Licence To Kill Review

Timothy Dalton, James Bond

"Compliments of Sharkey!"

Licence To Kill was released in 1989 and was the second and final film to feature Timothy Dalton as James Bond. The film was more violent than previous films and featured the first script to be tailored for Timothy Dalton's more restrained and realistic approach to the character. The film sank in the crowded US market of that summer and left a cloud over the series. When it resumed again in the nineties, Pierce Brosnan was Bond and Timothy Dalton quickly became the forgotten man. A case can be made however for Dalton being an interesting and very underrated James Bond. While not flawless by any means, Licence To Kill stands up against any of the James Bond films that have been produced since 1989.

Licence To Kill pushes Bond even further away from the comic tone of Roger Moore's tenure than Dalton's 1987 debut in The Living Daylights. Dalton was more human (for James Bond) and faced more real world and topical threats in his two films. In Licence To Kill Bond seeks revenge on Franz Sanchez, a Drug Baron, and ruler of a fictional Latin American country. The film begins with Bond at the wedding of his CIA friend Felix Leiter and Leiter's bride to be, Della. This pre-title sequence does a good job in establishing the sense of adventure and friendship they share when they go after Sanchez's private plane in a DEA Helicopter and capture him. 
Robert Davi, James Bond

Sanchez is rescued by Frogmen when his Prison van is hijacked and forced into the sea,  and then he extracts his revenge on Leiter. In an uncommonly violent scene for a James Bond film, Sanchez feeds Leiter to a shark. Leiter survives but his wife Della is murdered. Bond then goes nuts, resigns from MI6 and pursues Sanchez, eventually (with shades of 'Yojimbo') establishing himself within the drug Baron's organisation in order to attempt to destroy it...

After beginning the film in Miami, Licence To Kill is set for the most part in Sanchez's fictional country. The film was shot in Mexico rather than Pinewood/Europe and the lack of the usual globetrotting locations does give the film a different and perhaps more restricted atmosphere than other Bond films. This is one criticism levelled at the film, the others being Timothy Dalton's serious treatment of the role, with extra violence (LTK earned a 15 certificate in the UK) and less humour, and the topical plot and villain, replete with palatial mansions over swimming pools with casual clothes and cardigans. To some eyes Licence To kill was a bit too earnest and seemed to be influenced by the hit television show of the time 'Miami Vice'. One of the charms of the Bond films is that each of them is dressed up in the fashions of the time they were made in and Licence To Kill's eighties feel is not a major problem for me because I'm aware that the film was made in 1988/89! As for Miami Vice, despite the Florida location work, Drug Baron, and abundance of speedboats, Licence To Kill is still closer to Ian Fleming than Don Johnson in a pastel suit.
James Bond
The increased violence (Bond shoots someone with a spear gun, Leiter is fed to a shark, Sanchez puts someone in a decompression chamber etc) reflects the era the film was made in. The eighties was a violent period for action films and Licence To Kill was clearly an attempt to make Bond more hard-edged and dangerous in the face of hit films like Die Hard, Predator and Lethal Weapon. For some people Licence To Kill didn't feel much like a James Bond film. I don't entirely agree with that view but I can sympathise with it because 2006's Casino Royale felt bugger all like a James Bond film to me.

The unvaried locations and atmosphere are not greatly helped by Michael Kamen's score which lacks punch. John Barry declined to return after The Living Daylights and you simply can't replace a John Barry. Whoever you get in is going to suffer from the comparison. In my opinion however, Licence To Kill's flaws and grumbles are offset by the fact that the film is well made, often very stylish and a lot of fun once it gets going.

Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto, a slight twist on the usual Good Girl/Bad Girl Bond tradition are well cast as the love interests for Bond. Both girls were models but did well enough to make a full time move into acting. Davi is great as Sanchez, an unpredictable and often menacing villain and the supporting cast features the likes of Anthony Zerbe and a young Benicio del Toro. The role of Q was very wisely expanded and he provides much needed humour and lightness when he joins Bond in the field.

There are stunts galore, with scuba-diving, sharks, a Raiders Of The Lost Ark inspired flying boat sequence, an expensive looking casino scene and a wonderful and explosive climax featuring several fuel laden Tanker trucks. The much maligned Mr Dalton is visible in several dangerous looking situations and must be credited for his willingness to do as much stuntwork as possible. Dalton's Bond swears, smokes, bleeds, makes mistakes, has a bad hair day, and yet, remains Bond.  Dalton could use subtext and in a moment near the beginning of the film he is forced to accept a garter from Della who informs him that he'll be the next to marry now. We know that Bond's wife was murdered by Blofeld in the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Dalton accepts the garter and with one outwardly polite but strained smile conveys this information. Sanchez's decision to attack Felix and Della on their wedding day makes it all the more personal for Bond.
James Bond

I can understand Licence To Kill being one of the more divisive films in the series but I would defend the film as one of the more inspired and interesting. I think Dalton was underrated and Licence To Kill is quite simply an excellent and entertaining film. There are faults, as I've mentioned, but overall the film is more than the sum of its parts in contrast to many other Bonds where the contrast is true. You do care about Bond and Pam as they go after Sanchez and it was a nice touch to highlight the affection that Q and Moneypenny feel for Bond. Both try to support him despite his resignation. I liked many of the other touches, such as Sanchez using a TV evangelist as a front for his Drugs Empire. US singer Wayne Newton has a lot of fun with this supporting role.

The older Bond films, by that I suppose I mean pre-Brosnan, seem to be more cohesive and a bit more solid to me than the post Cubby Broccoli efforts. The relationship between the plot and the inevitable action seems less jarring and more skillfully meshed.

Licence To Kill was, for its time, a radical if doomed attempt to shake up the franchise. To be honest though, I've never had too many problems enjoying the film for its mixture of stunts, sharks, girls, tanker trucks, explosions, and cardigans. It features a Bond that I have a great deal of time for and has, despite its 'gritty' reputation, several good lines and laughs.



c 2008 Alternative 007