James Bond
Licence to Kill
Ultimate Edition 2-Disc DVD Set

Starring: Timothy Dalton
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: 16.99
Certificate: 15
Available 17 July 2006

When Felix Leiter is brutally mutilated and his new bride murdered by a powerful drug lord, Franz Sanchez, James Bond sets out to avenge his old friend and fellow agent, even though it means defying M's orders. Bond quits Her Majesty's Secret Service, and must forfeit his licence to kill...

At the time, Dalton said that while The Living Daylights was "a step in the right direction", Licence to Kill was "a leap". Certainly, while the script to his first Bond movie had been tinkered with to befit his grittier portrayal, its follow-up was crafted from the outset to suit his Bond perfectly. The creative team bring more of Ian Fleming's 007 to the screen: this Bond has doubts, he is fallible, makes mistakes, and he carries through what he only threatened to do in On Her Majesty's Secret Service by becoming a renegade. Some critics have complained that Dalton made Bond too human, but Pierce Brosnan went on to do much the same thing, no doubt having realised that there are few things less interesting in drama than a hero with whom the audience cannot identify.

The villain, played with equal measures of style and sadism by Robert Davi, is an adversary truly worthy of Bond. Sanchez's physical stature is more than equal to that of Dalton's 007, while his mighty drug empire provides a believable and topical variation on the archetypal billionaire bad guy.

Glamour is provided by Talisa Soto as Lupe Lamora and Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier. Lupe, like Maud Adams' Andrea in The Man with the Golden Gun, is the villain's lover, seeking a way to escape his clutches. As the independent, gun-toting Pam, Lowell makes the most of a gutsy role as the main Bond girl. Though 007 does not remain monogamous, as he did in The Living Daylights, by the end of the film he finds himself in a situation he has never faced before. For the first and only time, both of his lovers make it to the end of the picture (For Your Eyes Only doesn't count, because Bond never slept with Lynn-Holly Johnson's Bibi), so he has to choose between them.

Another pivotal character is Desmond Llewelyn's Q, who enjoys the largest role he would ever have in a Bond movie, providing some much-needed comic relief amid all the action, violence and emotional intensity. Meanwhile, David Hedison as the unfortunate Felix holds the distinction of being the only actor to have played Leiter twice. His previous outing was in Live and Let Die in 1973, so he looks a bit long in the tooth acting alongside Dalton, but the two performers succeed in creating a sense of their characters being old buddies.

This is the first Bond film not to take its title from a Fleming story, but writers Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson still borrow some crucial elements from his work. The attack upon Felix is lifted from the novel Live and Let Die, while Milton Krest (portrayed as a real creep by Anthony Zerbe) and his vessel, the Wavekrest, come from the short story "The Hildebrand Rarity", though his penchant for whipping his abused lover with a stingray is transferred to Sanchez.

When John Gardner novelised Licence to Kill, he attempted to fit it into the Bond literary canon. However, he overlooked the repetition of the "Hildebrand" elements and treated Felix's shark attack as an unlikely coincidence, a case of "lightning striking twice". With slight tweaking, though, these problems could have been ironed out. Krest might be the son of the character in Fleming's short story. He could have inherited the Wavekrest and whip from his father, and given the latter to Sanchez as a gift when it took the drug lord's fancy. Instead of being a coincidence, the shark attack could be a punishment deliberately and cruelly selected by Sanchez with Leiter's personal history in mind.

A notable weak point in the generally solid script comes right at the end, when Bond's transgressions are rather readily forgiven by M (Robert Brown). In retrospect this element of closure is fortunate, because, due to disputes over the ownership of the franchise, the next Bond film would not materialise for another six years.

Accentuating the movie's distinctive style is the incidental music of Michael Kamen, who is better known for his Lethal Weapon scores. Not typically "Bondian" in style, aside from its use of "The James Bond Theme", the music nevertheless feels appropriate, and conveys a Hispanic flavour that suits the Latin American location.

In addition to the previously released "making of" feature, two commentary tracks and two contemporary "behind the scenes" documentaries, disc 2 also includes nine deleted scenes, location footage and contemporary interviews with cast and crew members. Music videos to both the opening and closing title songs remain present and correct. The former, for Gladys Knight's "Licence to Kill", features the work of Daniel Kleinman, who went on to design the Bond title sequences from GoldenEye onwards. The latter, accompanying Pattie La Belle's "If You Asked Me To", features no Bond elements, only La Belle "dancing" in a most peculiar way!

It's a great shame that this proved to be Dalton's last Bond picture. The 15 certificate cannot have helped the box-office takings during the very competitive summer of '89, and one wonders how he would have fared with a 12 certificate, which benefited Brosnan so well. Perhaps Dalton and director John Glen went too far, too fast with this movie (the Brosnan films went in a similar direction, but more cautiously). Legal wrangling killed Dalton's licence to experiment further with the Bond formula, but his contribution lives on here.

Richard McGinlay

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