License to Kill

Licence to Kill (1989)

“There’s more to this than your personal vendetta.”

Since I’ve had something of a James Bond themed week, I figure I might as well close it out with a Saturday Replay that goes back to the first Bond movie that I can remember seeing. So this morning I sat down and gave another watch to Timothy Dalton’s second, and, as it turned out, final, appearance as 007, Licence to Kill.

For some reason I feel like I saw this movie in the theater, but there’s no way I would have been allowed to go to a violent movie in 1990, so that’s probably not the case. Honestly, I’m pretty surprised I was even able to watch it on VHS, but I know I did, multiple times. When I was a kid and the thing to look forward to every weekend was going to the grocery store to rent a video, I used to annoy my parents by renting the same thing over and over. I know Ghostbusters was the movie I did this with the most, but I’m pretty sure that I rented Licence to Kill at least four or five times before eventually stretching out to other Bond movies. As such, Dalton has always been “my” Bond. (Although, I have virtually no memory of his other outing, The Living Daylights.)

As for the movie itself, it features Bond going rogue, defying orders in order to hunt down a Latin American drug lord who fed his friend Felix to a shark. As campy as that sounds, this is actually a fairly serious and down to earth Bond movie that favors story over spectacle, and it works well. Not to say that there aren’t some fantastic action sequences, there are, and they do tend to push the bounds of plausibility in a way that had long-since become a Bond movie trademark. A scene I noticed this time, which I really enjoyed, features one of the villain’s main henchmen explaining to his boss what Bond had done in an earlier action sequence, only to have the Boss dismiss the explanation as ridiculous.

As for the performances, as I alluded to before, Dalton’s performance here is, for me, essentially the standard against which all other Bond performances are going to be judged, but upon re-watching it he’s not quite as great as I remembered him being. Still, its a solid and generally serious performance with some nuance and depth that somewhat foretold the direction Daniel Craig would take the character. Robert Davi is great as the primary villain, Franz Sanchez, he seems to possess the combination of ruthlessness with intelligence and the ability to plan, that actually make his position seem credible. The best performance, though, goes to Benicio Del Toro who is awesomely menacing and clever as Sanchez’s number-one thug, Dario. Also of note, Desmond Llewelyn gets an expanded role as Q in this movie, and does a great job injecting some humor and empathy into an otherwise fairly dark movie. Meanwhile Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto are both very attractive as the primary and secondary Bond girls, without dragging the action down due to bad acting, which, really, is all you want from them.

On the whole, Licence to Kill is definitely one of the better Bond movies, I’d certainly rank it in the top ten. It also stands well on its own, as a fun but still dramatic action movie. It’s absolutely worth seeing.

[Licence to Kill (1989) – Directed by John Glen – Rated PG-13 for action violence and drug content]

OM|ED Rating: Worth Seeing