Licence to Kill

September 27, 2011

The James Bond movie series, which has been going strong since 1962, got an infusion of fresh blood last time around with the introduction of a new actor to play the famous member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Timothy Dalton, in The Living Daylights, brought a good mean edge to the role, thus wiping away marshmallow memories of lightweight Roger Moore.

Dalton is a welcome addition, but what the series needs now is some new talent behind the camera. Under the stewardship of producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the same team has been churning out these things for years; writer Richard Maibaum and director John Glen have been associated with Bond, in one way or another, virtually since the beginning. Their age is showing. Bond may have been the epitome of turtlenecked, martini-sipping hip in the 1960s, but he’s beginning to look a bit square.

Licence to Kill is Bond’s summer workout, and there’s effort expended to give 007 some bite, by increasing the urgency of his mission and by splashing his female associates with a touch of women’s lib. The film opens in Key West, where Bond and longtime friend Felix Leiter (here played by David Hedison) are celebrating the latter’s wedding when a notorious Latin American drug lord (Robert Davi) escapes from custody, kills the bride, and dangles Leiter into the mouth of a great white shark.

Bond is peeved. When he meddles in the case, after being officially warned off, his license—er, licence—to kill is revoked. But then, our man Bond never really needed a permit, did he?

Then 007 goes to a fictional Latin American country to find and kill Davi. Bond gets the help of Davi’s sultry mistress (model Talisa Soto) and a mysterious but entirely capable American agent (Carey Lowell). Lowell is the most appealing “Bond girl” to come along in quite some time. She has a memorable introduction to the secret agent when the two have to battle their way out of a Bimini bar infested with bad guys.

Other scenes include Bond water-skiing behind a seaplane, throwing a villain into a tank with electric eels, and leading a merry chase down a mountainside in four tanker trucks full of gasoline and drugs. The stunts are up to the customary standard.

In fact, Licence to Kill is, at least on the surface, a solid enough outing. But there’s little life in the proceedings, and not nearly enough fun had with the usual gadgets and lavish locations (no globe-hopping this time, either). It’s time to open up a window on the series, lest Bond wither away.

First published in the Herald, July 13, 1989

And so that was it for Dalton, who gave way for Pierce Brosnan, who might have been Bond a few years earlier were it not for contractual issues. I think the lack of globe-trotting had to do with the attempt to carve a new “serious” Bond, which was going a bit far, but on the other hand this movie also had Wayne Newton and Don Stroud in it, so whatever. (A young Benicio Del Toro, too.) Nice that David Hedison got some work.