Published on October 26th, 2015 | by Vyctoria Hart


Licence to Kill: Vengeance Is Grim

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Licence to Kill is the last of the 1980s Bond films and the second of Timothy Dalton’s two appearances as James Bond.

The Story

James Bond attends the wedding in CIA agent Felix Leiter and helps him catch a drug baron on the way to the church. This particular criminal, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), takes offence at this treatment and promptly escapes with the aid of crooked CIA agent. Before leaving the country he kills Leiter’s new wife and partially feeds Leiter to a great white shark. Having lost a wife himself (a reference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) Bond decides to hunt down Sanchez against M’s ordered. Suspended from MI6 Bond loses his Licence to Kill and becomes a rogue agent. Bond discovers that Sanchez is working with a marine researcher to smuggle drugs using tiny submarines and steals $5million from the operation. With the aid of Pam Bouvier, a former pilot and CIA agent, Bond uses that money to gain standing in the fictional Republic of Isthmus. From there he infiltrates Sanchez’s organisation by posing as an assassin for hire. After a run in with Hong Kong Narcotic agents working the same case Bond is welcomed into Sanchez’s inner circle. This is despite an earlier fight with Sanchez’s terrifying henchman Dario (played by a very young Benicio Del Toro) who mysteriously fails to recognise him until it’s too late. It’s now revealed that Sanchez has found a way to hide cocaine in gasoline without damaging either product and is using a televangelist’s mediation retreat as a cover. Of course Bond has to explosively disrupt the whole operation and an entire Mexican mountainside ends up on fire. There follows a long chase down the mountain with lots of gun fire, a light aircraft, several stinger missiles and tankers full of drug infused gasoline doing over the top stunts. Having run out of ammo Sanchez resorts to trying to kill Bond with a machete, only to be killed himself with a gift given to Bond by the Leiters earlier in the film.

The Title Sequence And Bond Theme

This is a pretty traditional Bond title sequence with the usual silhouetted nude women dancing around interspersed with things representing future plot points- in this case roulette wheels and kodak cameras. It’s not the most imaginative of title sequences but it isn’t overdone or too dated by the effects they’ve used. This is reflected by Gladys Knight’s “Licence to Kill” which relates back to the soundtrack from Goldfinger, cementing the presentation as solidly classic Bond after the previous couple of pop heavy theme songs. Unusually the song from the closing credits would later be a hit for Celine Dion as well.

The Villain And Their Plan

Franz Sanchez starts off as very much a villain of his time before developing into more of a Bond villain as the movie progresses. Initially he’s going in to murder his love rival with his own hands and piloting his own escape plane but by the middle of the film he’s in control of an entire South American nation and owns several lavish fortress hideaways with cable cars and hidden helipads. For a Bond film that was criticised for its dark grittiness it still has a pretty ostentatious villain. He’s not adverse to getting his own hand dirty, but it’s not entirely clear why he would. Perhaps he just enjoys it. His plan is relatively simple – smuggle a lot of drugs and brutally murder anyone who gets in the way. The execution is not so simple. I’m not sure anyone really needs a $38million laboratory/refinery masquerading as a gigantic temple and hippy commune. Sanchez is definitely one of the more threatening Bond villains in that he’s set up as totally ruthless from his first appearance. He’s not going to monologue once he spots his enemy, he’s just going to try to kill you. Or get Dario to do it which is worse.


The Locations

For budgetary reasons this was the first Bond movie filmed entirely outside the UK but youcan’t really tell. The story centres around Key West in Florida, the Bahamas and the fictional Republic of Isthmus. Except for one scene at the Hemingway House, which takes place solely for a terrible pun, it’s almost refreshing to have a story devoid of the signature “look at this famous landmark!” moments you get in other Bond films. Sadly that doesn’t mean we totally avoid any over the top locations, its just that this time its a huge and not terribly convincing temple set. At least it gets blown up.

The Gadgets

Although Bond has gone rogue for some reason Q turns up and provides a variety of gadgets – an exploding alarm clock, dentonite toothpaste, an x-ray camera with laser flash, a tactical cummerbund and a gun with a palm reader. I’m not sure how scaling the roof of the presidential palace armed only with an alarm clock and toothpaste is any less suspicious that just using explosives. The palm reader specifically gives Bond away as MI6 and almost gets him capture. This is not helping anyone Q!

Most Inappropriate/Politically Incorrect Moment

Given the time period, and the fact that it’s a Bond film there are surprisingly few appalling moments in Licence to Kill. This version of James Bond seems set on revenge and has been mentally thrown back to the death of Tracy Bond. At one point he even then ends up sharing a room with Q rather than ending up in bed with the love interest. On that note Pam Bouvier is a pretty independent character in herself and manages to hold her own for much of the film. The villains are mostly played by actors with appropriate nationalities and its really only the over the top mediation retreat that creeps into the realm of the overtly inappropriate. Particularly the preacher Professor Joe’s creepy private mediation chamber.

Weirdest Moment

For reasons unknown Q dresses up in a very fake moustache and uses a broom with a communications device hidden it, only to immediately throw it away. I never worked out why. There’s also a horrifying fish sculpture that haunts my nightmares.

I need an old priest and a young priest

Best One Liner

When Bond confronts the man who betrayed Felix Leiter, trapping him over the same shark tank, the man appeals to their past friendship and offers Bond half of the two million dollars that Sanchez paid him. Bond says “you earned it, you keep it, old buddy” and throws him the bag. Of course two million in cash is pretty heavy and it topples the traitor into the jaws of the waiting shark.

How Good Is It Really?

In my opinion Timothy Dalton is one of the better Bonds. At the time when the film was released there were complaints that it was too dark, too gritty, too violent and that Dalton was too sombre. But that is one of the reasons this film still stands up today – in spite of its more bizarre moments – when a lot of the older Bond movies do not. James Bond has been in the business for a very long time, a lot of people have died around him and it makes sense that eventually he’s going to stop quipping about it. Especially given that the target was such a close friend and colleague. You can actually pinpoint the moment when Bond snaps inside and just goes cold. It’s excellent acting from Timothy Dalton, he’s in a tight situation but he’s holding it together, sees that yet another friend has been brutally murdered and his eyes go blank. Then he kills a bad guy at close range with a harpoon gun. Canonically speaking, in the original book series Tracy’s death broke Bond and lead directly the revenge driven plot of You Only Live Twice novel. Due to the order of the movie adaptations that plot element wasn’t really explored in the Connery or Moore films, and to my mind that is to their detriment. The Bond movie franchise developed a reputation for a lightness and a playfulness that wasn’t really in keeping with the original novels and eventually fell out of favour with the viewing public. Timothy Dalton’s portrayal is closer to the current run of Daniel Craig movies and what we now expect from a spy thriller. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It still has the big set pieces, the car chases, the gadgets and a solid five minutes of stuff exploding, it just has some quality acting as well!

Vyctoria Hart
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