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License To Kill & Why It Makes Sense

May 8, 2003
By: Christian C.L. Brown


Unless you're a super analytical Bond fanatic who defends the movies that are considered weaker like myself, you might disregard 1989's License To Kill as a flop and as some would say, the weakest point of the Bond series. The casual Bond fan probably hasn't even seen the film. The truth is, however, is that while it reeks of late eighties society and obscurity, it is a classic after maybe a couple of viewings and a little thinking.

When I first saw this film, I thought it was merely an oddball. Two-time Bond, no super criminal, etc. But as I saw more films I realized something: this film broke the general formula of the Bond films, which in itself is magnificent. The villain is a drug lord, no madman bent over taking the world, MI6 never gives 007 a standard briefing, in fact, Bond has no dialog with Moneypenny (correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure). Q becomes a field operative and gives Bond, now a wanted man, gadgets during vacation, probably highly compromising his job. The Bond girl turns out to be a capable woman, almost equal to Bond, unlike some girls who were promoted as "equals" but largely fail. When the producers are brave enough to break the formula (fewer girls=OHMSS, TSWLM, for example), results are usually good.

One of the big points of irony of the James Bond series is that in License To Kill, the first movie to not have a book title, is the best portrayal of Ian Fleming's 007. In case you don't read the novels (you need to), Bond is pretty much a survival brain and gentleman who will kill without regret but with a lot of thought, and also not so randy as Moore or as funny, which can be a good thing. Fleming's Bond is a person you would not want to be friends with, and he wouldn't want to befriend you. By giving Bond a personal vendetta, Bond becomes a loner and ruthless. But would the near-death of Leiter and the death of his wife bring Bond to snap?

Which brings me to the point. The near-death of Felix Leiter and the death of his wife did not solely cause 007 to resign from Her Majesty's Secret Service, but was the breaking point. As the watcher knows, 007 was shattered by the loss of Tracy and sought out Blofeld until Diamonds Are Forever. It is a clearly made point that whenever Bond becomes attached to the people associated with his mission (Tracy, Alec, Anya, etc), he seeks out vengeance almost ruthlessly. While we are with Alec, let's think about when the introductory scene in GoldenEye, nine years before the main events, putting it at 1986, before The Living Daylights and License To Kill. After seeing a person he considered closest to being a friend killed by the long-time enemy Russians, Bond would obviously be shaken. And then consider another friend being on the brink of death with no signs of retribution to the attackers. And then remember Tracy, and Quarrel, and Kerim Bey, and all the people who died for the safety of Her Majesty's government, and you have the potential to refuse to cooperate with the Secret Service who, as Bond would think at the time, had ruined his life. Consider that he sees the irony that he and Felix both lost their wives on their wedding day. In this only are the reasons to resign and rampage. Also consider how in GoldenEye how Alec was upset that the communism in Russia that he had fought for years had ended, and all his work was all for nothing. Bond, without a doubt, was thinking the same thing in 1989, when these events were happening. All of the evidence points to the conclusion that James Bond, 007, Licensed To Kill, of Her Majesty's Secret Service, could possibly go on a vendetta after the death of Della Leiter and the maiming of Felix Leiter.