Licence to Kill (1989)

Welcome to your briefing 007. Your mission: Licence to Kill. I know that Felix is your good friend 007, but you must stay out of this business with the drug lord Sanchez. I understand you are upset with what he did to Felix, but I plead you to stay out of this one James and let the Americans take care of it. They have been working on getting Sanchez for years and know more than you. So as of right now I must revoke your Licence to Kill. You have gone too far this time 007.

The Beginning

The film opens on James in the back of a limo with old friend Felix Leiter, who is finally taking the plunge to get married, but the way to the church in interrupted by a Coast Guard helicopter telling Felix to follow, they have renowned drug lord Sanchez in their sights. Bond tags along, strictly as an observer, but all hell breaks loose and of course James has to intervene and in the end he helps bring down Sanchez after a shootout and a spectacular aerial stunt to capture Sanchez’s getaway plane. It is a great idea for a sequence and really well executed. A great way to set up the story of the film to come, yet, despite its very grounded and real nature with the bigtime drug lord, it becomes somewhat of a joke as it ties in with Felix’s wedding. I don’t think the wedding as necessary at all to set up that scene or the rest of the film.

The theme song this time is sung by Gladys Knight and she does a fantastic job. I love the fact that they got someone like Gladys Knight to do these theme and it actually is a great companion with the ending credits song, “If You Want Me Too” by Patti LaBelle. These two divas make quite the pair when it comes to the songs in this film.

Location

Key West, Isthmus City

Allies

Felix Leiter

Felix Leiter does get the more important treatment I wanted when I watched The Living Daylights last week, but really it is a much more limited role for David Hedison that it appears. The character is at the core of the story. After catching Sanchez, and Sanchez escaping custody, Felix is tortured, being lowered into a shark tank and being left for dead. If they had killed off Felix it would have been a very bold move, but of course he clings to life in a hospital bed, being a non factor for the rest of the film except for the fact that his condition motivated Bond to go rogue to take down Sanchez for revenge to what he did to his friend

Sharkey

Sharkey is an unfortunately named character given the type of torture Felix endures at the hands of Sanchez, but Sharkey is also a bit mysterious. He is the other groomsman in Felix’s wedding, with Bond being Best Man, so he is clearly a friend of Felix, though it is never revealed if he is also friends with Bond, of if he is friends with Felix through the CIA. So whether he is a operative or not is unclear, though I tend to think not, but he does aid Bond in breaking into Sanchez’s warehouse, before being quickly dispatched like every other Bond ally in the every other Bond installment. Seriously guys, let’s let one of the little guys make it through one of these times.

Enemies

Sanchez

Sanchez is the evil drug lord with no regard for pretty much anything. Played by Robert Davi, Sanchez is one of the more interesting Bond villains we have seen for a while. Him being the central villain helps take this film and make it one of the more realistic films in the series in my opinion. The drug scene in the 80s was a big thing and the producers capitalized on that without making it fantastical and making Sanchez quite realistic. He was connected enough to escape imprisonment and smart enough to have legitimate backings for his money, like a high end casino in Isthmus City or a meditation camp run by a weird professor played by none other than Wayne Newton, one of the stranger choices in the film. Robert Davi plays him quite well too, giving him enough humanity and menace to make him both believable and hated.

Dario

Where to start with Dario? Well he is played by now Academy Award winning actor Benicio del Toro before he rose to fame, and as you could expect from any Benicio del Toro performance, he is fantastic. In fact, I may go so far as to proclaim Dario as my favorite henchman in the series (stay tuned for the completion of the marathon for a chance to vote in some polls). But what is such a shame is the fact that he doesn’t get nearly enough screentime. But the time he does get is amazingly on edge. Del Toro sells the fact that he might in fact be insane and he also provides what will be one of the more memorable sequences in any Bond film to date (more on that later).

Krest

Krest actually manages to be somewhat of a bland character. At first I thought he was Sanchez’s right hand man in his operation, but then it started to appear he was just the middle man for his drug deals, operating off a boat in the ocean to make the exchange much more discreet and out of the public eye. He falls out with Sanchez and never really poses a threat in my eyes to what Bond is doing, though he does stand as another obstacle in Bond’s attempt at revenge on Sanchez.

Q Branch

Q Branch is pretty uneventful in this installment, and mostly because Bond goes rogue, so there is no outfitting scene in the MI6 headquarters. However, Q does make a field trip out to see Bond in secrecy and gives him a few tools which end up being somewhat insignificant. He provides a fancy alarm clock and explosive toothpaste, but really Bond does all the heavy lifting here with grit, determination and emotion from what has been done to his friend. Along with his field visit, Q (played as always by Desmond Llewelyn) does get a bit more screen time helping Bond out first hand, and Llewelyn is a joy to watch anytime he is on screen. He is easily one of the main attractions to the franchise for me.

The Girls

Pam

Pam is one of my favorite Bond girls in the franchise and always has been. However, I had only seen this film once before this viewing and I had forgotten why I felt that way. She does not appear in the film until much later than most main Bond girls, but that is because she is one of Leiter’s contacts in his case against Sanchez. Not only she is really attractive, even with short hair, but she is smart, independent and tough. When we first meet her she shows up with a shotgun and a bullet proof vest. She knows how to handle herself and Carey Lowell is smooth, natural and convincing in the role as well. She has everything I look for in a Bond girl and I love her for it.

Lupe

Lupe, played by Talisa Soto, is the girlfriend of Sanchez, though seemingly not by choice, or if it was it seems she is through with him, but of course Sanchez has other plans. She is a fun character, despite the somewhat cliche structure of her situation, because she has a great amount of sass that I just loved watching. Soto was not anything special, but she was able to liven the chatracter up and make her her own by delivering the scowl and sass that makes her more interesting than just another Bond girl.

The Car & the Chase

For the most part there is not much of a chase in the sense of Bond films go. The finale of the film, however, is as great of a chase scene as you can get really. Involving multiple semis, which are carrying drugs in the form of gas (you filter the gas to get the drug out so it can’t be traced), the chase scene features some “high-octane” action and stuntwork, including getting a semi to go on two wheels, a running trademark of Bond chase scenes it seems.

Mission Debriefing

After enjoying both Timothy Dalton and his first Bond film, The Living Daylights, I had great interest in seeing Licence to Kill and finding out why Dalton was scraped and why the franchise went on a 6 year hiatus, the longest the series has seen between films. Much to my surprise, or really perhaps not, I did not find the answers to these questions in this film. Before I start my review I might as well get it off my chest. After seeing both of Dalton’s efforts, I think he is one of the better Bonds in the franchise and this film,Licence to Kill, has quickly shot up to become one of my favorites of the series. I guess now with that out of the bag, and perhaps not all that shocking given my views stated earlier in this review, the rest of the review will act as a defense of my viewpoints.

When I began this marathon I started out by trying to analyze the evolving characterization of James Bond through the franchise. It was an interesting investigation in the early going, but I, and Roger Moore as well, lost sight of being able to glean anything new or remarkable about the character. But this time we get tons of stuff and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the filmmakers create an opportunity for Bond to be different than normal. This go around he lets his emotions get the better of him. My favorite film in the series, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is so in part because Bond gets emotional, heck he gets married! Well this time we are shown a softer side of Bond when he is out for revenge after his friend is mangled. He goes against what M wants, which isn’t different, but he insists on continuing the mission even after M revokes his licence to kill. But in addition to Bond having a soft side, we also see his hard side, killing in cold blood on more than one occasion. It is a very raw and vulnerable version of Bond, which is a side I love to see. Dalton does a fantastic job of filling that role. He is probably better here than he was in The Living Daylights.

Another reason why the film works as well as it does is the very basic and very real plot. Sanchez is a perfect villain for this film because he is real. There are drug lords like him. It may be pizzazzed up to make it a little more entertaining, but the filmmakers really don’t have to go that far to find entertainment. It is just a good old fashioned drug story. They do add on a little bit of terrorism plot that seems unnecessary to me and I would have to disagree with that choice, but for the most part the story works. It is also just a good old fashioned story of revenge on the part of 007. Heck, they even have a good old fashioned bar fight in there for good measure. It’s just a good old fashioned Bond film. A lot of that has to do with director John Glen too, who like Timothy Dalton is seeing the end of his involvement in the franchise. His first few films were nothing to write home about, but he has ended with some really solid films. And he has maintained a high level of action sequences throughout his work on the series as a director. The action here is good as well and culminates in the stellar finale on the road. There is also a really good sequence where Bond chases down a seaplane.

The film has its downsides as well, like the relationships with the Bond girls. They are both great characters in my opinion, though Pam much more so than Lupe, but when they come together with each other and with Bond it becomes somewhat of an eye-rolling situation. First of all, I do not buy the instant romance between Pam and Bond, although if I were in Bond’s shoes I would instantly fall in love with her, so I can’t be that mad. And the same goes for Lupe. Bond is a charming man, and I can see why women would fall for him, but when do we get some rejection, or some apprehension before every girl falls in love with him? I wish the relationships had been handled better. But also the competition between the two was laughable. At the end of the film Bond makes out with Lupe and Pam gets all upset. What the heck? First, why the hell would he pick Lupe over Pam? In Pam’s own words, that’s “bullshit”. Second, why do they even have to have the girl drama between Lupe and Pam? Have Bond be a one woman man. It isn’t that hard, especially when one of the women is Pam.

I had a great time with this film from start to finish and I can’t say that about many of the more recent films in this marathon. I had a great time with rogue Bond and then Pam, one of my favorite Bond girls, doesn’t show up until about half way through. Dario (Benicio del Toro) is fantastic and the scene in the factory near the end will always stand as one of my favorite Bond moments in the series. His ability to emote insanity is great throughout, but no time better than then. And plus how they make Pam arrive like an angel somehow works for me when others, I’m sure, would find it corny. I am not sure what the general opinion of this film is, though I don’t think it is overly high as I almost never hear it mentioned in discussions of the bets Bonds, and of course it stars the apparently unpopular Timothy Dalton, but I thought it was great. And as a result I am puzzled why Dalton didn’t last, and intrigued by what could have been if he had stuck around. Then again, without Dalton’s short run ending, we would not have been delivered Brosnan and his first film, GoldenEye, which will be the focus of next week’s write-up. So stay tuned!

James Bond will return in…

GoldenEye

 

 

3 comments

  • Yes! This is also one of my favorite Bond films and is unfairly judged due to its box-office take. I'll admit there are some flaws, especially Lupe, but they never detract too much from the story. Nice post!

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  • I loved how this movie felt so…dark…compared to some of the other Bonds. The scene with the sharks and the scene with the decompression chamber are so cold blooded, and really set Sanchez up as one of the most ruthless villains in the series. And as you say, it is even scarier because really he is one of the more realistic villains!

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  • Dalton wasn't scrapped as Bond. He merely got tired of waiting. He was contracted to do 4 films, and Goldeneye was obviously written with Dalton in mind. But in 1994, with no new film, he resigned from the role while filming “Scarlett”.

    Cubby Broccoli wanted Dalton for Bond as far back as “On Her Majesty's Secret Service” (Can you imagine how great that film would have been with Dalton instead of Lazenby? Lazenby was ok, but the type of Bond in that film would have been right up Dalton's alley.

    However, Dalton was in his 20s at the time and though he tested for the role, he felt he was too young to play it and turned it down. He did so again before “Diamonds are Forever.”

    While I give Dalton credit for being professional enough to decline a role that he wasn't fit for (And it would have been a shock seeing Bond go from aged and experienced Connery to the young Dalton) I can't help but wonder what it would have been like if Dalton had been in the role as far back as 1969. At that Age, Dalton could have realistically played Bond until he got tired of it, as he'd have 25 years to play with before he got too old for the role.

    Dalton is my favorite of the Bonds, followed by Connery, Craig in a tie with Roger Moore, and then Brosnan and Lazenby. I liked them all, but after reading all the Bond books, Dalton was the only one who truly played Bond the way he was written by Ian Fleming.

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