With Timothy Dalton firmly in the role of James Bond, the screenwriters knew what kind of stories they could work on. The Living Daylights had returned the thrills back to the franchise, and Dalton was obviously up for something a little darker. So inspired by some action movies of the day, the crew took a chance with a story that was a little out of the normal frame for a James Bond flick. How did the gamble work out?
British secret agent James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is trying to get his old pal Felix Leiter (David Hedison) to the church on time for his wedding to the lovely Della (Priscilla Barnes). But things don’t go as planned when they take a quick detour to catch the international drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). After nabbing the baddie and tying the knot, Felix is ready for a nice honeymoon.
That’s when Sanchez escapes, kills Della and horribly maims Felix. The authorities in the US have their hands tied. Sanchez is untouchable in his base of operations in Isthmus City. But Bond is angry and is determined to avenge the Leiters. M (Robert Brown) tries to rein him in, but nothing doing. Bond joins forces with the lovely Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) to bring Sanchez down. But does Bond have a hope in hell with his Licence to Kill revoked and an army standing between him and the target?
- Dalton is excellent in a script tailored to his strengths
- Davi makes a great villain
- The truck chase is one of the best in the entire franchise
- May stray too far from traditional Bond stories and tone for some
- The lack of obvious humor will leave some viewers cold
- That title song is one of the least impressive of the bunch
I enjoy this film every time revisit it. No it isn’t like any of the other Bond films in the original continuity, but it is that unique feel and tone that makes it a great watch. The action scenes are solid, the thrills are genuine, and the acting between Dalton and Davi crackles. Ends the 1980s Bond flicks on a high note.
Scores (out of 5)
In Depth Review
|Licence revoked? Really M, is that the best you can do?|
Licence to Kill is a top-notch thriller with some great action and solid acting by the leads. It’s got its flaws, and it never quite reaches the pinnacle of the Bond series. However, it was a excellent attempt to take James Bond into a new direction, something that wouldn’t happen until 2006 with Casino Royale.
|One of several impressive stunt sequences in the film.|
Of key importance are the action scenes. Glen brought a real sense of explosive action to the James Bond flicks, and he doesn’t skimp in this film. The pre-credit sequence that involves a mid-air hijack is a real hoot. Then there’s Bond’s daring escape from the ship, the Wavecrest, which has him underwater, and then skiing behind a plane without any water-skis. But the winner is the incredible truck chase sequence. Sure, it feels a bit like a nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it manages to do some very unique things with the tanker trucks, and pulls off some stunts that I have never seen duplicated before or since. It leads to a wonderful finale that pits Bond against Sanchez, literally mano a mano.
To keep up with the top-notch action scenes you need some top quality sound. You get it with plenty of booming explosions and ricocheting bullets. There’s also quite a bit of underwater action in the film, which causes its own set of sound challenges. Lots of use of silence, bubbles and splashing keep us tied to the thrills.
|And featuring Wayne Newton. Yes. Wayne. Newton.|
Gladys Knight performs the title song for Licence to Kill. It has a very late 80s adult contemporary feel to it. It’s an interesting choice, one that pulls away from the poppy sounds of Duran Duran and a-Ha. But the song is too leisurely and sedate to really work with the film. I’m surprised they didn’t go for a more Latin sounding tune to match the locale of the film. For the end title theme, Patty LaBelle sings, “if You Asked Me to”. It is a decent enough song, but one that would be made famous by Celine Dion a few years later. Kamen was brought in late on the film, so he had no input on the sound of either of the tunes. But he had worked (and would work) with pop and rock artists on projects, so it wouldn’t have been new territory for him. It’s a shame we didn’t get to hear what he could have come up with.
|Bond and weddings just never work out.|
The script allows us to see many sides to Bond. Obviously the first scenes show him at ease with his friends, and enjoying the wedding. But once Sanchez escapes and unleashes his vengeance, we see a side of the character we’d never seen before. James Bond loses control. The rage, frustration and boiling anger are simmering just below the surface for the first half of the film. Dalton is actually pretty intimidating in these scenes, and it makes perfect sense that M revokes his Licence to Kill. It isn’t until Bond sees the impact of his relentless and thoughtless pursuit that he is able to channel that anger. Suddenly the cool professional is back, and Bond is back in control (for the most part). He’s still very angry, but Dalton shows that the reins are clearly back on and the focus is on getting to and destroying Sanchez.
|Sanchez is so confident that he confronts Bond in a|
|"But James I have no idea what the point of my|
|Q and Pam doubt the veracity of your claim.|
One of the main complaints I see about this film is that it does not feel like a James Bond film. I can understand why some viewers feel this way. It was obviously inspired more by Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and Miami Vice than any of the traditional spy films. One of the main elements of those series is that the main hero is not infallible. I think that is one of the reasons some folks just don’t like this movie. James Bond makes mistakes, gets beaten up and actually ends up dirty and bloody by the end. But that is the point of the story, to show that Bond cannot loose his cool if he is to succeed in his work. Dalton’s performance helps underline this element of the script.
|The truck chase if filled with exciting and impressive|
In 1989 folks weren’t ready for that. A lot of Bond fans still lamented that Pierce Brosnan didn’t’ get the role. The shadow of Roger Moore’s lighter approach to the character loomed large over the franchise. And while the script was intriguing, it was too bloated with other elements that weren’t needed. Removing the subplot with the Chinese agents, the cover operation using the religious cult and even the character of Lupe could have brought the running time down on this movie, and turned it into a lean mean ass kicking machine. Instead, the film drags a bit in places and feels like it is spinning its wheels.
|Pam revokes Newton's licence to sing.|
It’s a shame really, because the movie ended up being one of the worst performing Bond films, and it really didn’t deserve that title. Dalton was often blamed for the poor performance of the film, and folks seemed quick to dismiss his two films once Goldeneye hit.
|Timothy Dalton had a rough time with "true" Bond fans.|
But time has shown his films were some of the best.