Skip to main content

Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

The World is Not Enough
(1999)

(SPOILERS) The last Bond film of the 20th century unfortunately continues the downward trend of the Brosnan era, which had looked so promising after the reinvigorated approach to Goldeneye. The World is Not Enough’s screenplay posseses a number of strong elements (from the now ever present Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and a sophomore Bruce Feirstein), some of which have been recycled in the Craig era, but they’ve been mashed together with ill-fitting standard Bond tropes that puncture any would-be substance (Bond’s last line before the new millennium is one Roger Moore would have relished). And while a structure that stop-starts doesn’t help the overall momentum any, nor does the listlessness of drama director Michael Apted, such that when the sporadic bursts of action do arrive there’s no disguising the joins between first and second unit, any prospect of thrills evidently unsalvageable in the edit.


Taking its cues from the curtailed media satire of Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond is here inveigled in a topical battle for the control of the supply of oil, albeit with a customarily excessive master plan sprinkled on top. Added to which, the accompanying gestures of its predecessor towards the costs for those who get involved with the super special secret agent are fomented into ill-advisedly emphasising the vulnerability of Bond himself. Obviously, this undercurrent had been growing since “proper thesp” Timothy Dalton got involved, but its notable that Pierce Brosnan was pushing for content that is somehow labelled mould breaking when Daniel Craig repeats exactly the same thing.


So here, Bond suffers an injury in the pre-credits sequence and nurses it for a remainder (13 years on and an “aging”, injured Bond becomes a big theme of Skyfall). Further still, 007 gets involved with a lady who’s poison, in a plotline that is at once surprisingly envelope-pushing for the series, but ultimately fails to have the courage of its convictions as our hero is left unrocked by all that occurs. In that sense, while aspects here initially fashion Bond a relationship that will carry the emotional heft (and betrayal) of Vesper in Casino Royale, he ends up more than sated by the silly totty of Christmas Jones. It’s as if the producers got cold feet, pulling back from a picture that actually managed to justify M’s expanded role (gawd help us) and which was fumbling around for depth of feeling and a dollop of emotional integrity for its protagonist, but by then it’s too late. So World ends up neither fish nor fowl, too tepid on all fronts to be deemed even a partial success.


And it could have been. There’s a core idea with more potential than probably any of the Brosnans. Much as I don’t really buy into the idea of exploring Bond’s soul (maybe the novels go through his darker and more existential processes, but that’s a different beast to the needs of this movie juggernaut), the real key is that it shouldn’t be for the tail wagging the dog; it should be part of a strong story to tell, which is why On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and its final moment of heartbreak, remains the emotional knockout of a series averse to such explorations, and is unlikely to be beaten.


Here, the trio of writers have come up with a fairly strong concept for a villain, not only the first female (lead) villain in the series, but also one with tangible motivation (although Brosnan rehearses the Stockholm Syndrome dialogue, understandably, like he shouldn’t need to spoon-feed the audience), yet it doesn’t really fundamentally tie into Bond himself and, strange as it is to say given my general anti-Bond-character development stance, this is probably a mistake. It would have been better to concentrate on that rather than the over-emphasised and irritating injury business (audiences don’t really want to see their action hero – the reason they’re seeing the bloody thing – crippled throughout one of his adventures; understandably they’ll feel short-changed).


The potential here was twofold; not only has Bond been hoodwinked by Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), but most of the action he engages in prior to this revelation is something of a deceit; his daring escape in the opening scene is at the behest of Renard (Robert Carlyle) and his rescue of Elektra in the (ineptly choreographed) ski chase sequence is nothing of the sort since she was never in danger.


If he had truly fallen for Elektra, whilst being fundamentally undermined, it would have carried far more power than his seguing into suspicion on hearing the crucial line both she and Renard repeat (“There’s no point living if you can’t feel alive”) and then casually opting for Christmas instead. Indeed, the moment where he kills Elektra is such a strong one, and one of the few really well realised scenes in the picture (probably because it isn’t truly an action beat) that if there was real regret to his final cradling of her it would be so much stronger (nevertheless, it’s a near-iconic moment, Bond proving he’s not actually sexist when it comes to murder and is after all an equal-opportunities killer; but then, he’s never shown such sorrow on killing a man, has he? Which rather underlines his misogynistic flair.)


So it’s with M that the real pay-off comes, since she persuaded Electra’s father Sir Robert King (David Calder) to refuse the ransom when Renard kidnapped her some years previously (presumably no more than four or five if M was M then). Apparently there was originally an idea to have Electra survive and recover from her condition, but it didn’t test well; if that’s the case, focus groups were correct on this occasion, as you have a scene in which Elektra misreads Bond’s pliability/code and her own invulnerability versus what sounds like a standard cop out (of the sort Christmas Jones is). More than that, there would have been a real difficulty taking that approach if there was no established sympathetic side of the character to justify it (one thing Marceau very much doesn’t offer is a sympathetic portrait, barely even a glimpse since Eektra is always performing).


If Oscar-winning Dame Judi Dench is basically lured into a trap and then locked up (where she indulges a spot of MacGyvering; they should lock up Q some time and see what transpires), M is nevertheless on the receiving end of some very valid condemnation when Elektra accuses her of valuing the capture of a terrorist over her own life (another scenario that will be plundered by Skyfall).


M: His only goal is chaos.

Renard, the engineer of all that Elektra has become, is an amalgam of henchman and lead villain who never really comes into his own as either. Casting Carlyle as Renard the Anarchist must have seemed like a post-Begbie no-brainer in the same way casting a post-Tarantino Christoph Waltz surely did in Spectre, and it’s perhaps partly due to such over-obviousness that the choice flounders.


Carlyle’s fine as far as he goes, which isn’t really very far; the bullet moving through his brain (courtesy of 009, whose car Bond ruins in Spectre) making him impervious to pain was originally designated to Stamper in Tomorrow Never Dies, and it’s very much your classic Bond henchman hook, but Renard’s also called on to be Electra’s Frankenstein current, and her lover, and there’s never any real conviction to this element. That said, Carlyle really sells Renard’s last moments, impaled on a fuel rod and released to the death he knows is inevitable (“She’s waiting for you”). At least it gets us past the quite dreadful “Welcome to my nuclear family”.


The oil pipeline concept was courtesy of Barbara Broccoli, and as villainous schemes go, it isn’t a bad one, if a bit extreme for the generally grounded appraoch; destroy Istanbul through a nuclear explosion, contaminating the surrounding area (including the Russian supply line) thereby leaving Elektra’s pipeline as the only operational one in the area. It has been pointed out that the plan to go nuclear to gain control over a precious commodity was previously the ruse in Goldfinger, but it’s sufficiently distinct not to feel like mimicry. 


Accompanying this, the choice of a variety of locations in Asia (Azerbaijan, Istanbul, Turkey, albeit with France also used as a snowy stand-in) makes for a different feel to the picture, even if they are hardly used to show off the area’s virtues (a car chase was planned through Istanbul but cut; it might not only have rectified this failing but also given the picture some much needed energy, although maybe not, given the stodgy pace elsewhere).


Unfortunately the connecting tissue to this plot is mostly rather silly (in a Bond film?!), requiring Renard to steal plutonium for a nuclear bomb in Kazakhatan and Elektra to borrow a submarine off Valentin Zukovsky (a welcome return from Robbie Coltrane); something with a bit more cohesion, and less piecemeal might have better fitted a villain with an actual real world focus. By this point, though, the plot has become trapped in a stop-start holding pattern whereby it’s very difficult to believe it could have been salvaged without a complete structural rethink. 


For far too much of the proceedings Bond is in very little danger, coasting about from location to location, such that M can drop in on him with very little difficulty. While the deceit of sending him and Christmas to defuse a non-nuclear bomb has potential, as a set piece and progression it’s as unsatisfying as his earlier confrontation with Renard (where 007, hanging from some chains, is reduced to trying to out run a fireball; the editing and staging suck here, frankly).


This sluggishness is there from the off, unfortunately. Apted can direct a reasonable enough thriller (Gorky Park, Extreme Measures) but action spectacle is not his strong suit. As such, while the dramatic scenes are mostly fine in and of themselves, the action is as weak as the series has been this side of Lewis Gilbert (where it really didn’t matter amid the Moore-ish japery). 


The opening scene in Spain, complete with Patrick Malahide as a Swiss banker, is probably the best action beat in the film, as it’s small scale and manageable, but as soon as Bond gets back to the exploding MI6 building and the boat chase, things begin to fall apart. 


The chase of Cigar Girl (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) is lifeless (a comedy interlude speeding down a street and through a restaurant aside), and the insertion of conveniences like of a hot air balloon and the Millennium Dome never feel justified (even Bond adjusting his tie underwater is weak, a much less cool nod to the tank chase in Goldeneye). Indeed, the best part of this sequence is the transition of Bond pulling his shoulder and falling, then landing in the title sequence.


The ski chase is borderline incomprehensible and lacks any excitement (in particular, Bond dropping through one of the paragliders is lousy); it only serves to emphasise how superior the chase in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 30 years earlier was. 


Later, the extended (interminable) action at Zukovsky’s caviar factory, with a helicopter with a mounted buzzsaw, is an expensive snooze complete with silly CGI blades flying about the place. 


The only upside is that the gratuitous BMW product placement sees the sponsor short-changed with no chase and a totalled car (notably, the use of both remote control  and a helicopter recall vastly superior scenes in the previous Tomorrow Never Dies). The phone this time is Motorola, rather than Erricson though, and there are Omega watches waved around too (apparently there was $100m of product placement, which is just as well, as you’re left wondering where the £135m budget went).


The sub-bound finale is also less than electrifying, in part because the real climax was killing Electra, but mainly because Apted can’t find a way to make the fight with Renard visually or emotionally dynamic. Apparently other directors were considered; Joe Dante (I can’t think why, seriously, unless they wanted to evoke Moonraker with added panache), Peter Jackson (Babs was put off by The Frighteners) and Peter Medak (Species 2 ended his prospects; so how come Stop! Or My Mom will Shoot didn’t do likewise for Spottiswoode?)


The mixed bag of elements clashing continues with the supporting cast. Moneypenny delivers a masturbation gag (“I know just where to put that” she comments when James gives her a cigar, before binning it), but that’s about all Samantha Bond has to do this time. Serena Scott Thomas is the doctor Bond shags for a clean bill of health; somehow I missed that she’s called Dr Molly Warmflash, but then since there’s already more than enough Christmas gags they probably didn’t think they needed to dwell on it.


There’s an amusing moment in the pre-credits scene when Cigar Girl gives Bond the kind of look more women should when he comes over like a filthy middle-aged lech (“Oh I’m sure they’re perfectly rounded” he says of when she asks if he’d like to check her figures). This, combined with later x-rays specs perving suggests Bond would be better camped out in a raincoat. This might be part of the Bond formula, but in World the fit is jarring.


James BondI was wrong about you.
Christmas JonesYeah, how so?
James BondI though Christmas only comes once a year.

None more so is the aforementioned Christmas Jones, for which Richards was rewarded with a Razzie. Unsurprising, since we’re asked to believe she is a nuclear physicist, and the final line is evidence enough of a character name devised in order entirely for a punchline. It’s not exactly beneath the series’ standards, but you know it’s going this way as soon as she climbs out of her hazmat suit into her short shorts and cleavage and introduces herself. It’s difficult to really complain about Richards’ performance, though, since she’s only doing exactly what the producers cast her for.


James Bond: Q’s not going to like this.

This is Desmond Llewllyn’s final appearance, of course; he died in a car accident not long after the picture’s release but apparently planned one more appearance (optimistic, since he practically needs propping up here). This feels like a good low key farewell to him, though; I’ve mentioned Brosnan’s great chemistry with the actor before, and Bond’s “You’re not retiring any time soon, are you?” is more touching than anything his 007 has said to any of his leading ladies. And so Q descends from the scene, and the Bond universe, with “Always have an escape plan”.


Cleese’s R is a bit of laziness, really, relying on Cleese being Cleese. Which gives one decent line (“Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it”), more than counterbalanced by the quite appalling “Must be a premature form of the Millennium Bug”. Still, M upholds a tradition not seen since the Moore era of witnessing Bond going at it (with someone 18 years his junior), via heat signature.


Also filling out the supporting cast  are Ulrich Thomsen (Banshee) as Elecktra’s head of security, whom Bond appears to shoot unarmed without a second thought, yet then goes on to tell Renard he really doesn’t like doing it. Goldie plays Bullion, Zukovsky’s turncoat bodyguard, who is mainly notable for giving others good lines (“I see you put your money where your mouth is” says Bond of his gold teeth, while Zukovsky lambasts him with “You, where have you been, you gold encrusted fool?”)


Ah yes, Coltrane. An expansion on his role in Goldeneye, and absolutely one of the highlights of the picture. Coltrane brings energy and zest to any scene he’s in, and World would have done well to make him Bond’s reluctant sidekick for the duration.  Instead, Apted et al seem to continually misjudge his appeal. Yeah, he’s a rascal, but Bond is unconscionably rude and bad mannered to him throughout. Worst, they make the very silly mistake of killing off the picture’s most appealing character, as Zukovsky uses his dying shot to release Bond from the garrotting chair. Even without the picture’s many other deficiencies, this would be reason enough to rate it as a lesser Bond outing.


Elektra King: James, you can’t kill me, not in cold blood.

Brosnan sails through the proceedings, of course, happy to have some character work to dig into, but Bond here is pulled in too many directions for a strong portrayal to emerge. He is appropriately challenged both emotionally (“Tell me, have you ever lost a loved one, Mr Bond?” – presumably referencing Tracy) and ethically (“What do you believe in? The preservation of capital?” mocks Renard), and gets in some stylish moves, but ultimately – aside from the above mentioned face off with Elektra – it’s water off a ducks back, and the shoulder injury is the same kind of stunt that will be pulled with his imprisonment in Die Another Day; artificial attempts to graft substance onto the character. Still, he seems more engaged here than in Tomorrow Never Dies, even if the final result is a lesser beast.


If David Arnold’s score doesn’t really stand out from Tomorrow Never Dies, that’s also true of his Bond work generally, which isn’t to say it’s poor, or weak, just mostly serviceable rather than memorable. Garbage’s theme song, though, is probably the best post-80s Bond theme, and, while the opening titles are a big improvement on Tomorrow Never Dies (lots of oily ladies), the sci-fi spy Garbage music video is actually more fun than anything in the movie.


The World is Not Enough title, a family motto, is referenced in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when Bond is researching his coat of arms (“Orbis non sufficit”). Alas, this instalment doesn’t even come close to hanging off the coat tails of that classic. But being average did nothing to dent its box office performance. World  didn’t make the Top 10 of the year in the US, but was eighth worldwide (like this year, more than likely, top was a Star Wars movie). Few seem to cite it as a favourite, or even a favourite Brosnan. Indeed, despite its plus points, the main thing World has going for it is that it isn’t the Brosnan Bond that came next.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Romulan ale should be illegal.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
(SPOILERS) Out of the ST:NG movies, Star Trek: Nemesis seems to provoke the most outrage among fans, the reasons mostly appearing to boil down to continuity and character work. In the case of the former, while I can appreciate the beef, I’m not enough of an aficionado to get too worked up. In the case of the latter, well, the less of the strained inter-relationships between this bunch that make it to the screen, the better (director Stuart Baird reportedly cut more than fifty minutes from the picture, most of it relating to underscoring the crew, leading to a quip by Stewart that while an Actor’s Cut would include the excised footage, a Director’s one would probably be even shorter). Even being largely unswayed by such concerns, though, Nemesis isn’t very good. It wants to hit the same kind of dramatic high notes as The Wrath of Khan (naturally, it’s always bloody Khan) but repeatedly drifts into an out-of-tune dirge.

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers 4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters
I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

I think we’ve returned to Eden. Surely this is how the World once was in the beginning of time.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
Ridley Scott’s first historical epic (The Duellists was his first historical, and his first feature, but hardly an epic) is also one of his least remembered films. It bombed at the box office (as did the year’s other attempted cash-ins on the discovery of America, including Superman: The Movie producers the Salkinds’ Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) and met with a less than rapturous response from critics. Such shunning is undeserved, as 1492: Conquest of Paradise is a richer and more thought-provoking experience than both the avowedly lowbrow Gladiator and the re-evaluated-but-still-so-so director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. It may stand guilty of presenting an overly sympathetic portrait of Columbus, but it isn’t shy about pressing a critical stance on his legacy.

Sanchez: The truth is, that he now presides over a state of chaos, of degradation, and of madness. From the beginning, Columbus proved himself completely incapable of ruling these islands…

Cally. Help us, Cally. Help Auron.

Blake's 7 3.7: Children of Auron

Roger Parkes goes a considerable way towards redeeming himself for the slop that was Voice from the Past with his second script for the series, and newcomer Andrew Morgan shows promise as a director that never really fulfilled itself in his work on Doctor Who (but was evident in Knights of God, the 1987 TV series featuring Gareth Thomas).

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…