Licence To Kill (Ultimate Edition) Review

The bloodiest Bond opens with a celebration - Bond's long-time friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison) is getting married and he has asked Bond to be his best man, a role that he accepts with pride. But, dressed in their best morning suits and with the rings in his pocket, Leiter and Bond's route to the church is interrupted when a helicopter lands on the freeway in front of them, forcing them to stop. A DEA agent disembarks and tells them that the South American drugs lord, Franz Sanchez (Robert Dave), will soon be landing at a nearby airfield. Rarely known to ever travel outside of his home country of The Republic of Isthmus, this is too good an opportunity for Leiter and Bond to pass up and despite Della (Priscilla Barnes), Leiter's bride to be waiting for them at the church, the two leave in the helicopter to rendezvous with Sanchez.

As they arrive, Sanchez, having whipped his mistress and cut out the heart of her lover, prepares to leave and actually manages to take to the air in a small plane but Bond, with the aid of a winch, hauls him in like a fish on a line. In custody, and with Leiter and Bond on their way to the wedding, Sanchez offers a deal...two million dollars for anyone who helps his escape. This proves too lucrative for one agent, Ed Killifer (Everett McGill), who waits for his moment as Sanchez is escorted to jail along the coast road.

As Leiter's wedding is celebrated, Sanchez is sprung from the prison van by Killifer, whereupon both hide out at a fish farm owned by Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe). But Sanchez isn't finished and the next morning, as Bond calls on Leither, he's shocked by what he finds...Della's body lies on the bed, raped and murdered, while on the sofa is a body bag. Looking inside, Bond finds the badly mutilated body of Felix Leiter, barely breathing but still alive, with a note pinned to his chest, "He disagreed with something that ate him!" Regardless of territory, Bond has revenge on his mind but with his licence to kill revoked, he must act alone to bring Sanchez to justice...

Apparently, adjusting for inflation, this was the least successful Bond film in the history of the series, even more so than On Her Majesty's Secret Service and A View To A Kill. Given that it was released in the same summer as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Lethal Weapon 2 and Ghostbusters II, it would appear that the dollar- and pound-rich nations of the world found themselves confused, perhaps temporarily so, as this was, and remains, one of the best of the series. Timothy Dalton builds on his performance in The Living Daylights and given a well-crafted revenge drama, he draws out the killer in Bond, making his being an assassin of the state believable. With the odd exception, it's difficult to imagine Roger Moore as a killer but Dalton leaves one without a doubt, not only that he's capable of murder but that, via a rich vein of sadism, he actually enjoys it.

Taking inspiration from Ian Fleming's Live And Let Die, wherein Felix Leiter was fed to a shark, which left something of a problem with the continuity of the books when this was novelised, Licence To Kill places the incident within a tale of drugs running in South America and how Florida becomes their point of entry into the US. With a early sequence showing the CIA, in the guise of Leiter and Bond of MI6, diverted from a wedding in favour of bringing in Sanchez, the plots twists and turns as Bond travels south, ingratiates himself in Sanchez's company and, slowly at first, ensures that fate and finance turn against the drugs boss. Never forgetting the nature of a Bond film is to entertain, this sees Dalton in some terrific action set pieces, including his hauling in of Sanchez in his plane, his casting Milton Krest as a traitor within the drugs cartel and his shutting down of Sanchez's operations permanently. Along the way, there's enough scheming to keep fans of From Russia With Love happy, a finale that's far more exciting than one featuring four Kenworth trucks ought to be and some great interplay between Dalton and Robert Davi, both of whom are clearly having fun portraying bastards.

Speaking of which, Bond is clearly his own man in Licence To Kill, working without any authority from MI6 and taking any means necessary to ensure Sanchez is punished. How he does it is often fabulously entertaining with his one-man assault on Milton Krest's boat, the destruction of Sanchez's drugs shipment and the theft of his money being five minutes of outstanding Bond action. As the brass of Monty Norman's James Band theme kicks off on the soundtrack and Bond flies away several million dollars richer, Licence To Kill has the wit to leave you smiling and a thirst for blood that leaves the film quite unlike the cosy thrills of the Moore era.

If there's a problem with the film it's that, in a year when Spielberg directed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, John Glen's direction of Licence To Kill is a little pedestrian, something that makes the film look cheap. With Benicio del Toro never having quite enough to do - he grins a great deal and is obviously impressed with his handiwork with a knife but says surprisingly little - and David Hedison being much too old to be such a good friend to James Bond, there are some obvious gaps in the film but, regardless of these, Licence To Kill keeps an eye on Bond returning triumphant and leaps over these obstacles with ease. Add to that a great appearance by Desmond Llewelyn, a tongue-in-cheek performance by Wayne Newton as Professor Joe Butcher and one of the most beautiful and fiery of Bond girls, Carey Lowell, and this was a grand farewell to Dalton before the six-year break taken by the series before Goldeneye. With that film and the casting of Pierce Brosnan overshadowing the two films in the Dalton era, it's probably time, with these Ultimate Editions, to reappraise the actor in the role of Bond, with no better film to do it with than Licence To Kill.


Much like preferring the Special Edition of A View To A Kill for its paler skin tones, so this Ultimate Edition of Licence To Kill proves preferential due to its more natural palette. Comparing how Carey Lowell looks in the two screenshots below, she, like Christopher Walken in the Ultimate Edition of Moore's final Bond, looks too pink in one whereas, in this Ultimate Edition, the skin tones look much better. Indeed, comparing this to the Special Edition, the Ultimate Edition is a whole lot less pink throughout, with it even being noticeable in the sky on the first screenshot but not at all in this release. Add to that a slight improvement in the detail and a much better framing - 2.45:1 on the Special Edition to 2.35:1 on this Ultimate Edition and note how the face of the girl on the left hand side is distorted on the Special Edition - and this a big improvement.

MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)

MGM Special Edition (Above) / Sony Ultimate Edition (Below)

Licence To Kill sounds fine on this release but, then again, did so on the old Special Edition as well. The DD5.1 included here sounds slightly better though, with the rear channels being used much more here than they were on the original DVD presentation and with a sound that is more rounded out. The DTS track trumps them both, with the Kenworth-truck finale sounding fantastic when turned up.


The two commentaries on this release have been carried over from the MGM Special Edition and are broken down by Director John Glen and Cast and, on the second track, by Producer Michael Wilson and Crew. John Cork introduces, narrates and brings a structure to both tracks and offers his own analysis of the film throughout, often filling in where no contributions from the cast and crew exist. These tracks are occasionally interesting but can be very dry as Cork breaks up the interviews to keep contributions specific to certain scenes whilst, at other times, allows for random thoughts to be scattered throughout the commentaries.

On to the second disc and to the extras that are new to this Ultimate Edition, which includes Location Scouting with Peter Lamont (5m22s), On the Set With John Glen (9m27s) and a feature titled Ground Check With Corkey Fornof (4m46s), which sees the titular aerial coordinator explain the modifications made to the plane flown by Carey Lowell during the film's finale. Corkey talks a great deal but it's his friend that I feel particularly sorry for with helicopter pilot Ken Calman being introduced and opening and closing his mouth as if to speak but, unfortunately, not being quite given the time by Corkey to figure out if he ought to. His expression may well be the most dumbfounded ever to have been captured on DVD.

These features continue with Bond '89 (11m42s), which includes various interviews with the cast and crew on the set of Licence To Kill before director John Glen introduces nine Deleted Scenes. These scenes add detail to the plot and flesh it out a little more but the film doesn't feel any the poorer for not including them. Finally, there is an Interactive Guide Into the World of Licence to Kill.

Extras brought over from the MGM Special Edition release include, as well as the two commentaries, the original making-of, Inside Licence to Kill (30m42s), is a very decent one, the best part of which has the crew talk about the roads in Mexico, where they shot the finale, and which was rumoured to be haunted. The crew have a good many memories of their experiences there, of handbrakes failing on the trucks, of ghosts seen in the car park and, in a final surprise, the image of a fiery hand extending out of an explosion that was captured on a still image but not on film.

After these ghostly goings-on, there is a behind-the-scenes Production Featurette (4m56s) and a short look at the stuntwork with the Kenworth Trucks (9m30s) during the film's finale. Finally, there are two music videos - Licence to Kill (4m26s) and If You Asked Me To (4m00s) - as well as the Original Trailers (1m16s, 1m50s) and a Photo Gallery.

8 out of 10
7 out of 10
7 out of 10
8 out of 10


out of 10

Last updated: 19/06/2018 00:05:38

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