- Directed by John Glen
- June 13, 1989 (London) / July 10, 1989 (US) / July 14, 1989 (UK)
James Bond seeks vengeance on a powerful drug lord for a near fatal attempt on the life of Felix Leiter.
Licence to Kill is Timothy Dalton’s second and final outing as the legendary screen superspy James Bond. It’s a bit of a letdown for not only the actor but the character as well. From an action standpoint Licence to Kill is great. From a performance standpoint Dalton kills it as James Bond. He was a good choice for the character. He can do tough and charming. The problem is the material Dalton is given.
James Bond going after a drug lord? How are drugs a Bond level threat? I know he’s seeking revenge for what happened with his friend but he’s not seeking revenge and also stopping something that threatens the world at that very moment. In essence Bond is hunting down Pablo Escobar in a ham-fisted way. Not nearly as bad as James Bond getting involved in a caper connected to Latin American water rights but it’s pretty close.
And the script itself came off as similar to one of dozens of action movies from that time. The Soviet Union was going away and action heroes needed somebody else to go after so they often went against drug lords.
I’m cool with David Hedison as an actor, but The Living Daylights had Felix Leiter in a brief appearance played by John Terry and then they bring back David Hedison from decades ago to play Felix Leiter. Admittedly the actor from the last film went to the Kristen Stewart School of Dramatic Acting from the looks of it but recasting just bothered me.
Fun fact: I’ve met Robert Davi who plays Franz Sanchez once in real life. Very nice guy but also very intense and very tall but that height thing could’ve been elevated in part in my mind because I met Robert Davi. Goonies. Stargate Atlantis. And here James Bond. And a whole bunch of other stuff that I enjoy. And I enjoy it in large part because of him. He’s a very fine actor.
Davi brings the goods as the villain with all the excessive resources. He is very much an evil asshole but as an antagonist for Bond he just doesn’t fit. I think he would’ve really shined in the part if this had been reworked into a movie without James Bond. At this point Bond was larger than life and had taken on people looking to destroy the world and remake it in their own image. Going against a drug lord-even one played by Robert Davi-just didn’t fit.
Benicio Del Toro in an early role has a small part as one of Robert’s Davies Hench people named Dario. He was actually quite good and rather threatening as the character. I could buy that he would kill somebody just for kicks.
Anthony Zerbe is a prolific actor. He has done a lot. Here he’s a low-ranking middleman named Milton Krest in the evil drug organization. He’s okay but the problem again comes down to the material. The more this movie goes on and the more characters they add, the more it plays like a well-cast episode of Miami Vice than it does a generic action film or even a Bond movie. Some have complained about the darker tone but that is not the issue at all.
We have the likes of Everett McGill, Frank McRae, Anthony Starke, Grand L. Bush, Don Stroud, Priscilla Barnes, and Wayne Newton in this movie. Not bad to one extent or another but they were not necessarily Bond-level actors.
Bond is known for romancing the ladies. Somehow and some way James Bond manages to charm Sanchez’s girlfriend Lupe (Talisa Soto). I say ‘somehow’ because I can’t think of a single moment where the two characters connected. No dialogue or scenes come to mind. It just was.
It’s one thing to have the have a minor character give James Bond a “You’re sexy” look but it’s a whole different thing for a character to fall madly in love with him with absolutely no interaction. And the actual portrayed romance with Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) is just forced. Both actresses lack strong chemistry with Dalton. It happens in the movie because it supposed to happen and you don’t actually believe that these two characters can connect during what will be the duration of the story.
The opening theme song “Licence to Kill” by Gladys Knight is catchy but it’s just weak. It ranks right up there with “All Time High” by Rita Coolidge for Octopussy which is not a strong Bond song either.
Licence to Kill is a pretty weak Bond film. While strong on action, the story and execution does not feel like it belongs with James Bond. This is one of those ones you can skip if you so choose.