Bonding with Bond, Day 18: Licence to Kill

One intrepid RT editor is watching all of the James Bond films in order.

by | November 7, 2008 | Comments

In his second and final Bond film, Timothy Dalton continues to portray a serious Bond. Find out whether or not I would miss him.


Licence to Kill (1989) 78%

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While there are some nutty elements in the opening scenes of Licence to Kill, it’s immediately clear that this would be a darker film. Timothy Dalton returns for his second and final turn as James Bond, surveying every situation through cold, narrow eyes, and the central villain, Franz Sanchez (played by Robert Davi, aka the guy who also tried to kill the Goonies) makes a menacing debut, executing his girlfriend’s lover-on-the-side and brutally whipping her for her transgression. So when the scene ends with Bond and Leiter parachuting down to Leiter’s wedding ceremony, the shift in tone threw me off.

But once that’s over and Maurice Binder’s trademark opening credits roll through, we dive right into the story, and more violence ensues. Temporarily captured for drug trafficking, Sanchez manages to escape by paying off a DEA agent and subsequently raids Leiter’s home, murders his wife, and feeds Leiter to sharks. When the latter took place, I found myself visibly disturbed, not because the scene was particularly gory, but because I was shocked at the possibility of Leiter being killed. He survives, luckily (and yes, unrealistically), and when Bond is denied the opportunity to go after Sanchez, he storms off to embark on what amounts to a revenge story.

This is a striking departure from the plots of previous Bond films, which mainly focused on sinister masterminds with ambitious plans for world domination. Licence to Kill, despite the international intrigue it eventually develops, is pretty much about Bond on a rampage to fulfill a personal vendetta — more evidence of the pure justice that Dalton’s Bond seems to embody. And to be honest, I thought that was kind of cool.

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Also, I liked the idea of Bond presenting himself as an ally to Sanchez in order to get closer to him; I thought that this storyline played out realistically. When I wondered what would happen when Bond and Dario (a very young Benicio Del Toro), one of Sanchez’s henchmen, later ran into each other again, the results were also realistic. In fact, this movie had me in its clutches for most of its duration because I felt that the smattering of classic Bond camp was, for once, welcome relief from the gritty plot.

Robert Davi was excellent as Sanchez, I thought. He’s one of those actors who seems to play villains with a certain relish, like he enjoys being sadistic and manipulative. Though he doesn’t have a particularly imposing physical presence, he makes you believe he’s capable of evil things. He might not punch you if you insult him to his face, but he’ll smile and wait two weeks until you’re attending your daughter’s college graduation and send three thugs to gun down your entire extended family while you’re celebrating. Unfortunately, I didn’t think much of Talisa Soto as Sanchez’s woman, Lupe; Carey Lowell — while only slightly more convincing as an actress — at least made the bravado of Pam Bouvier fun to watch alongside Bond. And it’s nice to see Q, lovable old fart that he is, scuttling around and taking more of an active part in the story.

The story lost steam when Wayne Newton appeared as a cult leader, complete with a pyramid HQ set piece. In a film that seemed relatively grounded in reality and violence, the final scenes felt very out of place to me, and what could have been a great movie ended up being just good. After an hour and a half of plotting, double-crossing, and manipulation, the last thing I wanted to see was an 18-wheeler doing a wheelie and Wayne Newton fleeing from an exploding pyramid with a bag of money in his arms. It’s not that I don’t think Bond should be campy; I just don’t think it worked so well here.

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Favorite line: “Looks like he came to a dead end.” — Bond says this about a double-crossing DEA agent who’s been skewered by a forklift.

Favorite moment: Late in the movie, Lupe bursts into the hotel room where Q and Pam are preparing to leave the Bahamas, and when she confesses to Pam that Bond spent the night with her, Q rolls his eyes and breaks up the inevitable catfight. I just like that Q is sort of a (grand)father figure to Bond. I can picture him feeding pigeons and giving butterscotch candies to little kids.


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