I was eleven years old when Goldeneye 007 hit the Nintendo 64. For many kids my age, the seminal first-person shooter was not only the must-have game for the platform (Star Wars: Rogue Squadron was my other stalwart), but our introduction to the world of James Bond. Though it would be a few months before I actually saw Goldeneye (1995), I was already captivated by the iconic super spy’s gadgets, rogues gallery, and exotic locales. Some of the first VHS tapes I would own (store-bought, with the real cardboard sleeves and everything!) would be Bond films. Trouble was, I had no reference for chronology or year of release – this stuff was harder before the internet – so I ended up with whatever I could find. Next to Goldeneye, I owned Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and Licence to Kill (1989), the film that would be unjustly blamed for killing the most enduring and profitable cinematic franchise in history. The great thing about being a kid, though, is that none of that mattered. It all flowed together as one experience. Licence to Kill may be sloppier, grittier, and more violent than other films in the series, but it’s worthy of reconsideration as a significant departure from Roger Moore-era (era) camp and an important precursor to the hard-edged realism that would define Daniel Craig’s groundbreaking reboot.
Live and Let Die*, Milton Krest is trapped in a decompression chamber and, well, decompressed. Even with cuts, the UK censors stuck Licence to Kill with a 15 certificate (equivalent to the US’s PG-13), which drastically impacted potential box office receipts.**
Skyfall, and Q would join a rogue Bond in the field in Spectre) and that Daniel Craig would appropriate a number of brooding Daltonisms in his own performance. We may conclude that Dalton was just the right man at the wrong time, and that the risks taken on Licence to Kill would eventually pay off after the post-9/11 tonal shift that would popularize heavier action dramas like The Dark Knight and Casino Royale. Licence to Kill might be messy and awkward, but breaking ground always is.
*Shoutout to Matt Gourley and Matt Mira’s James Bonding podcast. Fans of that show will note that Desmond Llewelyn’s hands are at about a Goldeneye -1 in Licence to Kill.
**In a Spielbergian twist, the censors would create the new 12 certificate for Batman, which was released just three months later.