Brosnan’s second film and my eighteenth review. Surprisingly, I’m not sick of Bond yet. I am looking forward to being able to pick and choose which Bond adventures I relive though. Chronology doesn’t do the Bond series any favours.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
I’d like to start, if I may, with a biting satirical vignette about a fictional conversation between the Bond people. I don’t want to attribute fault to any specific person, so I’ll just call them A and B.
A: Hey B, so glad GoldenEye was a success! We really risked a lot on bringing Bond back.
B: Oh, hi A. Yeah, it’s a load off. Apart from the massive stacks of cash in my pocket, I think the best thing about all this is that we can take Bond to all new places that ’90s audiences haven’t seen before.
A: Speaking of which, you got any ideas for the sequel?
B: (long pause) Nope. (another long pause) We could be in trouble here.
A: Nah- let’s just rip off You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me. Audiences fucking love the same shit they’ve seen before time and time again repackaged in a shinier wrapper.
B: Sweet! So glad we didn’t have to come up with anything original! I’m hungry.
A: Me too. Here’s that plate of dicks I ordered.
After the H.M.S. Devonshire is attacked and sunk, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to investigate the possible link between the sinking and powerful media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). Bond encounters an old flame in the form of Carver’s wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher) and gains a new ally, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). Bond’s mission then becomes to stop Carver from starting World War III between Britain and China. As you may have picked up from that blisteringly realistic exchange above, TND‘s plot is just a huge rehash of The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond facing off against a Rupert Murdoch type strikes me as one of those ideas that should have stayed on the drawing board. I get what they’re trying to do, but Carver is just too weak a villain to hold the film. I know he’s deranged, but his whole plan is to start a war for TV ratings. I mean, really? Putting aside the ludicrous premise for a moment, let’s dig a little deeper. Why is he doing this? He’s clearly super rich and powerful anyway. He’s just launched a new satellite and now has the potential to reach every single person on Earth. If he was in charge of a media group that had seen a massive fall in viewers and revenue then I’d understand. Constantly getting exclusives about a developing war would be a huge audience-getter and put you ahead of the pack. The man and the network seem at the top of their game though. I may seem like a have a downer on Tomorrow Never Dies, but I don’t. It’s a solid Bond film with some awesome sequences. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It just burns my piss that they couldn’t wait to restick themselves to the same old formula. I suppose the argument could be made that all the Bond films are formulaic, but they need to do a better job of hiding it.
Brosnan seems a lot more comfortable in the role this time round. He’s just The Broz- and that’s a damn good thing. Jonathan Pryce does well in what is a very loose and non-threatening role. He takes a camp pleasure in doing “evil” things which makes him entertaining to watch. What isn’t so great is an embarrassing and possibly racist (I still can’t make up my mind) moment where he does mock martial arts complete with silly dancing and kung fu noises. Michelle Yeoh makes a great Bond lass, giving us another female Bond equal. I’ve had a crush on Teri Hatcher since The New Adventures of Superman, so I was already predispositioned to like her. She does a good job as the tragic Paris regardless. I quite like the ‘roided up version of Red Grant, Stamper (Götz Otto), but I feel he could have been used a little better. Man of the film for me is Vincent Schiavelli’s Dr. Kaufman. He’s just a joy and completely steals the scene he shares with Brosnan. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of him.
I love the pre-credits bit of this film. Bond infiltrates (read: “fucking destroys everything at”) a “terrorist supermarket”. There’s plenty of explosions, shouting and and real “fuck, yeah!” moment when the flabbergasted Admiral Roebuck (Geoffrey Palmer, Dench’s on screen husband in sopfest As Time Goes By, fact fans) watching the action on a monitor at MI6 HQ with the campest Minister of Defence ever, asks what the hell Bond thinks he’s doing. Without missing a beat, M snaps back: “his job”. I want to punch the air every time she says that, I swear to God. The titles aren’t bad either, with Daniel Kleinman doing a great job with CGI circuit ladies and TV screens. Shame about Sheryl Crow’s song though. It’s okay, but the fact that far superior “Surrender” by k.d. lang is relegated to the end credits in favour of Crow’s uninspired warblings is annoying.
Tomorrow Never Dies fixes one of my problems with GoldenEye by Bond actually using his gadget-laden car this time, although it’s still a BMW. The car park sequence where Bond literally becomes a back seat driver in his remotely operated car is a hell of a lot of fun. Stand out sequence by far though is the highly inventive and unique chase where Bond and Wai Lin have to negotiate various pitfalls and obstacles on a high speed motorbike whilst handcuffed together. It’s a real highlight of the film and of Brosnan’s stint as Bond. I’m not just an action meathead though. There are several little character moments I enjoyed too. There’s a little bit where Bond is waiting for a Carver sent assassin in his hotel room. He’s slouched in a chair, pouring himself shot after shot of vodka with his gun at the ready. It reminded me of the similar scene in Dr. No where Bond lies in wait for Professor Dent. I also like the alluded to past with Paris that Bond has. Paris grimly assesses that Bond’s job is “murder on relationships” and gives us a deeper connection to her than we get with most of Bond’s squeezes.
Tomorrow Never Dies is a perfectly fine film. It doesn’t shake up the formula or really try for an identity of its own, but that’s alright. It’s not as good as GoldenEye, but it’s a solid effort featuring a great Bond and some seriously exciting action. It also features a young Gerard Butler on the H.M.S. Devonshire. Tune in next time, same Bond time, same Bond channel.