Tomorrow Never Dies:
After enjoying Goldeneye so much, I was pretty dispirited by TNL, a movie which seems like a bit of a step backwards. With its newfound sense of irony and irreverence, it was inevitable that Bond would eventually try to position itself as a vehicle for satire. This aint as bad an idea as you might think. Since the franchise has now ditched the Cold War trappings, it makes sense to turn to the headlines for plot inspiration. However, Tomorrow Never Dies does just that a little too literally.
On paper it sounds as appealing as License to Kill was: it’s James Bond versus Rupert Murdoch. Alright, a bit of Murdoch, a smattering of Robert Maxwell, with Steve Job’s wardrobe thrown in for good luck. Yhe story is meant to touch upon anxieties which are still socially relevant. Namely, the manipulation of the masses, the power of the fourth estate, and the polarisation of public opinion in the information age. The problem is that the movie is too busy checking off the ‘James Bond Romp’ boxes that it never has much time to engage in satire beyond a few throwaway lines.
It opens with a lot of pointless action in Russia, in which Brosbond stops a terrorist group from getting their mitts on some nukes. This whole sequence has almost nothing to do with the plot, except for establishing that M’s military peers are predictably hawkish and trigger-happy. Then media mogul Elliot Carver remotely hijacks a British frigate and sends it into Chinese waters, before sinking it with a mercenary ship of his own.
Carver’s usual modus operandi is to secretly cause disasters and scandals, and then break the stories he’s provoked before any of his competitors … and in fact, before the British government is even aware of it, which is what draws their attention in the first place.
His latest Evil Plan is to provoke a war between England and China with false flags, so he can destroy the current Chinese government and ingratiate himself with the new one, thus obtaining broadcasting rights in the People’s Republic.
… Hang on: what??? I’m no Machiavelli, but surely there has to be a way for Carver to air the news in Asia without provoking an international conflict? For one thing, wars happen to be rather unpredictable affairs, and are terribly damaging for economies. How does Carver know that his News Network won’t be affected?
Plus, he’s banking a lot on the fact that the Chinese general he’s handpicked to be the head of state when the dust settles might feel indebted to him. What will he do if the guy tells him to shove his broadcasting rights up his arse? Will he just go through the same plot all over again?
Also, he’s already one of the richest and most powerful men on Earth, so what real benefit does he get out of controlling China’s media when he controls everyone else’s? Is he that bored of writing celebrity gossip and football scores? I understand his frustration, but I’d draw the line at potentially killing billions for the sake of a prime time slot in Beijing. Not on ethical grounds you understand, just in the name of pragmatism.
To be fair, Jonathan Pryce is great, as he twirls his moustache and banquets on scenery. You can see why he played The Master in The Curse of Fatal Death, since his performance is about as restrained as it was wearing comedy Dalek bump boobies. The issue is that Elliot Carver being a media mogul is a bit of an informed attribute. Apart from a few token mentions of his paper he’s a generic Mastermind through-and-through,.
This film would have been far better if it was actually about Bond battling the media itself, with Carver threatening to expose Bond’s scandalous history. Why not have him play a Hannibal Lector role, with Bond using him for intel about another villainous scheme? In an era where Bond’s image is being scrutinised, it’s a great opportunity to have Bond be concerned about his bad PR, which would surely make for a much more threatening enemy than yet another rich old white guy.
The other characters all feel like peeps we’ve already met before: Teri Hatcher is the Femme Fatale who has history with Bond, Michelle Yeoh is a Final Girl with Martial Arts skills, Götz Otto is another Aryan anti-Bond Henchman. TND thinks that it can fool you by recasting its familiar archetypes with younger and sexier actors, but in reality, they’re all as old and over-the-hill as Desmond Llewellyn. At least he has the decency to age gracefully.
The one member of the cast I genuinely loved was Dr. Kauffman, a deliciously-hammy German scientist/assassin played by Vincent Schiavelli, who seems more like a Peter Sellars character than a Bond goon. I wish that he appeared in more scenes, because the dark comedy his character provides is brilliant, and should have been the tone this movie was striking all the way through.
Watching this, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the scriptwriters had just come up with a series of set pieces and ideas and used the script to string them together, like cheap beads on a particularly gaudy necklace. There’s a bit where Bond drives his car by remote control, a bit where Bond and Wai Lin get into a motorcycle chase while handcuffed together, a bit with a drill, a bit with a printing press, a bit with a fight on top of a missile. But that’s all they are: bits.
It all feels a bit arbitrary and desperate for your attention. Sure, they’re memorable sequences, but you’ll be buggered if you try to recall why they happened. It’s missing some unifying theme or extra idea to tie it all together. Something to give the lampooning a bit of bite. Apparently, the original title was ‘Tomorrow Never Lies’, which makes sense in context. But when the script was faxed to MGM, a typo led to it being renamed: ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, which makes none at all.
That about sums it up for me, the fact that a mistake like that happened, and the people in charge simply shrugged and said: “meh, that’ll do.” It shows.
The World is Not Enough:
It’s hard to write about The World is Not Enough, because I’m still not 100 percent sure went wrong here. I think my main gripe is that it wants to be about something different for a change, but fudges a key twist, and comes across as very insensitive.
It starts off strong, with Bond retrieving money from a bent Swiss banker which belongs to billionaire oil baron Sir Robert King. Bond comes back to MI6 headquarters to discover Sir Robert getting cosy with mummy … I mean, with M. But before Bond gets a new stepdad, Sir Robert’s money turns out to be booby-trapped, and it explodes and kills him. The fact that nobody in the secret service thought to check the bills for something like this really makes a mockery of the term ‘British intelligence.’
Then a sexy girl driving a speedboat tries to snipe M, and Bond chases her down the Thames in one of Batman’s spare vehicles. A tedious speedboat chase ensues, which is blatantly an attempt to get as many money shots of London landmarks as possible. I was half expecting Bond to blow up the Cutty Sark for a laugh.
The chase culminates at the Millennium Dome (its appearance was mandatory in every British-set movie in 1999, trust me) and the female assassin tries to escape by hopping onto a hot air balloon and taking off. Bond inexplicably grabs a dangling rope and hangs onto the balloon. I’m not entirely sure why, since:
- Hot air balloons are very slow.
- They’re also very easy to shoot down.
- This one was multicoloured and extremely conspicuous, so there’d be no chance of it making a stealthy getaway.
- It had just taken off from a well-known-location, surrounded by dozens, if not hundreds, of witnesses.
- The hit-woman committed suicide anyway, and Bond tumbled down the side of the dome, breaking his arm and achieving fuck-all.
Bond, M and the rest of the team retreat to a Scottish castle to lick their wounds and formulate a strategy. I’m starting to think that MI6, much like Torchwood, is entirely staffed by recovering sex addicts, because while Bond has his arm in a sling the doctor treating his injuries decides to fuck him. She could easily lose her job for this, if not her actual medical license, although with a name like ‘Dr. Molly Warmflash’ she probably should’ve been struck off already.
M believes that the man responsible for Sir Robert’s death is the Russian terrorist Renard, played by Robert Carlisle. Renard kidnapped Sir Robert’s beautiful daughter Elektra several years ago, and now seems to want to disrupt King’s new oil pipeline. Renard is basically a Frank Miller Daredevil villain, and that’s not just because of his association with a lassie named Elektra. He was shot in the head by 009, and the bullet is still lodged inside his bonce. But instead of turning him into a vegetable with severe dementia, he’s now lost the ability to feel pain and is stronger, faster, and more sociopathic, with every passing day.
Now, I’m not going to have a go at the script for this conceit, apart from pointing out that losing the ability to feel pain doesn’t inherently lend one the advantage in combat. In fact, it’s generally a hindrance. How often does Renard scald himself making a cup of tea? Or end up with an infection from a wound he didn’t notice? Also, if he’s slowly losing all of his senses (M says he’s already lost smell and taste), then why not wait for him to become blind, deaf and quadriplegic?
TWINE is also the last on-screen appearance of Desmond Llewellyn as Q, who leaves the franchise in pretty anticlimactic way. Of course, no one could have anticipated the poor man being killed in a car accident, but his last act is to introduce his successor (John Cleese as Basil Fawlty as Q’s intern) give Bond a giant inflatable igloo gadget, and then sink down below the floor with a smile. Farewell old timer: you shall be missed.
As Elektra has inherited daddy’s oil business she’s now in danger. Against all sound judgement, M decides to send England’s favourite sexist philanderer to protect her. Elektra is actually quite an appealing character, played very well by Sophie Marceau, who puts on the front of a tough-as-nails businesswoman, but who actually appears to be extremely traumatised from her kidnapping.
Having Bond interact with a woman with profound PTSD appears to be a recipe for disaster, but it could’ve been a great source of drama. Elektra hints that she was sexually abused by Reynard, and her psychological demons and triggering experiences with Bond might have given 007 the opportunity to show a more caring and compassionate side. But predictably, the instant I turned away to fix myself a drink, Bond pumped her. Brilliant. Worse, they hooked up after they went skiing together and were hunted down the slopes by goons, which is the only thing that bores me more than speedboat chases. I despair.
Bond tracks down Renard, who’s trying to steal some valuable plutonium. At his location, he meets scientist Dr Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards, who is probably the most hated Bond girl of all time. It’s fair to say that she’s totally unconvincing as a physicist, but considering how often we’ve had buxom airheads with no credentials claim to be certified badasses, I wasn’t that upset by her. True, she has zero chemistry with Brosnan, and looks as though she’d rather be anywhere else, but considering why she’s been cast (sex appeal) and the material she’s working with (forgettable) can ya blame her?
Contrariwise, Robert Carlisle’s performance is great, although that might just be because it reminds me of his turn as the scouse skinhead in Cracker. Although he’s playing a daft antagonist, his nihilistic fatalism means that Bond can’t bargain or manipulate him, because there’s truly nothing he wants more than to fulfil his own death wish and cop off with Ms Marceau.
(Incidentally, isn’t it annoying that Robbie Coltrane and Robert Carlisle never get a scene together in this? Also, why is he the third Scottish character actor in a row to play a Russian? What’s all that about? It’s it the rolling Rs? The national rates of alcoholism? I dunno.)
Bond gets into a punch up with him, and he drops a line that Elektra herself said earlier. Based on this alone, Bond becomes convinced that Elektra is a shady bitch and that she and Renard are in cahoots. Come off it James: how likely is it that a woman who has been kidnapped and raped would suddenly murder her pa and take her abuser’s side in a homicidal caper years later? … As it turns out, it doesn’t matter how unlikely it is, because it’s exactly what happens.
Bond tries to out Elektra as a sleekit cow, and so she abducts M and escapes to meet up with Russian Begbie. Having Elektra go from Final Girl to Femme Fatale to Mastermind would’ve worked if she’d been given any depth, and if the writers had juxtaposed the climax of the plot with an emotional resolution. Elektra could’ve been a female Darth Vader, with Bond triggering a redemption arc by helping her to move past her abuse, and subsequently overcome the man who destroyed her. Bond getting her to break through Renard’s conditioning and reject victimhood would have made Elektra one of the most feminist character studies in the whole franchise.
…But no. Instead she just fancies Renard because of his BDE and her serious daddy issues. So Bond and Thingumytits meet with Robbie Coltrane to find out where she’s gone, and are attacked by (I shit you not) helicopters with giant sawblades.
They defeat the goons and confront Elektra, who reveals that she plans to blow up Istanbul with her DIY nuke so she can knacker a competing Russian oil pipeline, pull a Goldfinger, and corner the market. She doesn’t explain why she needs to blow up the pipeline (which spans half a continent) at the exact place where 15 million people happen to live, as she’s far too busy gloating.
By the way, I really resent the fact that we’ve had two female baddies now whose motivation for being evil is as shallow as ‘it turns them on’ – as if that’s the only thing that could compel a woman to act with any moral ambiguity whatsoever.
Of course, Bond escapes, shoots her dead and finishes things off with a showdown with Renard. He batters him, rescues M, and goes home for tea and coitus, which all his colleagues get to witness against their will yet again. I was willing to write this film off as simply ‘misguided.’ But then there was the last line: Bond, balls-deep in Denise Richards, snarks: “I thought Christmas only came once a year.”
Fuck. Me. Dead. I came so close to giving up on this marathon right here.