"Licence To Kill" doesn't really get fair treatment, in my opinion. Considered a box office failure and listed on may critic's lists as one of the worst James Bond films in the series, this movie gets quite a bad rap. Is it really that bad? Comparing it to some of the worst ones in the series like "A View To A Kill" or "Moonraker", then absolutely not. This film just happens to take the darker and more serious toned James Bond to a new level. That and it happens to be quite a bit more violent and less goofy then even the colder Bonds that have come before it. I guess, making it 'worse' than the others.
STORYLINE: When Felix Leiter is found almost dead and his new wife slain at the hands of a drug king pin Sanchez, Bond sets out on a vendetta. Avenge his friends for the pain and anguish that this egotistical drug lord has laid upon them. When MI6 says no to his investigation, Bond loses his licence to kill and goes rogue to finish off his personal mission. With the help of one of Leiter's contacts and a little luck to match his skill set, Bond finds himself inching closer and closer to his target. Will Bond succeed in his vengeful endeavors and die trying at the hands of a wealthy and too well connected two bit madman?
PLOT 4/5: Here's why most Bond fans despise "Licence To Kill": it rarely feels like a Bond film. There's no 'mission' to accomplish. There's no 'back up' or classic scenes involving MI6 (although when M tries to take his gun is pretty classic). Despite some over the top moments, this is way more realistic than most Bond's that have come in the last few decades. More or less it feels like an action packed regular spy movie than your normal Bond affair. I'm sure that pisses a lot of people off. Here's the kicker. Get over it. Because its still quite a solid and exciting film anyway. Bond might be cold and hard almost the entire flick and he does some pretty violent things that we are not used to seeing in these kind of movies, but it fits. When the film does try to throw in some more regular Bond moments, they don't work. Q appearing to 'help' Bond by giving him some gadgets for example. It almost doesn't fit the feeling of the film. When the film gets going though, its a vicious and ruthless ride for Bond that really smacks a more realistic tone worth watching.
BOND 4.5/5: With some nice touches that bring out some of the darker shades of Bond, like mentioning his previous marriage to Tracy which serves as kind of an under toned reason for his rogue status, Dalton really goes to new territory with Bond here. His somewhat squinty and piercing gaze almost never leaves (sans a few moments with our Bond Girl in the film) and the one liners are sparse and not all that funny as much as tacked on. In the end though, you really root for Bond to burn the entire thing down as his cause is sympathetic and the villain worth the effort and violence. This is a Bond that we have never seen before on film (this one definitely smacks of the ending of the Bond book series more than any) and Dalton portrays it perfectly. Moore fans begin to weep, this Bond is not the quirky and fun spy you fell in love with. He's a cold and calculated killer and for me, that's the spy this series needed even if for only one or two films.
VILLAIN 5/5: Sanchez is one of Bond's best villains. With Robert Davi and his equally cool and evilly calculated demeanor perfectly portraying the drug lord Sanchez, this villain truly feels to be one that can counter balance Bond. In a realistic tone too. His plans are realistic. His style is too. He's not all that over the top and he's just as ruthless as Bond is in the film making Bond's plight seem even more justified. When Dalton and Davi are on screen together its tense and the chemistry heavy, which is how it should be. Definitely one of Bond's best for being so real and still so damn untouchable at the same time.
BOND GIRL 3/5: Now Pam Bouvier just comes off as rather wishy-washy here and is definitely one of the low points of "Licence To Kill". Her weird bi-polar attitude of being a tough women who takes no shit cause she was an army pilot and then being a pining lady whom storms off every time Bond is seen with another girl is actually kind of annoying. Although her relevance to the plot is a nice addition as Felix's contact and semi-expert on the villain, its her odd twists and turns as a character that underwrite how good she could have been. Understandably, she has to carry much more of the emotion on her sleeve in the film as Bond tends to bury his deep in a rage, but I still could have used a bit more development or smoother transition for her.
"Licence To Kill" is the most underrated Bond film of the series. Although definitely not your typical Bond film that rarely follows the classic structuring of the previous films and stresses more on Bond's own mental weight than say ridiculous plot maneuvers, "Licence To Kill" cooks at its own temperature. With the darker Dalton and more Ian Fleming elements to the story, this one is more violent, realistic, and ruthless. It works, even if it isn't 'classic' Bond.
BONUS RANT: For a film that stresses the realistic elements of a spy film and has one of the best climaxes seen in a Bond film with its tanker truck chase down the desert hills, the scene where Bond tips the semi backwards to drive through the fire makes me so angry and frustrated. It doesn't make sense AT ALL. Its so out of place when you ask someone if they saw this movie its the only scene they remember because its so damn stupid. If I could. I would edit it out. And never regret it.
Written By Matt Reifschneider