MI6’s most suave, sophisticated double oh caveman returned to the franchise in 1989 sporting a face-lift and new nationality. With Sir Roger ‘tongue firmly in cheek’ Moore’s trademark wry witticisms fading quickly, Timothy Dalton’s second outing as the world famous (yet somehow still secret) undercover agent adopted a decidedly darker, grittier tone. In hindsight it can be considered way ahead of its time given the direction many vintage, cherished franchises have taken within the last decade or so. Not just Ian Fleming’s James Bond… Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and so on.
(Sanchez and his men have caught Lupe in bed with another man)
Franz Sanchez: (to Lupe) What did he promise you? His heart?
Franz Sanchez: Give her his heart!
(Dario pulls a knife)
Lupe Lamora: (as the man is being removed) No. No Franz. I didn’t mean any harm.
Franz Sanchez: It’s okay, baby. No te preocupes. We all make mistakes.
(produces a whip)
Franz Sanchez: Your escapades are getting more creative.
Lupe Lamora: Por favor, Franz.
Franz Sanchez: Not a word.
(Sanchez whips her while Dario cuts out her lover’s heart)
In fact License to Kill is barely recognisable as a Bond movie at all, seemingly taking its cues from drug-fuelled TV shows and blockbusters such as Miami Vice and Lethal Weapon. Where in the past Bond villains have often been obsessively geared towards world domination, consumed by power for its own sake, on this occasion James’ nemesis is the opera-singing, crater-skinned, Italian-American ‘heavy’ Jake Fratelli from The Goonies aka Robert Davi. In License to Kill he plays Franz Sanchez, a Latin-America drug lord riding high on the DEA’s most wanted list. Whilst rolling in the ill-gotten gains arising from his international narcotics empire, he holds loyalty in much greater esteem than cold hard cash, rather like an olde worlde Mafia don. He bludgeons the audience around the head with the sentiment so often it’s practically his catchphrase.
(Sanchez and Krest have just discovered a lot of money in Krest’s pressure chamber)
Milton Krest: That’s not my money, I swear!
Franz Sanchez: That’s right, amigo. It’s mine!
Franz Sanchez: (grabs Krest) You think I’m stupid! HUH! You rip me off then use my own money to PAY someone to KILL ME? You want it so bad? Then TAKE IT!
(kicks Krest into the pressure chamber)
(Sanchez has just blown up Milton Krest in a decompression chamber full of money, splattering blood all over it)
Perez: What about the money, patron?
Franz Sanchez: Launder it.
Bond, nominated as best man, on route to the wedding of his friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter, is spontaneously stopped in his tracks by the DEA touching down in a coast guard helicopter.
They’ve ‘spied’ an opportunity to apprehend Sanchez and require the assistance of Bond and Leiter, each invaluable veteran field operatives in their own right. Putting professional duty before personal interests they don’t argue, bounding into the chopper to do their bit for ‘Queen and country’.
Sanchez is currently making his getaway in a flimsy light aircraft so naturally hobbling him mid-air would be the perfect way to shoehorn in the first preposterously risky, incredulous stunt.
Without the hesitation you’d expect from a sane man, Bond launches himself out of the chopper dangling on a winch, attaches it to the plane’s tail and gives the signal to up-end Sanchez, dragging him into custody.
In the meantime Leiter and Bond fly over the church venue where his wedding ceremony and pensive wife-to-be await their late arrival. Clocking that her favourite world-saving heroes have returned with all their limbs intact (for now!), relief descends as an elated smile lights up her hopeful face.
Regrettably it’s all for nothing as Sanchez is soon bribing DEA agent Ed Killifer to break him out. I suspect it was the $2m bung that tipped him over the edge.
Emancipation comes in many guises!
Sanchez now seeking retribution for his very brief incarceration takes Leiter hostage while arranging for his wife Della to be murdered and raped.
Felix Leiter: Where’s my wife?
Dario: Don’t worry. We gave her a nice Honeymooooon.
(N.B – weirdest delivery of a line in the history of film, YouTube it!)
Leiter is bundled off to an aquarium belonging to Sanchez’s accomplice, Milton Krest, where he is teased as tiger shark food, lowered into the tank with the aid of an animal carcass counterweight.
(Felix is being lowered into a pool full of sharks)
Franz Sanchez: I just want you to know that this is nothing personal. It’s purely business.
Felix Leiter: Killing me won’t stop anything, Sanchez!
Franz Sanchez: There are worse things than dying, hombre.
(Lowers him into the shark pit)
Felix Leiter: See you in hell!
Franz Sanchez: No, no. Today is the first day of the rest of your life!
He’s traumatised, severely maimed and hospitalised, yet somehow survives the ordeal. Naturally Bond will have to go it alone for the foreseeable future, and prefers the lone gunman approach anyhow. As he keeps reminding people… right before asking for their help.
(Sharkey asks about Felix)
Sharkey: How is he?
James Bond: His left leg’s gone below the knee. But they might be able to save his arm.
Rasmussen: You can bet it was a chainsaw. Colombians love to use them on informers. Hell, they sell more here than the state of Oregon.
Sharkey: Chainsaw my ass. I know a shark bite when I see one.
Bond, determined to avenge the repugnant crime makes it his personal vendetta to bring down Sanchez, yet is opposed by M who insists on reassigning him to a case based in Istanbul, Turkey. He has his reasons. Some nonsense about Bond being a bit too personally entrenched in this pursuit and it potentially clouding his objectivity.
Bond isn’t especially receptive to his new orders so feels he has no choice other than to resign. Accordingly his ‘License to Kill’ is revoked and Bond goes ‘rogue’.
Incidentally, that was to be the original title until American test audiences pointed out that ‘License Revoked’ has stronger driving offence connotations than anything relating to the spying business. Alternatively some sources report that “Americans didn’t understand the word revoked”. I’ll let you decide.
(M confronts Bond in Key West)
M: You were supposed to be in Istanbul LAST NIGHT! I’m afraid this unfortunate Leiter business has
M: clouded your judgement! You have a job to do! I expect you on a plane this afternoon!
James Bond: I haven’t finished here, sir.
M: Leave it to the Americans! It’s their mess. Let them clear it up.
James Bond: SIR! They’re not going to DO ANYTHING!
James Bond: (calms down) I owe it to Leiter. He’s put his life on the line for me many times.
M: Oh SPARE ME this sentimental RUBBISH! He knew the risks.
James Bond: And his WIFE?
M: This private vendetta of yours could easily compromise Her Majesty’s government. You have an assignment, and I expect you to carry it out objectively and professionally!
James Bond: Then you have my resignation, sir!
M: (incensed) We’re not a country club, 007!
M: Effective immediately, your licence to kill is revoked, and I require you to hand over your weapon. Now. I need hardly remind you that you’re still bound by the Official Secrets Act.
James Bond: I guess it’s, uh… a farewell to arms.
…one of Ernest Hemingway’s most famous novels it should be noted, seeing as this scene was shot at his house in Key West.
Entirely unfazed Bond works on inveigling his way into Sanchez’s inner fold to bring down his operation from the inside. Posing as an assassin for hire Bond exploits Sanchez’s worst fear (being betrayed by those closest to him) to frame his allies, thereby taking them out of the picture. Simultaneously he earns Sanchez’s trust and respect as a confidante without getting his hands messy or arousing suspicious.
Which was working out fine until Dario, Sanchez’s no. 1 henchman, stuck his oar in. Played by a fresh-faced 21 year old Benicio del Toro in his second role, Dario is a callous psychopath with a sixth sense for ratting out moles. He could easily have taken Sanchez’s place as the chief villain given his disturbing screen presence and lack of any moral scruples.
As well as contending with Sanchez’s minders, Bond’s unassigned assignment is further complicated when it emerges that other government bodies are involved in apprehending the notorious drug lord, and their interests clash with Bond’s, and his inconvenient meddling.
Two ninja narcotics bureau officers from Hong Kong for instance would rather Sanchez stayed alive to answer for his misdemeanors.
Along with the story’s revenge-centric themes based on classic Japanese Ronin tales and Sanchez’s choice of unscrupulous eastern business partners, the ninjas were another element of the production that incited criticism for their stereotypical depiction of Asian culture. What? All Japanese people are ninjas, even if they’re true identity is hidden behind a custom-tailored smart corporate suit! I don’t see the problem.
Speaking of which, Bond learns that with the help of Asian drug dealer’s money, Sanchez’s rouse is to dissolve cocaine in petrol in order to smuggle it out of his processing plant and out of the country via a procession of 18 wheeler tankers.
Nestled inside Sanchez’s covert headquarters – masquerading as a religious cult run by televangelist, Professor Joe Butcher – is his drug production laboratory.
Identifying this as the hub of Sanchez’s underground enterprise, Bond sets it ablaze, incinerating the lab and everything in the vicinity.
As it erupts in a smouldering inferno Sanchez flees in one of the tankers, accompanied by three others driven by his rent-a-goons.
Heller: I can get the trucks out! But I don’t think I can control the fire!
Franz Sanchez: Forget the fire! Get some cars, we’re gonna take the tankers with us!
Truman-Lodge: Wait a minute! This setup cost us $32 million! We’ve got to try and save it! (the same as the movie’s budget not so coincidentally)
Franz Sanchez: I don’t give a S**T about the setup! We’ve got $500 million in the case, and 20 tonnes of Colombian pure IN THE TANKERS! Now GO HELP HELLER!
Truman-Lodge: But we’ve got a deal with the Orientals. We’ve got their money.
Franz Sanchez: I said GO HELP HELLER!
To head off the distribution of Sanchez’s unique petrol concoction Bond gives chase in a plane piloted by former army pilot and CIA informant, Pamela Bouvier (no relation to Marge as far as I know). Flying low enough to taste the HGVs’ exhaust fumes Pamela aligns the plane with the roof of one of the tankers, allowing James to drop down onto it, seize control of the wheel from the driver and go after Sanchez.
A high-velocity, special effects laden, lethal chase ensues through a desert close to Mexicali as Bond dispatches Sanchez’s flunkies one by one, edging ever closer towards their taskmaster for the final climactic confrontation.
Using a conveniently placed ramp, Bond flips the tanker onto its side wheels to dodge a stinger missile.
It glides neatly beneath the truck’s undercarriage, ploughing into another mobile cocaine cache. It’s driver runs for cover averting the human torch treatment.
Truman-Lodge: (after two of the tanker trucks are destroyed) BRILLIANT! Well done, Franz! Another eighty-million dollar write-off!
Sanchez: Then I guess it’s time to start cutting overhead.
The stunt budget wasn’t quite depleted by this stage so before we have time to draw breath Bond is miraculously pulling a wheelie to tower above a raging firestorm of ignited petrol. It’s blocking the road licking its lips in anticipation of the moment Bond drives through causing his engine to go kablooey, so there’s the justification for that absurd jaw-dropper. Kinda.
Having commandeered one of the tanker monstrosities Bond rams the others off the highway before aligning the gleaming behemoth with the rear of Sanchez’s truck. For his final death-defying, ludicrous stunt he switches the truck to cruise control and shimmies out of his cab and onto the bonnet/hood. Almost touching now, Bond pounces onto the back of the remaining tanker to tackle Sanchez mano-a-mano with a machete.
They play the Itchy and Scratchy version of cat and mouse until the tanker veers off road, tumbling uncontrollably down a slope to the desert wasteland below. It skids to a halt engulfed by flames as Sanchez emerges from a dust cloud aftermath, battered and bloody with murder still top priority.
Wielding the machete he approaches Bond.
Just when it appears to be lights out time for Bond he stops Sanchez in his tracks to ask if he understands the motivation behind his fanatical man-hunt.
Franz Sanchez: You could have had everything.
James Bond: Don’t you want to know why?
Struck dumbfounded, apparently not. Nevertheless he soon gets the gist when Bond whips out the ‘best man’ present given to him by Leiter at his wedding and pulls off his best Guy Fawkes impression. It’s a cigarette lighter you see. A lighter gifted by Leiter. Genius! …and given that Sanchez is already soaked in highly flammable petrol, and also standing adjacent to a leaking petrol tanker, he’s instantly engulfed in a figure-hugging fire suit before he can appreciate the clever wordplay.
Domark’s fourth Bond game – License to Kill, this time developed under the Quixel moniker – adopts the high-octane action sequences from the 16th Bond movie whilst dropping much of the plot’s nuance and character development. What else would you expect from a purely top-down action romp? You can check out the Amiga/PC title ‘James Bond: The Stealth Affair’ from Delphine if deeper point and click adventures are more your cup of Martini.
In contrast Licence to Kill spread its net far and wide; it was available for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, and ZX Spectrum. A NES version developed by Tengen was also ‘finished’ (if you don’t consider the final level worthy of inclusion), though too late for the release to be economically viable. Consequently it was canned by publishers Domark, who commissioned the project along with all the other iterations.
As if you couldn’t guess, the C64 version.
Some sources say the game was also released for the Master System in South Korea in 1996, although I can’t find much evidence to support that. Maybe they mean ‘James Bond 007: The Duel’ – that was available for the Mega Drive, Game Gear and Master System, also developed by Domark and stars Timothy Dalton. Well, on the cover anyway. Its gameplay was inspired by a medley of Bond movies, not Licence to Kill exclusively.
Abridged as it is, James’ motivation remains true to the movie; he’s not here on a sightseeing trip, instead driven by the desire to avenge the death of his best buddy, recurring character Felix Leiter, and wife, Della. Only Felix, as we know, doesn’t die. It would make much more sense of Bond’s single-minded outrage if he did. Then maybe that was considered too dark, even for Bond’s first 15-rated entry in the never-ending series. One that seems to resemble more accurately the character Ian Fleming devised for his novels. Timothy Dalton is dour, no nonsense and not especially enigmatic or engaging. A kind of washed up samurai with nothing left to lose.
License to Kill takes much of its inspiration from the movie’s introduction, skims over a massive chunk of the admittedly flabby filler in the middle, before making a dramatic comeback for the truck-chasing denouement. Although Quixel only had the movie’s storyboard for guidance they still managed to capture the essence of the key plot points fairly well.
As the manual succinctly explains and entices…
“Become James Bond in his latest adventure and destroy the evil drug smuggler Sanchez. Guide 007 as he fights it out on Cray Cay, over Miami bay and underwater on his way to the final confrontation in 18-wheeler fuel tankers. Defeat Sanchez and give Bond what he wants – REVENGE.”
Fixated on payback, Domark chose not to embrace the franchise’s usual lewd, cringey one-liners. In spite of Dalton’s morose interpretation of the Bond persona he does deliver a few smirking, tongue-in-cheek ‘zingers’ that hark back to the ‘Carry On’ Roger Moore era. Still, whenever they step too far over the politically incorrect line he’s challenged on his outdated assumptions as if by way of an apology to all the women the series has offended and dismissed over the years.
Pam and Lupe – the movie’s obligatory Bond girl beauties – are also AWOL, save for a passing reference to “Sanchez’s girlfriend” in the manual. While Lupe is a typical damsel in distress, Pam is presented as a capable, independent, resourceful woman, summarily ticking the equality check box. Nonetheless, any feminist goodwill is swiftly rescinded as soon as she reaches for a gun strapped to her inner thigh so the camera can linger. This happens on multiple occasions to boost the movie’s ‘sexy quotient’ before the direction tips the balance entirely by instructing her to strip out of a harbour master’s boiler suit revealing her slinky, flimsy lingerie beneath. It’s a disguise so must be cast aside once it has served its purpose and she has been rumbled. It’s all a bit patronising, lecherous and cheap really. Still, this is Bond, it goes with the territory so I don’t know why I’m surprised.
License to Kill is split into three main ‘scenes’ (not levels), each further divided into up to three distinct parts.
In the opening scene Bond and Leiter must apprehend Sanchez to prevent him escaping with his girlfriend, Lupe Lamora (a third of Bond’s latest love triangle). Soaring north over Cay Cray in a helicopter we must stalk Sanchez’s jeep.
If you were paying attention when you watched the movie you’ll know that Sanchez jumped out of it into the bushes before the hunt commenced, so this level is a bit of a misnomer if the goal is to bust Sanchez.
Never mind. Pushing forwards to fly faster we automatically swoop low between the buildings, whilst pulling back to slow down causes us to ascend, avoiding ground obstacles in the process. Remaining wedged between them tracking the central channel we can circumvent the challenge of continually adjusting our altitude. This allows us to strafe left and right to eliminate the gun emplacements or pick off infantry, as long as we remember to return to the centre before making impact with the desert’s fixtures and fittings, and don’t drop so low that we run aground.
It’s a pretty easy introduction to the expedition once you’re aware of the way in which the controls function. It has to be said it’s impressive that Domark tried at all to incorporate altitude considerations into the mechanics for such a simple licensed cash-in. Very few top-down shoot ‘em ups of the same era can make that claim.
Up next is a time-sensitive Commando/Ikari Warriors style shootout in which we’re pitted against Sanchez’s militia. If you’re following this with the movie playing in the background to fill in the blanks this interlude represents the scene immediately following the jeep chase. Bond and Leiter land the chopper, ducking below the blades’ air swell they charge off into the wilderness guns blazing on the trail of Sanchez and his associates. The celluloid version is a case of blink and you’ll miss it, and the gaming equivalent isn’t much longer.
Armed with a 15 shot Barretta this might have been fairly straightforward if it wasn’t for the quirky control mechanics. We press fire to enter the gun aiming mode, swing the sight left and right to target the enemy, then pull the trigger again to finally shoot. Moving forwards or backwards breaks Bond free from his fixed position, allowing us to surge onwards to find our next mark. Luckily the enemy forces don’t tend to be overly motile, otherwise we’d struggle to adjust our position back and forth quick enough to counter their opposition.
Extra magazines can be acquired from the landscape and exploding oil barrels exploited to our advantage if we can stay beyond the reach of their blast radius ourselves. They always go boom after the fourth shot which helps to make them more predictable. At the end of the vertically scrolling level Felix awaits our arrival with the helicopter to whisk us off to the next section of our revenge crusade.
Scene three – lights, camera, gaming! – represents the most memorable action set piece in the movie; the one in which we “go fishing” for Sanchez’s plane as he tries to escape to Cuba. As it’s little more than a recreational toy he wouldn’t normally pose too much of a challenge for Bond… if the goal was simply to eliminate the target. Nevertheless, as in the movie we need to keep Sanchez alive so the way we go about dealing with him is a tad unorthodox to say the least.
Working to a deadline – as we do throughout – we must bring Sanchez in for interrogation by abseiling down to the plane’s tail to attach a winch rope. Here we pilot the chopper, and guided by Leiter, take charge of Bond’s deployment simultaneously.
The usual forwards, backwards, left and right controls apply with fire launching Bond out of the plane once he’s perfectly positioned over its tail. We don’t have to contend with altitude as in level one. Dodging the clouds that obscure our vision, attempting to keep pace with Sanchez as he ducks and weaves beyond our grasp is not an easy task. One that’s made trickier by the seemingly arbitrary acceptance of our instructions to drop Bond. You can keep plugging away until you’ve almost given up hope, then out of the blue you’re congratulated on a job well done.
Once on the hook (please pay attention to my fishing metaphor, I’m trying my best here), we eject from the helicopter and float down to the sea dangling beneath a Union Jack themed parachute.
Note that Domark chose to bypass the movie’s wedding scene entirely, so water serves as our landing pad rather the area outside the church venue.
For the fourth excursion Bond finds himself underwater, armed only with a knife for defence.
He’s sabotaged a drugs exchange by stabbing the cocaine packets being transported from a seaplane using a towed water trailer attached to a Seakrest sub. Unfortunately he was caught on candid camera and now the cartel villains are in pursuit.
We encounter enemy dinghies and catamarans above the waves and divers below, yet can surface and plunge intermittently ourselves as and when required to evade them. Bonus points are awarded for destroying the stray floating cocaine ‘bricks’.
To exit this level we’re required to harpoon one of the seaplane’s pontoons and water-ski barefoot behind the drugs traffickers. Once latched on we must steer around the protruding obstacles long enough to draw close to the seaplane, clamber aboard, then into the cockpit and ‘confiscate’ it. Chucking the pilot into the deep blue we make our getaway.
This level emulates its analogue in the movie reasonably well. Bond dives beneath the sea to hack away at the cocaine packages with a knife, inciting the wrath of those seeking to profit from them.
To get away posthaste and simultaneously Shanghai the plane he launches a harpoon to attach himself to it and deftly water-skis behind like a veteran SeaWorld entertainer.
Glossing over more of the movie’s exposition we’re propelled straight into our final rendezvous with Sanchez. Despite destroying his drugs factory he manages to escaped with a parade of petrol tankers harbouring the dissolved cocaine.
(Asked why he has a gun)
James Bond: In my business you prepare for the unexpected.
Franz Sanchez: And what business is that?
James Bond: I help people with problems.
Franz Sanchez: Problem solver.
James Bond: More of a problem eliminator.
Our brief is to kill Sanchez before he can reach the border. This we accomplish by first running his associates off the road, leaving the path clear to the head honcho Godfather wannabe himself. As in the movie, given that he’s armed with stinger missiles, initially an agile army jeep, and later a vehicle equating to a mobile fortress, we shouldn’t expect him to come quietly.
Even Blofeld’s pet cat received a makeover as Bond-tech evolved!
Shunting the other tankers aside until their volatile cargo combusts we reach the end of the line and the end of the game. License to Kill wraps up with a congratulatory text message superimposed over a static image of our final destination, before looping back to scene one. An anti-climactic conclusion to a lacklustre game.
We have to assume we nailed Sanchez since it’s not explicitly depicted. Obviously our License to Kill has been revoked so we’ll have to settle for ‘putting him to sleep’… permanently. We’ll explain the difference to M later. He’ll be fine with it I’m sure.
John Glen’s movie was unveiled in the UK in July 1989, while Domark’s game followed shortly afterwards in August of the same year. Working to such a tight schedule it’s easy to see why the finished product is a distilled facsimile of its silver screen incarnation, quite rightly considered a special effects extravaganza in its day.
Even so it clocks in at the lowest grossing Bond movie in the series’ 57 year history taking $34.6m at the box office (the competition in summer 1989 was especially strong).
Analogously its small screen gaming appendage with its unexceptional graphics and adequate audio reached number 17 in the charts in September 1989 (see C&VG), then disappeared without a trace.
Just over a year later the forgettable title was re-released as a cover-mounted ‘freebie’ accompanying issue 5 (November 1990) of the short-lived, obscure disk-based magazine, rAMpage (a spin-off from the ST/Amiga parent STAMpede). At £3.99 for a 16 page pamphlet with two floppies attached it could be considered a sub-budget offering. Good luck finding an ADF of that today, or even a scan of the cover.
A pro longplayer can complete the game in about ten minutes, aptly demonstrating how little there is of it. That isn’t to say it’s easy, it’s not. In fact it’s brutal in places thanks to its occasionally awkward controls and energy/time limitations. Personally I only stood a chance of experiencing the game in its entirety courtesy of the ‘trained’ iteration.
None of the mini-games in isolation would pass for exceptional examples of their genre. Taken together they push the right buttons, eliciting fond memories of the movie for those rare creatures who happen to be Timothy Dalton fans. For anyone not approaching the game with a pre-cultivated, vested interest in the franchise, License to Kill is a damp squib unworthy of your attention.
If you learn nothing else from Licence to Kill, remember that “a man who desires revenge should dig two graves”.
…Unless you’re James Bond.
*shrug* That’s how the movie ends so it seemed appropriate. Don’t ask me.
Is this to blame for Seaman (Vivarium, 1999) for the Dreamcast?