Review: The World is Not Enough
Things get personal for M (Dame Judi Dench) when oil tycoon and former schoolmate Sir Robert King is killed inside MI6 headquarters in a smartly carried out attack. It is believed that known terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle) is behind the assassination, as he previously kidnapped King’s daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau), who is now the heir to the family business. Bond (Pierce Brosnan) attempts to protect Elektra and stop Renard’s scheme to detonate a stolen nuclear warhead inside the King pipeline. Denise Richards turns up as nuclear physicist (!) Dr. Christmas Jones (!!!!!!!!).
In revisiting the Bond franchise I’ve had two changes of heart, one being the underrated “Licence to Kill”. The other is this 1999 Bond outing from director Michael Apted (Well-known for the series of docos starting with “7 Up” as well as the biopic “Gorillas in the Mist”). I was a bit ho-hum about it first time around, thinking something was askew in the villain department in particular. Watching it again, it’s actually not all that much of an issue and the rest of the film is pretty solid. I’ve definitely underrated this one, previously.
The rather weird blend of trumpets and percussion instruments for the gun barrel theme isn’t the best start, though the percussion makes sense given we start off here in Spain. One is immediately taken with the stunning Maria Grazia Cucinotta, so it’s a shame that playing ‘Cigar Girl’ there’s not much we see of her here. It’s apparently the longest opener in Bond history, but it’s a strong opener with a great-looking speedboat (one of the best Bond vehicles of all-time and even better than the remote-controlled car in “Tomorrow Never Dies”) to go along with the great-looking brunette. It’s probably the second-best Brosnan opener behind his debut in the role in “Goldeneye”, which started off wonderfully. You might not think noted documentary maker Michael Apted would take to the Bond franchise like a duck to water, but he proves a solid choice actually. David Arnold (“Tomorrow Never Dies”, “Die Another Day”) once again does the music score and as usual he gives us the twangy guitar that I love and a bit of everything. I think it’s his best score in the entire franchise, as there’s a little more adherence to tradition in this one. I’d prefer less electronic music, but he’s clearly a better fit for the franchise than Eric Serra proved to be on “Goldeneye”. Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny and Dame Judi Dench’s M have settled in nicely to their roles after a little too much strident PC attitude in “Goldeneye”. In fact, Dench gets more screen time than usual and is terrific as her character has a bit of a personal connection to the plot. Some people found her character behaved a bit naively in this, but I prefer to think of it as ‘They’ve given her something to say and do for a change so why complain?’. For me it’s her high point in the series, and perhaps the high point for the character itself. As for the Garbage title song, it seems like the kind of modern pop/pop-rock I’d resist for a Bond song, but a) Shirley Manson unlike Sheryl Crow can actually sing, b) It’s a cool song, c) It fits the very 2000s titles design perfectly (and the oil & liquid imagery fits the plot of the film), and d) There’s still enough identifiably Bond song elements to it. That’s certainly something that the next artist to perform a Bond song catastrophically failed on. Bond’s requisite scene with gadget master Q (Desmond Llewellyn, who tragically died in a car accident not long after the film’s release) is a bit hit-and-miss. The bagpipes with machine gun and flame-thrower are a bit too silly, and John Cleese as his replacement R was a little difficult to accept in the role first time around being he’s such an iconic presence. However, he’s funny and just as cantankerous as Q, and that’s all that matters. The late Llewellyn’s final moment on screen (Llewellyn had planned on retiring after this anyway) is perfect and touching, it’s obvious that he and Brosnan got along well. I should point out that my favourite gadget in the film is actually one of the silliest: X-ray glasses. I don’t normally like the comical gadgets, but let’s face it, it fits 007. I also loved the credit card key gadget, and like the X-ray glasses they strangely opted not to show it during Bond’s briefing with Q/R, which is very strange.
As I said at the top, first time around I had issues with the villains. ***** SPOILER WARNING ***** Watching the film again, Robert Carlyle’s pain-free Renard is certainly not among the top tier of Bond villains, but I don’t think the film suffers much for it. You see, in addition to being one of the Best Bond Girls of all-time, Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King also happens to be the true villain of the film. In the latter category she sits at #3 just behind Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld and Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga. In the former category she ranks a more than respectable 4th in between Michelle Yeoh’s terrific Wai-Lin in the previous “Tomorrow Never Dies” and Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp in “GoldenEye”. Onatopp, of course is another Bond Girl who functions in a secondary capacity as well (henchman). So, I have to say that this time, King totally worked for me in carrying out two duties. I like how initially you assume the character suffers from Stockholm Syndrome. Nope, she’s graduated to the point of having Renard wrapped around her sexy little finger. He’s a piece of cake, she’s the one Bond (and M) needs to watch out for. I’m not sure I was ever truly fooled by her ruse even on first viewing (One potential clue is that she has the seriously brutish-looking John ‘Vulcan’ Seru as her bodyguard), but Marceau plays all facets of the character wonderfully well. Marceau is absolutely to die for here, smouldering, sexy as hell, and seriously evil. As a Bond Girl, she’s playing the most interesting and layered character of that sort since Dame Diana Rigg’s Tracy in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. ***** END SPOILER ***** I’ll hand it to the Brosnan Bonds, they sure were some of the sexiest films, and whether Brosnan had genuine chemistry with his leading ladies or not, most of the time it appeared to be the case, especially here with the scorching, smouldering Marceau. As for Renard, Carlyle’s OK in the role, but his most interesting attribute is his inability to feel physical pain and the fact that he is slowly dying. Yeah, a Bond villain’s most interesting trait is his impending expiration. He’s not much of a threat, but that proves not as much of an issue as I previously felt it was. I do wish the character were more interesting or at least creepy, though. As for our other Bond Girl, Denise Richards isn’t Tanya Roberts-level awful (and didn’t deserve to be awarded a Razzie), but her character name Dr. Christmas Jones is definitely one of the dopiest. I actually liked that early on Apted has clearly given us the possibility that Dr. Jones could either be a good or bad Bond Girl, with Richards’ performance allowing for either interpretation for her first couple of scenes. No great actress and she’s obviously miscast as an egg-head, but honestly…she’s not that bad, guys. A massive stepdown from both Teri Hatcher and Michelle Yeoh in the previous film, but certainly better than Izabella Scorupco in “Goldeneye” and Maryam d’Abo in “The Living Daylights” among others. Credit where it’s due, they don’t wimp out and go for the easy option of a climactic cat fight between the two women.
If you like your Bond vehicles, this one has some of the best in the entire series. In fact, I’d go on record as saying that while it’s not the best Bond vehicle, Bond’s torpedo-firing black speedboat is a thing of sheer cool beauty and even better than the tank in “GoldenEye” and the remote-controlled car in “Tomorrow Never Dies” (Not as cool as the underwater car in “The Spy Who Loved Me”, though). I want one. I’d never use it, but I still want one, damn it. I also love the helicopter with the giant buzzsaw attached. We also get cool-looking bobsleighs with parachutes descending upon Bond and King. Meanwhile, look out for Robbie Coltrane, a hoot as usual as the unscrupulous but cheerful Russian gangster Zukovsky. Great work as always. On the downside, the locales aren’t especially appealing to me: UK, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, etc. Very ho-hum in that regard. As much as the character of Renard ought to have been more interesting and creepier, the film’s only real flaw is length (Well that and the final line from Bond that is, in my view at least, the worst final line in Bond history. Yes, he makes that joke at Dr. Jones’ expense. It’s Roger Moore bad).
I liked the pre-credits sequence, but there’s no doubt that the film needed some trimming. Still, Brosnan is as efficient as ever as Bond, Sophie Marceau sears the screen with a sexy but well-rounded characterisation, the action and vehicles are good, and there’s even something for Dame Judi Dench’s M to chew on here. I’ve underrated this one, it’s solid stuff, but it could’ve been even better. The screenplay is by Bruce Feirstein (“GoldenEye”, “Tomorrow Never Dies”), Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (“Casino Royale”, “Quantum of Solace”, “Skyfall”, “SPECTRE”), from a story by the latter two.