That a Bond movie should be amusing is expected,
but that it should linger in the mind is the surprise here.
[This] is one of the few films in the series
in which one feels Bond's mental strain.
- Mick Lesalle in the San Francisco Chronicle (November 1999)
The World Is Not Enough
Film: 1999 (#19)
[Note: all these pages are spoilery, but in this one I have to reveal a crucial plot secret. Bond films are fairly spoiler-proof in that knowing the twists does not ruin them, but I don't think a Bond film has ever had a plot twist this major before. Anyway, if you've never seen the film, you probably don't want to read this page ... yet.]
Bond retrieves money stolen from magnate Robert King, but the money is booby-trapped and King is killed. Bond believes that the people responsible are sending a message, that they are the same people responsible for the prior kidnapping of King's daughter Elektra, and that Elektra is next on their hit list. However, while he is right about the terrorist Renard, who feels no pain, he and M are both rather dangerously wrong about Elektra. Along the way he crosses paths with Dr. Christmas Jones, an implausible nuclear scientist, and old buddy Valentin Zukovsky ... and a plot to put plutonium in a place plutonium is not supposed to be.
Brosnan reportedly wanted a script for this one which would develop Bond further as a character, and to an extent he gets his wish. (I personally feel that by definition Bond must always be something of a cipher.) He is in good form despite all the film puts him through (see remarks below). However, the tone of this film in general is depressed and fatalistic, and Bond doesn't manage to escape the mood. In one place - when he kills Elektra King - his behavior might have been frightening and repellent, if Elektra had been an iota more sympathetic. Fortunately for Bond, at this point the average audience member is likely wishing a painful death upon her.
I prefer to give my thoughts on Sophie Marceau's and Denise Richards' respective acting abilities in the general remarks below, as they're very important to my reactions to the film as a whole.
Bond is not notably contemptuous or cavalier to either. With Elektra he refuses to take no for an answer, but that's his assigned job in that particular case. Despite what must have been a great temptation not to take Christmas Jones seriously, he does; and their scenes together work reasonably well, unlike his scenes with King.
The real female star of this film is Judi Dench anyway, and Bond's relationship with her is well-delineated.
At this point I lose my source which has the best production notes, so this section gets a little thinner, but I note that the decision to hire Michael Apted as director strikes me as an unusual one - this is not what I would have considered his kind of film. One is tempted to speculate on what it would have been like if another candidate had gotten the job: Peter Jackson.
At the time Jackson's most well-regarded film was probably Heavenly Creatures, and he was reportedly pretty high in the running to do this film, but then someone made the mistake of showing The Frighteners to Barbara Broccoli and that killed Jackson's chances. Apted I think of mostly as a documentarian ("7 Up" et al) or a maker of films which are basically studies of female protagonists (Agatha, Nell, Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist). Still, this one is not incompetently directed.
More importantly, this marks the first appearance of two important names on the writing side: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Purvis and Wade are, in my opinion, the best thing to happen to Bond scripts since the beginning. Their method of exploring the character of Bond is to repeatedly push him out of his comfort zone, including injuring him physically and mentally. Bond in pain, Bond on the outs, Bond trying to pull the pieces back together - these are Purvis/Wade hallmarks. For this film, their story was cleaned up first by Dana Stevens and then by Bruce Feirstein, who got a credit.
David Arnold was brought back to write a second mediocre score, but he did help write the title song, which as performed by Garbage happens to be one of the few I single out as, "yes, that's pretty good" amid a normally fairly lackluster crop. Perhaps I should have amended the rule I gave on the previous page to say I only notice Bond songs when they're sung by someone named Shirley.
This is probably the weakest of the four Brosnan films, but it's not Bond's fault. M and her staff are all also excellent; in fact, this may be the new M's finest hour, as her character is allowed to get involved in the story and show emotional range far more than is normal - and we find that she is as resourceful in a bad situation as we might expect. (This increased use of M is, to my mind, one great advantage of the Judi Dench era.)
In this film, as already noted, Bond is allowed to feel and show pain ... not just the physical pain of the opening sequence (I still wince at that landing), but also emotional pain and conflict. It definitely makes the character more interesting, and by continually writing Bond into situations where he is betrayed by, or has to betray, someone he trusts or is close to, the writers show that they understand this is a strength.
Bond's relationship with M and his co-workers is also very well-drawn here. M says she "does not tolerate insubordination" but it's clear that, from Bond at least, she does, and that she trusts him implicitly. Bond's anger when Charles does not hand him a dossier on the King case (because he's off active duty) is perfect; and poor Bill Tanner's face at being caught between his boss's nature and Bond's is exactly what one would expect from a man who is also a long-time friend to both.
The pre-credits sequence of this film, which is unusually long (nearly fifteen minutes), is one of the best and most suspenseful bits of Bond film ever (at least up to the point where the boat cuts overland, which is ridiculous and breaks the mood, but it regains its feet and ends strikingly). Robert King's death is genuinely shocking, even if you've seen it before, and Bond's behavior is dead-on.
Despite grousing from a number of critics, the plot makes a pretty fair amount of sense (for a Bond film). The locations and situations are possibly more closely integrated into "the real world" than any other Bond film, tying into events such as the squabble over Caspian Sea oil and the controversy over Swiss banks refusing to release the funds of Holocaust victims.
The reveal of Elektra's true sympathies is very good (and caught me completely by surprise when I first saw the film). Unfortunately, it's probably the most interesting thing the character does in the film (see below).
The film contains lively and charming work from Robbie Coltrane as Zukovsky, who gets a much bigger and better part than he did in Goldeneye.
"I'm a legitimate businessman now."
So why isn't this a better movie?
Most critics seem to want to lay the blame at the feet of Denise Richards. I'm not so sure. Oh, I'm not saying she is a great actress. She has only two facial expressions. But the character she is trying to play is basically the same character Lois Chiles played in Moonraker, and I find her more believable than Holly Goodhead ... what I'm saying is, she's no worse, so I'm not sure why there's been so much venom directed against her. She's likeable, sarcastic with Bond when she needs to be, and they work well together.
Put it another way: While Richards may be doing a bad job, on later viewings of the film I don't notice that the film slows down into tedium whenever she appears on screen ... whereas I do notice the ticking of the clock during Sophie Marceau's scenes.
If Richards is a wooden actress bluffing her way through playing a theoretically lively character, then perhaps Marceau is a lively actress who has been instructed to play it wooden. She had a decent resume before this film (albeit mostly in France) and people thought well of her. I'm not sure what happened.
I am prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that the reason Elektra is so uninteresting is that she was told to play it poker-faced. I am even more willing to assume that Robert Carlysle as Renard was given the same instructions - after all, the character has lost his ability to feel. But for whatever reason, this film slows to a crawl during all Elektra scenes, during all Renard scenes (including, unfortunately, a portion of the Russian missile-decommissioning sequence which should move a lot faster), and most especially during the scenes which are supposed to show the interaction/relationship between the two of them. These are the "fast-forward past" scenes for me. (The whole "touch your destiny" sequence, in particular, provokes involuntary snickers.)
A key element to believing in Elektra's character is that you believe she is sexy, potentially dangerous, and a bit unhinged. She does not, to me, effectively convey any of these things. At least with Richards you have an idea of what she is trying to do, even if she doesn't achieve it.
As noted in a quick flash of dialogue between Elektra and Bond, "The World Is Not Enough" is indeed the Bond family motto, and this is the sole scrap of Fleming in the film - see On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
It's always nice to see a woman eyeroll in disgust at a Bond single-entendre. In this case the eyerolling of the "secretary" in the pre-credits sequence is a hint to the audience that she is not what she seems. Some reviewers feel that Maria Grazia Cucinotta is the most interesting woman in the film, which is of course wrong; the most interesting woman in the film is Judi Dench.
Once again (viz. Goldeneye) Bond seduces a medical practitioner to get onto the active duty list, and once again, he fools no one. In this case the doctor (the very unfortunately-named Dr. Molly Warmflash, although the surname is not actually used in dialogue, thank god) is later given a rather sharp twitting by Moneypenny - and has the good grace to look ashamed.
Sophie Marceau's accent is absolutely all over the place, to the extent that I found it an additional distraction. Maybe they should have dubbed her!
"Your English is excellent."
It's good that the writers defuse Christmas Jones' name immediately (Bond's deadpan "I don't know any doctor jokes" is brilliant), but having done so, why utterly ruin the ending of the film with possibly the crassest joke possible on the same? For that matter, why give the character that name at all? Is it possible the writers gave her that name just so they could write the ending the way they did? If so, it's a horrible miscalculation.
Bond has not been keeping up with bomb-defusing technology; although one never knows, he might have been able to get everything he needed to know in a short briefing after "What do I need to defuse this bomb?" if Christmas hadn't piped up. I guess she wanted to go for the ride ....
With this film, I have officially reached the point of One Too Many Ski Chases in Bond films. However, the parasled falling off the cliff and not being destroyed, and Bond's resigned reaction shot, almost saves the whole sequence.
Bond is generally at too high an emotional pitch in this film to really get to be suave, but there are a couple of nice moments where he takes things in stride, such as the reaction above, or where he finds out that the bribe is not money but running shoes, or when he submerges in Q's "fishing boat" and idly straightens his tie. Class.
There is a portrait of Bernard Lee on the wall during the briefing sequence (when 007 doesn't get a brief). If we are working under the assumption that all of the agents being briefed are 00s, then there is now a female 00 agent.
M's slapping Elektra is possibly the most satisfying moment in the film.
I adore Zukovsky; Coltrane appears to be having so much fun in the part. I love the caviar-works sequence with the (genuinely scary) tree-trimming copters, I love Bond's "Q's not gonna like this" (and Zukovsky's grin - it's about time something of Bond's got trashed for a change).
And speaking of Q - though it took until the next film for me to believe Cleese could actually do the job as his replacement (he's far too much of a buffoon in this one), the Q scene may be the only time I've ever coming close to tearing up in a Bond film. Brosnan's "You're not retiring anytime soon, are you?" is the closest Bond's ever come to directly expressing fondness for the old coot, and Q's exit ("Always have an escape route") is exactly the dignified departure Desmond Llewellyn deserved. Llewellyn died in a car accident shortly after the release of the film, in December 1999.
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