Licence to Kill review (1989)

Timothy Dalton wraps his far too brief stint as 007 in the under-appreciated Licence to Kill, essentially a revenge thriller that happens to feature James Bond.

licence-to-kill-bond-sees-felixs-noteOn the day of his best friend Felix Leiter’s (David Hedison, who previously played the role in Live and Let Die) wedding, Bond plays wingman to help nab major drug lord Franz Sanchez (Richard Davi, The Expendables 3). Felix, by the way, is undeniably the worst groom for delaying the ceremony to make a big drug bust.

Predictably, that doesn’t work out too well as Sanchez flees custody and immediately gets payback on Felix and his new bride Della (Priscilla Barnes). The film kind of cops out regarding Felix’s fate as it somewhat diminishes the point of Bond’s vendetta.

All the Bond films have some misogynistic traits, but Licence is probably the biggest offender. Della is oddly flirtatious with Bond and if she was marrying anyone else there’s clearly the sense she’d be hooking up with him before her husband on the wedding night.

This installment’s Bond Babes are also handled oddly. Sanchez’s girlfriend Lupe (Talisa Soto) is equal parts caged bird and black widow. Lupe seems trapped against her will at times even beating beaten when Sanchez catches her in an affair yet other moments she’s seemingly perfectly fine being in an abusive relationship.

Of course when Bond comes around she quickly falls in love. Soto isn’t the strongest actress and unable to convey subtle nuances to help fill in the blanks the script misses.

licence-to-kill-bond-corners-pamScreenwriters Richard Maibaum (in his farewell to the series) and Michael G. Wilson have just as many issues portraying Bond’s female ally Pam (Carey Lowell). One scene she’s a strong equal reminiscent of Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the next Bond’s having her fetch his drinks as she pouts while he flirts with another woman.

At least on the action front, Pam is fully capable and is more of an asset to Bond than a liability one of the Bond aspects the Dalton films clearly excelled.

Once again Q (Desmond Llewelyn) joins the fray to give Bond some hi-tech gadget assistance. Llewelyn has always been fun in Q’s weapons introduction scene and he has a welcome extended role in this outing.

Earlier in this Bond run, I griped about Live and Let Die’s premise of turning 007 into a DEA agent trying to crack a drug trade. While Bond is again not preventing some megalomaniac from destroying the planet or starting World War III, the personal stakes make this Bond vs. drug lord story line click.

licence to killSanchez is at best a middle of the pact Bond foe, but his sadistic nature makes him a worthy adversary. At the very least, he’s such an evil character it’s probably best for Bond to take him down.

And Sanchez’s main henchman is played by a young Benicio Del Toro so it gains some style points for his casting. Although the curious inclusion of Wayne Newton as a crooked televangelist as a favor to the entertainer was a bit silly.

Dalton’s Bond tenure would be more fondly remembered had he gotten one more film under his belt to cement his status as a worthy 007. He remains the most underrated of all the Bond actors.

licence-to-kill-carey-lowellHere, Dalton provides his ideal version of 007. He’s even more ruthless and efficient than in The Living Daylights, but Dalton is more comfortable working in more of Bond’s trademark quips.

As Gladys Knight is one of my mom’s favorite singers, I’ve got a soft spot for Knight’s classy theme song even if it’s not the most signature Bond themes.

licence-to-kill-sanchez-vs-bondIn his final Bond directorial effort, John Glen goes out with a blaze of glory. There’s a number of terrific action sequences highlighted by the climactic tanker chase scene and Bond’s escape from Sanchez stooge Miltron Krest (Anthony Zerbe, The Matrix).

Again, Glen goes for a grittier take on Bond with some extreme violence including shark attacks and the infamous pressure chamber death scene.

Some of 007’s earlier adventures fail to hold up, but in a post-Taken world, Licence to Kill has certainly aged well and is a under-appreciated gem in the Bond catalog.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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