Timothy Dalton makes his second and final appearance as James Bond in Licence to Kill, which is English for License to Kill.
Dalton’s Bond is a more serious character than his predecessor, the tongue-in-cheek Roger Moore – and after A View to a Kill, the franchise literally couldn’t get any sillier. Following The Living Daylights, this is an altogether darker affair that marks the franchise’s first 15 certificate. It’s also the most personal 007 movie since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as Bond goes rogue and seeks revenge on the crooks who attacked his best friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison).
That said, it’s still completely ridiculous. There’s a surprising amount of nautical sight gags – someone gets stabbed with a giant swordfish, a fish-shaped fountain winks at the camera and Bond disguises himself as a manta ray. It’s really good. Especially when you remember that he’s no longer working for the government but as a private citizen, meaning everything he does is completely illegal. But Dalton’s 007 is unstoppable in his personal vendetta – whether his sincerity belongs to the franchise is up for debate, but he faithfully captures Bond’s suaveness, sadism and sexism.
Even by Bond standards, this is an outrageously sexist movie. Made in 1989, the film’s sexual attitudes are closer to 1889. Bond spends the entire film laughing at Pam Bouvier, kissing other women right in front of her, and generally being a total arsehole – and by the end, she still throws herself at him. But the film does deliver the ritualistic staples of the franchise – Bond girls (Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto), elaborate stunts (Bond inexplicably drives a massive truck on two wheels) and insane gadgets (exploding toothpaste).
This 007 classic has one of the best openings of the franchise, as Bond and Leiter parachute into Felix’s wedding – followed by a great titles sequence with Gladys Knight’s brilliant theme song. It’s also fun to see Q (Desmond Llewelyn) out in the field (“Pay attention 007!”), while Everett McGill (Twin Peaks, The People Under the Stairs) pops up as a CIA agent. The villain Sanchez (Robert Davi) is not the most memorable – the most interesting thing about him is his pet iguana. But a young Benicio Del Toro makes his mark as henchman Dario.
Directed by 007 veteran John Glen, Bond’s 16th outing boasts some brilliant lines (“I guess it’s time to start cutting some overheads!”), kills (involving a decompression chamber) and action (people fall from planes with an alarming frequency) – and the personal elements make the set pieces all the more exciting. 25 years on, Licence to Kill still has the power to thrill.