CAST: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Benicio del Toro, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Wayne Newton, Anthony Starke, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., David Hedison, Priscilla Barnes, Don Stroud, Grand L. Bush, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Christopher Neame, Rafer Johnson, Diana Lee Hsu
RUNNING TIME: 133 mins
BASICALLY…: After a close associate is left for dead, James Bond (Dalton) goes rogue on a personal mission to get revenge…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With No Time To Die being pushed back all the way to November, the world needs its fix of Ian Fleming’s ace secret agent to tide them over until then. That’s why, every week until it finally comes out, we’re going to be taking a look at each previous movie in the series to see if, and how, they hold up today.
This week, Timothy Dalton’s all-too-brief run as James Bond comes to a close with Licence to Kill, perhaps the most hardcore entry yet – and the BBFC officially made it so, since it’s to date the only Bond film to receive a 15 certificate. It definitely earns that adult rating with some of the series’ most intense violence, but it also marks the furthest that the series has steered yet from its formula, and just like The Living Daylights it’s a high-octane step in the right direction.
Dalton’s Bond is pushed further than he ever has before when his good friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison) is extremely injured by ruthless and powerful drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), who has also ordered the murder of Felix’s new wife (which, on a side note, seems like a bad idea to get married in the Bond universe anyway, given the ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; even the wedding in Live and Let Die was rudely interrupted during that boat chase). Bond is eager to find Sanchez and exact revenge, but MI6 refuses to back his personal vendetta, causing Bond to go rogue and go after him on his own, accompanied only by pilot Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell). As he manages to slowly integrate himself into Sanchez’s business operations, Bond must also battle corrupt agents and several henchmen – among them a young Benicio del Toro, in one of his first movie appearances – before he can even get within inches of his target.
As a hot-blooded revenge thriller, Licence to Kill is unapologetic in its roughness; people are brutally shot and killed, others have their legs chomped off by sharks, and not even one of the film’s main Bond girls is safe from being whipped on their lower back. It’s the sort of stuff you’d see in a Lethal Weapon movie or one of the early Die Hard flicks as opposed to a James Bond film, which on the one hand makes it understandable why people at the time didn’t exactly warm to it at first – after all, audiences weren’t used to seeing one of these movies, let alone Bond himself, get so violent and unpleasant – but in the kind of story it sets up, and especially with the villains that it introduces you to, going the extra mile feels all the more necessary in order to see them get what they deserve. The minute you meet Robert Davi’s sneering and arrogant Sanchez, who’s like the most sinister Miami Vice villain you’ve ever seen, you want Bond to absolutely tear this guy to shreds, because the film does a solid job at making him seem so intimidating but also incredibly evil, more so than many of the other disposable Bond villains that have come and gone in this series. When you see the extreme levels he will go in order to make everything fall in his court, it becomes entirely understandable why Bond – and by extension the movie itself – has to go just as far, if not more so, just to keep up with him. In that regard, the movie and its ramped-up violence feels like the right choice to make.
Once again, Dalton absolutely rocks the part, retaining the steely-eyed intensity that earned him several points in The Living Daylights, but here also adding a significant amount of emotional vulnerability that calls back to George Lazenby’s more sympathetic turn. The movie ensures Bond spends enough time with Felix and his new bride to where you completely understand their relationship, and why Bond would go so far as to denounce his own government in order to exact revenge on the people that have wronged them, which Dalton manages to convey in several well-chosen expressions that say far more than dialogue ever could. He also has a good repertoire with Carey Lowell’s Pam Bouvier, in an on-screen pairing that’s not unlike Indiana Jones’ relationship with Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark, only in this case it’s like if Indy found himself squaring off against Colombian drug lords instead of the Nazis. Dalton’s fierce determination throughout the whole thing is part of what keeps you so invested, because he really has found a way to make this character, once trivialised by the likes of Roger Moore, someone who actually seems human while still remaining cold and calculated just like a trained killer should be; it really is a shame that Dalton only did two movies in this series, because he really nails the grounded approach that this series seems to be heading towards, but also makes the role charming enough to feel like it still is the charismatic secret agent we’ve known all this time.
While it’s probably not going to appeal those who have become accustomed to a much safer kind of Bond film, Licence to Kill is an ambitious attempt to experiment with something different, and it largely pays off with a leaner, meaner Bond than ever before which in and of itself is worth checking out alone.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Licence to Kill offers a gritter and much more violent action-adventure than the series has offered before, with the gamble largely paying off with some intense sequences, a great villain, and Timothy Dalton adding real ferocity and vulnerability to the main part.