Director: John Glen
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, David Hedison, Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Zerbe, Desmond Llewelyn, Don Stroud, Anthony Stark, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Robert Brown, Priscilla Barnes, Caroline Bliss
Plot: On his wedding day, Felix Leiter (Hedison) takes down a major drug lord (Davi), making him the target of the cartel. However, the cartel doesn’t realise they are provoking the attention of a certain British spy…
Licence to Kill is one of my favourite Bond movies. The diehard fans don’t think too much of it, saying that James Bond is losing track of its formula. Licence to Kill is the first movie not to based on a book (which means little to me, because the films hardly stuck to the books’ plots!), causing suggestions that the producers were running out of ideas. The usual mastermind with a world domination scheme is replaced with a grittier villain. The bad guy here is Robert Davi’s ruthless Columbian drug lord and in many ways, he is without an actual plot. He is just a nasty bloke that Bond ends up deciding that he needs to take down. It gives Licence to Kill the impression that it is less a Bond movie and more of a stereotypical 80s action movie. Personally I think this is actually a good thing. Veteran Bond director Glen strips away the camp fun that Moore’s run revelled in and changes the game up, so it suits Dalton’s interpretation of the character better. It also means that non Bond fans can have fun with this movie. It really does feel like a movie ripped right out of the 80s, but with that additional 007 flare and sophistication that takes it to the next level. Bond destroys a drug supply in a drop-off scene that sees him water-skiing onto a plane. The action is beautifully choreographed and the finale to this one could be my favourite ending to a Bond ever. It is essentially a long chase sequence, featuring gasoline tankers, and Glen throws every trick in the book at it, right to the poetic final lines. Rarely do I have this much fun with a Bond. Yes, I recognise the handful of flaws, like an over-abundance of supporting cast and perhaps a weak character written for Talisa Soto, who is little more than a gangster’s moll. But Licence to Kill is played so fast, those small downsides never linger.
Sometimes, Licence to Kill even feels closer to what James Bond should be. The second half of the film sees Bond undercover as an international assassin, interested in working for the drug cartel. Bond has done undercover work continuously throughout the franchise, but here, he takes it to another level. As Robert Davi’s Sanchez puts trust in Bond, James uses this to turn the bad guy against his own henchmen. Seeing as Bond is meant to be hilariously outnumbered and without back-up in this one, it works really well. He rarely kills any of the supporting bad guys, choosing to let Sanchez destroy his own organisation from the inside out. It feels more of an intelligent way for Bond to go about his business, rather than blowing hideouts up to see where that line of enquiry takes him (although Bond does his fair share of that in this movie as well). Hell, we could even go as far as saying that Bond is actually doing some more stereotypical spy work, something that seemed to have been dropped since Sean Connery bowed out of the game. There is one brutal moment I have missed the last few times I have watched this movie and that is where Bond sells out an undercover spy hidden in Sanchez’s group to get closer to the villain. It is easily breezed over, but it is a chilling moment where it becomes very clear how cold-hearted and determined Bond really is.
That is another reason Licence to Kill feels more important than the usual Bond movies. There is actually a lot of character development in this movie, something that we don’t see too much in the middle chapters of the series. The plot to this movie is Bond reacting to an attempted assassination on his best friend and we see the spy act out of passion and anger, rather than a duty for his country. This means that Timothy Dalton finally gets to dive into a performance of such, relishing the chance to do more than keep things ticking over like we could argue he was asked to do in ‘The Living Daylights’. There are several moments in this movie where we feel that we are watching the man behind the armour and by the end of this movie, you feel closer to James Bond than you have ever felt before. I am not saying that I feel that this should be a regular feature in the Bond franchise, but while most fans say that they miss the usual Bond action, I think that this is a nice one-off break away from a tired routine. Other characters get a chance to do more than show up. David Hediman returns as Felix Leiter and he gets to do much more than deliver exposition, actually striking some important emotional resonance into proceedings. Even Q gets to handle more material than usual, giving Desmond Llewelyn a chance to have some fun.
Final Verdict: Licence to Kill is always a fun Bond for me to come back to, boasting explosive action, shocking plot developments and some unexpected character arcs.
This is one of my favorite Bond films. After Roger Moore, it was so realistic and gritty, and I loved how Carey Lowell, while still sexy, was authentic and convincing. You listed off a bunch of reasons why this is a better Bond film, despite detractors who claim otherwise. Nice write up! I’m with you – Four Stars
I’ve always been a huge fan of this one, especially because of Carey Lowell (Mrs. Richard Gere) 🙂
Nice review Luke!