Movie Review: LICENCE TO KILL

James Bond filmmakers have a history of reacting to current trends. For example, at the end credits of 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, it reads: JAMES BOND WILL RETURN in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. This of course never came to be. Why? Because in the summer of ’77, Star Wars became a sensation. Bond producer Cubby Broccoli decided to make the followup to TSWLM be Moonraker, because movies in outer space were all the rage.

So it wasn’t a surprise that 1989’s Licence To Kill dealt with one of the major current events at that time… the drug war. Put 007 up against a villain who is a mixture of Pablo Escobar and Manuel Noriega, set the plot to fit the gritty times, and you have Timothy Dalton’s 2nd and final turn as James Bond.

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Bond’s coolest moment? Being Sanchez’s houseguest and “innocently” convincing him that his underlings are trying to rob and undermine him.

Bond’s most embarrassing moment? Getting into a Hal Needham-style dive bar fight.

Bond’s best line? Sanchez: Problem solver? Bond: More of a problem eliminator. Followed by some diabolical laughter. 

Best acting performance? Robert Davi as Franz Sanchez takes a villain we’ve seen before in countless drug cartel films, and gives him some style and grace. Almost like a scumbag version of Bond. 

Bond’s #MeToo #TimesUp moment? Dalton’s Bond is pretty much a gentleman here. I guess him checking out Pam (Carey Lowell) getting out of her harbor master outfit would be the best example. To be honest, I’d be guilty of that too!

Worst line in the movie? If a “worst line” can also be the most entertaining line, it’s definitely how Benicio del Toro as Dario says “We gave her a nice honeymoooooooon.”

What I noticed for the first time after watching this for the 59th time? In the opening credits, it doesn’t state the name of the title song or its artist (Gladys Knight). I guess I always took this for granted.

Best action sequence? Quite a few to choose from, but I will go with the underwater action scene with Bond fighting Krest’s men, and then ends up water-skiing on the back of a plane. 

Who or what is the title song about? My hunch is that it’s from Bond’s perspective. He’s trying to impress a pretty lady by talking about his “licence to kill.”

Best looking cinematic moment? The pre-title sequence is a stunner, with Bond lowering down from a helicopter to hook Sanchez’s plane. You know it’s good when Christopher Nolan paid homage to it in the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises. 

How could the villain have succeeded? By not being an abusive boyfriend. Sanchez could have laid low and let Lupe go away. Instead, he becomes obsessive and gets back on the DEA’s radar.

Which other Bond actor could have starred in this movie? In many ways, Dalton’s failure as Bond was a test-drive for our current 007. So I think a modern Daniel Craig – Bond flick could work in LTK. 

Does Bond ever think he might die? James looks downright petrified on that cocaine conveyor belt. Rightfully so. Horrible way to die. Right Dario?

What would have made the movie better? Keeping the same hard edge throughout the film. Lose the campy bar fight, cut out the truck wheelies and other road hi-jinx, don’t cast Wayne Newton as the televangelist, and please don’t show the winking fish statue at the end.

What’s in a name? James Bond doesn’t go by any other names, but he does pretend to be looking for a great white shark for his employers at Universal Exports. 

What’s in a title? Licence to Kill comes from, of course, what Bond has. Interestingly enough, while this screenplay is original, some elements from Ian Fleming’s “Live And Let Die” and “The Hildebrand Rarity” are in LTK.

Drinking game: Drink a Budweiser with lime, each time Professor Joe Butcher says: “Bless your heart.” 

“WTF?!” moment: The easy answer here is the exploding head of Milton Krest, but instead I’m going to go with all the times Felix Leiter’s new bride Della kisses and flirts with best man James. Talk about Three’s Company! 

Fun fact: President Hector Lopez is played by Pedro Armendáriz Jr. His father played Kerim Bey in From Russia With Love

Overall ranking: 21st out of 24.

Review synopsis: Kudos to Timothy Dalton for giving audiences perhaps the first true portrayal of what Fleming intended the character to be. Unfortunately, it’s wasted in a Miami Vice/TV movie of the week masquerading as a Bond film. Make no mistake, this is still a very entertaining flick with some solid, intense action sequences. But in my opinion, 007 is at his best when dealing with international espionage and not going rogue to take down a drug kingpin.

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