Brosnan’s third Bond movie has compelling villains, a more complex and character-driven plot, but also Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist. Such miscalculations unfortunately undermine the whole movie, and both Matt and I agree that it represents a serious wasted opportunity. There are some great performances, but like the worst of the Roger Moore movies, heavy-handed ‘comedy’ and dodgy pacing weighs down the enjoyable elements.
On the plus side, it’s a fair bit Bondier than the bland Tomorrow Never Dies and vastly superior to the travesty awaiting us tomorrow. Let us know what you think in the comments!
Like For Your Eyes Only, I respect The World Is Not Enough more than I like it. It tries to tell a story with greater focus on character, but is let down by clunky pacing and arbitrary action sequences. When first released out in 1999, I really liked it, but each subsequent viewing has dampened my enthusiasm. The ingredients are there for something special: the plot twist, itself almost uncharted territory for Bond, enacts out a sly reversal of expectations, making a villain out of one of the Bond girls. Sophie Marceau plays Elektra with a reserve which initially seems down to a natural resilience after being kidnapped as a girl, but is later revealed as the tactic of a devious manipulator out for revenge against the people who left her for dead. (The whole situation with her mutilated ear is just weird, though – what, Renard sent Sir Robert King his daughter’s… earlobe?) It’s not the most shocking twist, with the name alone pointing towards the fractured parental relationships – although technically she should have hated her mother, not her father – but Marceau finds the right balance between fragility and cunning to make both sides of the character work. It fascinates me how few people recognise her as the movie’s main villain, perhaps forgetting Bond’s realisation that she turned Renard’s allegiances whilst in captivity, rather than the other way around. Perhaps it’s a further credit to Marceau’s performance that so many viewers choose to see her as a victim or manipulated accomplice, just as Elektra would have wanted.
Her personal relationship with M rings a little untrue as one writerly convenience too many, but getting Judi Dench more involved with the plot was a welcome step towards her increasing prominence in later movies. The addition of John Cleese as ‘R’ is altogether less successful, with his cameo recalling the most tediously exaggerated gags from the Roger Moore era. The movie’s schizophrenic nature is demonstrated by that scene being immediately followed by one of the series’ most moving: the departure of the great Desmond Llewellyn’s Q. While previous scenes between he and Bond found comedy in the antagonism between Q’s curmudgeonliness and Bond’s reckless playfulness, his farewell speech emphasizes the two men’s shared affection. The sight of him being lowered into the depths of his laboratory (perfect last line: ‘Always have an escape plan’) is both eerie in the knowledge that Llewellyn died shortly after the movie’s release – on my birthday, to make it personally that bit worse – and sweet for the delicacy of the humour. (It also deepens the connection between Bond and The Avengers [tv series] by echoing Emma Peel’s equally devastating retirement advice for partner John Steed: ‘Always keep your bowler on in times of stress, and watch out for diabolical masterminds’). Sad though it is, I’m glad the actor got to officially bow out on-screen and doubly so that it was alongside Pierce Brosnan, the Bond with whom he shared the most natural chemistry since Connery. It’s just a shame the movie couldn’t have been retroactively dedicated to him, so this article is instead. In memoriam, Desmond Llewellyn, 1914-1999.
Also terrific is Robert Carlyle as Renard, technically the movie’s henchman. As with Marceau, the twist’s credibility relies upon the audience being able to believe there’s another side to Renard than the cruel exterior, and Carlyle’s cavernous eyes and wounded expression give a hint of sadness to a man who knows he is dying and is using his last days to do right by the only love he has perhaps ever known. The revelation of his impotence should seem trite, but is used as a clever shorthand to establish how Elektra manipulates him. It’s the only significant scene Marceau and Carlyle share together, and the nuances of their respective performances imbue it with greater resonance than the blunt writing deserves.
While Elektra’s backstory and motivations provide the movie’s real dramatic meat, the main plot feels excessively convoluted and struggles to establish any kind of storytelling rhythm. The movie’s structure deploys a big action sequence for each element of Elektra’s plan as Bond discovers it. To alleviate suspicions of guilt, she twice has Renard’s men attack her pipeline: the first time, this causes a ski chase – just don’t ask how she knew Bond would be there – and the second has Bond diffusing a bomb inside an oil pipeline. Renard collecting the bomb from Kazhakstan is another action sequence, as is Elektra’s helicopters trying to eliminate Zukovsky to stop Bond discovering the pair’s business agreement. This approach segments the movie and makes it seem as though story elements have been reverse engineered to justify the action sequences, leading to over-saturation. That they’re shot with such a lack of flair only makes their perfunctory nature all the more acute. The only set-pieces which work are in the excellent pre-titles sequence, where Bond first escapes a Spanish bank – one of my favourite scenes in any Brosnan movie – and later chases an assassin down the river Thames in the slick, gadget-heavy Q boat. These feature the movie’s best stuntwork and some striking visuals – Bond jumping out of a top floor window at the bank, then his boat tearing through London and emerging in the shadow of the then-Millennium Dome – and set a far higher standard for action than the rest of the movie is able to meet. The climactic fight with Renard aboard the sinking submarine feels particularly uninspired in comparison.
Bond’s only real purpose is to catch up with Elektra’s intentions and then stop her at the last minute. Once again, the writers try to force some emotional resonance by having him get emotionally involved and betrayed by her – much as how such feelings were supposedly reignited with Paris Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies, only for her to be killed because of his investigations – and while it’s too obvious to work much better this time around, at least Elektra’s established powers of sexual manipulation give it greater credibility and Brosnan does some of his best work in their final scene as he tries to get Elekra to abort her plan. He certainly does better work than in the j’accuse scene where he pins her father’s murder on her, with his line delivery seemingly oddly over-emphasized. In general, he gives a stronger performance than in Tomorrow Never Dies (including a well-handled allusion to Tracy), but remains a little too slick for his own good. He’s given more to work with, and hints of vulnerability peek through at the right times, though still comes across as if acting Bond rather than becoming him.
Such minor shortcomings are nothing once Denise Richards appears on the scene playing a nuclear physicist. The idea is faintly amusing at first in the audacity of its ridiculousness, but as with Tanya Roberts’ Stacey Sutton in A View To A Kill, gets old pretty quickly once she refuses to go away. Like Zukovsky, returning from GoldenEye with the sole purpose of making annoying in-jokes and moaning about insurance, she’s a product of part of the plot which feels like it should have been covered quickly and without fuss (is it really so vital we see how Renard got the bomb, and Elektra the submarine?) rather than lingered upon for the sake of cramming in a bit more action. To be fair to Richards, she does the best she can, but it’s hard to imagine anyone excelling in such a one-note role and she’s not much of an actress at the best of times. On the plus side, her ridiculous name was blatantly only contrived for the sake of the movie’s hilariously inappropriate final line, which is so stupid it circles around to being fun again. While it somehow works that one time, the movie’s baser impulses undermine its commendable efforts creating a pair of psychologically complex villains in Elektra and Renard, who seem to exist in a different, more intelligent movie than the one where Bond, Zukovsky and Christmas Jones spend most of their time dodging bullets and explosions for the sake of minor plot revelations. Unfortunately, when choosing the direction of the next movie, the producers expanded upon this movie’s spectacle rather than story, a miscalculation so grave it would lead to the series’ entire continuity being abandoned for a fresh start.
The World is Not Enough is a great example of how poor execution ruins really great ideas. There’s so much in this movie that just screams greatness but comes out middling because everyone seemed to have lost their damn minds about direction, casting and screenwriting. The general plot is intriguing and has the right balance of spy thriller/Bond absurdity to work, Bond and M’s relationship is developed further, there’s a brilliant villain at play and the concluding fight is in a vertically sinking submarine, which could easily be one of the coolest fights ever. However, everything is executed so poorly that by the end of the film its all crumbling a part, with only a few strands of good to hold onto. Even those are pretty much obliterated by the film’s now infamous closing line, “I thought Christmas only came one a year.” Not even Roger Moore would have spouted a line that awful and the fact that they named an character Christmas Jones just so they could use it is even worse. It’s a good concept lost in a muck of poor decisions.
The worst decision? In fact the one thing that could have changed this film from bad to good? The casting of Denise Richards as nuclear scientist Christmas Jones. I can’t even begin to fathom what they were thinking here, but it pretty much ruins the rest of the film in every way possible. Brosnan, who Richards looks far to young for, has to drivel out bad lines to her (the screenplay is piss poor and convoluted) and she can’t work with any of them. Her inability to act ruins some key scenes and it appears that much of the role was written to fit her, which makes her myriad of conversations idiotic in the film. Had someone more believable been cast even the worst scenes would have functioned better and Brosnan wouldn’t have had to act down to here. In case you can’t tell she quite literally ruins the movie for me. Not that there aren’t other problems that make the film work far worse than it should have, but whenever I think about TWINE all my ire goes to her.
It’s even worse because the other Bond girl in the film, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), is brilliant. A fantastic twist on the classic Bond villain and the first woman to actually be in charge of an entire evil operation. For some reason in a film of cliches and poor writing she’s fantastically developed and scripted an amazing execution of the classic megalomaniac Bond villain. While some the twists in her character could have been developed far better as a foil to Bond she’s fantastic. Her belief that pretty much everyone loves her and that Bond would never kill her in cold blood is the perfect cap to her insanity, and yet is more subtly used than most Bond villains. Marceau is wonderfully cast as well, showing frailty when she needs to and then insanity as the character grows. Her final showdown with Bond where is she is positive that he won’t kill her even though she’s just tortured him nearly to death is one of the better moments in any Bond film, and definitely one of Brosnan’s most personal. Say what you want about the harshness and cruelty of Connery, Dalton or Craig, but they’ve never shot a woman point blank in the chest. Bond and her relationship is one of my favorites. I’ll also give credit to Renard, whose inability to feel pain and slow creeping death make for a really interesting character and a classic Bond henchman. Too much? Possibly, but he’s enough fun to be enjoyable and Bond’s comeuppance moment when he informs Renard that Elektra is dead is one of the final action sequences few saving graces.
Unfortunately none of the other relationships in the film are up to snuff. We’ve already discussed Denise Richards, but Bond also has a very intricate relationship with M in this film. It actually starts off quite strong, giving us a deeper sense of M’s personality than ever before, but once she gets kidnapped it kind of turns the character into a side show. M’s respectability level drops at least a few hundred notches by the time the film ends despite her being in the field. It may just be a case of too much as the Bond/M relationship has always been a more subtle one (even in Fleming’s books). Suddenly they’re hammering it home like there’s no tomorrow to the point that Judi Dench actually has to utter the banal line, “He’s our best man, though I’d never tell him.” It’s blatantly obvious statements like that that take the film’s interesting core concepts and ruin them with a all to cheesy and none to subtle screenplay. Another example of this is the return of Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), who was some fantastic comic relief in GoldenEye, but becomes a full fledged character here. He doesn’t really deserve to be. While enjoyable the screenplay keeps him far to comic, and pretty much ruins his death at the end. They could have brought him back and made him a bit more serious and pulled it off perfectly, but instead he stays humorous and scenes like Bond nearly drowning him in caviar go from iconically threatening to stupidly funny.
As for the action its hit or miss. Many people credit Die Another Day with pushing Bond too digital, but really it was Tomorrow Never Dies where the roots took place and they simply grew in TWINE. Other than an epic opening sequence involving a stunning boat chase and stunt on top of the Millennium Dome the action relies heavily on CGI. Bond’s lackluster ski chase uses it here and there, the tube sequence is entirely CGI and his battle with the buzz saw helicopter (stupidest weapon ever) has it all over the place. And lets talk about the idiocy of that helicopter attack? The tree trimming buzz saws are established earlier in the film, but it makes no sense to have them show up there. The cutting in half of the BMW is cool to watch, but in the long run the saws are the weakest attempt at Bonds life ever. I know Bond villains use outlandish means to try to kill him, but this is just ridiculous. Apted does a decent enough job directing all this action, but in this scene and the final sub fight things just get too dumb to really work. What the hell are the rods they’re shoving into the sub? Why do you cast Denise Richards and then put her into a white t-shirt and the soak her to the bone, but not truly give us one good wet t-shirt shot?
When TWINE is concentrating on its villain and Bond its a really solid movie with Brosnan doing some of his best stuff. Any time it steps out of this zone, however, it simply starts to falter and then fall. The plot is poorly handled on the whole and the screenplay is simply trying too hard at every turn to make it work. But really the problem is Denise Richards.