Licence to Kill (1989)

Ian Fleming's Licence to Kill (1989)


When his American pal, CIA agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison, The Fly), is maimed by a vicious drug dealer (Robert Davi, The Goonies), James Bond (Timothy Dalton, The Rocketeer) quits his job and embarks on a quest for revenge.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Effective immediately, your licence to kill is revoked.”

The second (and sadly last) of Timothy Dalton’s entries is one of the best films in the franchise. In my long Bond marathon, this is the film that has surprised me the most. I used to think Licence to Kill (originally titled Licence Revoked) was one of the worst Bond movies, but now I think it’s one of the best! I just couldn’t believe how much I liked it on a re-watch — the film has a fine script and superb action sequences.

Directed by Bond veteran John Glen (The Living Daylights) from a screenplay by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum, Licence to Kill is a lean, mean machine of thrills and cliffhangers, clearly one of the best action movies of the ’80s.

As a rule of thumb, spy films are forced to spend time deciphering matters of international intrigue. Even the fluffiest James Bond movies have to do this in order to create interesting content that people will enjoy. Licence to Kill is the exception to the rule. Super-spy Bond wants to avenge his friend and that’s what the plot is about; nothing more than that, and nothing less than that.

Even the main villain’s motivations are simple. Robert Davi’s kingpin isn’t trying to conquer the world. He simply wants to sell drugs. Ironically, the uncomplicated storyline is backed up by some of the franchise’s most complex action set-pieces — Licence to Kill is an exciting movie built on relatable human emotions.

Director Glen, in his last Bond movie, does a splendid job of keeping the suspense alive. The film’s editing is phenomenally good, too. The final chase sequence is simply fantastic — it’s superbly staged for maximum effect. Bond, who by this time has gone completely ‘Ahab,’ goes after his nemesis with the fury of a pit bull with rabies. Even the vicious drug lord seems taken aback by Bond’s maddening determination.

The supporting cast is excellent. A young Benicio del Toro (Traffic) is scary as Davi’s henchman. Don Stroud (The Amityville Horror) plays another henchman. Everett McGill (Quest for Fire) is a corrupt cop. Talisa Soto (The Mambo Kings) and Carey Lowell (Sleepless in Seattle) supply the film with both sass and beauty. Wayne Newton is surprisingly good as a shyster. Pedro Armendáriz Jr. plays a seedy politician (his dad, Pedro Armendáriz Sr., had played a key role in From Russia with Love).

The fine score is by Michael Kamen (Lethal Weapon and Die Hard). Bond regular, John Barry, was having health problems and couldn’t participate in the movie. The theme song, “Licence to Kill,” performed by Gladys Knight, was written by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff. The melody was meant to mimic “Goldfinger,” but I didn’t think it was anything special. The song was a hit, though.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Licence to Kill is the last movie personally produced by Albert R. Broccoli. Later, the franchise became entangled in a complicated legal battle that lasted years. Dalton decided to move on and Pierce Brosnan inherited the role. That’s too bad because Dalton is probably my favorite Bond (I haven’t seen any of Daniel Craig’s films yet). Anyhow, Dalton left on a high note. Change the names and Licence to Kill would have been a great action movie on its own — it is that good! Color, 133 minutes, Rated PG-13.

James Bond will return
GoldenEye (1995)


11 responses to “Licence to Kill (1989)

  1. In my experience talking to other people over the years, most seem to hate this film and Dalton. It has always been in the upper echelon for me and Dalton, mainly because of this film, is my favorite Bond overall. It sucks that we didn’t get to see him really take the mantle for the long haul. Many like to point out how Casino Royale took the Bond franchise and gave it an edge. License to Kill already did that two decades earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I never knew it at the time coming out of my youth and growing up during the Moore era but the two films with Dalton are near the top of my faves list of Bond titles. Davi makes a great villain as well in as you say lesser terms than others who want the world. I think history is being kinder to Dalton than the consensus was at the time on his overall job as 007.

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  3. It’s a fantastic movie. I did a ranking of Bond films upon the eve of Spectre’s release and Dalton’s came in 6th and 7th. I always thought Licence to Kill was better but The Living Daylights has a lot going for it. When you think about it only having two films and having them rank them that high is a stellar effort. Completely agree with you and nice review.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Excellent question, I have a theory that for many the first Bond they saw on the big screen is their favourite. I think the best Bond is Sean Connery but Pierce Brosnan is MY Bond if you will. Brosnan was seen as the best since Connery in his time but time has been kind to him. I still love his work but the problem is his films rarely are worthy of him. That being said I think they all bring everything. My top includes Goldeneye, The Spy Who Loved Me, Casino Royale, Skyfall and Goldfinger. Check it out if you want.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “I have a theory that for many the first Bond they saw on the big screen is their favourite” That’s so true! Moore has always been my favorite precisely because he was the first one I saw (Moonraker was my first Bond movie). When people talk about wanting Bond to be more real, more serious, I always say to myself, “Bond IS NOT supposed to be serious!”:) However, as I get older, I’m able to better assess the merits/flaws of each film. Now I think Dalton is the best! I haven’t seen Craig’s movies so I’m naturally curious. My top 5 (so far): Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, Dr. No, For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me.

          Liked by 1 person

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