The World Is Not Enough (1999)
One of the downfalls of a number of James Bond films has been the Bond Girls. Just the fact that, going on close to six decades of the series, they are still called Bond Girls, and not female costars or just Bond Women, should give one a clue about how they figure into the plot. Some just show up for five minutes to be bedded then die, bedded and then try to kill Bond (then die), bedded and disappear from the rest of the film and - well, the point stands. While the more memorable ones have both been beautiful and strong, and have been integral to the plot, often they are just there to look pretty.
Tomorrow Never Dies is definitely not the greatest Bond film, but it is entertaining, and not a little has to do with the fact that Michelle Yeoh was not treated as an afterthought, even though given her record as a stuntwoman I still thought she wasn't given enough to do; she's believably beautiful and tough. She's not the first of Bond's female companions to be so, but she follows on the heels of Izabella Scorupco in GoldenEye, whose character they also made resourceful and smart. Although the first two Pierce Brosnan had a number of ups and downs, none thing that could be said is that the writers were starting to pick up on how the role of women had changed to that point.
And then comes The World Is Not Enough. Most Americans wouldn't know who Scorupco was, and Michelle Yeoh got popular as a female equal to Jackie Chan. Denise Richards, on the other hand, was known for getting naked and making out with Neve Campbell in Wild Things. Richards was a flavor of the month celebrity, fine when put in a small role that demanded more of her to pose and look pretty than to deliver lines. Wild Things was just such a film, an exploitation-style b-movie that didn't demand her to do much acting, as whatever lines she was given would have sounded ridiculous no matter who said it.
The truth is that this kind of stunt casting was unneeded. The first two Pierce Brosnan films were successes, and this one even more so. In fact, this is better than Tomorrow Never Dies, and almost as entertaining as GoldenEye. The problem is that Denise Richards is so terrible that it is the one thing most viewers took away from this movie - not Desmond Llewellyn's last appearance as Q, going out with one of his best appearances; not John Cleese as Q's successor, actually injecting real comedy into a Bond film rather than stupid pratfalls; not the amazing pre-credits scene. Out of all the women they have had play rolls in the Bond films, Richards sticks out as the Jar Jar Binks of the series - the one character that sabotages an otherwise decent film.
After retrieving some stolen money from a Swiss banker in Bilbao, Spain, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) barely escapes with his life. After returning to MI6 and putting the money back in the hands of its owner, Sir Robert King (David Calder), he suddenly realizes the whole thing was a set-up. This results in the pursuit of King's assassin (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) and the discovery that the person behind it is a terrorist known as Renard (Robert Carlyle). Renard is slowly dying of a bullet wound, making him impervious to pain, and he is planning to go out with a bang.
The money being retrieved was the exact amount that was asked for the release of King's daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau), who succeeds him as the head of his oil business. Elektra herself shot her way out of Renard's compound and returned to private life, and the concern is that Renard may try to get further revenge, and Bond is sent to protect her.
He soon discovers that Renard is indeed up to something in Kazakhstan, where old Soviet missiles are being disassembled under the supervision of Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards). Unfortunately, it appears that Elektra may have fallen a bit too far under Renard's influence, with both of them looking forward to revenge and monopolize the oil market in Europe. When M (Judi Dench) is kidnapped in Istanbul, Bond finds himself in a situation where he has to save his boss and the world.
As I said, the plot is quite straightforward, and unfortunately a little more than a little reminiscent of Goldfinger. Sadly, it isn't the first time the series has gone back to this well, but at least this does have enough different elements in it that the comparisons aren't off-putting. I also like that this has two villains, rather than a main villain and a bunch of henchmen, since henchmen in Bond films usually end up overshadowing their boss. That said, Renard is interesting, but Robert Carlyle doesn't get nearly enough screen time to build on what could have been an even better character.
Sophie Marceau gets much more time and, unlike Richards, she can act. You just wouldn't know it here, as she is mostly one note, and can't seem to land on an accent. I didn't understand if she was supposed to be Azerbaijani (or part), Russian or what. I don't know if that is a fault of Marceau or if director Michael Apted didn't properly instruct her on what he wanted. Truth is, however wooden Marceau seems at time, that is expected from Bond Girls occasionally. It's tolerable; Denise Richards is not. Obviously Apted and the rest knew what they were dealing with because, within seconds of her being introduced (as a nuclear scientist of all things), she's in a skimpy tank top and tight jean shorts for no discernible reason. I have been to the actual desert in Kazakhstan and, yes, it's hot, just like where I live, but I can guarantee most people doing professional work are not looking like they're about to head out to the beach. According to some of the trivia I read on this movie it was an effort to make a reference to Lara Croft, which makes even less sense.
I called her the Jar Jar Binks of the Bond series, since he was the character that almost single-handedly destroyed The Phantom Menace. Happily, The World Is Not Enough is a much better movie, and is still an enjoyable film despite her involvement. The name "Christmas" gives us one of the greatest last lines of any Bond film, and we see Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) return, and he's more than just a pop-up character this time. Also, M gets to be more involved than just sitting behind a desk or scowling disapprovingly at Bond. I love John Cleese as Q's successor, and really wish Desmond Llewellyn had the chance to do one more turn as Q in Die Another Day. Unfortunately, he was killed in a car crash shortly after the release of this movie.
The stunt work is great on this one as well, although I do not envy the poor guy who had to double for Pierce Brosnan in that boat chase; it kind of made the point of why we don't put rockets on a boat, especially as that thing seems to just jump everywhere uncontrollably. There is a mix of CGI and practical effects, all used well, and the attack of the helicopters with sawblades lives up to the promise. I was also glad that the writers remembered that if you are going to show such a device in the early part of the movie, you better use it at some point.
Despite largely staying on course there are a few places where the movie drags, but for all purposes, and if you ignore Richards, you get the second-best Bond in Brosnan's tenure. If he would have gone out on this one I think his short period in the role would have been viewed in a better light than Roger Moore's long residency in the role, especially since Brosnan, though his age is beginning to show, looks less like a codger and more like a hardened spy. Unfortunately, one more movie was in the works, and it would largely bring the whole franchise to a screeching halt for years.
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Time: 128 minutes
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench
Director: Michael Apted