Summary: Bond looks to avenge Felix, a target of a drug dealer in Miami. Yes. Bond in Miami.
No, I didn’t spell “license” wrong.
I’ve seen approximately 10 Bond movies- all the Pierce Brosnan flicks, all the Daniel Craig movies, Goldfinger, and now this one. And I did watch GoldenEye pretty much right after (review coming soon! Like, Friday!), so it was pretty easy to appreciate this one.
Licence to Kill is the second and last of exactly 2 Timothy Dalton’s Bond era, sandwiched between Roger Moore and Brosnan. Generally, Dalton is known as the “darker Bond” as his stories were more personal- less “codes to the world’s nukes,” not so much “rob the world’s banks and put everyone in debt,” and fewer attachments to ladies. (Dalton straight up, intentionally, decisively murders bad guys who aren’t even threatening him.) Generally any Bond post-Moore is less silly- still with some Bond puns but less ridiculous moments and more suave humor. (Think of Brosnan fixing his tie during the tank chase in GoldenEye– that’s a classic Bond moment.) Licence to Kill takes place after Bond and Felix capture a drug lord, parachute to Felix’s wedding, and said-drug lord targets and disfigures Felix. Bond then goes on a revenge mission with no commands from M and ends up in some weird love triangle that has little to no foundation other than, “I guess he’s cute.”
With strong performances by Dalton and Benicio Del Toro (his first movie!) as well as an appearance by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (legend!), I could see how Licence to Kill might have been great when it came out but today it has a lot of things working against Dalton. Of course, the thing is dated and it’s not just fashion choices or technology. Notably, the way it’s filmed moves between earlier styles and random handheld moments seen more today but it’s choppy and at random intervals- it’s distinct and jarring enough to notice. Another downside is the movie’s struggle to find its own footing- this really is an attempt to establish a far more serious Bond, but the action sequences register as the goofier Bond. While Dalton is probably the most versatile and talented actor to play Bond (John and Kelly Love Timothy Dalton!) and the general idea of the script had real teeth, there are several moments in Licence to Kill where this comes off less Casino Royale and much more Die Another Day. Ouch, right? I don’t mean to be so harsh but… oh…
Like, there’s an underwater harpoon fight. Underwater. Harpoon. Fight.
Regardless of when the movies were released, Bond always gets a lot of liberties with how ridiculous his fights can be. I don’t know whose genius idea this was, but it’s kind of a classic so-bad-it’s-good Bond fight. Mostly, it’s laughable. Yes, they move very slowly in scuba gear. No, no one gets shot with a harpoon. Yes, there are boats flying around on the surface while this is going on with more divers going to the fight. At one point, the bad guys do the smart thing and cut through Bond’s air tube and then in turn, he succeeds in ripping off someone else’s mask to use for his own. Because oxygen tanks, amirite? And the aforementioned parachuting scene! Wearing nearly powder blue tuxedos! Feliz and Bond sabotage the drug lord as well as some planes and then float down into Felix’s wedding, top hats and all. What? There’s also a moment where Bond Girl #2 warns Bond Girl #1 about Bond being in danger because, “I think I’m in love with him,” which is not only an uninspired line, but delivered so poorly. (Just… Mortal Kombat: Annihilation’s Talisa Soto plays Bond Girl #2. That’s all you need to know) The love triangle feels desperately shoehorned in because… Bond is known for ladies? And there needs to be a love interest? It’s part of the Bond formula! Get it in there! Pun intended! Plus, the major bad guy is played by Agent Johnson from Die Hard and the opera singing brother in Goonies, Robert Davi. I can’t take that guy seriously based on past work alone.
The goofier events detract from the integrity of the entire piece. There’s a difference between a small moment where Bond acknowledges his dumb luck and devoting an entire scene to dumb luck. In one of the better scenes, a gun fight breaks out in a marine biology research lab, an aquarium tank breaks, and Bond saves a lobster by throwing it in another tank. Classic and quick Bond moment that doesn’t interrupt the tone of the movie! This movie needed more of those!
There is real substance to the overall story of Licence to Kill. It’s not too far off from the Daniel Craig canon we currently have and you can see a lot of the foundation for that Bond here. I really wish this movie had been either released at a different time (the 80’s in general were just so cheesy and often, the more stylish movies from this decade feel dated- they don’t hold up well), or Dalton had made an non-Bond action piece because he’s really, very good. In the more humorous dialogue moments, you can see there’s something darker behind him and tonally, this makes sense for this entity’s plot and Bond’s motives- it just doesn’t work with coming off Moore’s era. I can appreciate what Licence to Kill was trying to do and ultimately did for the Bond movies we’ve most recently got. That’s how franchises in transition operate right? Plus, the movie’s successor, Brosnan’s GoldenEye, benefited from all the wrongs in the Dalton phase and we also got a great video game so no complaints here.
And we’ll always have Hot Fuzz! And in John’s case, The Rocketeer!