Review: Licence to Kill (1989)

16 - Licence to Kill (1989)

“Señor Bond, you got big cojones. You come here, to my place, without references, carrying a piece, throwing around a lot of money… but you should know something: nobody saw you come in, so nobody has to see you go out.”
– Franz Sanchez

British 007 agent James Bond (Timothy Dalton) and his ex-CIA friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison) are on the way to Leiter’s wedding when his DEA colleagues call him in to assist with the capture of a serious drug kingpin, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). Though not the greatest time, Bond and Leiter go after the drug lord, and finally capture him and make it to Leiter’s wedding on time. Sanchez escapes from confinement with the assistance of DEA agent Ed Killifer (Everett McGill), who has been paid handsomely. They get together and kill Della Leiter (Priscilla Barnes) and take Leiter with them, whom they feed to a shark.

"Do you have a law against what they did to Leiter?" - James Bond

“Do you have a law against what they did to Leiter?” – James Bond

Bond is on the way out of the country when he hears at the airport that a prominent drug lord escaped, and immediately rushes to Leiter’s home, where he finds a deceased Della and Leiter zipped into a body bag, though he is still alive. His leg is gone, but the doctors feel they may be able to save his arm. Bond is angry, and vows that Sanchez will pay for what he has done. Bond enlists the help of Leiter’s loyal friend Sharkey (Frank McRae), and the two of them set off to investigate, though Bond has been warned direly that he may not get involved with any of the proceedings, there is a legal system that will take care of things. Bond does not feel that they will take the correct course.

licence to kill q and bond

“I know exactly what you’re up to, and quite frankly, you’re going to need my help. Remember, if it hadn’t been for Q Branch, you’d have been dead long ago.” – Q

During the investigation, a research centre run by Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe) is found, and this is where Bond finds out that Killifer was instrumental in the destruction of Felix’s life. M (Robert Brown) steps forwards when Bond is warned to back down, and orders him to move on to another assignment. Bond refuses, and resigns on the spot. When asked to turn in his weapon after his licence to kill is rescinded, Bond makes an escape. While a rogue agent, Bond begins to foil plans of Sanchez with the assistance of Sharkey, who is killed by henchmen of Sanchez. He steals a lot of money from Krest while out at sea. He goes through a disc of Leiter’s, and meets with Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), an ex-CIA agent and pilot, to enlist her help. They travel to Isthmas City, where Q (Desmond Llewelyn) meets up with Bond to offer his assistance clandestinely. Bond presents himself to Sanchez as an assassin looking for employment, and he buys his way in with the money that he stole from Krest. Bond’s vendetta mission is starting to interfere with other government operations that are going down, including some of Pam.

licence to kill pop wheel truck

Pop wheeling a truck… a big truck.

Bond, Pam and Q use the assistance offered by Sanchez’s girlfriend, Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto), to frame Krest and sow doubt within Sanchez’s organization. Bond has now successfully made it into Sanchez’s inner circle, but what will he do with his newfound status? Will Q go home as instructed? Will Sanchez’s televangelist, Professor Joe Butcher (Wayne Newton), be able to successfully reintegrate the cocaine into the market? Will Sanchez listen to his financial manager, Truman-Lodge (Anthony Starke), who seems more in tune with what is going on around them than they give him credit for? Will Bond be able to exact revenge on behalf of Leiter and Della, or will Sanchez see through his disguise?

A 7.5/10 for Licence to Kill. It was another good entry to the Bond series, and I am not sure why it garnered such a bad rep. I see that there were some budget constraints and all of that, but this was the first Bond that attempted to sell a story, not just a load of action thinly veiled by world domination plans. I thought the action was great (though a huge fuel tanker driving on all the wheels of one side was slightly questionable), Timothy Dalton again astounded me as Bond, and Q had such a great role to play here. It was another one of the more enjoyable movies, in my opinion, though I thought that Felix Leiter was nowhere near torn up enough about his murdered wife at the end. Benicio del Toro was also pretty cool in here, it was nice to see him in one of his earliest roles. There were the occasional slumps in the movie, and it appeared that they attempted to bring back the ladies’ man aspect, but at least that was glossed over more than it was concentrated on, so that the story still got more attention. There were sections where the story almost drowned itself, but in the long run it saved itself every time. There was a lot more realistic violence and gore, which was a first – like far more than the other Bonds films were willing to show. Timothy Dalton is truly a fantastic Bond, and he and Craig are the very best in my honest opinion (I really prefer the grittier and far more serious Bonds as they have more depth – nobody said Bond could only be preposterous and cheesy!). I think Dalton deserves far more credit than he is given, as he is a brilliant actor that had a lot to bring to the table for this franchise, and is highly unappreciated – the most of all the Bonds, to tell the truth. He had the look down, the attitude, the action and the story. He was excellent, and there are many previous Bond actors that simply could not even measure up to Dalton, though they seem far more revered for some absurd reason (*cough cough* Moore *cough cough*).

12 thoughts on “Review: Licence to Kill (1989)

  1. Totally agree with you on the analysis of Bonds played by Craig and Timothy Dalton.These two look more humane and vulnerable,as against other Bonds who looked more superficial………………….


  2. License to Kill is loved by a lot of Bond fans, especially those who enjoy the books. Its reputation is totally undeserved. Before the Craig films, this was the prime example of the hard-edged Bond of Fleming’s books. Although it seems a bit dated now, I still love it and put it in my Top 5 Bond films easily. I’m glad that you liked it!

    Have fun with Brosnan! It starts out okay, but then it gets pretty silly.


  3. YESSS!!! I’ve been enjoying your reviews of Dalton Bonds, Zoe, and once again I concur! 😀 There are a lot to appreciate here but I like what you said that “…this was the first Bond that attempted to sell a story” Yes indeed! It’s not just a simple revenge story too, I like how the relationship between Bond and Sanchez is explored in a careful manner, boasted by astute performances of Dalton & Davi (who both have theater background).

    It’s painful how Dalton never got to do his third film 😦 It was supposed to be called The Property of a Lady. Oh it even sounds good!

    Brosnan is ok in Goldeneye but he pales in comparison to Dalton & Craig as 007, he just looks way too smug!


    • It really was an excellent one with more backbone than we have seen so far.

      Haha it is a pity there weren’t more by him, would have been so fantastic to see more of what he could bring to the table.

      Yeah, he was alright, much better than the previous outings.


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