James Bond Movie Review: Licence To Kill

In honor of the 60th anniversary of James Bond, I’m revisiting and reviewing all the movies. Next up, Licence To Kill! Read on for my thoughts on this explosive entry in the James Bond film franchise.

The Story

En route to the wedding of his friend Felix Leiter in Florida, Bond and Leiter take a detour to arrest drug baron Franz Sanchez. It doesn’t take too long, however, for Sanchez to break himself out of jail, and kill the new Mrs Leiter and maim Felix. Bond seeks revenge. With his licence revoked by the British government, and with the aid of CIA operative Pam Bouvier as well as MI6 gadget specialist Q, they bring Sanchez and his entire corrupt drug empire to its knees.

Double-O Insights

The final Bond film produced by Cubby Broccoli

Dalton did many of the stunts himself, including running from the exploding tanker

This was the fifth and final Bond film directed by John Glen

The film also marked the final appearances of Robert Brown as M and Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny

This was the first film to not use the title of an Ian Fleming story

This was the first Bond film to be shot outside the UK in its entirety, with Estudios Churubusco in Mexico replacing Pinewood for interior shots

The film was originally called ‘Licence Revoked’

This was the last film that Maurice Binder designed/shot the main title credit sequence

Michael Kamen wrote the film score for the first time after John Barry’s run of 26 years

My Thoughts

I watched Licence To Kill twice for this review. With a newborn in the house, I needed to give it a second viewing to absorb the film entirely. I’m glad I did because I enjoyed Licence To Kill even more the second time around. I can confidently say that Licence To Kill is an excellent movie and a terrific entry in the now 60-year-old James Bond franchise.

The story for Licence To Kill starts off with Felix Leiter getting married. Felix is portrayed by David Hedison, who also played the role of Felix in Live And Let Die. I thought it was great seeing him back in action as Felix, and he did a great job as this important character. David half-jokingly mentioned that Cubby thought he’d look too old to play Felix again in the behind-the-scenes documentary included with the Special Edition DVD. I’m glad he got the part because he deserved it.

Everyone loves to talk about how dark, gritty, and violent this movie is. To a degree, it is, but it’s not nearly as dark, gritty, and violent as other movies from the 1980s (I’m looking at you, Robocop). My advice is not to get caught up in this common observation. Yes, it’s not the campy, schmaltzy Bond of the Roger Moore days. Instead, it’s a return to the form of Ian Fleming’s Bond and a harbinger of what was to come when Daniel Craig eventually assumed the role of 007. I don’t see the movie’s mood as an attribute or a detriment, just a shift in style.

Timothy Dalton is just as excellent this time as he was in The Living Daylights, as is Robert Davi as Sanchez and Anthony Zerbe as Milton Krest. A hero is only as good as the villains, and Licence To Kill has excellent villains. The person in charge of casting for this movie did a superb job of finding the perfect actors to play these roles.

While Ken Adam was not in charge of the production design for Licence To Kill, Peter Lamont did a fine job with location scouting. From the underwater scenes to the bar fight to Sanchez’s opulent abode at the movie’s end, Licence To Kill is a feast for the eyes. It often felt like an old-school Sean Connery James Bond movie, and I appreciated the panache it exuded.

For the first time in 26 years, John Barry was not in charge of the score. Instead, Michael Kamen was at the helm, and I thoroughly enjoyed what he brought to the table. His score was classic Bond mixed with modern elements that helped evolve the 007 sound. Gladly Knight turned in a legendary vocal for the title track, a song I have grown to appreciate over the years. My favorite part of the soundtrack was during the movie’s final moments. Pam Bouvier said to Bond, “Why don’t you wait until you’re asked?” He replied, “So, why don’t you ask me?” And Patti LaBelle’s spectacular “If You Asked Me To” plays, and the credits roll. This is how you end a movie! Just fantastic, and this movie is why I became a Patti LaBelle fan, so I have James Bond to thank for that.

Behind the camera was John Glen, who called this his best-directed film. I agree. I think he did a splendid job of capturing License To Kill’s raw action and high-octane energy. He made it a fun-to-watch thrill ride the whole way through.

License To Kill is highly enjoyable. Yes, it has a certain edge, and there is plenty of violence, including a vicious and combustive end for Sanchez. However, there are also moments of humor and romance too. The Bond girls are formidable, beautiful, and nuanced, which isn’t always the case. Timothy Dalton is perfect as 007, and Robert Davi and Anthony Zerbe were delightfully sleazy as the lead villain and henchman. Licence To Kill had beautiful locales, an exciting story, great music, and brilliant directing, making it a James Bond film for the ages.

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