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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.07%
Average: 14.04%
Pretty Bad: 12.28%
Total Crap: 1.75%

2 reviews, 45 user ratings

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Licence to Kill
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by MP Bartley

"The One Where He Goes Rogue."
4 stars

There's nothing guaranteed to cause more controversy amongst a group of James Bond films than to ask them their opinions about 'Licence To Kill'. There'll always be a split between those who love 'Moonraker' and those who see it as Bond's all time low. There'll be arguments a-plenty about the merits of Lazenby's Bond. But nothing will quite provoke a Bond fan than the question, "'Licence to Kill': what do you think?'"

This time round the pre-credit sequence serves up a decent plane-catching stunt and serves as a very effective set up to the main story. Then, after the last two films had electro 80's pop as their theme tune, we're back into MOR ballads, this time by Gladys Knight.

The set-up is as far removed from the usual Bond film as you can get. After Bond helps Felix Leiter (David Hedison, the only actor to play Felix twice) capture drugs lord Francisco Sanchez (Robert Davi) he prepares to jet off back to London and his work. Word reaches him however that Sanchez's capture didn't last long. With the help of a crooked DEA agent he's escaped, and worse still he knows that Leiter was the brains behind his capture. Sanchez has taken his revenge in the most brutal fashion: he has Felix's wife raped and killed and cripples Felix by feeding him to his pet shark.

M arrives to remind Bond of his duty and instructs him to return to his job and leave Felix's justice up to the Americans. Fearing that the Americans will be bought off and burning with revenge, Bond resigns from his post and sets off on a personal mssion to bring down Sanchez and his drugs empire from within, 'Yojimbo' style. Along for the ride he takes CIA chopper pilot and Sanchez informant Pam Bouvier (Cary Lowell).

It's clear to anyone with just a passing Bond knowledge then, that this isn't your usual Bond fare. There's no plan for global domination, no wisecracking, no comedy henchmen. In truth it's a simple minded, blood thirsty vendetta not a million miles away from a Charles Bronson flick. And that's where the rub lies for Bond fans: it's a Bond film in name only. It lacks the class and intelligence and style that the best of Bonds have (but then again, so does 'Moonraker'). Bond instead has brawls in a bar, barely wears his tuxedo and tells villains to 'piss off'. This is not one for Roger Moore fans.

But within this complaint lies a further paradox. It seems that 'Licence To Kill' could never win anyway. There's always two complaints about Bond films: they're all the same and they're too silly. So what happens when a Bond film goes for bloody realism and tries something different? There's complaints that it's not funny enough and it's too different. Sigh...

But just because it may not be a particularly good Bond film, doesn't mean it's not a good film anyway. Indeed, 'Licence To Kill' has a lot to recommend it and is still hugely enjoyable. The action sequences are some of the best in the series including some water-skiing to plane-hijacking tomfoolery, to a thundering climax with Bond attempting to take on a group of heavy duty gas trucks. Glen, like the previous 'The Living Daylights' shows he really has a sense of what makes a great Bond (although it does sag in the middle) and gets a superb sense of location across, the dry and dusty Isthmus City here.

Dalton gives possibly the most commited performance that anyone has ever given to Bond. He looks great in the part and belies Bond's natural charm with a simmering and barely contained rage against Sanchez. He invests the film with an emotional charge that raises it above its simplistic revenge theme. He isn't just showing off in the role, he's really pissed off here. Those who complain he's too humourless in the role should consider his best friend has just been half eaten by a shark. Imagine how Roger Moore would, or wouldn't, have approached the role. Shudder...

Dalton makes Bond the most flawed and human he's ever been and he's at his best in his scenes with Davi. On the surface, he's ingratiating and charming as he weasles his way into his organisation, but just hinting at a) the anger that he wants to vent at Sanchez and b) the glee that he's going to have when Sanchez gets his come-uppance.

Davi is also great as Sanchez. There's those who complain that Sanchez is too small a villain for a Bond film, but that's to ignore the point. By making Sanchez a relatively 'small' villain of a drug-dealer (although he does own an entire city) the film is much more human and realistic. We can believe in a scary Sanchez much more than we could a fantastical Drax or a Stromberg. And Davi sells the part totally. When he orders a man's heart to be cut out, we know it'll be done. Small scale or not, he's a terrific foe for Bond. The henchmen here however are largely faceless thugs, although it's entertaining to watch a young Benicio Del Toro acting threatening ("Don't worry - we gave her a nice honey-MOOOOON!"

There's also an interesting subtext between Sanchez and Del Toro's henchman, Dario. There are looks and touches between them that suggest there's more than friendship there. Small scale perhaps, but Sanchez is one of the best written and interesting Bond villains.

Lowell continues the tradition of Dalton's Bond having strong females to spar off against as she's an extremely resourceful agent herself, and Hedison gives the film a heart as the crippled Leiter. As you'd expect there's not much room for the regulars who are side-lined more than ever. It was Brown's last performance as M, but you always got the feeling that he outright disliked Bond and never even respected him, unlike Bernard Lee's M who you could see unwinding over a drink with Bond. It was also Caroline Bliss' last outing as Miss Moneypenny although she never convinced in the part anyway. Strangely enough, despite Bond being a renegade, it's Q's best story as he sets off to help Bond anyway. Llewelyn perhaps being the best consistent performer throughout Bond's history.

The debate over 'Licence To Kill' will go on and on. In many ways it's barely a Bond film, and with some justification it could be argued that it nearly killed the series. But despite the oddly brutal tone and savage portrayal of Bond, there's some terrific action and superb acting going on. It may be the darkest and least Bond-esque film, but it's also the one to take the most risks since 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' and one of the most interesting ones to watch. Serious re-evaluation required.

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originally posted: 08/17/04 02:46:59
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User Comments

8/14/20 morris campbell killer bond flick 4 stars
9/10/19 Karen_S great Bond film, last one before the politically correct tedium in 1995's return 5 stars
3/09/17 Louise (the actual one) Dalton is terrific and this is one of the better Bond films anyway. 4 stars
1/31/16 David Marsden A Bond movie way ahead of it's time with two of the hottest Bond girls 5 stars
1/24/15 david froman talisa soto is hotter than hot 4 stars
8/30/09 Jeff Wilder Dalton's best. Gritty with a portrayal of Bond as a flawed human to who anyone can relate. 5 stars
11/14/08 The Dork Knight Not so much a Bond movie as a gritty revenge film. I still liked it 4 stars
11/10/08 Mark Gibson dalton was oddly like craig 2 decades early. its got a dark edge about it, but its great. 5 stars
2/11/08 Pamela White Dalton needs to step up to become Bond 3 stars
10/12/07 Charles Dalton is LAME! Long Live Connery! 2 stars
7/21/07 Sugarfoot License To Kill is the closest Bond movies came to the brillant Connery entries. 5 stars
11/18/06 JM Synth Dalton could kill Sean Connery and Daniel Craig just by looking at 'em! 5 stars
10/14/06 ProSneakyD Dalton's 2nd & last, bond going rogue is very original and makes this highly entertaining. 5 stars
5/20/06 Yorkee All that for revenge - Easy to see Tim had to go! 2 stars
3/25/06 r jensen dalton & davi are great 5 stars
1/03/06 Anthony Feor Daltons best one 4 stars
11/20/05 chris another great performance by dalton very good film indeed 5 stars
8/14/05 mike if you like dalton, among the best of the bonds 5 stars
5/27/05 tony Awsome movie. great way to end daltons carrer. Marvalous plot. Robert Davi shows quality 5 stars
4/20/05 Indrid Cold Dalton was an underappreciated Bond but this one is oddly mean-spirited. 3 stars
1/08/05 keithers.. The weakest Bond Film....Dalton is a horrid james bond.... 2 stars
11/20/04 Laura Glen My grandad rocks! This was one of the best Bond films made thanks to the excitemnet and con 5 stars
8/17/04 Herolder Liked Dalton much better than Brosnan 5 stars
4/25/04 R.W. Welch Standard-issue Bond with just passable acting. 3 stars
11/29/03 john more of an 80's style action movie than a Bond film - Dalton doesn't cut it! 2 stars
10/11/03 JimmyC It wa sa great movie....then Wayne Newton showed up???????? 3 stars
7/06/03 Paul S. Magic moments: truck chase, Leiter`s demise, TV evangelist, Lupe, Pam, casino scene 4 stars
5/16/03 Andrew Carden The Best Dalton Flick, but Is That Really Saying Anything??? 3 stars
3/15/03 TAG What a shame that Dalton left after favorite Bond flick! 5 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby The second-best Bond adventure. Dalton and Davi are outstanding! 5 stars
10/24/02 Charles Tatum This killed the series for a few years 3 stars
10/15/02 Boris Carey Lowell is a stunner! Underrated Bond flick! 5 stars
9/17/02 CVJ Timothy Dalton is Crap as Bond 2 stars
8/19/02 Nevz I like bond movies, but Dalton let the side down this time 3 stars
5/27/02 Carla Metzger Flat as Bond movies go. Timothy Dalton didn't like playing Bond and it shows. 2 stars
2/15/02 Zargo the movie's cool, dalton's cooler 5 stars
6/04/01 keith langman dalton is a horrible bond can't stand watch a bond movie with a bad bond 2 stars
4/12/00 Gremlin Another fuckin' drug movie...snor?! Villians kicked ass, though. 4 stars
3/12/99 Claude Derralt Great and very underrated Bond film. Dalton is great 5 stars
12/28/98 Lucy B. Excellent bond film. Dalton really makes it special. Too bad he only did two. 5 stars
11/22/98 little jerry The grittiest Bond film and the best.Superb action scenes. 4 stars
11/10/98 Enforcer Underrated Bond film. 4 stars
10/28/98 Silent Rob An average Bond flick. Like good Moore or 'make do' Connery. 3 stars
10/06/98 Tommy Maguire One of the better Bond films, it's only failing casting Dalton as 007. Great action flick. 4 stars
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  14-Jul-1989 (PG-13)



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