Licence to Kill (1989) starring Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, David Hedison, Wayne Newton, Benicio Del Toro directed by John Glen Movie Review

Licence to Kill (1989)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Timothy Dalton as James Bond in Licence to Kill

Bond Takes on Dirty Sanchez

For me "Licence to Kill" is one of the most under rated movies of the James Bond franchise as it delivers almost everything which was good about the early James Bond movies. The storyline is very much a real life story, there's no evil genius who wants to take over the world but we have a ruthless Drug Lord instead and whilst there are a few gizmo's for Bond to use they are less fanciful than in the previous movies. In fact the storyline which sees Bond go on a personal vendetta is much more believable and the fact he becomes even more ruthless because of an attack on his friend Felix Leiter makes "Licence to Kill" far more interesting than another far fetched mission. Of course those who preferred the far fetched nonsense of the Roger Moore era will dislike this but for me it works and Timothy Dalton does a decent job of making his mark on such a legendary character. Although it is by no means perfect, it goes on too long and the occasional moment of humour sticks out like a sore thumb due its more serious storyline.

When James (Timothy Dalton - Agatha) finds that his long time friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison) has been left fighting for his life by drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi - Die Hard) he sets out to hunt him down. With the British Government not interested in a personal vendetta James is forced to resign but with out the law governing his actions he is more dangerous than ever. With the aid of CIA agent Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell - Sleepless in Seattle) James manages to infiltrate Sanchez's set up, seeing how his entire drug operation works whilst also biding his time till he kills him. But will Sanchez discover the truth and set his henchman Dario (Benicio Del Toro) on him before he gets to finish the job?

Robert Davi and Benicio Del Toro in Licence to Kill

To be honest "Licence to Kill" does not start very well as we watch James and Felix heading to the church for Felix's wedding only to become side tracked when the green light comes through to try and capture drug lord Franz Sanchez. It's all a bit cheesy, bordering on the far fetched pap which became synonymous with the Roger Moore era as we get a seriously over the top action scene before James and Felix parachute in for the wedding. But thankfully once this opening is done and dusted the tone of "Licence to Kill" changes as we watch James turn renegade, resigning from the secret service to go after Sanchez who not only escapes but almost kills Felix.

Now what follows on from this is basically all about James doing what James does as he not so much goes undercover but plays on the fact he has resigned to try and gain the trust of Franz, so he can discover all about his operations whilst at the same time plotting to kill him. And so in typical James Bond fashion we watch him get up and close to a couple of women, end up in a few chases, sneaking around where he shouldn't and so on. In many ways it is nothing new except for the fact that this is a much more serious and real movie, the humour is almost completely gone, the occasional gadget is believable and with this being personal we have a ruthless Bond who will use people to get what he wants. Of course this is not the Bond which many people were use to back in 1989 and as such probably contributes to why those who loved Roger Moore's James Bond didn't take to Dalton. But for me this much more real story, with real characters and whilst still a little far fetched the action is also more real, works.

The trouble is that because "Licence to Kill" is for the most more real those occasional moments of stereotypical Bond humour, the one liners just stick out like a sore thumb. And when the action borders on being too far fetched it feels so wrong even though it is still entertaining.

But what is so good about "Licence to Kill" is the way Timothy Dalton makes his mark on Bond, which considering that in "The Living Daylights" he struggled is quite surprising. I like the fact that Dalton gives us a rougher Bond to what had been done before, gone is the charm and suaveness of Connery whilst the camp comedy of the Moore era is nowhere to be seen. He basically makes Bond a real man who is angry and wants revenge for what happened to Felix and nothing will stop him from getting it.

Sadly the rest of the performances don't match up and whilst both Carey Lowell and Taliso Soto are attractive their characters are painfully generic. Robert Davi does better as drug lord Franz Sanchez and whilst maybe not believable due to his surprisingly laid back nature does have a great level of violence about him, well anyone who feeds people to sharks is twisted. Plus of course "Licence to Kill" saw Benicio Del Toro play a villain, one of Sanchez's trusted henchmen who gets to fight James and whilst he is no Oddjob he is quite menacing.

What this all boils down to is that "Licence to Kill" is one of my favourite James Bond movies from the 80s and that is because the story is more of the real world than that of the fantasy which preceded it. It's by no means perfect but with Timothy Dalton doing a good job of putting his mark on Bond with a more ruthless version it is a shame that he didn't get to build on this with another movie.