007 December Blogathon – 10 Reasons Why Licence to Kill (1989) is one of my all time favorite Bond films

007-december-blogathonMost of you who read this blog regularly knows I’m a huge Bond fan as I grew up watching them with my two brothers. Over the years I’ve become more partial to Timothy Dalton’s portrayal as Bond and I always appreciate both of his Bond films. I only wish he had the chance to do a third (which was he was under contract for until MGM legal battles delay production for six years!)

I’ve recently rewatched Licence To Kill again for MovieRob’s Bond December Blogathon, and still thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve done a special appreciation for Dalton in the film, but this post will highlight TEN reasons why the film itself is one of my favorite Bond films of all time.

ltk_movieposter10. The hard-edged but also hugely personal storyline, interwoven with the Japanese Ronin tales with Bond as a rogue agent avenging the death of his friends. People complain that Bond might’ve been too dark but perhaps Licence to Kill was way ahead of its time as with Skyfall, people didn’t seem to mind the personal angle of the story. It’s a grounded, more realistic tale that doesn’t pit Bond as ‘savior of the world’ that’s become cliched and derivative.

9. Memorable opening scene that thrillingly and effectively sets up to the origin of Bond’s personal vendetta and the kind of ruthless gangster he has to contend with. It later featured a high-flying action as Bond and his CIA ally Felix Leiter captures drug lord Frank Sanchez by hooking his plane like a fish, literally!

8. Michael Kamen’s score – I’m a huge fan of John Barry’s work with the Bond franchise but as he was unavailable at the time. Given that the film’s released in the late 80s and Kamen’s scored other successful action franchises like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, he seems to be the perfect composer for the job. There’s even a bit of John Barry’s elegant sound to it, but mixed with a darker tone and heart-pounding up-tempo style for the action scenes.

7. Memorable Bond girls who are more than mere eye candy
– with interesting but believable names, not preposterous ones like Dr. Christmas Jones or Pussy Galore. I especially love Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier, a beautiful and strong former CIA pilot who’s saved Bond’s ass many times over. Talisa Soto is perfect as Sanchez’s sultry mistress and though she may seem Bimbo-like at times, her character actually has a purpose in Bond’s quest to get close to Sanchez.


6. Great character reinvention – as this is longtime Bond director John Glen’s final Bond outing and the fact that Dalton’s keen on returning to Ian Flemming’s work, Licence to Kill feels like Bond of a new era, a complete break of the Moore’s mischievous style in every way. There is nothing whimsical about Licence to Kill, though I wouldn’t say it’s devoid of humor. Q’s intro to the film is actually quite hilarious, but it’s not just humor for the sake of it.

5. Gritty set pieces and spectacular action. Dalton did most of his own stunts, even when he was high up in the air in the ‘plane hooking’ scene, and the climactic truck chase is still as bad ass and riveting by today’s standards. If you look at the featurette, the scene isn’t crafted by CGI, but they used real tanker trucks and feature incredible stunts in the dangerous and supposedly haunted twisty highway of Rumorosa, Mexico. Sure there aren’t many of Q’s gadgets in this movie, but who with thrilling stunts like these, who needs ‘em?


4. A formidable villain in Robert Davi. Frank Sanchez breaks the mold of the typical sociopath hellbent on ruling the world. There’s no over-the-top plan to recreate the human race and all that, Sanchez is simply a power-hungry and greedy mafia-type who strives to be a cocaine billionaire. Davi is one of my fave Bond villains because he’s menacing, brutal and cold-blooded killer but he’s also suave and sophisticated, one of those rare villains that’s as charismatic as Bond himself. Oh and who could forget one of his loco henchmen Dario in the form of young Benicio Del Toro.


3. Suspenseful interaction between Bond & Sanchez – In many Bond films, when Bond meets his villain, usually they know he’s the enemy [which then calls for one of his henchmen to go after him]. But in this case, Bond enters Sanchez’ world as an ally, a trusted friend. I love their first meeting when Bond offers himself to Sanchez as someone who’d be good for someone of his stature… he’s not just a problem solver, but ‘more of a problem eliminator.’ As Bond sneaks out to infiltrate his organization and slowly tear it apart, there’s always tension that Sanchez will suspect something and he’d get caught at any moment.

2. Great climactic scene – not only is the CGI-free action stunts are incredible, but it’s such a pivotal moment between two men that’s been built up from the start. Thanks to strong character development between Bond and Sanchez, this climactic battle feels deeply personal to both of them. In a strange way, you also feel for Sanchez in that up until Bond showed the silver cigarette lighter from Leiter, he had no clue why Bond betrayed him. It’s a fiery finale, in every sense of the word, but it’s also a satisfying one and definitely one of the most memorable villain deaths.


1. Timothy Dalton – Bond with substance, bad-ass but refined, gritty without being thuggish and he can be menacing and vulnerable in a matter of seconds. Case in point, when Bond confronts Pam Bouvier in the hotel room, he was angry enough to pull the trigger on her, but when she reveals the truth that ‘there’s more to it than his personal vendetta,’ Dalton’s expression immediately immediately softens and the remorse is palpable on his face as he hands her gun back to her.


Nice to see the glamorous playboy actually fights out of love and loyalty and the story utilizes Dalton’s Shakespearean training perfectly. He’s not a super spy that people can’t relate to, but he’s plays Bond as a human being with real angst and real feelings, but as it’s said in the poster, he’s got a real dangerous side to him that is both intimidating and sexy. He’s believably ruthless, too, as when he threatened a beautiful woman “Make a sound, and you’re dead!” we believe that he actually could pull the trigger. The tall and lean Dalton is both a physical and cerebral Bond and he has that understated swagger that effective but isn’t showy.

So there, I’ve made my case for both Licence to Kill and Dalton as Bond. It’s a pity this film is known as the lowest-grossing Bond film but I think it’s so criminally underrated and I urge people who haven’t seen this to give it a shot. I’d say people who like Daniel Craig’s Bonds will appreciate the tough-edged story and exhilarating action. Not to mention a fantastic performance from both actors playing Bond and his nemesis. What else could you ask for?

So have you seen Licence to Kill? Let me know what YOU think!

36 thoughts on “007 December Blogathon – 10 Reasons Why Licence to Kill (1989) is one of my all time favorite Bond films

  1. Ted S.

    Since I now have my home theater again, I’m doing my sort of Bond marathon watching. I’ve watched Skyfall, Live & Let Die and License To Kill last week. Since this week is Christmas, I’ll be watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it’s the only Bond film with Christmas theme.

    As for License to Kill, I pretty much agree with you on all points, well maybe not so much about Kamen’s score. This may sound weird but I thought the score fits the movie’s mood but somehow I didn’t like it, I know it’s weird. I’ve said this many times, had the studio move the release date to the holiday season, November or December of that year, this film would’ve been a solid hit. The summer of 1989 belonged to Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s the year I arrived at the States and I still remember it was like yesterday how Batman was everywhere that summer. Also, I had a huge crush on Carey Lowell after I saw this film and have watched her in almost everything she appeared in. Heck I got into the original Law & Order because she played the ADA in the show for a few years.

    1. Hi Ted! A Bond marathon is always a fun idea anytime of the year 🙂

      It’s fascinating how timing is everything in film releases. I really think they should’ve picked a less crowded time of the year, maybe even a Fall release as it’s more of a cerebral and even smart Bond film, but releasing it in the Summer makes it look like it’s just some silly popcorn action flick and nothing more. Carey Lowell is great here, though I didn’t really like the ending where they made her look like some jealous girlfriend, she’s much better than that!

      1. Ted S.

        To be fair to the studio, all of the previous Bond films since The Spy Who Loved Me were released in the summer season. So I guess they thought this one will be a solid hit too and I don’t think anyone was anticipating how big Batman was going to be that year. I remember GoldenEye was scheduled to open summer of 1995 but the script had to be rewritten because some scenes were too similar to True Lies and they moved it to November. It worked out well since all of the Bond films were hits since that move and it’s been now stable release date.

        1. Oh I didn’t know that about Goldeneye’s release. Man I think if Licence To Kill were to open in November it might’ve been a hit. But what I regret most is the stupid copyright legal battle that delay what would’ve been Dalton’s third film, Property of a Lady. Even the title alone sounds intriguing. Ah well, I guess I should just let it go but every time I watch Dalton’s Bond flicks I always kept wishing he had done the third film 😦

          1. Ted S.

            Oh for sure it would’ve been a hit had it got moved to the fall season, I mean that summer was full of big action movies (Lethal Weapon 2, Batman, Ghostbusters2, Indiana Jones 3), it’s so crowded that Bond just got lost in the shuffle.

            Yeah apparently the opening action scene of GoldenEye was too similar to True Lies that they had to rewrite the screenplay. It worked out well of course since all of the Bond films were hits.

            I’m bummed too that Dalton never got to play 007 again, like we all know, he’s way ahead of his time and people just weren’t ready for a “gritty” Bond.

  2. YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, and more! I have this as one of my 10 favorite Bond films ever as there’s so much about it that worked and still holds up. There’s other things I love about it such as Bond’s confrontation with the man who betrayed Leiter as he feeds that man to the sharks with that briefcase of money. Bond’s friend says “what a waste… the money!” I also love those moments between Bond and Q which I think is crucial to the franchise. There’s these little moments that I enjoy watching as I love the fact that Bond and Q had to share a room together as Bond says “I hope you don’t snore Q”.

    1. I LOVE that enthusiasm Steven!! I remember reading your review on LTK and I’m thrilled that you appreciate this as much as I do.

      Ahah yeah, it’s interesting how the film shows how Bond didn’t care much about money in this film from the reaction of those around him. I like that they play with his loyalty to his friends, perhaps even to a fault, but that shows that he’s not just a puppet to the British Secret Service. And yeah, I think the few comic moments are brilliant!

  3. Awesome breakdown, Ruth! I’m very underversed with Bond, but I always watch any released in a film year I’m exploring, as they are a great way to spice up my personal Special/Visual Effects category. I love how they did all of those great CGI-free stunts. I haven’t seen this, but you make a great case for it!

    1. Hello Drew!! I REALLY hope you’d give the two Dalton Bond films a shot, they’re both excellent IMO simply because of Dalton’s performance. Yes the action are great but to me, it’s his gritty-yet-sophisticated portrayal that make me a huge fan of his. He’s everything I’d picture Bond to be, if only he got to star in something like Casino Royale (which I think is one of the BEST Bond films ever). He’d have a scorching chemistry w/ Eva Green. Interestingly enough, he’s now co-starring with her in the TV series Penny Dreadful!

        1. It really is! And I’ve seen pretty much ALL of the Bond films, though my memory of the Connery ones are a bit hazy. It’s still the best-written Bond films ever and Eva Green is absolutely perfect as the Bond girl. I just tweeted how every time I saw Dalton & Eva together in Penny Dreadful, I so wish they had starred together in a Bond film. Y’know that scene in the shower when Bond was comforting Vesper after the shoot-out. I know Dalton would’ve nailed that scene perfectly. I love how that scene shows Bond’s vulnerability.

  4. I never understood the Dalton backlash. His interpretation was a refreshing change from the almost parody that Roger Moore had become in his last couple films. Then when people were praising Craig’s version to high heaven almost everything they were saying about it also applied to Dalton’s version – grittier, more realistic, more personal, etc. Hopefully more and more people will swing the pendulum back the other way on Dalton.

    1. Hi Chip! I never understood it either, but as some have said, Dalton was ahead of his time. By the time Craig came along people seemed ready for a gritty Bond, though I think sometimes he’s TOO gritty that it became thug-ish. Dalton still manages to look elegant, like an English gentleman but with that right side of danger about him. I think more and more people seem to appreciate Dalton now, but not enough IMO.

  5. Includes the best line cribbed directly from another Ian Fleming novel: “He disagreed with something that ate him.” So I’d add best use of Felix Leiter in a 007 film. Not surprised at all about your Number One reason. I’m all for casting Dalton as a villain in one of the new Bond films. They have double dipped on actors before, lets class this series up some more.

    1. Hi Richard!! Oh I didn’t know “He disagreed with something that ate him.” was from the novel, very cool!! Yes, you’re right it’s the best use of Felix Leiter in a 007 film, though arguably Craig’s Casino Royale also made a great use of that character. Oh I’m all for casting Dalton as a villain too!! He’d have been excellent and boy he still looks amazing in his 70s and he still has that glimmer in his eyes that can be both seductive and menacing.

      1. The story of Felix Leiter’s shark attack was faithfully adapted from the book Live and Let Die, which is one of my favourites of the Fleming novels.
        Anyway I’ve probably mentioned it before but I saw Licence to Kill in the cinema back in 1989 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Carey Lowell, in particular was a revelation, a combination of humour, sex appeal, strong-headedness and genuinely decent acting mark her as one of my very favourite Bond girls in history.
        Timothy Dalton meanwhile settled so comfortably into his role that it really is a genuine shame that we saw no more of him as 007. His contribution to transforming the series back to more serious matters, after the Moore years, should never be underestimated.

        1. Hey there Paul, always glad to see you stop by. You’re lucky you saw this on the big screen! Man I’d LOVE to see Dalton’s two Bond films at the cinema. I do love Pam Bouvier here, she’s definitely no Bimbo, that’s why I wish I could see Dalton starring w/ Eva Green’s Vesper as she has a similar sensibilities. Yes you are absolutely right that Dalton’s contribution to the Bond franchise should never be underestimated, if only more people share our sentiment!

  6. Great post! I love Dalton’s Bond, and I wish he could’ve had more 007 films. I actually prefer The Living Daylights, but I’m a fan of both. 🙂

  7. Hi Ruth, it’s always fun to watch Bond marathons during the holidays. I remember enjoying just how dark and gritty this one was compared to the previous Bond movies before it. It’s a shame that Dalton didn’t get a chance to do more films because I’m sure he would’ve done very well. Who knows, maybe he will be cast as a villain one day. But that seems very unlikely.

    1. Hello Raul! LTK is definitely darker and more personal than other Bond films and that’s part of why I like it. I’ve been wanting to see Dalton as a Bond villain for some time. But yeah it seems more like wishful thinking sadly.

    1. You should absolutely watch Dalton’s Bond films! How about if we watch this and Living Daylights at my place next time you and Matt come and visit? 😉

      1. Haha, that sounds great! I’m hoping we can plan a Minnesota visit this year! One of Matt’s good friends who stood up in our wedding just moved to Ramsey, MN. I’m not sure if that’s anywhere close to you guys, but I was crossing my fingers that it was!

          1. Ooo, that is a bit far! But it’s nice because that way we could do what you suggest – drive up farther to see him, and then stay with you guys a night on our way back! Good plan. I’ll definitely have to start bugging Matt about going to Minnesota this year . . . maybe over an extended weekend when it gets warmer out?

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  10. Spot on Ruth! Timothy Dalton is often overlooked and as great as Daniel Craig is, most viewers don’t realise that Dalton was doing what he does 25 years ago! LtK is easily one of my favourite Bond films.

    1. Hi Chris [or should I call you Cap’n America? ;)] glad to hear we share our appreciation for Dalton! Yeah it’s a bummer we only have two Bond films from him, but I’m glad to discover more fellow Dalton fans over the years though 😀

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