It can be stated fairly accurately that there are few things and fewer places the James Bond series has not brought to the screen since 1963. The producers have sometimes fought a decidedly losing battle to keep the formula fresh without repeating themselves. Maintaining the extremely high standards the series has set for itself has been a major challenge for EON, as it would be for any producer of a long-running series as high profile as the Bond pictures. Too often, since maybe 1971 on, it seemed EON attempted to camouflage any lack of originality with machine-guns, sophomoric humor, and more and bigger explosions. It needs be added, EON has certainly produced some good and very good films during this same time frame, but the first and defining four were rarely approached in terms of quality and originality. I am happy to say, the 19th EON entry in the series, "The World Is Not Enough" respects and even pays homage to its best past entries, while delivering enough new direction and a killer performance by Pierce Brosnan to assure the 007 series will thrive through at least hmm let's say at least 2007.
James Bond's 007 designation is a licence to kill. Beyond that character-defining trait, it has become expected James Bond be, in no particular order: a lady-killer, good with his fists and wits, a "man's" man, a connoisseur of fine food and drink, and able to casually toss off a humorous aside as the world explodes about him.
In "The World Is Not Enough", Pierce Brosnan may have delivered the most cold-bloodedly dark and complete performance as 007 since well since Sean Connery. Timothy Dalton had the role for two films ("The Living Daylights" (1987) and "Licence to Kill" (1989) and delivered singularly excellent performances which were (as has often been said) very close to Ian Fleming's literary character. As James Bond, Dalton projected most everything one could demand except perhaps, the ability to convincingly deliver an effective bon mot. Roger Moore had a different style completely, (comic comes to mind) and while his portrayal is the favorite of many, it is his misfortune to have starred in some of the absolute worst films of the series. George Lazenby's tenure lasted but one film, and though that entry may be one of the series' best, he was likely the weakest link in the entire production. This is not to say he did not give a gallant effort, but his legacy shall remain forever as potential unfulfilled. That brings us to "The Man" when it comes to portraying James Bond on the big screen, one Mr. Thomas Sean Connery. His portrayal in seven films defined the role, and in fact is the standard by which all subsequent actors would be judged. It has been my contention the series would not be the success it was then and is today without Sean Connery.
All that being said, Pierce Brosnan nails the role in "The World Is Not Enough", makes it his own, and combines all the essential elements extremely well. He is simply, and as James Bond should be, the highlight of the film. Tough, handsome (with an appropriate touch of gray), perfect delivery of the one-liners (though the one to end the film is a touch inappropriate), and self-confident. I especially enjoy the small touches such as the straightening of his tie while submerged in a one-man "Q" boat, and the look of utter cool as Bond jumps from a four or five story balcony. Added bonus (and thank you Mr. Apted) Bond uses a machine gun but once. Brosnan understands the role, and to his credit, and this viewer's delight, explores elements not frequently seen in a Bond film. This introspection, this "dark side", was explored ever so briefly in "Goldeneye", but "The World Is Not Enough" brings levels of cold-bloodedness rarely hinted at. One would need go back to Connery's dispatch of Professor Dent in "Dr. No" or Moore's cold-blooded murder of Locque in "For Your Eyes Only" (one of Roger's few shining moment by the way) to see the same intensity. As Brosnan leans over the body of the villain after shooting her, I had no idea what was on his mind or what he was going to do next. (M.'s expression revealed these same thoughts in the scene.) Did Bond have deeper feelings for this woman, a "bird with a wing down" he had just killed? Was he trying to get closer to death, to better understand just what it is his lethal life has done to scores of mostly deserving unfortunates over the years? I have no answer. But this scene was effective in revealing a very dark side of the character. It may bother some viewers accustomed to the wink and smirk Roger Moore would more likely have demonstrated, but I was completely surprised (relative to much of what has come before in the series) and engaged to see the character depicted in serious contemplation over the destruction at his own hand. Bravo Mr. Brosnan.
"The World Is Not Enough" gets off to a rousing start in its "pre-titles" mini play. There are all the exciting stunts one expects, marred ever so slightly by a few seconds of attempted comedy more at home in a 1970's Bond. No matter, it lasts but moments. Also, Bond is injured, and this point becomes important later the film. Nice touch. Daniel Kleinman delivers another visually stunning piece his titles sequence. I had said for "Tomorrow Never Dies" that the film is worth seeing for Kleinman's work alone, and the same is true here. David Arnold delivers what is as close to what one could expect from a John Barry scored film, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. The Garbage tune even grows on you, and is used well by Arnold throughout the rest of the film. The music is memorable and Bondian and a highlight of the film.
OK then, on to the technical aspects. Michael Apted's (he of the "7-Up" Series) direction is a notable improvement over Roger Spottiswoode ("Tomorrow Never Dies") and Martin Campbell ("GoldenEye"). There was concern over Apted's lack of experience with an "action film" (exactly when was the series lumped into this category?), but he delivers a splendid James Bond film. Some Hitchcockian and character-driven moments solidify Apted's effort as someone who understands the need for more than a "shoot 'em-up" approach, and EON would be well served to bring him back. I especially liked a couple scenes: Bond is questioning the villain, (a woman he has just slept with), and the shot is framed such that we view Bond walking around her like a distrusting caged tiger. Later he is chasing her up a staircase, and the shot from the top steps is especially effective. Well done. The pace is fine, and even the action sequences handled well, though some better attention to editing detail may have relieved the viewer of the perception Istanbul is a football kick from London. Almost as odd, many locations are identified on screen as Bond does his globetrotting, possibly in an attempt to minimize the editing issue. I can't recall this technique ever being used so frequently.
The team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade ("Let Him Have It") deliver a typically convoluted Bond plot, but it's OK based on the overall feel and the rest of many great touches. Several plot points convince me they have a great knowledge and respect for the series. Also, this is the first Bond film I can remember in a very long time that surprised me. The plot twists are unexpected and more than welcomed. One scene led me to exclaim aloud in the theater, and that doesn't happen often, for any film. Another is a convincing torture scene of Bond that had me grimacing. Nicely done.
The characterization is as deep as the best Bond films. The villain Renard's maniacal reaction to the death of a lover is well handled and believable. Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") is no Goldfinger in terms of being larger than life, but his "everyday man" approach also carries a menace about him that is quite convincing. All the actors did a fine job with a fine 007 script, Denise Richards included. (OK at least she didn't embarrass herself or the film and she is spectacular to look at. The same can't be said for Tanya Roberts, Britt Ekland, or Gloria Hendry ) Sophie Marceau is beautiful and quite the temptress and a worthy adversary to James Bond. Judi Dench is again terrific as M. (watch for a completely unexpected and touching inclusion of an oil of Bernard Lee) and is given more to do here than simply sending Bond off on his mission. (And note the amazing quantity of spirits that flow in her office.) Desmond Llewelyn appears in what is said to be his final performance as Q, but I'll believe that when I don't see it. John Cleese is the heir apparent, and though he is given embarrassingly little to do here, it is remarkable fun seeing him in a Bond film. Look for Cleese (he's signed for three pictures) to develop the role, nicknamed "R", make it his own, and be the next fan favorite. The wonderful Robbie Coltrane as Valentin Zukovsky is the obligatory "sacrificial lamb", though I detected little regret from Bond as to his passing, nothing like Kerim Bey or Quarrel anyway. Samantha Bond is the weakest link as Moneypenny. There is about zero chemistry between she and Brosnan, and coupled with some terribly juvenile and unfunny lines, the Moneypenny character that we knew and loved has degenerated into a horny jealous bitch. Besides these small complaints, "The World Is Not Enough" features absolutely top-notch casting.
The gadgets are fun though the film cheats some by not introducing all of them before being used in a typical 007 escape. A piton shooting wristwatch is an example. I guess that's OK, none were silly, were very Bondian, and all pretty cool. Bond's X-Ray sunglasses are particularly entertaining and put to good use in a casino revealing more than the bad guy's armament. The BMW is terrific to look at, as is the "Q" boat. In one particularly effective scene, "Parahawks" (black snowmobiles with black parachutes and outfitted with black fans like you might see on a boat in the everglades) pursue Bond and Elektra on skis. The photography is handled extremely well, and the sight of these deadly contraptions swooping in to attack is especially chilling and reminiscent of the helicopter sequence in "You Only Live Twice". Well done. Same scene, Bond throws off a one-liner after assuming he had dispatched a bad guy, but then the villain manages a miraculous Bondian escape and again begins pursuit. Excellent and humorous reversal of what we have come to expect in a Bond film. On the down side, the helicopter tree-saw thingies were anticlimactic and fairly non-threatening.
The climax is spirited and exciting on a nuclear submarine as Bond is fighting against time to diffuse a nuclear explosion. (What else?) Somewhat of a twist is added as the sub is on its nose, allowing for some interesting challenges to Bond and to the film's photography. In the end though, and per usual, James Bond will return.
"The World Is Not Enough". Family motto indeed.
* A special thanks to my Director and department colleagues for their generosity in allowing me to attend this weekday afternoon screening with nary an eye-roll. They are thankfully past the point of trying to understand my strange predilections
Copyright ©1999 by Tom Zielinski