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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

The world is one big hospice with fresh air.

Doctor Sleep (2019)
(SPOILERS) Doctor Sleep is a much better movie than it probably ought to be. Which is to say, it’s an adaption of a 2013 novel that, by most accounts, was a bit of a dud. That novel was a sequel to The Shining, one of Stephen King’s most beloved works, made into a film that diverged heavily, and in King’s view detrimentally, from the source material. Accordingly, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep also operates as a follow up to the legendary Kubrick film. In which regard, it doesn’t even come close. And yet, judged as its own thing, which can at times be difficult due to the overt referencing, it’s an affecting and often effective tale of personal redemption and facing the – in this case literal – ghosts of one’s past.

And my father was a real ugly man.

Marty (1955)
(SPOILERS) It might be the very unexceptional good-naturedness of Marty that explains its Best Picture Oscar success. Ernest Borgnine’s Best Actor win is perhaps more immediately understandable, a badge of recognition for versatility, having previously attracted attention for playing iron-wrought bastards. But Marty also took the Palme d’Or, and it’s curious that its artistically-inclined jury fell so heavily for its charms (it was the first American picture to win the award; Lost Weekend won the Grand Prix when that was still the top award).

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…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

There’s nothing stock about a stock car.

Days of Thunder (1990)
(SPOILERS) The summer of 1990 was beset with box office underperformers. Sure-thing sequels – Another 48Hrs, Robocop 2, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Exorcist III, even Back to the Future Part III – either belly flopped or failed to hit the hoped for highs, while franchise hopefuls – Dick Tracy, Arachnophobia – most certainly did not ascend to the stratospheric levels of the previous year’s Batman. Even the big hitters, Total Recall and Die Hard 2: Die Harder, were somewhat offset by costing a fortune in the first place. Price-tag-wise, Days of Thunder, a thematic sequel to the phenomenon that was Top Gun, was in their category. Business-wise, it was definitely in the former. Tom Cruise didn’t quite suffer his first misfire since Legend – he’d made charmed choices ever since playing Maverick – but it was a close-run thing.

This is very cruel, Oskar. You're giving them hope. You shouldn't do that.

Schindler’s List (1993)
(SPOILERS) Such is the status of Schindler’s List, it all but defies criticism; it’s the worthiest of all the many worthy Best Picture Oscar winners, a film noble of purpose and sensitive in the treatment and depiction of the Holocaust as the backdrop to one man’s redemption. There is much to admire in Steven Spielberg’s film. But it is still a Steven Spielberg film. From a director whose driving impulse is the manufacture of popcorn entertainments, not intellectual introspection. Which means it’s a film that, for all its commendable features, is made to manipulate its audience in the manner of any of his “lesser” genre offerings. One’s mileage doubtless varies on this, but for me there are times during this, his crowning achievement, where the berg gets in the way of telling the most respectful version of this story by simple dint of being the berg. But then, to a great or lesser extent, this is true of almost all, if not all, his prestige pictures.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)
The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.