Licence to Kill – Bond Goes Rogue on a Personal Mission
Licence to Kill is the sixteenth instalment in the James Bond movie series, starring Timothy Dalton for the second time as Agent 007.
Released in 1989, the film is a departure from the typical Bond formula, and you could be forgiven for thinking you;re watching a good episode of Miami Vice at first. The film offers a newer insight to Bond and builds more on character and narrative, and with an increase in violence, it was certainly a bold move by the production team
Stripped of his license to kill, Bond must rely on a rogue Q joining him in the field of operation, and the help of DEA informant Pam Bouvier in order to avenge his friend and ultimately dismantle Sanchez’ drug empire.
Throughout the film Bond is entangled in a love triangle between two girls, which expose his insecurities and and vulnerabilities and highlight the nuances of Bond’s character.
Like Dalton’s previous film, The Living Daylights, the plot is more realistic, and the film also features impressive stunts, set pieces and eye-catching cinematography.
Despite its critical success, Licence to Kill was a box office disappointment, grossing less than his previous film. Several reasons were offered for this, including the licensing of the film and a late change to the title in America.
That said, it is a great film and in this blog post we dig deep into the plot, characters, and the best scenes of the movie…
The plot begins with Bond in Key West, Florida for the wedding of his old friend and CIA ally, Felix Leiter. But on the way to the wedding the two help arrest drug lord Franz Sanchez after a daring aerial capture. The two then parachute down to the wedding.
However, the celebrations are short lived after Sanchez pays off bent DEA agent Ed Killifer and escapes, bent on getting revenge. Bond hears of Sanchez’s escape and heads back to discover Leiter’s new wife raped and killed, and Leiter severely injured after being lowered into a shark tank at an aquarium.
Bond is determined to get revenge, and sets out on a personal mission to bring down Sanchez and avenge his friend’s family. His investigation starts at Wavecrest Marine Research Center run by Milton Krest, and while there he discovers its a cocaine storage centre.
Bond encounters the crooked DEA Agent Killifer, and an intense fight ensues. However, Bond triumphs in the end and ties up Killifer above the trap door he’dset up for Bond. To finish him off, he hurls a suitcase filled with dirty money at him, sending him plunging into shark-infested waters below.
Bond is called to a meeting at Ernest Hemingway’s house with M, who tells him he has to start a mission in Istanbul. Bond refuses as he wants to avenge Leiter and his wife’s attack. M is adamant, so Bond resigns form MI6, and M revokes his licence to kill.
Bond carries on his investigation, leading him to Krest’s ship. Bond witnesses a new shipment of cocaine arrive at sea which is put into a mini submarine. Bond foils the trade, releasing all the cocaine into sea and escapes on the seaplane, releasing all the $5m dollars also into the sea.
Bond then discovers Sanchez is to meet someone called Pam Bouvier at a bar so he heads there to meet them. The bar is packed with Latin Americans, and Bouvier a young-looking American girl.
Sanchez’s henchman Dario and a few others go to meet her, and a big gun fight ensues. Bouvier saves Bond’s life and they escape in a speedboat. She demands that he allows her to help him as the boat runs out of gas, as the two kiss.
They then head to the Republic of Isthmus, where Sanchez is based. Bond poses as a mega rich gambler to gain attention in Sanchez’s casino. He ends up in Sanchez’s office posing as an assassin for hire with the aim of gaining Sanchez’s trust.
Bond then meets up with Q at his hotel, who’s gone rogue and flown out to help him. He has a few handy gadgets, one of which Bouvier nearly kills him with. Bond expects Bouvier to sleep with him again but she refuses, so the next day he pays her up, telling her he doesn’t need her help anymore.
Bond then attempts to assassinate Sanchez, but is foiled by undercover Hong Kong Narcotics Bureau who are there to bust Sanchez. They take Bond to an old warehouse and drugged, as a war breaks out between the Hong Kong agents and Sanchez’s men. They discover Bond there, tied up and so they begin to trust him.
Bond infiltrates Sanchez’s drug empire by gaining the trust of the drug lord and learning about their operation. He uncovers their plan to mix cocaine with gasoline to smuggle it undetected and control the drug trade across the Pacific region.
Bond sets a trap for Krest by planting $5 million on his ship, the Wavekrest, and causing a disturbance during a delivery. When Sanchez and his henchmen discover the money, they believe it is the $5 million that was previously lost and viciously murder Krest by putting him in a decompression chamber and cutting off the oxygen.
Meanwhile, Bond’s relationship with Lupe Lamora, Sanchez’s girlfriend, heats up and they end up in bed. She then heads back to Isthmus City and pleads with Q and Bouvier to get Bond away from Sanchez, expressing her love for him. Bouvier is clearly jealous and is determined not to help him again.
Bond’s cover is blown during a visit to Sanchez’s drug plant, where he is discovered by Sanchez’s henchman, Dario. In an intense moment, Bond ignites a fire that causes panic and destruction within the facility.
Dario ties Bond up and attempts to dispose of him by sending him towards a shredder on a conveyor belt. However, Bond is saved just in time by Bouvier, who arrives and shoots Dario, saving Bond’s life again.
As the drug plant burns, Sanchez escapes with the cocaine and gasoline mixture in a fleet of tankers. Undeterred, Bond and Bouvier pursue him in a small plane, before Bond fearlessly jumps onto the tankers in a daring attempt to stop Sanchez.
Bond’s mission to sabotage the tankers leads to a fierce battle, but Bond prevails, setting the fleet ablaze. In a final showdown with Sanchez, Bond uses a lighter given to him as a wedding gift from Leiter and his wife to ignite a gasoline-soaked Sanchez.
The film concludes with a celebration at the president’s palace, attended by Bond, Q, Lupe, and Bouvier. However, Bouvier quickly departs when she sees Bond and Lupe kissing. Bond soon realizes that it is Bouvier who he desires and impresses her by diving into the pool from the balcony. The movie ends with the two embracing in a kiss while floating in the water.
Timothy Dalton as James Bond in Licence to Kill
Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of James Bond in Licence to Kill was another notable departure from the suave and sophisticated Bonds of the past.
Dalton always wanted to portray Bond closer to that of Fleming’s novels, and the more serious manner in which he played him was arguably a bit before its time. He was criticised by some, whereas Daniel Craig, who portrayed a similar Bond was credited for it.
In Licence to Kill, Dalton’s Bond is a vengeful and brooding character, driven by a personal vendetta against drug lord Franz Sanchez. The actor’s intense and emotional performance sets the new tone, and we see a bit of pettiness from him after Bouvier doesn’t let him sleep with her.
Dalton plays Bond exceptionally well and he perfectly captures the inner turmoil and rage that drives Bond to seek revenge against Sanchez, and his portrayal is both convincing and captivating.
The film’s storyline is also much darker than previous Bond films, and Dalton’s severity and stern personality makes for a more believable plot.
Dalton handles the action sequences with expertise and aplomb, adding to the overall grit and realism of the film. He makes Bond seem like a formidable force to be reckoned with, and his performance is an integral part of what makes the film so memorable.
It’s arguably not as good as his first film, but Dalton’s performance is in no way inferior, and it is up there with the best performances. Timothy Dalton was licensed to make three films, it’s just a pity it was revoked at two.
Bond Villains in Licence to Kill
Although Sanchez is a ruthless and cunning adversary, his plans are similar to that of Mr Big in Live and Let Die in that he wants to control the drug industry. There’s no dreams of world domination, but there’s much more violence and Davi portrays a Latin American drug lord perfectly well.
Davi’s presence is intimidating and it brings a level of menace and ferocity to the role. He perfectly captures the character’s no-nonsense and sadistic nature, making Sanchez one of the most memorable Bond villains in the franchise’s history.
The way Sanchez ruthlessly kills Krest is up there with the most brutal killings of any Bond, and his almost laid-back manner throughout makes him a very convincing Bond villain.
Like other Bond villains Sanchez loses his girl and empire to Bond, and his ruthless ending is as barbarous as they come, but also very believable thanks to the nature of the film.
Bond Girls in Living Daylights
Played by Carey Lowell, Pam Bouvier is a confident and competent former pilot and CIA informant, who can certainly hold her own.
She looks petite and innocent, but she’s tough and resourceful, and gets Bond out of difficult situations, and is a worthy adversary to the villains.
Lowell brings a strong presence to the character, conveying a mix of determination, intelligence, and independence, playing Pam as a skilled ally to Bond who doesn’t rely on him to save her – quite the opposite actually.
Pam Bouvier and Bond’s pettiness is shone throughout the film and their relationship is central to the plot. Both are jealous of each other at times, and Lowell’s skill at portraying a grudge adds to the quality of the film’s acting, and even brings a sense of humour to a serious film.
Most of her action scenes are great to watch, but it’s her pettiness that really makes her stand out as an skilled actress. Bouvier’s reaction when Sanchez’s girlfriend Lupe Lamora tells her that she and James spent the night together and that she was in love with him is priceless.
As is her constant refusal to be a subjugate of Bond, although sometimes her emotions get the better of her, such as the way she petulantly orders the Martinis after James meets Lupe. Overall, Carey Lowell’s portrayal of Pam Bouvier added a new depth Bond girls, making her a standout character in the Bond franchise.
Talisa Soto plays the character of Lupe Lamora – the troubled and tortured girlfriend of Franz Sanchez. As powerful as he is and scared she is, she reveals herself to be a powerful and brave character.
She meets Bond and they clearly like each other, and Bond is torn between the lustful beauty of Lupe and his respect and desire for Bouvier. She becomes a useful ally of Bond and puts her life at risk by falsely telling Sanchez she’d not seen Bond and then bravely helping him set Krest up.
Soto effectively conveys Lupe’s inner turmoil and conflicting emotions. On one hand, she is drawn to the comfort and security her relationship with the rich and powerful Sanchez provides, but on the other hand, she’s deeply unhappy and wants to escape his control.
Talisa Soto brings a strong sense of empathy to the character of Lupe Lamora, and her unknown rivalry with Pam Bouvier, which she ultimately loses, adds a extra dimensions to the plot.
The opening scene of Licence to Kill sets the tone for this unforgettable Bond adventure. James Bond and Felix Leiter are en-route to Leiter’s wedding when they’re recruited by DEA Agents to capture the notorious drug lord Franz Sanchez.
With the help of a Coast Guard helicopter, Bond and Leiter embark on a daring mission to capture Sanchez, who has escaped in a small glider. Bond is lowered from the helicopter and expertly ties the cord around the tail end of Sanchez’s plane.
The helicopter then carries the plane and Sanchez away, all happening above the church where Leiter is about to be married. In true Bond-style, 007 and Leiter celebrate their successful capture of Sanchez by parachuting down to the church and making a grand entrance at the wedding, and not a minute late.
The Truck Chase and Sanchez’s Ending
The climax to the movie features a high-stakes action scene that ranks among the best in the Bond franchise. Bond and Pam Bouvier pursue drug lord Sanchez, who has escaped with tankers filled with cocaine mixed with gasoline.
In a thrilling chase, Bond takes control of one of the tankers, while Pam keeps watch from the air. Bond runs one tanker off the mountain, and his comes under attack from Sanchez’s henchmen, but Bond uses his expert driving to put the tanker up on its side, just as he does with the Mustang in downtown Las Vegas in the movie Diamonds are Forever, but this time to dodge a rocket launcher. The rocket misses Bond’s tanker, hitting another tanker behind and destroying yet another load of cocaine.
The chase ends with a brutal fist fight between Bond and Sanchez, who are hanging onto a stationary tanker. In a dangerous moment, Sanchez cuts the brake cable, sending the tanker careering down the mountain. Bond and Sanchez are both badly injured.
As Bond is getting up, Sanchez brandishes a machete, ready to strike, but Bond reveals the engraved lighter he received from Felix Leiter and his wife. Bond’s mission to take down Sanchez was fueled by his desire for vengeance for the harm done to his friend. The climactic moment ends with Bond igniting the gasoline-soaked Sanchez, sending him to his death in a blazing inferno.
Licence to Kill – It was Personal
Licence to Kill is an iconic movie full of thrilling action sequences and a layered plot that makes it a timeless classic. While the film may not have been as financially successful as other Bond films, its cultural impact is undeniable.
Timothy Dalton was a short lived Bond and wasn’t appreciated as much at the time. But in hindsight, the gravitas and grounded nature he plays Bond in Licence to Kill and The Living Daylights makes him stand out as a Bond actor.
Licence to Kill was a personal vendetta for Bond, as he set out to avenge his long time friend Felix Leiter. He quits MI6 in a heated argument with M, and is torn throughout the plot with conflicting emotions over two girls.
The Bond girls added much more to the plot, with neither being a pushover. And villain Franz Sanchez was a menacing presence throughout, but thanks to Bond’s allies and having a rogue Q out in the field, Bond is able to overcome one of his biggest challenges.