Licence to Kill (1989)
Licence to Kill (1989)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 13 min.

Release Date: July 14th, 1989 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: John Glen Actors: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, David Hedison, Wayne Newton, Benicio Del Toro, Desmond Llewelyn, Priscilla Barnes




DEA bust aided by the Coast Guard in the Bahamas opens the sixteenth Bond film, “Licence to Kill,” which preserves the darker, more serious side of 007, almost entirely dispensing with the comic relief that started to overtake the Roger Moore episodes. But with this shift in tone comes an introductory sequence that isn’t as exciting as either of the last two films, nor is the title song even close to being memorable. Even Maurice Binder’s graphic design ideas aren’t as energetic and erotic as previous efforts.

Commander James Bond’s (Timothy Dalton) longtime friend and collaborator, Felix Leiter (David Hedison), working with the DEA now (instead of the CIA) gets married to Della Churchill (Priscilla Barnes). But their honeymoon is cut short when recently captured drug kingpin Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) escapes from a maximum security transport, governed by corrupt and bribed DEA Agent Killifer (Everett McGill). Sanchez returns to the Leiters’ home to kill Della and feed Felix to a shark. When Bond finds his friend’s maimed body (though still alive), he angrily goes after Sanchez, neglecting his current assignment in Istanbul.

MI6 leader M (Robert Brown) insists that Bond return to duty, but Bond realizes that the DEA won’t pursue Sanchez due to jurisdictional conflicts. And so 007 demands to continue his personal vendetta. When M refuses, Bond’s license to kill is revoked and he’s forced to flee. James then locates one of Sanchez’ criminal subordinates, Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe), who is using a marine research center as a base for smuggling cocaine. Recruiting DEA contact and ex-CIA, ex-army pilot Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), Bond journeys to the South American Republic of Isthmus, where Sanchez operates a casino and bank as a front. Although abandoned by MI6, technologically advanced armorer Q (Desmond Llewelyn) pops up to distribute some gadgetry (while on leave), enabling Bond to be better equipped to defend himself and infiltrate Sanchez’ organization as a “problem eliminator.”

Using revenge as a motive, instead of the typical conspiracies, espionage, and political entanglements, “Licence to Kill” is drastically more bloodthirsty and cruel than previous films (including the former Timothy Dalton venture), sticking to a realism with barbarous drug lords that involves torture and mutilation. The level of violence is unlike any other of the series, making the chief antagonist more formidable, memorable, and ultimately less fun. Going to the extreme in the opposite direction of Connery or Moore’s final films (which were steeped in over-the-top cheekiness), this more gruesome, somber, sinister vision borders on resembling a different type of action/adventure film altogether – and landed the series its first PG-13 rating (the film was actually edited down just to achieve that designation of leniency).

But the higher production value and advances in filmic technology allow for more spectacular stunt work, with underwater segments, aerial daredevilry, and some truly incredible vehicular feats (topping the list is the tanker chase finale, which is one of the most impressive of all Bond scenarios). The other moments don’t receive the adrenaline-boosting buildup of previous films’ action settings, instead merely taking place as repercussions for earlier activities. If it weren’t for the outrageousness of the conclusion and the familiar, lively James Bond theme, this would barely be 007. Once again overlong, and much slower than “The Living Daylights,” “License to Kill” is more intent on building detailed characters than displaying nonstop adventure, detracting from the overall appeal and entertainment value.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10