“If we can’t have it all, then nobody will.”
There have always been vague rules applied to movie franchises – like the even number rule to the Star Trek movies – and whilst there have always been exceptions that break the rules, they are an interesting pattern to establish for movie fans. The Bond movies have many of their own traits, but for me the most intriguing has been what I call the ‘third movie’ rule. The principle is simple – for each new actor that took on the Bond mantle, his first movie is his breakthrough role: trying to get used to the new shoes, making his variation as different as possible from his predecessors', his second movie is normally more of a personal affair which often involves revenge of a loved one and/or having to face off against an equally-matched opponent, and the third movie saw each respective actor finally nail the role.
For Connery, Dr No was his slightly bleak opening effort, From Russia with Love saw him targeted by a Russian equivalent assassin, and Goldfinger marked his best effort, pure Bond magic. For Moore, his Live and Let Die intro was pretty tough and brutal and established him as a very different Bond, whereas Golden Gun had him with a contract on his head and a top assassin out to get him, with his third effort, The Spy Who Loved Me, proving to be his most quintessential Bond outing (and my personal favourite, although arguably For Your Eyes Only was his most mature effort – and one which actually required some noteworthy acting from him).
After the eras of these two Bond Gods (not forgetting the oft-overlooked Lazenby entry, OHMSS, easily one of the best stories whose adaptation was dismissed – and thus the great story wasted – through a confluence of circumstances), Timothy Dalton was pulled in (Pierce Brosnan being still contracted into Remington Steele) but never made it as far as a third movie, so we'll never know whether he could have ever given us classic Bond, although there is every chance he would, had the impressive revenge movie Licence to Kill (which did not really work as a traditional franchise instalment and was ahead of its time considering Bond sensibilities nowadays) not failed theatrically.
“There’s no point in living if you can’t feel alive.”
Even Daniel Craig’s recent ‘trilogy’ ties into this rule, although the way it fits is less clear. Whilst Casino Royale was the seminal introduction (not only to Craig’s Bond, but also to the character itself, in a kind of Bond Begins way), and Quantum of Solace was something of a revenge movie, I think that an argument could be made that Royale and Quantum should be counted as one movie. Thus Skyfall is only really Craig’s second distinct outing, pitting him in a more personal struggle against an equally-matched opponent, and ending with the quintessential James Bond walking on-screen ready for his ‘third’ distinct outing in the next movie. Only time will tell.
In between Dalton and Craig, Brosnan finally came in with the massively successful Goldeneye – now a remarkably dated movie, but also probably the only reason that the franchise still exists – and whilst Tomorrow Never Dies still did not quite get the mix right, and his last film Die Another Day arguably nearly killed the franchise entirely, his third and penultimate portrayal, in The World is Not Enough, followed the ‘third movie rule’ pretty well, and delivered us arguably Brosnan’s best all-round effort.
After one of the longest and most memorably British pre-credits sequences, set on the Thames and featuring both the real MI6 building and the Millennium Dome, we launch into the main story, which sees 007 uncover a plot to kill an oil heiress who is establishing a new pipeline that would threaten other big oil providers. Throw in some stolen plutonium, an international terrorist who wants to decimate Europe's oil supply, a sultry femme fatale, an emancipated heroine (a cargo-hot-pants-wearing nuclear physicist called Christmas Jones no less) and a shed-load of gadgets, and you have the most classically perfected entry in the Brosnan era.
“I hope you’re proud of what you did to her.”
“I’m afraid it is you who deserve the credit. When I took her, she was promise itself. And then you left her at the mercy of a man like me. You made that happen. For what? To get to me? She’s worth fifty of me.”
You see, The World is Not Enough exhibits all of the key components of a trademark Bond film and strikes a fine balance between wit and tension, brutality and frivolity; managing to be largely harmless family fun through-and-through whilst still painting an efficiently intriguing spy thriller story that also becomes reasonably personal for both 007 and his boss, M (indeed a great deal of the story was arguably recycled for Skyfall – the elements involving Bond, M and the villain-she-created, Renard). The plot allows for all the requisite exotic locations, from snowy Alps perfect for a ski chase, to sunny Spain, blistering Azerbaijan and glorious Turkey. His new BMW (thankfully the contract ran out after this and he went back to Astons) is a little, um, effeminate, but still comes packed full of fun gadgetry, and he even gets a rocket-powered, torpedo-laden mini speedboat with which to tear around the Thames (and, rather improbably, Central London itself) in. We may be missing the evil lair – which was not that common anyway in the Brosnan era – but most of the other traditional Bond stuff is there.
Brosnan was always destined to serve time as a 00-Agent, and managed the longest run since Moore (who still holds the record over fan-favourite Connery). Perfectly suave, devilishly dapper, and with a cheeky grin as if devious things are never far from his mind, his biggest fault was that he was less of a new Bond in his own right and more of just an amalgamation of many of the best aspects of previous actors' portrayals. This obviously has its benefits – they are, after all, the best aspects – but the downside is that sometimes it’s the lesser aspects which distinguished the various actors who’ve taken up the mantle. Thus Brosnan was left far from as distinguishable as either Connery or Moore, or even Craig's far more nuanced bulldog assassin.
He successfully mixed a hint of Connery's rugged seriousness (although none of his brute strength and unpleasant sadism) whilst adding lashings of Moore's unstoppable wit and innuendo-laden, borderline sleazy behaviour towards anything female with legs. He even had a bit of Dalton's rogue Licence to Kill persona in his Bond mix (particularly evident in Die Another Day, which was a missed opportunity for a great Bond), and the resulting cocktail was both potent and popular but, as stated, nothing really new, especially in comparison to what we have now – this new age streetfighter-of-a-cold-blooded-killer. Brosnan was, however, quintessentially Bond (arguably Craig has been building up to that point for three films now and probably only achieved it at the end of Skyfall) and The World is Not Enough finally gave him enough room to provide all of the elements above; all those required of a traditional Bond in a classically styled instalment.
“Construction isn’t exactly my speciality.”
“Quite the opposite, in fact.”
In this particular tale, 007 faces one obvious villain (and one, perhaps, less obvious one) – the aforementioned international terrorist Renard – who is played with a rather clumsy accent by unstoppably Scottish actor Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting, 51st State). Although he has the pre-requisite evil villain's quirk – in this case a bullet lodged in his brain that prevents his nerves from feeling pain – he makes for both an awful ex-KGB agent and a pretty lame main baddie. That said, Brosnan-era main villains (apart from in Tomorrow Never Dies) have all largely eschewed lead henchmen in favour of doing much of the physical work themselves and this never really worked very effectively (apart from perhaps Goldeneye, which – like From Russia with Love, and Man with the Golden Gun – adopted the idea of Bond going up against an equivalent opposing agent).
Carlyle's Renard is a funny little man who would look more at home in a school chemistry lab backroom than helming a diabolical plot to destroy Europe – he just does not have the presence, and is not given the right character, in order to come across as in the least bit threatening. And even his seeming invulnerability to pain is used inappropriately – with the added, far more implausible twist that it could make this scrawny little guy practically superhuman. Still, in an odd kind of way, he is not as important as some of the other characters, so the film does not suffer too badly as a result of this inadequacy.
There are two integral love interests, the vulnerably seductive Elektra (beautiful French actress Sophie Marceau), who Bond is sent to protect, and the sassy but annoying tomboy nuclear physicist Christmas Jones (Really? Is that a name?) played – unbelievably, and unbelievably badly – by Wild Things’s Denise Richards. Richards is one of the worst Bond girls since the pretty damn cute but extremely annoying Britt Ekland in The Man with the Golden Gun – she does not utter a single intelligent line, and, worse still, there isn't even a hint of chemistry between the her and Brosnan (which at least Ekland and Moore had).
She would later be topped only by the appalling Halle Berry (who gave more of a Catwoman performance than Monster’s Ball in Die Another Day) in terms of flaunting her body gratuitously and spouting uncomfortably pro-feminist tripe. It is no surprise that Richards’ most famous movie involves her getting naked a lot and performing a lesbian kiss, and that she has done little-to-nothing of note, other than prance around as the only nuclear physicist in the world who would wear hot-pants, in this movie. Sophie Marceau’s Elektra has much more depth, a victim who was held for ransom before by Renard and who had to learn to use her sexuality to overcome her captors. She gives us a classic Bond girl character, with a dark and mysterious edge to boot, and it’s actually one of the most satisfying twists in the series – the first time you watch The World is Not Enough you’re less afraid of the invulnerable-to-pain villain, and more disturbed by this seemingly innocent little girl victim who came back a vengeful spirit.
“I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.”
“And the second?”
“Always have an escape plan.”
Rounding out the cast are plenty of familiar faces, with the late Desmond Llewellyn’s Q making his last appearance and passing the mantle down to John Cleese, who was a fairly good choice as a Brosnan-era Q, even if he did push the film a little too far in the comedy direction at times. Llewellyn appeared in the most Bond films over the decades and his presence would be sorely missed, but his final fleeting advice for Bond seemed totally at odds with everything their relationship had shown over the years. Still, it was a minor bug which was obviously designed to pay respect to the importance of Llewellyn’s Q, however out-of-character it was.
Of course we can’t forget Judi Dench’s empowered M. It is strange to compare Dench’s portrayal of Bond’s boss during the Brosnan era to that in the Craig era – in particular her very personal handling of the mission in The World is Not Enough. I know the new revamped Bond is supposed to stand alone, but it is hard to forget her behaviour over the course of four movies, where she is a very different M to the one she was in the Craig instalments.
Not everybody was a good choice for their role – or any role – in this movie, with rapper Goldie’s strange and ineffective nod to Jaws (he’s got gold teeth) largely ruined by another awful accent and some silly, almost embarrassing scenes. His character would have been better off played straight but, then again, that just wasn’t the habit for the Brosnan-era Bonds. At least he wasn’t as bad as Boris from GoldenEye! There's also Robbie Coltrane, returning to his Goldeneye persona as Bond's mischievous Russian gangster contact Valentin Zukovsky, and getting a slightly bigger and more significant part to play this time around.
The action this time around appeared to be better staged and better thought-out, with more classically-Bond concepts working – from the quintessentially British boat chase down the River Thames, which had some wonderful little stunts (going underwater and checking his tie), to the ski-chase down the mountainside with fan-assisted attack-sleds flying around after him. It was the only ski foray for Brosnan (Dalton never even donned the skis – although he did briefly ski through a checkpoint on a Cello-case) and, when looking back at the franchise, there aren’t actually that many ski-sequences. With technology having finally caught up with the ideas, and back-projection a thing of the past, it actually looks pretty good.
There’s a nice missile-silo shootout (which would have been much worse without Denise Richards on-board) and a slightly over-the-top chasing-down-the-nuclear-bomb-in-a-sled-in-a-pipe scene – had they conveniently forgotten that the Moore-era James Bond knew how to disarm nuclear missiles himself? – and the subsequent caviar factory assault had its moments but also went too far towards the end, only getting back to decent action when Bond finally confronts the true villain of the piece and then dives in to swim after a submerging submarine. Whilst the sub-based finale made for an interestingly different setting, it didn’t have the grand-standing appeal of a traditional villain’s lair, nor the same satisfying and emotionally resonant impact that we got a scene earlier where Bond shoots the real villain in cold blood. Fans often reflect on Moore’s coldest moment in For Your Eyes Only – where he kicks a villain’s car off the cliff – and perhaps this was Brosnan’s coldest moment, coldly executing the villain-in-their-midst, in spite of his personal feelings towards them. It’s a great scene and a great side to Brosnan’s Bond which, had Die Another Day gone a different route, we could have seen a lot more of.
“You wouldn’t kill me. You’d miss me.”
“I never miss.”
David Arnold never quite got the handle of the Bond music. Sure, he was a reasonably good choice to define the music for a new generation, but his soundtracks were never particularly memorable (with only Quantum of Solace’s score even approaching the excellence of his predecessor, John Barry) and, worse still, he struggled to mix in enough of those traditional Bond theme cues. He only worked-in one significant reference in Brosnan’s GoldenEye – one of the biggest reasons why it just doesn’t feel very Bond, and potentially a big contributing factor towards why it has dated – and Tomorrow Never Dies increased the Bond theme factor but still didn’t find the perfect mix. With The World is Not Enough he created his most perfected Brosnan-era Bond score (before going overboard for Die Another Day) and it’s a decent effort, with plenty of classic Bond theme cues thrown into the mix.
All in all, The World is Not Enough is, for me, the most recent classic Bond film, and certainly my favourite 'traditional' tale from Brosnan; the point at which he perfectly captured the role, and where the filmmakers brought together all the right ingredients for a classic ‘third’ Bond outing. The girls, the guns, the gadgets, the action, the stunts, the explosions, the impossible escapes and devious world destruction plots – it was all perfectly mixed together here and it is a shame that Die Another Day (with all the potential to be a redefining entry – Bond captured, and tortured for a couple of years before being returned to a new MI6 where his bosses wonder whether he has been ‘turned’) failed to make the most of its interesting premise and went overboard (even for a Bond movie) in terms of ridiculous ideas and silly ‘invisible car’ special effects. Perhaps it was time for Brosnan to go, but one film earlier – in The World is Not Enough – he arguably proved that he was worthy of the mantle.
“I could have given you the world.”
“The world is not enough.”
Remember The World is Not Enough for the spectacular pre-credits sequence – a boat chase down the River Thames which was the most quintessentially British Bond scene before Skyfall took the lead; remember M’s first really personal stake in the mission; remember Sophie Marceau’s tragically-damaged femme fatale and her final confrontation with Pierce Brosnan, finally achieving that classically cold Bond within his portrayal; remember the excellent ski set-piece and the atypical submarine finale. Remember Brosnan for giving it his best shot, for keeping the franchise going during a decade when he could have easily died without a trace, and for very nearly becoming the memorable Bond actor that his predecessors had been, and that his successor would ultimately achieve.
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