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
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