Direcetor John Glen
Stars Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Desmond Llewelyn
Things You Might Like
- Exciting and violent revenge story
- Bond at his limits
- Understated but impressive action sequences
- Best actor in the role of 007
- Seeing Q worry about Bond
Things You Might Not Like
- Huge departure from the series
- A man’s head explodes
- Quite a bit of swearing
- Terrible rear projection
- You might forget it’s a Bond film
Licence to Kill is a gritty, violent and enthralling action film about revenge. Timothy Dalton pushes Bond further than any other actor before or since.
4 out of 5 Radio Brooms
Luke McGrath will return in Goldeneye
Picking off where The Living Daylights left off, Licence to Kill is another gritty and violent entry in the James Bond series. So gritty and violence that the film earned a 15 certificate, the only such rating in the franchise (to put that in perspective the saluted return to grit of Casino Royale was a mere 12 rating). Most criticism of the film rests on the departure it makes in tone and style from the series before it. Though there is an undoubted leap, it’s not for the worse and while it may have alienated some fans it produced one of the better 007 movies.
The series’ style has always been in flux since Connery morphed from cool-as-ice hitman to smirky-diamond-chaser. The same arrows aimed at Licence to Kill were first brought out for George Lazenby’s more thoughtful and tragic incarnation. Even Moore, despite many views to the contrary, produced some serious films in the midst of all the double-taking pigeons. Dalton adapted Bond when it needed him most and took to the character so much that he progressed from one film to the next. His was a continuation of an existing thread, his move was simply judged too extreme to still be the ‘ideal’ Bond that fans crave – probably the one in Goldfinger.
Despite being hampered by not being Goldfinger, Licence to Kill is both a brilliant action film and one of the most important films in the franchise. Parallels between Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby come easily as they are actors who brought the most to the role in the least amount of time. Both made films considered to be better than most other Bonds, but all their films sit uneasily within the series. While On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS) was the best film to be called a Bond, it couldn’t be the best Bond and neither can Licence to Kill. Taken out of context it is a perfect action film, as good as Batman or The Last Crusade that it tangled with at the box office in 1989.
Within the series, Licence to Kill develops Bond more than any other film since OHMSS. Again, the similarities are stark. We are reminded of Bond’s former wife when close friend Felix Leiter’s new bride is murdered on honeymoon. Felix himself is half eaten by a shark and Bond swears revenge at any cost. This is Bond’s rage over Saunders in Daylights writ a thousand times larger across his face. It’s a story that only Dalton could have pulled off, his concentrated rage and merciless kills show Bond on the very edge. While fans largely rejected the performance, it is a vital addition to the character of James Bond.
The story itself revolves around the aforementioned crimes against the Leiters and Bond’s quest to bring drug lord Franz Sanchez to justice. Starting off on the mission, Bond resigns from MI6 after being assigned another case by M. He pursues a chain of henchmen en route to the top of Sanchez’ operation. The plot is simple, revenge or death. It’s great to see Bond working on his own time and not the company’s, allowing him a freedom to meddle across borders and within the huge organisation Sanchez has built up to protect himself.
Support for Bond is mixed, while M almost has him shot (only deferring agents because it’s too public), Moneypenny keeps track of him through her contacts and arranges for Q to visit him in the field. It is Q’s presence alone that renders the film part of the franchise for the second and third acts. His bravery, stubbornness and care for Bond are the first moments of character in nearly thirty years (discounting his wheezing in The Living Daylights). Of course he still gets to tell 007 to
pay attention. Also on-side is one of Leiter’s informants Pam Bouvier, a gun carrying pilot whose usefulness is almost the best in the series. Her refusal to leave Bond proves vital and Carey Lowell brings a largely convincing edge to her actions.
It’s not all darkness, though Dalton has clearly cut out most of the wise-cracking in light of the personal nature of the mission. There’s one
he came to a dead end but it’s spat out with grim pleasure at an enemy’s demise rather than to pass the time. One of the better lines comes as Pam saves Bond from being crushed only to ask if he’s ok.
Turn the bloody machine off comes the anxious reply.
While Licence to Kill is an excellent action film, it often struggles to retain enough of Bond. Much of this is due to the nature of the story and the pain driving 007 forward. Dalton’s misery at the end of a battle against Sanchez is perfectly acted and a haunting reminder that while Bond and Leiter go on, their wives remain buried. Yet this moment is a long way from the Bond we know.
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