It’s the last to feature Timothy Dalton as Bond, Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny and Robert Brown as M, the last to feature a credits sequence designed by Maurice Binder, the last to be directed by John Glen and the last to be produced by Broccoli. Richard Maibaum co-scripts for the last time, and editor John Grover and cinematographer Alec Mills similarly bow out from the franchise.
‘Licence to Kill’ feels like it ought to be an autumnal, elegiac work. Instead, it’s full throttle action thriller, with a viciousness not seen since the early days of Connery and a hard-edged depiction of 007. When those who dislike the Dalton films complain that they don’t feel like Bond movies, it’s ‘Licence to Kill’ they point to specifically. There’s no uber-villain, merely a Colombian drug lord. There’s no world-threatening scheme, just a clever means of transporting cocaine. There’s no briefing from M – Bond goes renegade for personal reasons. Gadgets are kept to an absolute minimum, although – ironically – Q (Desmond Llewellyn) gets his most expansive role. Likewise, the Bond girls are (in different ways) survivors rather than wallflowers. And the pre-credits sequence acts as a prologue to the film proper rather than being a show reel for the stunts team.
The curtain-raiser over and done with, Act One delivers some nasty business: Sanchez pulls off an escape, his goons kill Leiter’s bride-of-a-few-hours and dump Leiter himself in a shark pit. Bond, on his way to the airport and in something of a maudlin mood after a chance remark at the reception puts him in mind of the late Teresa Bond, nee di Vicenzo, hears of the escape and heads back to Leiter’s home on an instinct. Here he finds Leiter in a body bag, severely lacerated and barely alive. Bond’s mood changes from maudlin to righteously pissed off and he goes out for revenge.
En route to his final confrontation with Sanchez and the drug lord’s borderline psychotic protégé Dario (Benicio del Toro in only his second film role), Bond enlists the help of Leiter’s contact, pilot Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), introduced in a splendid scene in a dockside bar where she deters an aggressor by ramming the business end of a double-barrelled shotgun in his groin, holds her own in a barroom brawl and blows a hole in the wall to facilitate a quick exit. Pam is tough, resourceful, saves Bond’s ass at one point and also looks glamorous as all hell. And kudos to Wilson and Maibaum for a script that doesn’t compel her to do something stupid or have to get rescued in the final reel. Lowell is definitely one of my all time favourite Bond girls and her contribution to the canon still remains undervalued.
Davi plays Sanchez for what he is, a ruthless businessman whose business just happens to be narcotics; it’s a performance as far removed from the cartoon villainy of most Bond villains as it’s possible to get. Del Toro, however, doesn’t get to do much more than sneer and strike macho poses – there’s certainly little hint of what he would go on to – but the suggestion of a homoerotic subtext between Sanchez and Dario is something of a throwback to the casual homophobia of ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and the one unfortunate element in a film that otherwise ranks very high in my personal 007 league table.
The action sequences are impressive, particularly Sanchez’s rescue from an armed convoy, staged to great effect along the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. Things do get a little over the top towards the end, though, with Kenworth tanker trucks popping wheelies or tilting to drive on one set of wheels to dodge a missile.