Well, no sooner had it begun then the Dalton era must end. Dalton only appeared in two Bond films which is a shame because he genuinely nailed playing Bond and they’re easily among the best in the whole series. The reason he only made two was all due to the legal battles brought up by serial Bond litigation nuisance Kevin McClory. His constant stream of legal issues with the film series lead to Broccoli being unable to produce a new Bond film for the next few years. When it was all over Dalton had moved on and the search for a new Bond for the 90s got under way. So today I look at the second and last Dalton film, Licence To Kill. Click the link!
Originally Licence To Kill went by the name Licence Revoked, there’s even promotional material showing that title. It was changed at the last minutes as, apparently, MGM didn’t think US audiences would understand what revoked meant. Hollywood studios ladies and gents! They think you’re morons! That title was actually very fitting for the film though as, for the only time in the series, Bond has gone rogue and his licence to kill has been revoked. Bond leaves his duties to MI6 behind after his long time friend and ex-CIA counterpart Felix Leiter (David Hedison, last seen as Felix in Live and Let Die) is brutally maimed, and his new wife murdered, at the hands of a Columbian drug lord named Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) whom Felix and Bond had recently arrested. Sanchez was broken free by a corrupt DEA official in exchange for a hefty bribe. Franz leaves Felix minus a leg and at risk of losing an arm after feeding him to a shark. Bond decides the only thing to do is to head to Sanchez’s home turf and exact his revenge.
Tonally this is a much darker take on Bond. There’s been plenty of dark moments in the series, such as when Bond waited for one of Dr No’s men to arrive at a house to murder him or when Roger Moore’s Bond kicked a car with a henchman in it over the edge of a cliff in For Your Eyes Only. The dark streak has always been there but it’s always been reigned in by the fact that Bond is working for his country and not for his own personal goals. Here he is working entirely for personal reasons. The injuries done to Felix were one thing but the fact his new wife was murdered in the process makes this mean even more to Bond as it reminds him of the way his wife Tracy was murdered while on their honeymoon in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Rather than go all guns a blazing though Bond keeps his spy sensibilities intact. He watches Sanchez, infiltrates his gang and then sets about tearing the group apart from the inside and taking down his drug operation in the process.
Helping Bond is a female CIA agent named Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) who’s not afraid to get into a fight and so can be one of the more useful Bond girls when it comes to the action. When introduced she comes across in that way all tough women of the 80s did, all denim jeans and big hair. Thankfully Bond tells her to tart herself up a little and she does a fine job of that. Shame her acting is a little flat though. Unlike The Living Daylights Bond has two ladies to balance here as he works with Sanchez’s girlfriend, Lupe (Talisa Soto, Kitana in the Mortal Kombat movie), who harbours a lot of resentment for the drug lord. She is also not a great actress. She’s stunning though and that’s pretty much what matters for her role to work. Bond also receives help from Q (Desmond Llewelyn) who arrives in the fictional city of Isthmus oh holiday with a suitcase filled with whatever gadgets. Some of the gadgets are on the silly side of things, explosive toothpaste with a cigarette detonator for example, but as they are clearly meant to have been sneakily taken from MI6 this can be forgiven. Q even gets to take part in a little field work along the way providing what little comic relief there is in the film.
As mentioned the tone is darker from throughout. A story like this really needed to be. As a result it was the first Bond film to receive a 15 certificate here in the UK. There’s certainly a lot more blood and the villain’s methods of dealing with his enemies are designed to be as painful as possible. He even causes a man to explode in a de-pressurisation chamber. Sanchez’s lead henchman is a particularly evil little git. His name’s Dario and he’s played by a quite young Benicio Del Toro. His performance manages to make his one of the more menacing henchmen and one of the more memorable despite not having a gimmick like say Jaws or Oddjob. Unless you count the awesome way he flicks out a knife. As Dario, and the other villains, are a lot more closer to the sort of criminal element that exist in the real world they come across with a lot more genuine menace than he Auric Goldfinger’s of the series.
Licence To Kill is one of the few Bond films to not feature a score by John Barry who was not available at the time. In his place was Michael Kamen who had already made a name for himself as a classical composer and scorer of films by this point. He manages to freshen up the Bond theme whilst adding a few themes of his own to the mix, on occasion bringing a few electric guitars into the mix. The result is a score that’s very Bond like but also the most kinetic it had been for years and certainly the most tastefully handled of all the modernised attempts.
John Glen returns to direct for the fifth and last time and to be fair he does a very solid job. He still lacks anything resembling flash but he knows how to stage a stunt sequence, keep the story focused and also how to startle a pigeon on queue. You should look that last bit up. He even manages a few interesting shots such as the reveal shot of Sanchez at the start. The tone is kept solid throughout but there’s still the odd one liner delivered with exactly the right level of dry. Honestly I think this is the best film of John Glen’s directing career and the two Dalton Bond’s he helmed almost make up for the awfulness of Octopussy. Although saying this is his best isn’t saying much for a director who’s non-Bond credits include Iron Aces 3 and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery… oh and Space Precinct… Which I used to love.
Overall Licence To Kill is a fresh feeling Bond film that manages to stay more true to the roots of Fleming’s novels than many of the other films. It has a few issues, the film could have done with someone from MI6 chasing Bond down gradually closing the net in on him. That role exists but for all of one scene before he gets killed. Robert Davi makes for a great and genuinely nasty Bond villain. He’s an interesting character too as all he is interested in is the loyalty of his men and the fear he puts into others. He even blows up a few hundred million dollars of drugs during the films climax. Dalton does a great job as the harder edged Bond the series desperately needed at this time. I personally put this film in my top 5 Bond films, I know many wouldn’t though. Obviously they are wrong. Next up the only Bond film based on an awesome game, Goldeneye 64 The Movie!!!