Never Dies) is OTT in a sombre scene.
Dalton is however excellent in his encounter with Krest and his cold blooded killing of Killifer is Dalton Bond at his most ruthless. Bond then punches his way out of a meeting with M. Some dislike the scene, but I think it works. Clearly Bond expected to be restrained at any moment, so his actions were just about believable. It's also great to see 007 do some detective work when he breaks into Leiter's office to check for contacts on his computer.

The 'bar-room' brawl is one scene that seems a bit out of place, although Dalton and Lowell project a plausible fondness and chemistry when Pam's speedboat runs out of gas. Bond's subsequent infiltration of the Wavecrest may be the moment when some fans decided Dalton was taking the whole thing a bit too seriously - although the 'Raiders' style sea-boat escape is highly enjoyable.

Unlike The World Is Not Enough and GoldenEye, the Casino scenes look lavish in Licence To Kill. Anthony Starke is well-cast as Truman Lodge, a bright young thing on the Sanchez payroll and Wayne Newton gets most of the film's laughs as fake Evangalist Joe Butcher. Bond's first meeting with Sanchez is well-acted by both men and, no, I have no idea what the hairdressing dept were thinking with Dalton's barnet either.

The introduction of Q is very welcome and his finest hour. Bond's assassination attempt is a bit drawn out but his discovery by Hong Kong narcotics and then Sanchez' private army leads to some of the most atmospheric scenes in the film. "Piss off!" is a very Dalton Bond moment. A disoriented 007 wakes up in the palatial residence of his target and there is a short but well-acted scene between the two of them outside. Dalton is a believable 'person' who we can also accept as James Bond here. A very difficult thing to accomplish.

Bond's escape is great because it really is Timothy Dalton hanging onto the side of Lupe's speedboat. He confronts Pam who reveals that Heller had done a deal to retrieve some stinger missiles and Bond has just buggered it all up. I like that about Dalton's Bond. He is genuinely in situations beyond his control sometimes and out of his depth. With Pam's aid Bond slips aboard the Wavecrest and plants money in the decompression chamber. Crest joins it when Sanchez throws him in there. Cue one of the nastiest deaths in the series and the best line in the film from Robert Davi.

Back at the Sanchez residence Bond is rewarded for his tip and taken to the Olimpatec Meditation Institute which is a front for the drugs factory. Bond is recognised by Dario from the bar-room brawl but 007 headbutts (!) him and starts a fire in the volatile chemical lab. Sanchez puts Bond on a conveyor belt and Dalton does a good job when he buys time by tipping him off about Heller and the stingers. Heller's fate is sealed but Pam arrives just in time to save Bond.

The tank-chase is, I think, an original and grand finale. Dalton does some great stuntwork as Pam flies overhead in a crop-dusting plane. The effects team must have had both a field-day and a headache in producing the extraordinary explosions required for several tankers going up. Sanchez meets a nasty end and it is astonishing to see Timothy Dalton himself running away in close proximity to a frightening series of explosions. At the end of the film Bond shuns Lupe and jumps in a swimming pool with Pam as the Dalton era draws to a premature close.

Overall I think Licence To Kill is more interesting than any of the films produced for Brosnan. The film gets better as it goes on and the second half is excellent. Robert Davi is the last truly memorable Bond villain to date and Timothy Dalton's take on Bond was brave (if ultimately unpalatable for some) after the Roger Moore years. He was a bridge between two more popular Bonds but played his part in bringing the series back down to earth.

The faults are Michael Kamen's generic action score and the static US/Latin setting. Both contribute to the film feeling less like a Bond film than other series entries. A bit more humour would have helped too. It's a shame that Dalton wasn't able to have one more stab at the role in 1991. A more conventional Bond film with a slightly more fantastical edge and a bit more humour may have served him better than one would think. Like Lazenby he remains unappreciated.

- Michael Cooper


c 2006 Alternative 007