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Bond Pretitle Sequences: Licence to Kill

Simon Pitt | Film | Friday 19th July 2013

I’m watching all of the Bond pre-credit teasers one after another.

All the Bonds. All the Gun Barrels. All the action. Well, the first five seconds of it.
Licence to Kill

1989 was two and a half decades ago. And watching Licence to Kill, you can tell. It is noticeably an older film than Goldeneye. The film grade is lower and, as I said when writing about Goldeneye, the quality of the gun barrel photo is actually quite poor.

Separately, though, Licence to Kill is a much more adult film. It received the highest classification from the BBFC of any Bond film (15 in the UK). My memories of this are filled with graphic images; Felix Leiter being mauled by sharks, Bond viciously killing people and eventually setting the villain alight. The filming of the final section of the film suffered from something of a curse. The stretch of road with the tanker scene is said to be “haunted”. The crew were besieged with accidents and a mysterious flaming hand can be seen on a still shot of the action, but it’s not visible in any frames of the film.

To be honest, it’s probably just because it was taken from a different angle.

A fiery hand with its sleeve rolled up.

Licence to Kill opens on a weird plane with a sort of umbrella thing coming out of the top of it. Some Americans notice that a plane has changed course, so they get their ruler out and work out that it is landing.

We cut to Bond and Felix done up in fancy wedding gear. Just so we’re clear what’s going on, Felix pesters James about whether he has the ring or not. They’re interrupted on the most over rated day of Felix’s life by the DEA, who tell him that Sanchez is in the Bahamas. “Have you cleared it?” Felix asks, “then let’s go!”

I wonder if this is standard procedure for American enforcement agencies. I mean, Felix doesn’t even work for the DEA, he works for the CIA. “Oh before we go get that criminal, have a look around all the other agencies and see if there’s anyone who might have a personal grudge against him. And if they’re on leave, send a helicopter to go pick them up, no matter what they’re doing!”. And they’re in a rush; in the opening sequence they say “if we hurry we might just catch the bastard!” What on Earth do they do when it’s not a rush? I suspect this counts as misconduct.

Do I have to marry the bride now? Is that how this works?

“You can’t do this to me,” the third man in the car shouts as they run away. It’s a bit much for him to think he’s the real victim here. I suppose he does have to explain to Leiter’s fiancé and her father. In an out of place comic scene, Leiter’s Father-in-law-to-be hams up his disapproval. Christmas in the Leiter household is going to be good fun.

And I've had to wear this top hat for nothing. You know how much I hate top hats

Just in case we didn’t know whether Sanchez was very nice or not, he has shadow over half his face. Oh, also, he orders his people to cut out the heart of the man. And then he whips a woman. It’s a dark start to what will be a darker Bond film.

Bond is sidelined; Felix instructing him to stay on the helicopter. It’s unusual for Bond not to be the main event, but I just assume being on his own will give him an opportunity to get into even bigger trouble. There’s a weird, slightly out of place shot as Felix runs in slow motion, trumpet sounds playing over the top.

It's running a bit short, are there any bits you can put in slow motion?

Of course, it’s not this simple, and soon they’re under fire. Bond is left to pursue on his own. There’s quite an impressive stunt that they don’t make much of a big deal of when the stunt man leaps from the hovering helicopter about twenty feet in the air (and nearly loses a hand in the helicopter blades). The section that follows, though, where he shoots the tyre on the jeep is surprisingly boring. Typical Bond, goes after the woman.

“You need help?” He says roughly, sounding more like Tarzan than Bond.

“No, take your hands off me. Just go away.” She says. Nice one Bond. To be fair to her, he is just pawing at her.

Sanchez, meanwhile is getting away in a plane. He looks so pleased with himself, the nasty piece of work. He carries on beaming to himself as he flies along. He looks like he might even be humming.

He's such a happy guy

Bond, however, has other plans. The Bond theme starts to kick in as Bond hovers over the plane. It has some typical 80s synthesised nonsense added in and even the occasional cheesy key change. Jeez, were the 80s good for anything?

Bond doesn’t look very dignified dangling from the plane. In fact, with his hair blowing all over the place, he looks like a Lego man. I guess this is the problem with very windy scenes, as we’ve see with fights on top of trains. I suspect the harness he’s in doesn’t help either. It reminds me, actually, how dignified Brosnan looks doing his stunts. In Tomorrow Never Dies, there’s one scene where he elegantly knocks someone’s legs out from under them as he rolls under a plane. I do expect this gracefulness from Bond. Apparently Sean Connery was originally cast as Bond on the strength of his walk. They thought he had a "cat-like grace". Dalton doesn’t quite have this. But then this is much more of a rough-and-tumble Bond.

Look at his hair. He looks a bit like Patrick Troughton too, I think

Bond’s drops out of the helicopter onto the plane with the winch and hooks it round the back of the plane. The way it’s cut means we actually lose the most impressive moment of this, when Bond unhooks himself, and ties the rope around the plane. I feel they undercut how big a deal this stunt is.

This is not the way fishing works

Hooking a plane from behind and dragging it along is an idea that’s been copied recently in The Dark Knight Rises. Only there it’s the villain doing it. That's a nice reversal, because later, Skyfall and Quantum of Solace feel more like Batman films, I always think.

I got the idea for a film from the 80s, Bane said

Maybe this tells us something about Dalton’s Bond. After all, Dalton tends to play villains more than heroes. He’s a villainous Timelord in Doctor Who, the dubious Barin in Flash Gordon and a dictator in The Beautician and the Beast. In The Living Daylights he even joins forces with the jihadist Mujahideen. Maybe the secret message here is that Timothy Dalton’s Bond is actually a bad guy.

With the plane hooked, Felix and James parachute down to the wedding. Somehow, Felix manages to parachute with a hat in each hand, which is pretty impressive, if you think about it. Landing, he shouts “James, your hat!”

“Thank you,” Bond says. And from that we meander gently into the title sequence.

It’s a strange opening this one. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was the Felix Leiter Show, with Special Guest James Bond. Most of the initial action could have happened without Bond even being there. In fact, Bond is actively a risk. Felix tells him he’s there “strictly as an observer” (Maybe they should have named this film Strictly Come Observing?). I’d imagine that even his presence there could result in the case against Sanchez being thrown out of court. More annoyingly, they rush through the centrepiece stunt, where Bond lowers himself onto the plane and hooks it. We lose any sense of how impressive it was to pull off. Considering they actually did this stunt for real, it’s surprising they give it so little screen time.

There’s a nice conceit that Bond and Leiter go off to save the day and then come back to finish the wedding, but they don’t quite pull that off either. The ending feels flat to me. I think it’s probably because the sequence doesn’t have any proper quips or wit to it. The only humour, such as Felix’s father-in-law, is too hammy, and Bond’s lines are like someone’s awkward uncle rather than the smooth Bond we’re used to. “If I don’t get you back I’m a dead man for sure,” Bond shouts. It’s like he’s at a wedding reception talking to people he doesn’t know very well.


Name Rank and Number I think he got the Point Do all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you've killed? Listen Carefully 007 Perfect for relaxing after a hard day at the office SP will return...


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