Licence to Kill (1989) - Illustrated Reference

Licence to Kill was directed by John Glen and premiered on 13th June 1989. Starring Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Zerbe. Screenplay by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum. Music by Michael Kamen. Theme sung by Gladys Knight. 133mins.

When Bond finds out his CIA friend Felix Leiter has been half eaten by sharks and Felix’s wife killed on the orders of ruthless drug lord Franz Sanchez, he vows revenge. Disobeying M’s orders to stay off the case, Bond’s licence to kill is revoked. Now a rogue agent he teams up with CIA agent Pam Bouvier, the plan? Take down Sanchez and destroy his drug empire.

Licence to Kill is the first James Bond film not to be named after an Ian Fleming novel or short story. The only connection to Ian Fleming are the characters of Bond, M, Q, Moneypenny, Felix Leiter and Milton Krest. The film’s title was changed from Licence Revoked when it became clear most moviegoers didn’t know what “revoked” meant.

The film was novelised by John Gardner (1926-2007). Gardner had written 16 Bond novels from 1981 to 1996. They included Licence Renewed, Icebreaker, Scorpius, Win, Lose or Die, No Deals Mr. Bond, Death is Forever and Goldeneye.

Timothy Dalton
Timothy Dalton
Robert Davi
Robert Davi
Carey Lowell
Carey Lowell
Benicio Del Toro
Benicio Del Toro
Taliso Soto
Taliso Soto
Anthony Zerbe
Anthony Zerbe

Timothy Dalton (1944-) / James Bond

Born in Colwyn Bay, Wales, Timothy Dalton films include - The Lion in Winter (1968), Cromwell (1970), Wuthering Heights (1970 as Heathcliff), Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), Flash Gordon (1980), The Living Daylights (1987), The Rocketeer (1991), Looney Tunes Back in Action (2003), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The Tourist (2010).

Sanchez: Señor Bond, you got big cojones. You come here, to my place, without references, carrying a piece, throwing around a lot of money... but you should know something: nobody saw you come in, so nobody has to see you go out.

Robert Davi (1951-) / Franz Sanchez

Davi is excellent as the charismatic but ruthless Franz Sanchez, his drug empire situated in Isthmus City, a fictional South American city. Sanchez is among the best Bond villains.

Born in Queens, New York City, Robert Davi's films include - The Goonies (1985), Raw Deal (1986), Die Hard (1988), Action Jackson (1988), Predator 2 (1990), Cops and Robbersons (1994) and Showgirls (1995).

Carey Lowell (1961-) / Pam Bouvier

Pam Bouvier, a beautiful CIA undercover operative shadowing Sanchez, she teams up with Bond. Pam is adept with firearms and an ex-US army pilot. One of the better Bond girls.

Born in Huntington, New York, Carey Lowell's films include - Club Paradise (1986), The Guardian (1990), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Love Affair (1994) and Fierce Creatures (1997).

Benicio Del Toro (1967-) / Dario

Cold-blooded killer Dario works for Sanchez. His death is one of the nastiest and messiest in the Bond series, Bond drops him into a giant shredder turning him into mince-meat.

Born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Benicio Del Toro won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Traffic (2000) and was nominated Best Actor for 21 Grams (2003). Del Toro's films include - Christopher Columbus The Discovery (1992), The Usual Suspects (1995), The Fan (1996), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Snatch (2000), The Way of the Gun (2000), The Hunted (2003), Sin City (2005), Che (2008) and The Wolfman (2010).

Taliso Soto (1967-) / Lupe Lamora

Gorgeous Lupe Lamora is Sanchez girl. After catching her with another man Sanchez whips her and has his men rip out the guy’s heart.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Taliso Soto's films include - The Mambo Kings (1992), Hostage (1992), Don Juan DeMarco (1994), Mortal Kombat (1995), Spy Hard (1996), Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997) and Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever (2002).

Anthony Zerbe (1936-) / Milton Krest

Sanchez drug runner Milton Krest also gets a nasty messy death in this film, when Sanchez is made to believe Krest hired a hitman to kill him he throws him into a decompression chamber, Sanchez than cuts the air tube causing rapid decompression, Krest explodes all over the chamber.

Born in Long Beach, California, Anthony Zerbe's films include - Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Omega Man (1971 as Matthias), Farewell My Lovely (1975), Rooster Cogburn (1977), The Dead Zone (1983), See No Evil Hear no Evil (1989), Star Trek Insurrection (1998), The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003).

The name Milton Krest appears in Ian Fleming’s short story The Hildebrand Rarity, the character in the story is a millionaire searching for a rare species of fish.

David Hedison (1927) / Felix Leiter

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, David Hedison first played Felix Leiter in Live and Let Die (1973). In Licence to Kill Felix is fed to sharks and left mutilated with a note saying “He disagreed with something that ate him.” This subplot was lifted from the novel Live and Let Die.

Bond: In my business you prepare for the unexpected.
Sanchez: And what business is that?
Bond: I help people with problems.
Sanchez: Problem solver.
Bond: More of a problem eliminator.

Licence to Kill was the most violent Bond film at that time and was heavily cut in the UK to secure a more audience friendly rating. The first Bond film to be rated PG-13 in the US and a 15 in the UK. It is uncut on DVD.

The film was also one of the least successful Bond movies at the US box office grossing just $33m in total but luckily it did better outside the US where it grossed a further $122m.

Gladys Knight sang the title song "Licence to Kill" which peaked at #6 in the UK chart. Because of similarities to the opening music of the song "Goldfinger", royalties were paid to the song writers. The music score was composed by Michael Kamen, who at the time was noted for his music to action films like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard.

John Glen’s last stint as director, he directed all five Bond films of the 80's. In his autobiography Glen lists Licence to Kill as his favourite of the films he directed.

This was to be Robert Brown’s last film as Secret Service chief M. He had played the role in four Bond films.

Desmond Llewellyn as Q has a much larger role in this than previous Bond films, helping Bond behind M's back.

The great Maurice Binder’s last titles sequence for a Bond film, he worked on 14 Bond films designing the dazzling opening credits. He also devised the famous opening gun barrel sequence. He died in 1991.

Timothy Dalton’s second and last Bond film, the poor reception to this film which was a more serious and more violent thriller than Bond fans were accustomed, and various legal disputes during the 90's meant it would be six years before the Bond series was revived - a new decade and a new Bond.

The Critics Wrote –

"The James Bond production team has found its second wind with Licence to Kill, a cocktail of high-octane action, spectacle and drama. Dalton plays 007 with a vigor and physicality that harks back to the earliest Bond pics. The thrills-and-spills chases are superbly orchestrated." (Variety)

“Bond wanders through the film killing almost everyone he meets in increasingly unpleasant ways. John Glen’s direction is so unimaginative that it is hard to believe he did such sterling work on The Living Daylights and For Your Eyes Only. Worst still is Michael Kamen’s dismal score...

Most worrying of all is Dalton’s Bond, a lethargic and limited performance reminiscent of Moore at his worst... Most of Bond’s distinguishing characteristics are gone. Displaying no signs of class or intellect, he has become a mere killing machine.” (Trevor Willsmer, Film Yearbook)

"Carey Lowell makes a wonderfully sassy heroine, and although the plot's as ropey as ever, the stunts are great." (Rose)

"The film retains its familiar, effective mix of despicably powerful villains, suspiciously tantalizing women and ever-wilder special effects. But Mr. Dalton's glowering presence adds a darker tone. The screenwriters Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum have accommodated this moodier Bond, and have even created a script that makes him fit for the 90's." (New York Times)

"On the basis of this second performance as Bond, Dalton can have the role as long as he enjoys it. He makes an effective Bond - lacking Sean Connery's grace and humor, and Roger Moore's suave self-mockery, but with a lean tension and a toughness that is possibly more contemporary. The major difference between Dalton and the earlier Bonds is that he seems to prefer action to sex. But then so do movie audiences, these days. "Licence to Kill" is one of the best of the recent Bonds." (Roger Ebert)

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Comments 15 comments

FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

As stated in your last hub, I haven't seen this. I will mention anthony Zerbe, though. He was a great bad guy on the original Mission: Impossible series. Most actors only played a bad guy once on the show, but he guest starred several times. I wish that show would come back to tv. That movie franchise -stupid to make Peter's character a villain after all he did for Paramount-ticks me off. I haven't seen a single one of them or any Tom Cruise movie since.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

I'll always remember Zerbe as the leader of 'The Family' the creepy albino mutants in the film The Omega Man. The topic of one of my first hubs.

Thanks for popping in Flora.

Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

I see Ebert liked this seemed the franchise was in a bit of trouble after the lean box-office return.;)

Always a Pro-rated Hub and enjoyable Steve.;)

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Yep Ebert changed his mind about Dalton, a shame this was his last one, I was looking forward to the next one Licence Renewed. [wink]

Thanks Mentalist, much appreciated as usual.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

I agree with Ebert. This is my favorite non-Connery Bond film. It was the most realistic franchise entry since "Live & Let Die". I loved Bond's grim determination here. Dalton really owned the role here and I would have liked to have seen him do at least one more.

Cary Lowell is one of the best Bond girls and I enjoyed her interactions with Dalton. Davi made an excellent villain. And we even had a young Benicio Del Toro in the mix.

It was good to see Hedison back as Leiter. It was a smart move to bring back a former Leiter actor, to give the audience an extra attachment to the character. The long relationship between Bond and Leiter made Bond's actions seem very believeable. (Better than him avenging the unseen 009 in "Octopussy")

Fun Bond film. Good hub.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

While it isn't my favourite non-Connery Bond, that would be Moore's The Spy Who Loved Me, or even my favourite Dalton-Bond movie, it is an above average entry in the series. And I agree with all your other points Rob.

The problem with Licence to Kill is that with a little tweaking it could be another big generic action movie starring Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson, in South America seeking revenge against a drug lord for the death or mutilation of a friend. The British Secret Service could be written out easily.

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

So Connery done(at least his official Bond movies) Moore done, Lazenby done, and now Dalton are running out of Bonds.

Great hub with great does Benicio Del Toro look young, I hardly remember that he was once a Bond villian henchman. I clearly remember when they had issues with the name...I think they should have stuck with License Revoked.

I think everytime the producers of Bond movies...try to turn him into an outlaw....Quantum of Solace/License to Kill...audiences do not response well to makes a cool character seem less cool.

Looking through your comments I think the one right above this one is was just another generic action movie....luckily Goldeneye was coming.

Voted up and awesome.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Cogerson, a bit of a Brosnan fan I take it?

Pierce Brosnan was very popular because he cleverly combined attributes from all the previous Bonds in his interpretation of the role, a bit of Connery cool and roughness here, some Moore smoothiness and humour there and a bit of Dalton broodiness and anger when needed. :)

AlabamaGirl86 profile image

AlabamaGirl86 5 years ago

Very nicely done, wow wow wow Benico Del Toro was way good looking back then, he does not get that response anymore from me. I saw License to Kill a very long time ago, but vague memories of the movie, but I appreciate you sharing all this great information. Awesome job voted up and voted interesting.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Thank you AlabamaGirl, I'm glad you're enjoying my Bond hubs. Only six or seven left to go. :)

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

Are you going to do the two non-canonical 1967 films "Casino Royal" and "Operation Kid Brother"?

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Rob, I may do the spoof comedy Casino Royale, Kid Brother stars Connery's brother and isn't really connected to Ian Fleming at all so i'll skip that. I will be doing Never Say Never Again, since it is Connery's last Bond movie. But it's not one of my favourites.

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

I would not say I was a huge Brosnan Bond fan.....but I have noticed since Connery....the Bond producers have a real hard time having great back to back Bond movies....if you look at the timeline....Live and Let followed by The Man With The Golden Gun....The Spy Who Loved Me got followed by Moonraker(I know it is one of your guilty pleasures)....Living Daylights followed by License to Kill. Casino Royale followed by Quantum of just seems like....a great movie I love...followed by a movie ...which makes me think ....the Bond series is running out of gas.

In this case....loved Dalton in Living Daylights....extremely disappointed in License to Kill...then they rebound with the excellent this means....Bond 23 should be awesome...since Quantum was so bad....

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Just to show what a dedicated follower I am of these James Bond hubs....I had to type the above comment three times before Hurricane Irene would allow me the time to send it...without cutting off my power.

Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England Author

Written while being assaulted by Hurricane Irene, Cogerson I salute you.

I really liked the first two Pierce Brosnan Bond films, not so much the last two.

Thanks for commenting and take care my friend.

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