Licence to Kill (1989)


We get our second James Bond film with Timothy Dalton in the lead role. It starts off on a light note, when Bond and his usual compadre Feliz Leiter, on their way to Felix's wedding, must suddenly run off and bring down notorious drug lord Franz Sanchez (a perfectly cast Robert Davi). They succeed, but the plan backfires when Sanchez subsequently escapes, and manages to maim Leiter and kill his new bride.

Bond is desperate for revenge and begins his own investigation, but his boss M will have none of this. He revokes 007's licence to kill and orders him home. Bond refuses and instead he runs. He escapes the clutches of MI6, stopping short of kicking M's ass along the way. Now he's on unfamiliar territory, a rogue agent, without orders, driven by a bitter desire for blood.

In fact, Bond is so busy plotting his revenge that he doesn't even have time to flirt with Moneypenny! He does find the time to nail two ladies, both of which play an important part in the story. Bond also gets a helping hand from Q, who - for the first time in the series - tries his hand at being a proper field agent.


Drug lord Franz Sanchez, though he doesn't so much want to control the world, as just sell it some dope. To be more precise, he's got plans to strike a deal with several drug dealers around to world, to create an all-powerful syndicate.

Sanchez commands a bunch of nasty henchmen, one of them being a baby-faced Benicio Del Toro, snarling like a madman. On the roster we also find Anthony Zerbe (The Omega Man, The Matrix Reloaded) as one of Sanchez's less than reliable partners, and Twin Peaks' Everett McGill as corrupt cop.


License to Kill is generally considered a failure, and often blamed for the 6 year sabbatical that would follow in the James Bond series, but that's a bit unfair. The movie didn't do that bad, and several other factors contributed to the delay of the next entry of the franchise. With that in mind I didn't catch this film until a few years ago, and I approached it quite cautiously - largely because of this bad rep. I needn't have worried. License to Kill is a stone cold, uncompromising, take no prisoners, kick-ass, action movie.

There's a part of me that wishes this was the first Bond movie ever. What better way to know a man, than to know him at the lowest point in his life, when he's driven to the edge, when everything he believes is on the line? Of course that wouldn't work, we need the previous films to put Bond's current situation into perspective, but it's a tantalizing thought-experiment.

One thing is for sure: The charming Bond we all know - and supposedly love - is all but gone. Instead we get a grim, driven Bond, who has little time for clever remarks or even his usual Martini. At one point, when Bond tries to infiltrate the criminal organization, Sanchez asks him if he's a "problem solver". The usually unaffected Brit responds with fire in his eyes and a look that means more to us than the drug lord. "More of a problem eliminator," he replies, leaving us to wonder whether Bond's thirst for revenge will get the better of him.

In keeping with Bond's ruthless determination, the film is also fairly brutal, and often quite graphic. In one of the early scenes Bond's CIA friend Leiter is fed to a shark! And he's not the only one on the menu. In fact, several bad guys meet some extremely violent deaths along the way.

It could be argued that this uncharacteristic behaviour alienated Bond to some viewers, and perhaps that's part of the truth, but I'm much more concerned with the Americanization of the franchise. Bond never actually sets foot in Great Britain in this movie. He goes off the grid, leaving behind many of the distinctly British aspects that make Bond who he is. He chases a Latino drug lord, something we associate with countless American movies and TV-shows. Even though we get the signature Casino scene and a few classic Bond gadgets, I can't help but feel that this story is more Miami Vice than Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Even so, the movie features some very impressive action set-pieces. At one point we literally go from the depth of the ocean to the skies in a single action sequence, when Bond must escape some underwater shenanigans by hooking on to a sea plane, which is about to take off. He proceeds to water ski behind it, and eventually makes his way on to the plane in mid-flight!

Then, of course, there's the final act of the film, an equally exhilarating action sequence, involving several gigantic trucks racing down narrow dirt roads, explosions going off left and right, Stinger missiles flying everywhere! A breathtaking roller coaster ride that brings the film to a brutal, but very satisfying conclusion.

And so we bid farewell to Timothy Dalton's take on James Bond. I can honestly say he's my favorite Bond actor so far. In all fairness some credit must go to the writers, who have managed to wrestle Bond from the clutches of mediocre slapstick comedy and ancient playboy behavior, and turn him into a lean, mean killing machine. The kind of man who not only deserves a license to kill, but who also knows how to use it.

The calender would read 1995 before Bond returned to the silver screen once again, and by then he would look an awful lot like that Remington Steele guy.

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