Ranking the Films of the James Bond Series: #17 – License to Kill

License to Kill (1989)

Directed by: John Glen

Written by: Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson


bond dario

The last Bond film of the 80’s was also the last of John Glen’s five, Timothy Dalton’s two, Richard Maibaum’s thirteenth and Maurice Binder’s sixteenth for the franchise. It was also the last entry in the series for a while there, so long that they lost Dalton during the six year hiatus before Goldeneye came out.

People like to rag on the Dalton Era like they were bad movies and he was a lousy Bond. I do not support that criticism. The cinematic landscape was changing, and more importantly the world was changing, and I think Dalton saw that it was time for the franchise to do the same.

lighter license

Fans of the Fleming books will see more of the Bond they’re familiar with in Timothy Dalton. He’s not as snarky or comical a Bond as you got during the Connery and Moore days. He’s more serious. More somber. More burdened by the weight of his job, and the few friendships he’s fostered over the years.  It’s funny how people give Daniel Craig credit for playing a more serious Bond, but when Dalton did it everyone thought he was bad.

bond casino license

As much as I enjoy License to Kill, and appreciate it for being a dark chapter in 007’s life, this movie came out in a post Die Hard world and I think EON just wasn’t willing or able to compete with the Hard R action movies that were cleaning up at the box office. I think this is a pretty solid film, but solid just didn’t cut it in 1989 when you had Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, Ghostbusters 2 and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade all chasing the same dollar.


The Cold Open:

felix and sharky

It is a well known fact that Christopher Nolan is a fan of the James Bond series. There have been rumbling for years that EON and Nolan have been flirting with each other to pair up for a film. It should come as no surprise then that you will find traces of the Bond series in Nolan’s films. When James Bond jumps out of a helicopter to lasso the tail of a plane the only thing I can think of is the opening of The Dark Knight Rises.

This cold open actually does well to set the tone for the film, which is a basically Miami Vice with a touch of Scarface thrown in.

sanchez and his lady

Those familiar with the Bond books will notice a strange callback during the introduction of our villain, Sanchez. That little stingray tail he pulls out to ‘correct’ his lady while Benicio cuts out her lover’s heart was featured in The Hildebrand Rarity short story from the For Your Eyes Only collection. I remember thinking it sounded pretty scary, but seeing it in action was rather disturbing.

There is a lot of Felix here in the opening, and again I’m reminded of the books where Bond had a real fondness for Felix. That will serve to be the driving force behind this story.


The Credit Sequence:

credit sequence license

When Gladys Knight rips that ‘Got a License to Kill’ refrain in her lush and sultry voice, I begin to applaud. I don’t know why the silhouette openings with soft rock songs works so much for me, but they just do. It’s just such a Bond specific thing, I can’t help but love it.

This opening might seem a bit simple, but it has a touch of elegance in it. And the song is pretty great.



rouge bond

How many times can Bond go rogue before he gets fired? He damn near got himself shot this time, so I’m going to say he’s pushing it. It might seem like an exhausted plot device, but story wise it works…this is a revenge film. I mentioned at the top this is a 007 version of Miami Vice, and that’s probably the best way to put it. James is out to take down a drug lord not because he’s threatening the world, but because he fucked with the wrong guy and now wants to make him pay for feeding Felix to a shark.

he disagreed license

That shark bit, and the ‘he disagreed with something that ate him’ note is another callback to the Fleming books. In ‘Live and Let Die’ Mr. Big pulled that shit. Strangely enough, aside from the many references to the books, this is one of the rare Bond films that acknowledge the timeline, bringing Bond’s brief wedding to Tracy up in the first act.

People call Dalton the ‘literary Bond’, and that’s pretty fitting here. Many of the books and short stories find Bond on smaller scale assignments that rely on storytelling to create drama rather than just exaggerating the stakes.


The Gadgets:

q visit license

The first thing everyone points to when they talk about wanting to make a serious Bond film is the goofy gadgets, so it should come as no surprise you don’t see many here. Hell, it took over an hour before Q shows up with his little goodie bag of gizmos to remind everyone this is a Bond film.

palm gun license

He’s got the exploding alarm clock, exploding toothpaste, laser camera with x-ray and signature gun with palm print identification coded into the handle. They’re actually pretty practical devices, so no complaints here.

cumbberbund rope

The Cummerbund Rope kit is pretty practical as well. It reminds me of the one Connery used in Diamonds Are Forever to get onto the elevator at Walter White’s casino.

q radio license

That and Q’s Broom Radio are perfectly scaled for a more grounded film….even if Desmond Llewelyn insists on making it into a joke.


The Villains:


Robert Davi has a great face. The guy just looks like such a hardass. I really like him as a villain. I don’t care if he walks around with an iguana on his shoulder, I have nothing bad to say about the drug lord Franz Sanchez.

Speaking of all the references in this film, how about that daring bridge escape scene? Do you think JJ Abrams was watching this when he was working on Mission Impossible 3?


Sanchez had a pretty solid organization, and I’m sure there were nods to Escobar in his character.

dario license

Benicio Del Toro has made a career out of adding quirks to his characters that make them jump of the screen and his henchman, Dario, is the perfect example of that. When he tells Leiter they gave his wife a good honnneymooon, the hairs on my neck stand on end because this dude is crazy.

One of these days I’m going to rank the villains and henchmen, and I got a feeling these two will fare well.


The Bond Girl:

pam bouvier license

Every film we talk about the Bond Girl saying their Bond Girl isn’t like all the other Bond Girls and then they turn around and be helpless Bond Girls like the rest. Carey Lowell’s Pam Bouvier is not like the rest. Bouvier is smart, tough and sophisticated. She doesn’t have a problem calling Bond on his shit. She is the perfect counterpart to Dalton’s more tempered Bond. Sure, she finds her way into Bond’s arms but that was after she saved his ass in a bar fight.

pam b license to kill

Overall Score: 3/5

Tune in later this month for #17 on the list as we countdown the James Bond films leading up to the release of EON Productions JAMES BOND 25.


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