The World is Not Enough
(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 Bond: I was wrong about you.
Christmas Jones: Yeah, how so?
James Bond: I 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.