Although he wasn’t the first choice for the role (which was Pierce Brosnan) in 1987, Timothy Dalton’s The Living Daylights was mostly a critically and financial success. Unfortunately, it’s follow-up-more tailored toward Dalton’s tougher, more dangerous Bond that TLD was-did not match the success of it’s predecessor, and due in part to it’s low box office (It’s still the lowest-grossing Bond film), and a number of other factors such as legal issues and trouble getting a planned third film off the ground, the next Bond was delayed until 1995.
Right off the bat in the film we’re introduced to a more intimidating villain than The Living Daylights, in Drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) and his sadistic henchman Dario. Although he’s clearly violent and ruthless, Sanchez also has a weird sort of reptilian charm-he prizes loyalty and trusts almost too easily-something that Bond also exploits to bring him down. Also, like Bond’s arch-nemesis Blofeld, he has a pet-in this case an Iguana-constantly around his shoulder. Bond’s first encounter with him is when Sanchez runs out of his sanctuary country of Ithmus to retrieve his girlfriend Lupe, who is trying to escape him-leaving him vulnerable to the DEA.
Bond’s old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Played for the second time by “Live and Let Die’s” David Hedison)-now with the DEA-is on his way to wed his fiancee Della when he’s informed of this, and best man James Bond tags along, helping to capture Sanchez-which he succeeds at, with a bit of ‘fishing’ his getaway plane.
Fortunately for Bond, but unfortunately for Felix and Della, Bond isn’t spotted capturing Sanchez, but Sanchez witnesses Felix and his wedding, and also has a mole that he’s bribed within the DEA, allowing him to quickly escape.
The opening credits are okay, but not really anything particularly special. Glady’s Knight’s tune is pretty good, although the first part seems to borrow a bit too much of Goldfinger. Interestingly, the Asian woman seen in most of the credits-Diana Lee Hsu-has a small role in the film as a Hong Kong Narcotics agent.
Bond attends the wedding as best man, and gets a present from the Newlyweds-a Lighter, funny enough, with a pretty large flame. However, as soon as Bond leaves (with a small reference to Bond’s own ill-fated wedding to the murdered Tracey Bond in OHMSS), Felix unfortunately has to live in his own version of his friend’s worst day ever, as Sanchez’s goons kill Della and feed Felix partially to a shark, leaving him in critical condition. When informed of Sanchez’s escape, Bond rushes back to his friend’s place but is too late. In many ways, this is one of the darkest, most disturbing scenes in all of the Bond films. Although many of Bond’s friends and female characters have been killed in the films, this seems somewhat more graphic and traumatic, especially since Felix has appeared in several films (although usually with different actors)
Frustrated that the DEA is unable to find Sanchez again, Bond-along with another friend-Sharkey, a local fisherman-take matters into their own hands, investigating first where Felix was wounded, with Bond killing the DEA mole. Unfortunately, another lead-Milton Wavecrest, an alcoholic, lewd henchman of Sanchez who runs a cover-escapes.
After this, the DEA brings in M, who is mad that his agent has taken the law into his own hands, with an interesting use of Hemingway house (complete with cats, perhaps a subtle nod to Bond villain Blofeld along with Sanchez’s Iquana). It’s at this point where his Licence is semi-revoked, but he’s able to escape before surrendering his Walther PPK. This is actually the last scene between Bond and the Robert Brown M in the series as well.
Bond’s next port of call is Krest’s ship the Wavekrest (unfortunately Sharkey is killed by Krest’s men, furthering Bond’s desire for revenge) where he encounters Lupe, but is also able to escape with Sanchez’s drug money, allowing him enough funds to get to Isthmus and continue his revenge. It’s a fun action sequence too, with Bond doing some underwater fighting ala Thunderball, water-skiing and dropping guys out of small planes.
Along the way he comes to the aid of one of Felix’s DEA agents Pam Bouvier, who agrees to help him after a somewhat goofy bar fight sequence with Dario (Benecio Del Toro). She’s certainly more of a ‘tough’ Bond girl, something that Dalton’s first adventure didn’t have really, and especially not Roger Moore’s final one. Then again, Lupe’s played as kind of week and overly smitten, although like Kara she’s kind of more of a victim too.
In Ithmus, we get the semi-regular Bond casino scene which wasn’t in The Living Daylights, that Bond is using in part to get Sanchez’s attention so he can make a tactical recon of his office-so he can of course, take him out as part of his revenge. Bond introduces himself to Sanchez as a sort of ‘problem solver’ who could come in handy, but he’s really only got eyes for his heavily-armored window.
Although he’s not well-armed for this, Q comes to the rescue, on “holiday”, giving him what he needs to take out Sanchez. On a side note, Q actually has more screen-time in this one, aiding Bond and Pam in their mission throughout the film.
Unfortunately, Bond’s attempt is thwarted when something unexpected happens-he spots Pam with Sanchez’s henchman Heller, and then Hong Kong narcotics attack and capture Bond. He’s unwittingly stumbled into their operation to catch Sanchez.
Unexpectedly, Bond is rescued by Sanchez, and starts to unexpectedly gain the villain’s trust, convincing him that the window attack was in fact carried out by mercenaries (in fact, the now-dead Hong Kong team). Also, it turns out that at least one of Sanchez’s lieutenants-Hiller-wants immunity, hence Pam meeting with him. Bond starts to use this opportunity to literally kill two birds with one stone. Using the drug money and both Pam, Q, and Lupe’s helps, he frames Krest, a scene that’s probably one of the most violent and disturbing villain deaths in the whole series. Without actually posting the gory aftermath here, it’s pretty much explosive decompression for Krest.
The final battle takes place at a “temple” which is actually a cover for Sanchez’s drug labs, and has a phony new-age operation running out of it that’s actually turning a sizable side profit. Sanchez’s henchman Professor Butcher is played by no less than Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton, who adds some fun to the movie without being too annoying.
Unfortunately for Bond his attempt to get close enough to Sanchez to take him out is spoiled by Dario, who recognizes Bond from the bar earlier and blows his ruse in a tense scene. However, Bond is able to use a distraction to destroy Sanchez’s labs, throwing his organization into disarray. Nevertheless, he tries to kill Bond with a cocaine shredder.
However, it soon turns out to be Dario’s death instead, as he’s probably too high off the fumes and seems to mistake Pam in a white suit for an angel (He believes he killed her in the earlier bar fight), causing Dario to wind up in the shredder instead, in another particularly violent villain death.
Finally we get the epic tanker chase scene, which has some cool stunts such as the truck flip Bond uses to avoid one of the stinger missiles:
and later, a wheelie.
There’s also a lot of pyrotechnics around in these, as each of the tankers are eventually destroyed. Definitely one of the most spectacular chases in the series, and this time, with no real gadgets, just good old fashioned stuntwork.
Bond finally is able to avenge his friends with the help of their lighter, igniting a gasoline-soaked Sanchez, who realizes too late the reason Bond came after him in the first place.
At the party afterwards, we learn that Felix has thankfully regained consciousness (although he is unfortunately still widowed), and that M seems to be willing to let Bond back into the secret service after all (Which of course happens, as the Brosnan films make clear. Still I can picture a bit of a tense scene there, if it existed!). He also chooses between the more shallow Lupe and Pam, eventually ending up with Pam at film’s end, to the tune of Patti Labelle’s If You Asked Me to which became an eventual big hit, even if the film it came from was disappointing box office wise.
License tends to get a lot of grief-many people feel it’s kind of not Bondish enough, but in fact it does borrow fairly heavily from Fleming’s novels, in particular Live and Let Die (Felix’s maiming, and Sharkey is pretty much another version of Quarrel) and Sanchez’s drug operation is similar to Both LALD and Man with The Golden Gun, especially with Bond earning the villain’s trust in order to get close enough to take him out. The film is somewhat more violent than other Bonds, in particular the fate of the Leiters and the villain’s deaths by compression, shredded to death and immolation (Most of the other villains seemed to mostly just get shot, captured, or thrown from a great height).
Nevertheless the film isn’t totally dark and depressing. Q brings some levity, and although he isn’t quite as good with the humor as his predecessors, Dalton does get some amusing moments, such as his double-take when Pam redoes her hairstyle and dress. (He also tends to oggle her a few times). Davi and Del Toro are pretty effective, sinister villains, and as I stated Davi’s got some good charm as well. There are also many fantastic stunts. The plot is relatively simple compared to the espionage heavy Living Daylights, as well.
Michael Kamen’s score is a bit different in some ways from the John Barry work, with it’s spanish guitar giving flavor to the film’s mostly central American setting-and returning that element to the Bond theme as well, where it belongs.
However, despite it’s strengths, many were unimpressed, and 1989 was already a crowded summer already, with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, Ghostbusters II, Honey I Shrunk the Kids and several other films as direct competiton. Plus the 80’s were already fairly heavy with revenge flicks, and people probably didn’t want to see a Bond film just for that. Bond would remain in limbo until 1995, with Dalton giving up the role in the interim. So Dalton’s run unfortunately came to an early end…but the series would return, and Dalton’s tough, true-to-the-books Bond would later become more accepted, when Daniel Craig came onboard…