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