3.5 of 5 stars
Timothy Dalton’s 007 only makes it about 20 minutes into his second (and last) film before he manages to lose his license to kill (or ‘licence to kill’ for my readers across the proverbial pond). In Licence to Kill, the series drifts into PG-13 waters with more violence and amped up action.
Bond sets off on a personal vendetta after his best friend, Felix Leiter (David Hedison, reprising the role 16 years after Live and Let Die), is fed to a shark and his wife is murdered on their wedding night. This calls back to the murder of Bond’s wife immediately following his wedding in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Leiter references Bond’s short-lived marriage early in the film when he tells his bride, Della, Bond “was married once, but it was a long time ago… He’s also been to outer space!”
Leiter and the DEA had teamed up to take down a Latin-American drug lord, Sanchez. However, Sanchez escapes police custody with the help of a corrupt cop (Everett McGill) and immediately takes revenge upon Leiter and his innocent wife.
FUN FACT: My father went to Rosedale High School with Everett McGill, who was in Quest for Fire with Ron Pearlman, who was in The Magnificent Seven TV series with Michael Biehn, who was in The Terminator with Bill Paxton, who was in Apollo 13 with Kevin Bacon.
After grieving for Della for about 10 seconds, Bond is off to locate and kill Sanchez. He teams up with a CIA officer, Pam Bouvier, who has been working with the Hong Kong Narcotics Bureau to bring down Sanchez’s gang. He’s also joined in the field by Q, giving the character a little more to do than introduce a few gadgets in the first act.
Licence to Kill brings welcome updates to the series in terms of action and violence. Sanchez is a brutal and erratic drug lord, and the stakes for Bond are high. However, his henchman, Dario (Benicio Del Toro) steals the show. Del Toro is baby-faced and lanky in this early role, but he somehow exudes star power in his brief scenes. Even when he’s standing in the background, he draws your attention with his undeniable presence. But the highlight of the movie is the (somewhat overlong) tanker chase at the end involving two Stinger missiles. There’s more than enough gasoline to ensure a couple awesome ‘splosions!
However, the subplots not involving Bond’s vendetta against Sanchez are somewhat strange and stretch the movie out about 20 minutes longer than it needs to be. Sanchez has some kind of deal in the works with “the Orientals,” and the subplot oddly mixes every Asian stereotype into a flick about a Latin drug lord. One of the Orientals, Kwang, is an undercover Hong Kong Narcotics Bureau agent, played by Japanese-American actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Sanchez’s head of security greets “the Orientals” in Japanese (“Konnichiwa!”). Then Bond is attacked by some of the Hong Kong ninjas. Somewhere in all this Wayne Newton makes a bizarre cameo.
The filmmakers also didn’t know what to do with the two romantic interests Bond encounters during the movie. There’s Lupe, Sanchez’s long-suffering mistress Bond needs to rescue, as well as Pam Bouvier. I thought Bond should’ve ended up with Lupe at the end as her troubled past gave her more in common with Bond’s late wife, Tracy. Instead, Lupe ends up with el presidente of the fictional country Isthmus (Pedro Armendariz, Jr., who plays Latino politicians in every movie you’ve ever seen [The Mask of Zorro, The Legend of Zorro, Once Upon a Time in Mexico] and son of Pedro Armendariz, who appeared in From Russia with Love). Bond then goes for Bouvier at the end (sorry this review of a movie from 1989 contains spoilers!). I doubt the romantic encounter between British and American spies would be looked upon favorably by their respective agencies. This is what happens when two Bond girls manage to live until the end of the movie. Usually in the formula a girl is killed in the second act to give Bond extra motivation to defeat the villain. However, as this mission was already personal and no one wanted to see Lupe killed after all she’s suffered, we’re left with two women for Bond to choose from. And he chooses stupidly.
Licence to Kill brought a more modern, darker tone to the series—a welcome change after more than a decade of Roger Moore’s depiction of 007. However, it doesn’t quite find the right tone. I gave this movie three and a half out of five stars, but I think it could be edited into a four-and-a-half-star movie.