With The Living Daylights, the Bond franchise, which has had a more classic appeal to the way the stories have been told to the actors that have played the role, has been upgraded to a more contemporary setting. In the 16th installment License to Kill, that change in ascetic is a welcoming sight for a changing world in which the films have done marvelous in adapting to the current climates. Back in the role for his second of two appearances is Timothy Dalton who, after his first appearance is comparatively different than Roger Moore who was different than Lazenby who was different from Connery.
Connery is still the quintessential Bond – he had everything necessary to bring the fictional MI6 agent created by Ian Fleming in the 1950’s to life. Charm, charisma, confidence, a winning smile and wink to the camera showing how much fun he’s having in a serious role. Lazenby brought a royal elegance to the role and Moore brought the humor in a satirical sense of the word. Dalton established his Bond with an intensity and ferocity that hasn’t been seen in the previous iterations. Dalton’s Bond is an adrenaline junkie – looking for the fight instead of the lust that the character is famous for seeking out.
The Bond formula isn’t broken so there’s no real urgency to change or fix it. After an explosive opening pre-credit scene which involves Bond (Timothy Dalton), and Felix Leiter (David Hedison) on their way to Felix’s wedding which turns into a shootout on a runway and then having the one-man plane flown by Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) hog-tied by Bond only for the groom and best man to parachute to the steps of the church. For pre-credit scene, this is easily one of the best ones in recent memory showing the directional change from super spy to action hero. For two decades, now almost three Bond has been the epitome of a hero, saving the world from destruction to stopping the crazed lunatics from creating a massive drug empire all without breaking a sweat or showing too much empathy for the chaos that has been caused.
From the credits on the films are more or less predictable with how the structure has been laid out for nearly 30 years. License to Kill follows suit. The order of events is always guaranteed to happen without fail. But License to Kill isn’t a typical Bond film, there’s an intimacy surrounding the story that has never been explored before which correlates to some much-needed depth to the character. For Bond, this is all about revenge. Seeking revenge for what Sanchez and his henchmen Dario (Benicio Del Toro), Perez (Alejandro Bracho), & Braun (Guy De Saint Cyr) did to Felix and his bride, Bond is on a personal vendetta to stop Sanchez from getting away with it.
It’s no secret the Bond character is loyal to a fault and returning screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson make that loyalty believable even in Bonds relationship to Della (Priscilla Barnes), Felix’s bride and Wife. But the loyalty also is a detriment to his duty to Queen and Country. M (Robert Brown) revokes Bond’s 00 status and therefore his license to kill when Bond refuses to let the matter go and let the American’s handle the crime. Bond is completely on his own without the support of the British Secret Service or his government.
With a more edgier tone than previous installments, License to Kill still has moments of self-awareness and parody. Not to the extent that the Roger Moore era focused on the humor and quick whited dialogue, but the humor is there, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
As a villain, Sanchez falls more in line with the Roger Moore era style of villains. The ones who aren’t associated with SPECTRE or Blofeld but instead aspire to become drug kingpin billionaires. He doesn’t want the world to burn just wants to be left in peace and to make his fortune. He certainly isn’t the worst villain of this caliber Bond has come across, that trophy still belongs to Kananga & Scaramanga but out of the villains since then, he’s the deadliest of them all in recent memory.
The Bond franchise has thrived on its consistency. From supporting characters M (Robert Brown), Miss Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) to returning screenwriters, director John Glen (in his final directed film in the franchise), the opening credits accompanied with an original song to everything in between.
Action-packed, the set pieces are notably bigger and bolder than in previous installments that are also shot and framed more pleasing. The final stunt sequence is one explosion after the next that takes its inspiration from other 80’s action films like Indiana Jones and Terminator. Bond is no longer bound to one country having pride in his pursuit to save the planet, he’s a global phenomenon.
License to Kill is one of the best Bond films since the days of Connery and Dalton comes close to capturing that same enthusiasm for playing the role that Connery had. Of course, Dalton made the character his own by adding more to his personality that hasn’t changed since the inception of the franchise. It’s the signaling of a new world order and the Dalton Era is a bridge to that new world of Bond. The threats to humanity only get more desperate to save, the gadgets and technology become more advanced that propel the franchise into the future and the women are getting sexier while showing they can kick ass equally to Bond himself.
In the changing of the guard, we can always count on the formula that made the franchise what it is. We still get the invitation from the villain to Bond to accept the generous hospitality of his large wealth and estate, Bond will still seduce the villain’s wife, girlfriend, mistress and Bond will always save the day – something we can count on with each film. The films pacing has been kicked up a notch giving the film legs to run on instead of walk and this is the first Bond film to feature blood and a good amount of it from bullets to explosions to shark bites.
Written By: Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson
Directed By: John Glen
Music By: Michael Kamen
Cinematography: Alec Mills
Starring: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Benicio del Toro, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss
Release Date: July 14, 1989
Running Time: 2 Hours 13 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
My Score:4 out of 5
Based On: Elements of Live and Let Die and The Hilderbrand Rarity by Ian Fleming