Take 2: Licence to Kill

"In my business you prepare for the unexpected."

It was a short run for Timothy Dalton, this is only his second film and he’s already done with the Bond role.

Licence to Kill actually marks the end of a lot of people’s involvement with the franchise. It’s the last time we see Robert Brown as M, Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny, Maurice Binder’s title design, Richard Maibaum’s writing, John Grover’s editing and Alec Mills’ cinematography. It’s also the final film to be directed by John Glen, who ends his run of five in a row. This doesn’t sound like much but we have now sat through sixteen films; these names have become a familiar sight in the credits (Binder in particular, who designed almost every title sequence).

In this episode, Bond’s CIA ally Felix Leiter is maimed by drug lord Franz Sanchez, who also murders Leiter’s wife shortly after their wedding. This angers Bond who sets out to seek revenge. MI6 instead send him on a mission to Turkey but he refuses the job and gets fired by M.

Adventures ensue and Bond uncovers a dastardly plot to smuggle cocaine.

Following the success of The Living Daylights it’s easy to understand why the producers were keen to continue with the new-found gritty realism here in Licence to Kill. This time things go to an extreme, as Bond goes on a personal vendetta to avenge his friend.

He abandons MI6 (although Q lends an unauthorised hand from time to time) to pursue his personal mission and the result is a fantastic first 60 minutes to a film. It’s gloomy and has an odd tone for the franchise but it’s eye-opening and exciting.

Then things get incredibly boring as we soon realise that this film is going to go the way of all the others. Bond uncovers a ludicrous plan where a villain tries to smuggle cocaine by dissolving it in fuel and shipping it in petrol tankers. Cue a huge shoot-out, a fire in a laboratory etc etc.

All that drama and suspense is replaced by tired old action and a predictable outcome. It’s a shame, and is yet another Bond film that wastes a great set-up.

Dalton seems to be having a harder time trying to make an impression. Initially we buy into his raw anger at Felix’s woes, but as the film wears on it seems to go by the wayside. The script doesn’t give him much room to breathe and he comes over as sullen, perhaps even slightly wooden. Another shame, since he’s proven himself more than capable in the last film.

He’s not the only one to lose out. Carey Lowell plays Pam Bouvier, an ex-army pilot who teams up with Bond to assist him in his quest. She gets given very little to do, although arguably makes more out of it that Dalton. Robert Davi plays the drug baron and makes the part interesting enough before things spin out of control.

Licence to Kill is another great idea turned into an unremarkable motion picture. Yet again we have an entry into the Bond catalogue doomed to be forgotten.

John Glen | 1989 | IMDB | Wikipedia