1989's Licence to Kill was the first Bond film to be novelised since Christopher Wood's James Bond, the Spy Who Loved ME
and James Bond and Moonraker (Film-Script Adaptation)
from screenplays that had little or nothing to do with the eponymous books. Having run out of original Fleming titles to develop to feature length, unused elements of the novels were incorporated into an original screenplay that built upon Dalton's acclaimed and authentic portrayal in The Living Daylights. As the incumbent 007 author, a reluctant Gardner was approached by Cubby Brocoli to unite the literary and film series.
Score: 6/10. The plot sees Bond disavowed by his own service when he seeks personal revenge against Sanchez, the central american drug lord who maims his old comrade (the newly married) Felix Leiter. 007 teams up with ex-US Navy pilot Pam, chasing Sanchez and his smuggling confederate Krest from the Florida Keys to the (Mexico City-like) corrupt Isthmus City.
Perhaps ahead of its time on celluloid, post Daniel Craig it feels refreshingly naturalistic. The sheer mundane nastiness of Sanchez's operation drops Bond into the 'real world' more convincingly than some of Gardner's spyworld yarns. The fast and well subplotted narrative plays to the writer's strengths in relating exciting action, detailed machinery and evocative locales (eg warehouse, Wave Krest, sniper sequence and high speed finale). Gardner makes the most of Major Boothroyd/Q's first appearance in his books (he's usually 'offscreen', supplanted by his deputy Q'ute!) and Bond's standard Boldman alias in the 80s gets a nod.
A frustrated Gardner was working from ever changing pre-shooting scripts, so your favourite line or scene may be absent. Pam's characterisation and description are especially hesitant, but he goes to great lengths to clear up how-people-get-where: his then recent research of the Florida Keys for Nobody Lives For Ever (James Bond)
pays particular dividends. While dialogue wasn't among Gardner's strengths, here the script is to blame for Bond's "me hearties", "inordinately" and "booze", plus a lot of Moore-ish quips that mercifully didn't reach the screen.
However Gardner's diffidence is evident with a lack of spark in the writing. He gets in a few digs, with 007 musing that "he must look like a movie stuntman" and repeatedly criticising the misrepresentation of Stinger missiles. While only Krest's name and boat are borrowed from Fleming's The Hildebrand Rarity, the rerun of the shark tank scene from Fleming's Live and Let Die made for a great film scene but awkward literary canonicity: poor Gardner was reduced to nibbling off Leiter's prosthetic limbs.
Given Leiter's greater tragedy and the noirish tone of early Fleming novels, it's a shame there's none of the Spillane-esque 'this time it's personal' that Dalton conveyed on screen. Bond just seems miffed. Otherwise he's every bit the glib, thinking man's spy the author latterly depicted, with his pick of a parade of randy crumpet. Having not seen 007 smoke since Nobody Lives For Ever, he now claims he's down to 5 a day but refrains here, and is reluctantly issued with a Walther P.38K. Increasingly teetotal, he unforgivably consumes a "virgin colada" and claims he's "never really been that heavy on the drink. Good wines, yes." Understandable words for a recovering alcoholic writer but not our hero!
With 7 original 007 novels under his belt and another 7 (plus Goldeneye) to go, Licence to Kill (unknowingly) brought the first half of Gardner's contribution to a satisfactory if not earthshattering end. His 80s bestsellers had begun by remaining largely faithful to Bond's character and Fleming's plot structure. As the cold war ended, a greater departure would reinvigorate the series: Win, Lose or Die (James Bond)