Licence to Kill

WHO IS JAMES BOND? Bond here is presented on a more human scale than ever before. He’s got friends, he goes to weddings, he hangs out, makes mistakes (sometimes big mistakes). He changes his mind about things, weighs alternatives, learns lessons. He is, apparently, now best friends with Felix Leiter, played for the first time by a returning actor, David Hedison. It’s nice to see Felix played by the same actor as in Live and Let Die, as it gives the character a history he quite baldly has never had before, but it begs the question of who James Bond is then. If Felix is the Felix of Live and Let Die, why is Bond clearly not the Bond of Live and Let Die?

This Sanchez fellow is a drug dealer who lives in a country called Not-At-All-Panama. He is more powerful than the president of that country. All he wants is to sell cocaine to people who want it. He would also like to not die. Bond interferes with both these desires.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? Licence to Kill has a refreshingly straightforward plot line of revenge. Sanchez kills Bond’s friend’s wife, so Bond goes after Sanchez. Its greatest innovation is to have Bond make a rather drastic mistake. As Bond gets closer to his chance to kill Sanchez, he stumbles upon — no, not Sanchez’s plot to destroy the world, but a number of other law-enforcement agency’s attempts to bring Sanchez down legally, including the DEA and the Hong Kong police. Bond blows more than one sting operation and thus learns that he’s actually not always right, and when one decides that one’s personal feelings are greater than the law, one runs the risk of blowing everything for everyone. Anyway, soon he’s exposed to Sanchez (by a sharp-eyed young Benicio Del Toro, no less) and ends up destroying Sanchez’s drug operation and killing Sanchez, which he accomplishes with the aid of the lighter Felix gave him as his “best man gift.” (Felix? Lighter? Get it?)

In this movie the CIA and the DEA work in close conjunction with each other to solve world problems, rather than jealously protecting their information behind walls of bueraucracy and allowing evil to run rampant, thus keeping Licence to Kill squarely in the realm of fantasy.

WOMEN? There is Sanchez’s girlfriend, the “fiery, hot-blooded latino,” and Pam Bouvier, the spunkyfoil. Pam, I’m assuming, is related to Marge Bouvier, who ended up married to Homer Simpson. There is a running joke between Bouvier and Bond where he keeps referring to her as “Ms. Kennedy,” a joke only marginally more funny than Bond referring to himself as “James Stock.” Pam works in some sort of capacity with the DEA but it’s not clear how. Is she an informant, an agent, a mercenary, a collaborator? For a woman who sleeps with Bond (in a speedboat, no less) five minutes after meeting him, she takes it pretty hard when he kisses another woman.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? As the John Glen Bond movies develop, they become more and more realistic and less and less glamorous. So in this case, the bad guy has a shark tank, but it’s located in a place one might reasonably expect to find a shark tank — a marine biology research lab. The realistic setting of Licence to Kill help a lot with the verisimilitude but cut way down on the glamour factor — in spite of being sunny again, the locations of this movie are even more squalid and depressing than those of The Living Daylights. So Sanchez isn’t “cool” so much as he is merely tasteless. He has a pet iguana who wears a diamond collar, and he employs Wayne Newton (!) as a bullshit TV self-help guru as a front for collecting drug money. He also employs an 80s symbol, the MBA-afflicted yuppie scumbag, who frets all through the movie about Sanchez’s profligate habits. If this is what all financial advisors are like, I forgive Blofeld for not hiring one. But he has the good taste to hire Benicio Del Toro as a henchman, which is pretty cool all by itself. He also gives his Second Villain a great death in a high-pressure submersible. In fact, for the first time, it’s written into the bad guy’s character that he enjoys bizarre, intricate vengeance deaths, so it finally makes sense when the villain doesn’t just shoot Bond.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Bond needs to get some information from Felix’s home computer, and we are treated to a lovingly, carefully-staged sequence that dazzles us with Bond’s expertise in dealing with this scary, high-tech wonder. We watch with bated breath as he selects a disk, places it in the computer’s disk-tray, carefully slides it closed and selects the file he wants to read, thinking all the while, how does he do that?

NOTES: Timothy Dalton I found to be quite a bit better in this movie than the last, in spite of Bond being meaner, more ruthless and more vindictive than ever. Maybe it’s Bond having such a clear goal, maybe it’s being able to play him as angry instead of just professional, but Dalton plays the impatience and vengeful hatred so well it feels weird when Bond makes a quip or moves in for a kiss.
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22 Responses to “Licence to Kill
  1. craigjclark says:

    In this movie the CIA and the DEA work in close conjunction with each other to solve world problems, rather than jealously protecting their information behind walls of bueraucracy and allowing evil to run rampant, thus keeping Licence to Kill squarely in the realm of fantasy.

    If I were given to typing things like “LOL,” this would have definitely elicited one from me.

    I’ve never actually watched this movie (mostly because The Living Daylights left me so cold). I also didn’t come back for any of Brosnan’s entries (although I did catch up with Goldeneye well after the fact). Somehow the casting of, say, Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist strained credibility for me.

    • Todd says:

      I liked this quite a bit better than Daylights, so it may be worth your time.

      The casting of Bond women, in general, is a disaster of epic proportions. I don’t know quite how so many people working over 35 years and counting could continue to make the same bone-headed casting choices. I have nothing against Denise Richards per se but casting her as a nuclear physicist is just silly. And that’s not to say that you can’t cast an attractive woman as a nuclear physicist, just that you need to cast an attractive woman who could also conceivably be a nuclear physicist.

      • black13 says:

        Yeah, I know what you mean. I could easily see Denise Richards and Carole Bouquet switch roles. I could see Richards play that avenging daughter from Eyes Only, and I could see Bouquet play a nuclear physicist.

        But Richards as a nucular phussikiss? Nah.

  2. This is NOT one of those Bond films to get your 8 year old started on – it is scary for kids. If you were using these movies as a vehicle to “bond” father and sun, this is not the one – my best friend in Oz got this out for his son who had seen some of the funnier ones (with presumably the misogynist hidden curriculum operating), but I suggested 5 minutes or less into this one that I remembered images that would interfere with happy sleep later in the film…the buzz saw for instance, but probably well before that…

  3. This never felt like a Bond film to me, but I really enjoy it as a revenge story (as I’ve said in previous comments).

    Doesn’t Felix get maimed by a shark too before his wife is killed?

  4. I perused your tags.

    I’m really impressed. It looks like you did a very thorough job tagging your entire blog.

  5. black13 says:

    “Timothy Dalton I found to be quite a bit better in this movie than the last, in spite of Bond being meaner, more ruthless and more vindictive than ever.”

    In spite of? For me, that was one of the better points of Dalton’s Bond. He’s a professional, utterly ruthless, who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.

    LtK also cemented my conviction that the scripts for Bond movies are written to match the acting prowess of the actor playing Bond.

    And that henchman was Anthony Zerbe. I’ve enjoyed Zerbe chewing scenery as a villain (he’s second only to Jack Palance in that regard) since Omega Man.

  6. teamwak says:

    Great stuff.

    I always had a problem with Bond disobeying orders, but it was more than compensated by the set pieces in the movie. It is a fantastic opening, with Bond capturing a light aircraft mid-air! Loved the pseudo-religion really being a front for buying cocaine. Fantastic truck chase at the end. C4 toothpaste. And Del Toro has an excellent death in a grinder.

    Doesnt Bond have a friendly animal in this one, a black fisherman called Sharkey? Bond gets suitable revenge after his friend gets it (with a harpoon gun, I think).

    • uthuze says:

      Yeah, I didn’t really get why Bond would be a personal friend of a local fisherman. Sharkey was more a sacrificial lamb than a friendly animal.

      • Todd says:

        I think Sharkey might have been friends with Felix — he’s in his wedding party. I didn’t even know he was a local fisherman — I couldn’t figure out who he was. Otherwise, yes — he fills the “Quarrel” character outline of helpful animal/sacrificial lamb/noble negro.

  7. eronanke says:

    I loved the Dalton, ever since “Sextette”, a movie I would *love* you to review if you ever got the chance.

    • Todd says:

      That’s weird, I was just thinking about Sextette the other day, not because it’s a Timothy Dalton movie but because it’s a Ringo Starr movie — also because it’s a Mae West movie.

      One of my favorite movie-trivia questions —

      Q: How many movies did Mae West make?
      A: Six.


      • eronanke says:

        I am so glad you are among the elite few who have seen that movie. I’ve seen it so many times I can practically recite it.

  8. greyaenigma says:

    This movie left a bad taste in my mouth, probably because the gruesome deaths. Not that I’m movie-squeamish, but it somehow seemed un-Bond-like. It was that step from cartoonish violent death to merely gruesome death. The pressure chamber and, I think the surfboard especially.

    Of course, these reviews are making me want to watch them all again. Too bad it’s $90 just for one volume of the new set. (Well, I do have Netflix…)

    • dougo says:

      This movie left a bad taste in my mouth because the stupid British can’t freaking spell “license” correctly.

    • Todd says:

      I think the Terminator, Rambo and Die Hard movies had an effect on Licence with the gruesome deaths. It had to compete in the action-movie marketplace and the gruesomeness is a leftover residue these days.

      Here in Santa Monica, the new box sets have been reduced to $37.99 apiece, which is the entire reason I began this mad quest to watch them all in the first place.

  9. I’ve never watched this film in its entirety in one sitting, but it holds a special place in my heart nonetheless. Somehow I’ve ended up owning several copies of it, on VHS. I think it started when my brother enrolled me in the “James Bond Movie of the Month Club” (I’m not kidding) about ten years ago. Anyway, despite all attempts to get rid of the duplicate copies, one of them–still unwrapped–always manages to find its way into my bedroom, usually on the floor, behind the end table, or up on the windowsill. I don’t know how this happens. But my girlfriend, who is not as much of a night person as I and often gets sleepy hours before I do, will occasionally request she be tucked in, only semi-jokingly. Being sane adults who don’t collect teddy bears, we have no cuddly ephemera with which to tuck someone in…so one night, I gave her the License to Kill tape. And this has now become part of the ritual. “You all tucked in? The pillows okay? Got your glass of water? Where’s your tape? Do you have your License to Kill tape?” And so what started as a joke, and continues to be one, results in me waking up with an unopened VHS cassette of License to Kill stuck to the small of my back oh, about twice a week.

    • Todd says:

      That sounds like maybe a lyric from a B-52s song. Can’t you just imagine Fred singing over a propulsive dance beat —

      Got my pillows
      Got my water
      Got my —


      (Kate would join in on the last part.)

      • planettom says:

        Friends and roommates of mine in college were annoyed when I insisted on making my own Shirley Bassey-style theme song to LICENSE TO KILL.

        (sung to the tune of the Hanna-Barbara cartoon MAGILLA GORILLA):

        He’s got, a license to kill!
        Don’t make him mad,
        or he maybe will!