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Licence to Kill - An Ian Fleming Film

By Chris Osman (MrBond)
March 15, 2004


Although Licence to Kill was the first James Bond film to have a title and story not based on Ian Flemingís critically acclaimed novels, it was the first Bond film to stay true to Flemingís style and portrayal of the secret agent. Obviously, there are a lot of people out there who will immediately call my previous remark untrue and possibly unintelligent. In fact, after my first viewing of Licence to Kill I would have agreed with them.

LTK When I first viewed Licence to Kill, I had only seen a handful of the previous entries, I had not read any of Fleming's books and pretty much just used my judgment based on the tone set by the previous movies. Also, Licence to Kill just so happened to be my first viewing of Timothy Daltonís portrayal of James Bond. None-the-less, after my first initial viewing, I did what most people still do. I was disgusted at Daltonís cold, ruthless and unlikeable Bond, declared it to be the worst of the series and disowned him for ever wearing the tuxedo. Years later, after reading all of the books, viewing all of the movies and even after making my own Web site, I re-watched Licence to Kill and my opinion on the film changed drastically. Licence to Kill was a wonderful movie and the first movie to portray accurately the secret agent as was told by Fleming.

After years of James Bond thwarting villains schemes of world domination, seducing beautiful women, using the outrageous gadgets created by Q and escaping death a hundred times over, we are finally shown the James Bond as was first described by Fleming in Casino Royale. What made Ian Flemingís novels so enticing was that his portrayal of James Bond and his missions were somewhat realistic. In all of his 12 novels and four short stories, only two of them used a plot of world domination. In the film Licence to Kill, there is no plot of world domination. Bond does not face an insane mastermind who is trying to create a perfect human race. He is not trying to stop a nuclear disaster or a World War Three. All Bond deals with is a simple drug lord.

LTKAnother reason why Licence to Kill brings Bond back to his literary roots, is Bond himself. Fleming wrote Bond as character who constantly deals with his inner demons. Bond is cold, ruthless and extremely dedicated to his mission. When he is given a mission, he views it more as a personal goal than just another job. He wants to succeed and anything less is his personal failure as a human being. Licence to Kill brings back the personal Bond with the mauling of Felix Leiter. It also gives Dalton the room to make Bond more personal and ruthless which is reflected on the screen.

Until Licence to Kill, Bond's relationships with his allies were mostly professional. In Fleming's work, Bond had more personal relationships with his allies. In Live and Let Die, Fleming spends a lot of time showing the interactions between Bond and Felix Leiter. Throughout the story, as they travel around Harlem, you get a good sense on why Leiter and Bond are such good friends. In You Only Live Twice, almost half of the book deals with the intimate details of Bond and Tiger Tanakaís friendship. Licence to Kill returns the more personal aspect of Bond.

When Della gives Bond the lighter, you get a sense that there is a close relationship between Della, Felix and Bond. This is not just a professional relationship between three people, this is a friendship. This development of friendship also gives the story of Bond seeking revenge plausibility. It shows that Bond is capable of personal friendship, and when that friendship is threatened, Bond will risk everything to protect it, even taking the matter in his own hands and quitting Her Majesties Secret Service.

LTKAnother example is with the character of Q. In the previous movies, the relationship between Q and Bond was shown more in the form of comic relief. Q would nag Bond about not returning his gadgets in pristine order, and Bond would always reply with some form of witty banter. In Licence to Kill, the relationship between Q and Bond is explored and becomes more personal, something I believe Fleming would have done if he made Major Boothroyd a major character.

After 27 years of movies, James Bond is finally portrayed accurately in Licence to Kill. After I viewed the movie a second time, I just could not help but grow a lot more respect for the movie that I once disliked. There are still those who view it as the weakest of the series. I could not disagree more. Licence to Kill is what Bond is all about. It is what Fleming wanted Bond to be. Would the series have been so successful if they followed the trend that Licence to Kill set? Probably not. But does it deserve the negative reaction the community gives it? Definitely not.

In a world where Bond is all about heart pumping action and ridiculous plots about satellites and global warming. The creative influences behind the movies need to do what they did with Licence to Kill. Bring Bond back to his literature roots and still keep that element of fantasy alive and going. If they donít, then James Bond will just become another guy who promotes Playstation games, is bald, and drives around in a dirt-bike jumping fences with a tattoo on the back of his neck.

Article written by Chris Osman (MrBond)

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