Licence to Kill, the 16th Bond movie in the series, is a unique entry in the James Bond series for more than one reason. For one, it’s the first movie ever to not base its title on one of Ian Fleming’s Bond stories. Due to budgetary reasons, it’s also the first Bond movie ever to be filmed entirely outside of the UK. But most importantly, Licence To Kill is the least James Bondy movie of the franchise, and that’s intentional. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to the viewer really. It’s also worth noting that while longtime Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli consulted on Goldeneye, this is the last Bond movie he ever produced. In fact it’s the last movie he ever produced period. He had produced every Bond movie up to that point, so that’s as significant of a departure as you get.
The script, originally titled Licence Revoked, was written specifically with Timothy Dalton’s Bond portrayal in mind. It fully embraces the darker tone by sending Bond on a relentless pursuit of a drug dealer in an act of revenge. It takes on what writer Michael D. Wilson described as “destruction from within”, somewhat based on Ian Fleming’s The Man With The Golden Gun novel. One particular moment early in the movie involving Felix Leiter, also came from the Live And Let Die novel.
To make a long story short, Bond’s CIA friend, Leiter, is captured by drug dealer Franz Sanchez and mauled by a shark, and on his wedding night no less. When nobody is willing to do anything about the escaped drug dealer, Bond resigns from the MI6 and goes on a rampage, sometimes harming other investigations in the meantime. Along the way, several more of Bond’s friends are murdered brutally, and several MI6 agents, DEA officials and Hong Kong Narcotics agents get in the way. Or is it that Bond is hampering their investigations? It’s probably a bit of both really.
Early on, they wanted the bulk of this movie to be filmed somewhere Bond hadn’t been. They considered China for a while, but the 1987 movie The Last Emperor removed some of the novelty of putting the movie in China. They instead chose Mexico. Late in the pre-production however, Mexico put in new laws related to foreign films, which made it too expensive to film both in Mexico and in the UK, hence why no part of this movie takes place in the UK. Although there are significant portions of the movie also filmed in the Florida Keys.
Both the reviews when the movie came out and retrospective reviews are mixed. Although most critics praised Dalton’s performance in this movie, some criticized him. One even went so far as to call him “quite hopeless”. In 2006, IGN ranked the movie 15th out of then 21 Bond movies, saying that it’s too grim and strayed too far from the Bond formula. Entertainment Weekly called it the second worst movie in the franchise.
However Raymond Benson, the author of nine Bond novels himself, said “it boggles my mind that Licence To Kill is so controversial. There’s really more of a true Ian Fleming story in the script than in most of the post-60s Bond movies.” John Glen, who directed 5 Bond movies and edited 3 more, referred to Licence To Kill as his favourite in the franchise. Then again, Licence To Kill is one of the movies he directed.
Despite its mixed reception, Licence To Kill did well in theaters, earning $156 million on a $32 million budget. It also inspired a novel, written by John Gardner, which would be the first Bond novel released since ”James Bond and Moonraker” in 1979 (a novelization of the movie, since the Moonraker movie has pretty much nothing in common with the novel it’s named after).
Personally, I like this movie. Yes, its tone clashes with the rest of the franchise. Yes, sometimes there’s a bit too much of a focus on a story that, while good enough to carry the movie, isn’t all that unique or special. Yes, Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier, an ex-military pilot and the main Bond girl, nags a lot and doesn’t show that much emotional range. With all that said, Timothy Dalton is hardcore in this. Sanchez (played by Robert Davi) makes for an intense villain, and the ways he executes those who displease him are awesomely brutal.
I also like that Q (still portrayed by Desmond Llewelyn) has a bigger role in this movie, showing that he truly cares about Bond. He’s got some genuine characterization and he’s always entertaining. And of course the action is both epic and down to earth at the same time. That’s especially true for the climactic truck chase. Interestingly enough, the truck chase barely has any music, which in a way, actually makes it feel more intense.
Bond kills – 10
Other’s kills – 13
Total kill count – 23
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
Licence To Kill isn’t a great Bond movie per say, but it’s a pretty good movie with Bond in it. It’s more like a straight action movies out of the late 80’s, and that’s not a bad thing. If you go into the movie knowing that, you’ll probably enjoy it more than if you’re expecting a more traditional James Bond flick. It’s a shame that Timothy Dalton didn’t get another chance to portray the character, but we’ll get into why he didn’t return when we reach Pierce Brosnan month.
Next month, we’re going back to my DreamWorks blogathon, where we’ll first look at Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, followed by Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and then Shrek 2. When we get back to James Bond in September, we’ll be looking at the Roger Moore movies, of which I’ve seen 5 of them.