Released in 1989, Licence to Kill, remains the darkest and most violent of any of the James Bond films. It is also the most underrated. John Glen, directing this his fifth and final James Bond, opted to make a more realistic thriller, clearly influenced by the success of the then recent Die Hard movie. As with Die Hard, Licence to Kill would show the hero being injured and bleeding after confrontations with the villains.
The film was also to feature further scenes of violence including a man's head exploding after he is thrown into a decompression chamber, Bond setting a man alight and Bond's friend, Felix Leiter, being shown fed to As a result of this approach, the film was given a 15 rather than the usual PG certificate, and therefore generated some of the lowest box offices receipt of any Bond film. In particular Licence to Kill did not do well in America, although this was also a result of a poor marketing campaign there, as well as the film competing against the huge success of the Batman movie.
A further link to Die Hard, is that film is scored by Michael Kamen, who also undertook music duties for the Bruce Willis thriller, and here replaces long term composer John Barry. Kamen's score is excellent. There is a nice dramatic twist on the Bond theme at the start, underlying the seriousness of this movie. It is a shame that Kamen did not return for the next movie Goldeneye, which featured a somewhat mediocre score.
As well as being John Glen's final film, this also marks the last appearance of Robert Brown as M and although no one knew it at the time, this would be Timothy Dalton's second and last outing as Bond. After the films release, a lengthy legal dispute woudl prevent another Bond from being made for five years. By the time the dispute was resolved, Dalton's contract had expired and he elected to leave the series, bringing to an end a short-lived but nonetheless significant contribution to the series.
The film basically starts with Bond attending the wedding of his best friend Felix Leiter. Felix now working for the Drug Enforcement Agenct, is determined almost to the point of obsession, of arresting a South American Drug Lord called Sanchez. On the way to his wedding, Felix gets word that Sanchez is in Florida, he sets to apprehend him, with Bond joining him, although "strictly as an observer". After being captured, Sanchez escapes custody after bribing another DEA officer. He takes revenge on Leiter, maiming him and killing his new bride. Bond decides to avenge hi friends, by resigning from M16, and as a rogue agent, he goes after Leiter.
Dalton is more assured here than in his debut. In contrast to Connery, Moore and later Brosnan, Dalton is not particularly comfortable in delivering one liner jokes and therefore these are restricted in the film. Instead the film plays to Dalton's strengths. Dalton is very good at displaying anger, particularly when a colleague is killed. In The Living Daylights, cold anger is displayed when fellow agent Saunders is killed, and here when Bond realises his friend Sharky has been murdered, he snaps to the central villains girlfriend that she "better find a new lover".
In his book, For My Eyes Only, John Glen states that he considers Licence to Kill to be the best film that he has directed. It is easy to see why he said this. The film does not waver during 120 minutes, with some superb sequences, in particular a tanker chase at the climax. The villains are also particularly good. Robert Davi, as Sanchez, actually undertook research for his role, and future Oscar winner Benicio Del Torro, is particularly menacing as Sanchez's henchman.
The only slight criticism of the film, is that bar a very brief scene in London, it is set entirely in The Florida Keys and South America. Normally Bond films are set in more varying locations around the world.