After the exceptional reboot that was The Living Daylights, I was really looking forward to Timothy Dalton’s second (and last) portrayal of 007 in 1989’s Licence to Kill. While still a riveting Bond adventure, I didn’t end up liking it as much as its predecessor.
While The Living Daylights re-introduced audiences to a more serious Bond, Licence to Kill took that even further. It’s a very dark, angry movie, as James goes out on his own – stripped of his 00 status and licence to kill – to seek revenge for his best friend, who was attacked on his wedding night (resulting in the death of his wife, something Bond himself is all too familiar with) by drug cartel lord and iguana aficionado Franz Sanchez.
Licence to Kill is a film very much of its time, and feels a bit like a 2-hour episode of Miami Vice. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily (I do love Miami Vice), but it’s not very… well, Bond. It neither deals in espionage nor the threat of global domination, and is pretty straight forward: Bond is out for blood.
If there’s one thing this film has a lot of, it’s blood. It’s easily the most violent and bloody Bond film. A man gets his legs eaten off by sharks, another literally has his face explode, and a countless amount of henchmen are either crushed, speared to death, blown up or shot the old fashioned way.
Dalton again gives a good performance here as Bond, though the character’s in a much darker place this time around. He’s no longer the charming, protective agent he was in Daylights, and is instead very cold toward those around him – especially Q (played, for the fourteenth time, by Desmond Llewelyn) and CIA agent Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell). He doesn’t distance himself from them maliciously, but because he doesn’t want to endanger them. It’s an interesting dynamic, and works well to show Bond’s arc throughout the film.
Llewelyn and Lowell are the true stars of Licence. Q has largely been sidelined to short gadget-explaining scenes throughout the series, but gets a share of the action this time around, which was a lot of fun. Lowell’s character is easily one of the best Bond Girls, able to hold her own in any action scenes and not just someone who’s along for the ride – she has an interesting arc of her own and is a pretty well-rounded character.
Despite taking the character into some new territory (which was refreshing after the formulaic Moore years) and another great performance by Dalton, I didn’t like Licence to Kill as much as The Living Daylights. It’s a shame that this film is Dalton’s swan song, because I would have loved to see more of his take on the character.
Next up, Pierce Brosnan takes the reigns, for 1995’s Goldeneye.