license_to_kill_ver2Licence to Kill

  • Year:  1989
  • Director:  John Glen
  • Series Rank:  #6
  • Year Rank:  #24
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Bond Girl:  Carey Lowell (Pam Bouvier), Talisa Soto (Lupe Lamora)
  • Bond Villain:  Robert Davi (Sanchez), Anthony Zerbe (Milton Krest), Benicio del Toro (Dario), Wayne Newton (Joe Butcher)
  • Bond Support:  Robert Brown (M), Caroline Bliss (Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), David Hedison (Felix Leiter)

“We have all the time in the world.”  That was what Bond said to his wife as she lay dead in his arms.  It was a moment of genuine emotion for Bond, even if George Lazenby wasn’t really a good enough actor to pull off the line.  That was it for emotional moments for Bond.  Yes, he would occasionally get angry, but in all of Roger Moore’s time, except for when he kicked Locque’s car down the cliff, we never really saw much in the way of emotion from him.  But now we have Timothy Dalton, and we get this line: “Don’t you want to know why?”

Why, of course, is the question being asked by Sanchez.  Sanchez is a drug kingpin in a place called Isthmus City.  He is captured early on by Bond and Felix Leiter but he escapes and flees back south.  If you don’t remember the American invasion of Panama you’re certainly not alone – I had to remind Veronica about it.  But this film really does seem to come right from the headlines at the time, with Sanchez standing in for Manuel Noriega, whose drug-running became so overwhelming that Bush 41 actually invaded the country and brought him back for charges even if no one remembers that anymore.  Sanchez isn’t going to come so easily – after escaping, he has Leiter’s wife killed and Leiter is chomped on by a shark, and even after that it’s clear the American authorities aren’t going to do anything about it.  Bond even ends up ordered by M to stay out of it and “let the Americans clean up their own mess.”  That’s filmed in a scene at the Hemingway house with polydactyl cats running around all over the place – that made Veronica want to cuddle them, as we used to own a polydactyl cat who was named Hemingway – as well as providing Bond, after he has licence revoked and is ordered to give up his gun a chance to say “I guess this is a farewell to arms.”

This is a film that only works for Dalton’s Bond.  It might also work for Craig’s Bond as well, but none of the others really could be the man who quits the service, knocks out his own people and flees so that he can take revenge.  He lost his wife and for a long time was denied vengeance because, well, because Blofeld changed actors and it seemed kind of dumb.  But Bond has just stood as best man and he knows what it’s like to have your wife murdered and he won’t stand for it.  He will take down Sanchez, even if he has to do it alone.

licence-sotolicence-lowellHe won’t really be alone, of course.  There is Talisa Soto as Lupe, who is Sanchez’s girl but is tired of being whipped when “bad” and is looking for someone who can really protect her.  She helps Bond out a few times because she thinks she’s found that protector.  There is Pam Bouvier.  Bouvier is played by Carey Lowell who often gets derided as one of the weakest Bond girls but I firmly disagree.  I think she’s quite good looking and has lovely legs that get featured a lot, as at least three times she’s forced to pull out the gun she wears in a garter pretty high up on her right leg.  That gun is part of why she is so handy as a Bond girl – she can shoot, she can fight and, most importantly, she’s a pilot, and that comes in handy a few times.

qBut the most important ally Bond has this time is Q.  After Bond has tracked Sanchez from the Keys to the Isthmus, Moneypenny, still looking out for her man, calls in Q and Bond suddenly finds his “uncle” arriving at his hotel suite.  This is the first sign of real devotion between the men – Q is taking his own holiday time to help out Bond and he does it in a variety of ways.  These include: being a chauffeur, helping to calm the hurt feelings of the primary Bond girl, dressing as a local and talking to a broom, providing some helpful weapons (including a gun with a palm lock that comes in really handy) and even sharing a room with him when those hurt feelings mean Bond isn’t sharing a room with his girl.  “I hope you don’t snore, Q,” Bond says as they walk into the room together.  “I love Q,” Veronica said more than once during this film.  His scenes provide a bit of levity for what is by far the darkest of the pre-Craig films.

The villains are a solid bunch as well.  Robert Davi is suitably menacing as Sanchez.  Anthony Zerbe is suitably creepy as Krest, although maybe not so creepy as to deserve what happens to him because really that’s pretty gross.  But the best find is a very young Benicio del Toro (he was 21).  Del Toro is extremely menacing and has a crazed look in his eye.  I certainly didn’t look at him and think “There’s a future Oscar winner”, but he really does have the requisite intensity to be a memorable Bond villain.

Critics of this film have a few things that they gripe about.  They think it is too dark.  I tell those people they should read the Fleming books.  I think they should also accept that Bond must be dark – he’s a British agent with a licence to kill who has had one of his closest friends go through unbearable physical and emotional pain.  Revenge often makes for a great story – just look at the two best Star Trek films.  The critics lambast Carey Lowell as the Bond girl.  But she’s better looking than the previous few Bond girls and she’s far more helpful than most Bond girls, with her skills as a pilot and her knack for carrying a gun.  Maybe they think Bond should be stopping a world domination scheme.  But sometimes things get personal, and hell, in the two Dalton films he destroys something like a billion dollars worth of drugs.

licence-to-kill-truckThere are even two great action sequences.  The first involves Bond being pulled behind a sea-plane, water skiing at first, being shot at, climbing on the plane as it ascends and taking out the pilot and the gunner.  It’s so delightfully absurd that when Sanchez is told about he refuses to believe it.  The second involves a chase with tanker trucks down a mountain highway and has some scenes that are even more absurd but delightful in their absurdity (just remember from Diamonds are Forever that we know Bond knows how to drive with only half the wheels on the ground).  And speaking of absurdity, there is Wayne Newton as an evangelist whose performance I described to Veronica as “Oliver-esque.”

I wish we could have had more than two Dalton films, but things would get bogged down before a third film could be made and Dalton decided to leave.  His films had not been that financially successful.  Indeed, I wonder if this film might have done better had they kept the original title of Licence Revoked.  But, for me, Dalton was a great Bond and his two films are among the high points of the series.

ac030-dunhill-lighter-license-to-killMost importantly, in this film, we have a Bond who actually has an emotional attachment to something.  Ever since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, when he held his dead wife in his arms, he’s been a man with missions, but rarely a man on a mission.  This time he has a clear one – he will take down the man who maimed his friend and killed his friend’s wife on their wedding night.  He will forgo his job, his duty, his nation and any money or enticements that are thrown his way.  He will get to that point where he is told that he could have had everything and his response is cold and calculated: “Don’t you want to know why?”