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 having to face off against an equal opponent, and it was not until the third movie that each actor truly nailed the role. For Connery, Dr No was his slightly bleak opening effort, Russia with Love saw him targeted by a Russian equivalent assassin, and Goldfinger marked his best effort (and some would say the movie that defined the character). 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 and a little too much misguided humour, with his third effort, The Spy Who Loved Me, proving to be Moore's most quintessential Bond outing (and my personal favourite, although clearly For Your Eyes Only was his most mature effort - and one which actually required a little acting from him). After the eras of these two Bond Gods (not forgetting the dismal Lazenby entry, OHMSS, easily one of the best stories ruined by the Australian model's inability to act), Timothy Dalton was pulled in (Pierce Brosnan being still contracted into Remington Steele) and never made it as far as his 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 solid revenge movie Licence to Kill (which did not really work well as a traditional franchise instalment) not bombed theatrically. Brosnan finally came in with Goldeneye, arguably the first recent Bond revamp, and whilst Tomorrow Never Dies did not quite hit the mark, and his last film Die Another Day arguably killed the franchise entirely, his third and penultimate portrayal, in The World is Not Enough, followed the 'third movie rule' perfectly.
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 and 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.
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 harmless fun through-and-through whilst still painting a reasonably intriguing story that becomes personal for both 007 and his boss, M. 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 holds the record over fan-favourite Connery). Perfectly suave, devilishly dapper, and with a cheeky grin as if devious things are on 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 he was never as distinguishable as either Connery or Moore, or even Craig's bulldog of an assassin. He could successfully provide a hint of Connery's rugged seriousness (although none of his brute strength) 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, 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 (unlike Craig, who is more Bourne than Bond) and The World is Not Enough gave him enough room to provide all of the elements above, all those required of a traditional Bond in a classically styled instalment.
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 Scots 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 an awful main baddie. The 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 - it surely does not make him any stronger, so his fisticuffs with Bond cannot possibly work. 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 - by Wild Things' Denise Richards. Richards is one of the worst Bond girls since the pretty damn cute but extremely annoying Britt Ekland - she does not utter a single intelligent line, and there isn't even a hint of chemistry between the two of them (which at least Ekland and Moore had). She would later be topped only be 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. 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.
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 is surprisingly good in the role. There's also Robbie Coltrane, returning to his Goldeneye persona as Bond's mischievous Russian gangster contact Valentin Zukovsky, and 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 last two Craig instalments.
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 movie. 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 special effects. Perhaps it was time for Brosnan to go, but one film earlier - in The World is Not Enough - he certainly proved that he was worthy of the mantle. Classic Bond.
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