I didn't see it when it came out in 1989, and didn't get around to it until 1995, when I was in college. It was a Bond cable marathon, when there were 16 official Bond films channels could choose from. Licence to Kill, cropped and edited for ads, didn't work for me at all. Even though I'd wanted to like it: I'd honestly liked Dalton's Bond debut The Living Daylights and wished he'd been able to play the role a third time. (An attempted 1991 Bond film with Dalton didn't happen, for a bunch of reasons, which is the closest the producers came to making a 30th-anniversary Bond film.) To me, Licence to Kill felt cheap and pointless, a lot of noise around what felt like a fairly small-scale story. I wasn't engaged by it. I'd been more engaged by the late-period Roger Moore Bond Octopussy when I saw it on cable as a kid.
As it didn't do well, that meant a bunch of people weren't engaged by it either. (I remember some critic, in Entertainment Weekly I think, referring to that 1995 marathon not as from Dr. No to Licence, but "from first to worst.") But over the years people cited Licence to Kill in appreciative ways, noting it was an odd duck of a Bond: not based on any specific Ian Fleming novel, using certain plot points from a bunch of them, bringing back David Hedison from the Moore-starring Live and Let Die to better tie it to the franchise's history, and making a film that overall felt kind of like a Joel Silver action film spliced with a Bond film. (Hiring composer Michael Kamen, a frequent Silver collaborator, and Die Hard/Action Jackson cast member Robert Davi added to that.) Since then, partly because in 1996 and 1997 I dated a Bond-loving woman, I caught up on watching most of the films and read four of the novels. The novels didn't really grab me, but I did like the films; starting with Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997 I've seen each subsequent Bond film in theaters.
Tuesday night, I finally revisited Licence to Kill, probably more used to the rhythms and patterns of Bond films by now: the gorgeous women, the hardware, the wordplay, the sets that are deeply detailed yet often look a little flat and unreal. 1995-Me was off: it's a solid Bond film, certainly not a misfire. Probably not a film I'll seek out again, but a film I'd likely dip into should I run into it on cable.
And I continue to try to stay honest, by saying stuff like this.