James Bond Retrospective: Licence To Kill (1989)

Pre-Credits & Theme Song As was the case with the opening to the previous film, Licence To Kill wastes no time in getting the main story underway. Eschewing the old approach of the pre-credit sequence marking the end of a different mission or being completely unrelated to the following plot, Licence To Kill introduces most of the film€™s key players in the first few minutes. Opening with Bond on his way to his old friend, Felix Leiter€™s wedding, the limousine they are travelling in is stopped by DEA agents in a coastguard helicopter as an opportunity to catch wanted drug lord Franz Sanchez arises. Bond and Leiter attempt to capture Sanchez before he makes his getaway in a small plane. With the helicopter in hot pursuit, Bond uses a winch to hook onto the light aircraft€™s tail pulling it out of the air and remanding Sanchez in US custody. Bond and Leiter parachute from the helicopter landing outside the church where Lieter€™s wedding is due to take place just in time for the ceremony to begin. The sequence is another typically fast paced opening to the film, within the first few minutes the tone of the film is set with a scene where Sanchez catches his mistress Lupe Lamora in bed with another man and orders his henchmen to remove the man€™s heart. Although we do not see the act of violence it sets an immediately dark precedent for the film. The helicopter stunt sequence was filmed for real with aerial stuntman Jake Lombard doubling for Dalton. When the cable is attached to the rear of the plane, a full size lightweight replica was used to create the illusion that the helicopter was actually towing the aircraft. Dalton himself performed a number of close-ups hanging beneath a helicopter however these were filmed only a few feet off the ground but still create the desired effect with Dalton in the heart of the finished sequence. Actor David Hedison was the first actor to play the role of Felix Leiter on more than one occasion. With a gap of sixteen years between films, Hedison had originally appeared in the role with Roger Moore in Live And Let Die. Leiter has an integral role in Licence To Kill and by having Hedison return it lends a certain amount of familiarity to the character that may not have been so present if a new actor had taken the role. Despite the obvious age difference between Hedison and Dalton, their relaxed relationship works well on-screen making the vengeful plot line more believable. Composer Michael Kamen, who had provided memorable scores to recent action films, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, was called upon to create a contemporary soundtrack to the film. The resulting score, while still maintaining some of the signature Bond sound is perhaps a little too similar to some of his previous works and lacks the majestic qualities of some of John Barry€™s finest compositions. The theme song was originally offered to Eric Clapton and Vic Flick, who had played the guitar riff on the original recording of the James Bond Theme. The resulting theme was said to have been inspired by the gritty direction the character had taken but was turned down by the film€™s producers in favour of a more traditional song performed by former Motown singer, Gladys Knight. After the modern approach to the theme songs of the previous two films, Knight€™s song is something of a damp squib by comparison and possibly among the weakest ever produced for the series. The Movie When drug lord Franz Sanchez escapes custody he seeks revenge on the man who was instrumental in his capture, CIA agent Felix Leiter. While enjoying the evening of his wedding Leiter is ambushed by Sanchez€™s men who kill Leiter€™s new bride and feed him to a shark seriously maiming him. British secret agent James Bond vows revenge on the men responsible and disobeying orders from his superior, M, refuses to begin another mission until he has caught Sanchez. When M revokes Bond€™s licence to kill he flees MI6 to pursue his vendetta. Travelling to Isthmus City, Bond joins forces with one of Leiter€™s former colleagues, Pam Bouvier to infiltrate Sanchez€™s drug network and bring him to justice. Licence To Kill marked the final Bond film for a number of the series€™ long standing crew members. Screenwriter Richard Maibaum, title designer Maurice Binder, cinematographer Alec Mills and director John Glen who had all played important roles in shaping the development and style of the films would bow out after the release of this film. It also marked the final series appearances of Robert Brown as M and Caroline Bliss in her short lived role of Miss Moneypenny, however, series favourite Q, played by Desmond Llewellyn, is given an extended role in the film requiring him to do more than just supply the gadgets. Due to the introduction of the 1985 Film Act resulting in raised taxes for film production, Licence To Kill was the first Bond film not to be produced in the UK. Instead the film was shot on location in Florida and at the Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City. A scene set in a Florida marine warehouse features a moment that stands out as a really significant point in the history of the character of Bond. Similar to the moment when Roger Moore kicks Emile Locque over a cliff in For Your Eyes Only, corrupt DEA agent Ed Killifer, played by Everettt McGill pleads for his life as he finds himself hanging over a trap door above the shark pool where Leiter had met his fate. Offering Bond a share of the $2 million he has earned for freeing Sanchez, Bond throws the suitcase full of money into Killifer€™s arms causing him to fall into the pool to be devoured by the shark below. The scene shows Bond at his most brutal and unforgiving and is a stark reminder of his capability to act in cold blood, something rarely seen outside the novels until the character€™s more recent reinvention in Casino Royale. The film€™s unrelenting violence makes it markedly different from any other Bond film. Despite the number imaginative of deaths in all the films previously ranging from Goldfinger being sucked out of an airplane€™s window to Kananga€™s enforced inflation in Live And Let Die, they have always maintained a sense of humour about them. Some of the violence in Licence To Kill steps things up to a more sadistic level. The moment where Sanchez discovers his business partner Milton Krest has been stealing from him is a case in point; the notorious scene that sees Krest killed in a decompression chamber was part of the reason the film was awarded such a high certificate. Krest€™s death is seen in nauseating detail as his head explodes all over a glass window in the tank, it is a scene that would not be out of place in David Cronenberg€™s Scanners but seems a little too extreme for a Bond film.

Classic Line

(Sanchez has just killed Krest in a decompression chamber full of money covering it with blood)

Perez: What about the money, patron?

Franz Sanchez: Launder it!

Aside from the higher level of violence, the film still finds time for a number of excellent action sequences. The scene where Bond disrupts a drug deal at sea is among the finest of the series. After infiltrating Krest€™s ship, Bond scuba dives to a remote controlled device being used to transport cocaine and money between the ship and a seaplane moored a few hundred metres away. Destroying the cocaine by splitting the bags releasing the contents into the sea he makes his escape by firing a harpoon cable to underside of the seaplane as it readies for take-off. Emerging from the water bare-foot skiing behind the plane until the opportunity arises for him to grab a hold of the plane as it lifts into the air. A brief fight ensues with the pilot and co-pilot of the plane before Bond pushes them into the sea and making off with the plane and its cargo of money. The scene was so complex it required three separate film units to achieve. The underwater unit, the second unit and the aerial unit all had to collaborate to bring the sequence to the screen. The other standout action sequence comes courtesy of legendary car stunt co-ordinator Remy Julienne. The climactic chase features four eighteen-wheeler Kenworth oil tankers as they hurtle down a winding dirt road. The trucks are put through their paces by the stunt team with Bond evading a stinger missile by driving a truck on its side at one point. The scene also sees Bond climbing around the outside of the trucks after first being transferred from a light plane to the top of one of the tanker trailers. A number of the trucks were modified by Julienne and his team of engineers to perform the many demanding stunts. One was converted to be controlled by remote-control, another had a secret compartment behind the cab so a stunt driver could drive the truck while Carey Lowell sat at the wheel to give the impression she was driving. The sequence is brilliantly choreographed and provides a memorable climax to the film. Licence To Kill is a Bond film that dares to be different. It offers a bold new take on the character expanding on the edgier direction the series was beginning to take with The Living Daylights. I would argue it is a Bond ahead of its time as audiences now can relate to Daniel Craig€™s tougher Bond in a post-Bourne age, yet Bond had already taken a darker turn here in the late eighties leaving audiences unsure about the new approach meaning it had nowhere else to go but to revert to the formulaic style that had served the series so well up to now.

Chris Wright hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.