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Film Review: Licence to Kill

Updated on June 11, 2017
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.


In 1989, John Glen released Licence to Kill, based on the character of James Bond as well as elements from the series of novels by Ian Fleming, as the 17th entry in the James Bond series. Starring Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Wayne Newton, Benicio Del Toro, David Hedison and Anthony Starke. The film grossed $156.1 million at the box office.


After escaped drug lord Franz Sanchez attacks Felix Leiter on his wedding night, murdering his wife, Bond starts a personal vendetta against Sanchez. However, his actions cause his License to Kill to be revoked, turning him into a rogue agent.


Although it's not perfect, Licence to Kill is the better of Dalton’s Bond films, utilizing an interesting plot that makes sense in retrospection of the other films.The story is essentially Bond taking revenge for what was done to his friend and his friend’s wife. Though it may seem unbecoming of a secret agent to defy his orders just to go after one man in a fit of vengeance, it makes sense when thinking about Bond’s history. Sanchez having Leiter’s wife killed just shortly after his wedding to get back at him must have opened some old wounds which had closed after Bond had killed Blofeld for murdering Tracy all the way back in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds are Forever. Further, Bond’s previous marriage is referred to moments before Leiter and his wife are jumped. The lengths he goes to, including resigning from MI6 and becoming a rogue agent, shows just what everything means for Bond. The resulting film may seem dark and cynical, but it works as there isn’t much room for a lighthearted Bond focused on avenging his friend.

Sanchez as a villain is also done quite well, as is his inevitable downfall. Seemingly the owner of a casino in Isthmus, he’s personable towards those working for him along with most people he meets. But crossing him reveals his true self: a drug lord who controls the West Coasts of North and South America. His vast connections and wealth help him to be able to escape police custody and get back at Leiter for arresting him by feeding him to a shark prior to raping and killing his wife. Sanchez continues to maintain his facade in this particular moment, claiming his actions aren't personal, just business. Those with personal connections who offend him are dealt with in a similar fashion, whether the slight is perceived or not. Sanchez whips his mistress for infidelity and the man she slept with gets his heart cut out while a collaborator he believes stole money is locked in a decompression chamber.

Additionally, it’s fascinating to see just how Sanchez operates his vast empire. Since he can't be everywhere at once, he is informed of the success his various dealings garner via a TV Telethon.

Moreover, the fallout Bond's actions towards Sanchez and his empire creates is interesting. At the beginning of the film, Sanchez is at the top, but eventually degenerates into paranoia as Bond makes it so he can't trust anyone. As the film progresses, Sanchez goes from a highly respected and feared drug lord to a man who cannot trust his own men, killing them out of fear. In the end, Sanchez has nothing and Bond kills him in disgrace.

Nevertheless, this film does have problems, especially when it comes to the film’s pacing. Near the middle of the film, when M meets Bond in Key West to when Bond is escaping Sanchez’ island by hanging off a boat, it slows to a crawl. A half hour section of the film feels about twice as long.

The meeting between Bond and the Hong Kong Narcotics Bureau is another problem. Bureau agents are introduced in a scene where they incapacitate Bond dressed as ninjas. Here, the tone shifts drastically in what seems an attempt to capture a moment reminiscent of the older films. Yet, it's out of place, out of nowhere, employing a tone completely opposite of the dark story the film is telling and nothing comes of it.

4 stars for Licence to Kill

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.

Nominated for

Edgar Allen Poe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture


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