“If there’s even the slightest chance, Bond will survive. He’s the best we have… though I’d never tell him.” – M
Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This is our weekly walk through the Bond saga. This week, we take a look at the next Pierce Brosnan Bond film, The World Is Not Enough.
Many might say that the “classic” era of James Bond films came to a close after 1989’s Licence to Kill. Reasons stated circle around that interminable six year hiatus in between that film and 1995’s GoldenEye and how that film tended to move more toward modernizing Bond in many ways – more modern score, M is now a lady, the Cold War was effectively over, and so on. I tend to disagree with that sentiment.
For me, this film, The World Is Not Enough, is the last James Bond film made in the “classic” style. A part of that is its timing. This was the final film in the franchise that was released in the 20th century. The Bond films were so influential in the history of film, in particular the action genre, that it seems this final film of the 20th century would also be the last time we’d see the Bond films in their true, traditional format. This is the last time we see the gun barrel sequence unaltered from the original concept. This is the last film that would see James Bond as a franchise mostly without any potential rivals of significant concern to its success. This is the last time that we have a classic style Bond song (more on that next week).
I’m a strong supporter of Licence to Kill. Just go back to that review to see exactly how far I defend that (and then check back at the end of the year when I do my rankings to see where it lives in the list of my all time favorite Bond films). I also defend The World Is Not Enough quite a bit too. Many cite the plot as being an issue – which I couldn’t disagree with more. Others complain about Denise Richards playing a nuclear scientist – something I frankly have no real issue with either. With that said, buckle in because I’m going to break down why this film is often underappreciated and why I feel it is a good (not great, even I’m not that crazy – but it is still GOOD) entry, and a fine way to close out the classic era of James Bond films before the new millennium takes over.
The opening sequence is the longest to date. It’s a multi-scene sequence that features not one, but two action scenes with an exposition scene in between. What begins with a pretty vicious fight in a Swiss banker’s office in Spain ends with a boat chase in the Thames after a friend of M’s is killed by a booby trapped pile of cash in MI-6 headquarters. You’ve got punches, high speed boats, an exploding helium balloon, innuendo with Moneypenny, and a femme fatale (Maria Grazia Cucinotta). All this before we hear the opening theme by rock band Garbage. It’s a great scene, if not a surprisingly long fifteen minute ramp up to the new adventure ahead.
What this sets up is a story of M’s friend, oil baron Sir Robert King, being murdered by terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle). Bond is sent to protect Robert’s daughter, Elektra (Sophie Marceau). She was once kidnapped by Renard, and M believes she might be targeted by the terrorist in a revenge plot. Despite his orders to protect her at all costs, Bond believes there may be more to her than meets the eye.
The film uses spectacular filming locations. Bond films are always known for going to exotic locations, often places that aren’t always all that well known for vacation spots before the film’s release, but gorgeous nonetheless. In this, we start in Bilbao, Spain, then to London and Scotland, before going out to Azerbaijan and finally Turkey. There’s a great action sequence with Bond and Elektra being chased by gunmen after a ski trip n the mountains in Azerbaijan.
I think one of the things that comes through in this movie with the scenery and the general look and feel of the movie is how much this feels like a Roger Moore film. Some criticized how much like one of Moore’s it was. I can kind of understand that. Brosnan is a little more cavalier in this film. He’s not quite the general amalgamation of Moore and Sean Connery, but tipping more toward the debonair English gentleman and leading man. I don’t mind this quite as much. It helps me tie this film to a little more nostalgic feel of those older films compared to the ones made this century. More over, it’s not exactly a huge detriment to the movie to have Bond quip more often.
The plot, though, I think is considerably different than what we have usually seen in the series. This revolves around our primary Bond Girl, Sophie Marceau. She’s manipulative and flat out evil. You believe her to be damaged from her experiences of being kidnapped by Renard. When it is revealed that she is indeed working with the terrorist, it’s thought that she is suffering from Stockholm syndrome. That’s not the case at all. She’s wrapped Renard around her finger and he’s the one suffering from a case of toxic love.
It is also worth noting that Sophie Marceau has a particular claim to fame as this is the only time in the history of the series that a woman was the primary villain in a Bond film.
Elektra uses her looks to manipulate Bond. She uses her father’s long friendship with M to manipulate her to believe she is a target and victim. Renard himself is an interesting character in the Bond mythos. He’s got a particularly interesting quirk. Before Elektra “escaped” her kidnapper, M sent 009 after him. Elektra got away, but 009 kept pursuit and caught up to Renard. He shot Renard and the bullet remains in his head slowly cutting through his brain and killing off his senses. He’s going to die eventually, but until then, he is only getting stronger and stronger as he loses more and more of his sense of feel.
Even more interesting is that, unlike any other Bond villain ever before, he’s pathetic. He’s not the mastermind. He’s just the goon, and, worse, maybe a pawn – a means to an end for Elektra to get her revenge on MI-6, M, and her daddy for not rescuing her sooner after being kidnapped. When Renard makes off with a nuclear submarine, he’s sad that this is goodbye, but she’s excited for what his sacrifice will do for her. You almost see him understand that he’s a puppet, but then she kisses him and he just goes off to create a catastrophe.
I remember that wasn’t very highly played up. The idea of the Bond Girl being the heavy was not in the trailers or any lead up. I think there was some indication that Elektra was a jerk, but not the villain. We thought going in this was Robert Carlyle’s turn to be the bad guy. It’s a fascinating idea that hadn’t been done before. She’s smart, she’s cunning, and she’s quite bad.
This is also the first film in which Judi Dench’s M has a significant role to play. She made a calculated risk in helping Robert King to get Elektra back. Bond says it best when he cuts to the chase and basically states that M used Elektra as bait to get to Renard who is the number one wanted terrorist in the world. She told Robert to not pay the ransom no matter what. This kept Elektra in Renard’s possession longer. This probably made her into what she is more than anything. It had been established in GoldenEye that this new M was calculating. She almost comes off as an accountant more than anything. She wouldn’t make a move without proper statistical evidence that a move needed to be made. To see her make a mistake in how she dealt with something, that also crosses a personal line, it proved she was not infallible. Of course, later in the series, Dench and Craig’s Bond will have a completely different relationship, but this added a new dimension to her relationship with Brosnan’s.
The movie has a bunch of great action sets. I already talked about the skiing scene with Bond and Elektra that featured these Russian agents on these little seated, ski, helicopter… things. I also mentioned the speedy chase in the Thames. There are no shortage of action scenes throughout the movie though. It’s possible this entry had more over the top action sequences than any previous film.
Aside from those two, stunt-heavy sequences, there’s a bomb that is stolen by Renard in which Bond is nearly left to be blown up in the underground facility. Later, that same bomb is part of a defusing scene in a pipeline that features high speed sweepers that run through the pipes. Another big scene was telegraphed earlier in the film featuring helicopters with giant saw blades that tear up docks while trying to kill Bond. That also leads to a nice subversion where Bond’s car gets cut up badly before he can use it to fight off the helicopters. Naturally, there is the final climax between Bond and Renard in a nuclear submarine. This is a very exciting entry and I believe the extra action scenes were due to the story being much more streamlined to focus on Elektra herself.
One of the better scenes in this entire era of Brosnan’s happens in this film. Bond and Denise Richards are captured by Elektra. Richards is sent off with Renard to die in the sub when it uses its nuclear reactor to melt down. Elektra sticks Bond into this torture device that will break his neck. He eventually escapes from it with the help of former nemesis Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane in his second film and playing the part spectacularly) frees him before dying. Bond chases Elektra to her bedroom where she underestimates her ability to use her wiles and charms on Bond and he kills her when she refuses to call Renard off. It’s not usual for Bond to kill an unarmed person, but she was not going to stop trying to get her revenge.
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest criticisms given to The World Is Not Enough is Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist named Dr. Christmas Jones. First of all, I think people like poking fun at 1) her name and 2) how it is used in an innuendo that ends the movie (“I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”). Honestly, she’s perfectly fine in this. She was a hot actress at the time (I mean that in more than one way). What are you going to do… Not hire an actress that lots of teenage guys and guys in their early 20s like a lot? Admittedly, the last line about how many times Christmas comes in a year is not great, and would certainly fit into that idea that this was much more in line with what the 80s Roger Moore films were like, but I might find her okay in this movie, there is one criticism I can give her character. She is there to do the nuclear stuff and give Bond ideas about how bad something is when Renard is doing nuclear stuff with plutonium, but other than that… She’s more or less just along for the ride. I mean, at least Bond saves her life when Renard stole the bomb and then tried to blow up the underground facility where she was, but it’s hard to say she’s really cut out for this really high tension mission. That’s not Denise Richards’ fault and it’s not worth groaning over her role in this. It’s a fault of the script that called for a “good” Bond Girl when the primary one was the main villain.
In all, I think this is a fine film in the series. It continued a streak of giant grosses bringing in $362 million worldwide (the third consecutive Bond film to go over the $300 million mark). The truly unbelievable thing about this film’s reception is that this is the lowest scored Brosnan film on the aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. That just doesn’t seem right because I think this is an incredibly fun entry with an interesting pair of villains.
One final note, the title The World Is Not Enough comes from James Bond’s family crest. It was previously mentioned in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when Bond met with Sir Hilary Bray who showed Bond his family coat of arms. It originated from the novel and is the real life motto of Sir Thomas Bond.
Join me next week for a look at the music of The World Is Not Enough. In two weeks, we take a look at the next film in the series, and all the problems that come with it – Die Another Day.