In the opening to Licence to Kill, CIA agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison) is pulled away from his own wedding in order to hunt down drug kingpin Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). With British secret agent 007 James Bond (Timothy Dalton) in tow, Leiter tracks down the criminal, but Sanchez escapes in a plane. Fearless Bond suspends himself from a helicopter in midair in order to literally rope in Sanchez’ vehicle. Upon successfully capturing Sanchez, Bond and Leiter parachute into Leiter’s wedding.
The aircraft stunt in this opening scene is marvelous to watch. The interplay with Bond and Leiter and the fact that Leiter is holding up his wedding for the sake of work is comical. This first scene sets up the film wonderfully.
Following this scene, Sanchez is in custody. He offers a $2 million bribe to any law enforcement officer who decides to free him. Obviously, someone takes him up on this offer, and Sanchez escapes. Consequently, Leiter is captured by Sanchez’ men, tortured, and left for dead.
Like its predecessor, this second Dalton Bond film leans toward the dark. Unlike The Living Daylights, however, there is far less of a reprieve from the grit in Licence to Kill. The first Dalton film still had its fair share of pithy quips and one-liners. Licence to Kill begins as any normal Bond film would, with a great cold open, but then takes a sharp left turn into darkness. Leiter is tortured and maimed by a shark. His wife is murdered on their wedding night. Bond is looking for vengeance, abandoning his post with MI6 to hunt down Leiter’s attackers.
What does this grittiness say about the quality of the film? It plays as a different movie entirely when compared to the rest of the series prior. But it works with Dalton at the head. Dalton, in both of his films, plays Bond gruff and brooding. He is, like Sean Connery’s Bond, a brute, but he is a hardened brute, one with tragedy in his eyes instead of a sparkle of Connery charm. Bond here is more reckless now that he is out for blood. This isn’t Bond as usual, and the change of pace is what the franchise needed.
Not everything about Licence to Kill screams novel, though. Where The Living Daylights had a commendable romantic plot between Bond and the patented “Bond girl,” Licence to Kill has the usual, superficial take on the romantic B-plot. It doesn’t help any that Carey Lowell and Dalton do not have good on-screen chemistry with one another.
Beyond this, most of the acting performances in the film are solid. Robert Davi plays a cool villain and Talisa Soto a quietly traumatized Bond girl. Additionally, we get a strong, albeit small, performance from a young Benecio del Toro.
Like The Living Daylights, action takes a backseat to gritty plot. But the plot is intriguing enough that the action is not needed, and is only a welcome addition. Except for the ending chase sequence, which is a tad too ridiculous for the tone of the film.
Licence to Kill is essentially the ultimate pre-cursor to Daniel Craig’s modern Bond films. It is dark and moody, and it depicts James Bond going rogue to avenge the death of a friend. That is pretty much Quantum of Solace. Ultimately, I think the Dalton and Craig Bonds use the James Bond formula better than the kitschy Moore and Brosnan Bonds.
Licence to Kill: B+
As always, thanks for reading!
Licence to Kill is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
- Licence to Kill: B+
- The Living Daylights: B+
- A View to a Kill: D+
- Octopussy: C-
- For Your Eyes Only: C
- Moonraker: D
- The Spy Who Loved Me: B-
- The Man With the Golden Gun: C+
- Live and Let Die: C+
- Diamonds Are Forever: C-
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: B+
- Casino Royale (1967): D+
- You Only Live Twice: C+
- Thunderball: C-
- Goldfinger: A-
- From Russia With Love: A-
- Dr. No: B
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)