Across the Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies


We’re coming closer to the end of this epic undertaking of Across the Bond and as we do it seems Xander and my opinions have been diverging a bit, but for Tomorrow Never Dies were in almost complete agreement. Neither of us had actually seen the other’s writing this time around and yet our opinions on the film are eerily similar. Great minds and such.

While not a bad film, Tomorrow Never Dies never feels all the comfortable in its own Bond shoes. There’s just something about it that isn’t very Bond despite it being a solid action film. Let us know what you think once you’ve checked out our opinions. 

Matthew Razak

 Tomorrow Never Dies is not as bad as you think it is. Is it a great Bond? No, but it’s really not a bad one either. I think that, much like all Bond games after GoldenEye, TND suffers from not being GoldenEye. The return of Bond to the big screen in such a triumphant manner is one of those things that’s just hard to follow up in any way. MGM was high on the incredible success of GoldenEye and rushed Eon into producing the next Bond film as quickly as they could causing the script to not be completed before shooting started and a rushed schedule to balloon the film’s budget. This was also the first film to be produced without Cubby Broccoli as he had passed away just before GoldenEye‘s release so the new producers (his daughter Barbara and his step-son Michael) had something to prove as well. Everyone wanted more GoldenEye, and when, for a myriad of reason, TND was nowhere near as good as GoldenEye it got an even worse rap than it deserved.

To start with Tomorrow Never Dies is a fantastic action movie. It might even be too good an action movie in that it starts to not feel like a Bond film and more akin to films where the main focus is to blow things up and drive cars really fast. Gone are any truly massively impressive stunts (the HALO jump is cook, but hardly as eye catching as previous big stunts) and they’re replaced with action gimmicks, CGI stunts and kung fu fights. Not that any of this is mishandled. The sequence where Bond escapes from a parking lot in his gadget laden BMW is absolutely stellar as he careens around driving the car from the back seat. It’s also one of the few cases where an over-abundance of gadgets actually works and doesn’t seem horribly cheesy. Even the little metal wire cutter, which just so happens to pop up at the exact right height that the metal wire is at, is easily looked over. It helps that Brosnan is in the back seat acting like a kid in a candy shop. One of the best things about his Bond his that he seems to be having fun with all the awesome toys he’s got. The movie also has an impressive motorcycle chase sequence that gets all the better because of the handcuffing situation between Bond and Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). Yeoh performs suitably as the equal-to-BondBond girl, but never really shines in any impressive way, and the one fight sequence she really gets is tepid at best. Still, at least they didn’t try to make Bond hmself do karate again like the did in Man with a Golden Gun.

 The other Bond girl in the film, villain Elliot Carver’s wife, Paris, is sadly lackluster, and also brings up some conflicting ideals in the Bond canon. If she’s supposed to be a serious love of Bond‘s past does this mean we’ve ditched the previous Bondfilms and GoldenEye was a reboot? After all we know Bond has only had one love and that was Tracey so who is this random woman? Putting that nitpick aside Paris doesn’t really do her job that well as a way to add more depth to Bond‘s character. The attempt was obviously to give a little more humanity to Bond by showing that he does have feelings (one of the rare occasions we see Bond drunk), but she’s so quickly introduced and then so quickly killed off that there’s nothing there to make it work. She’s also very quickly forgotten, with the end of the film hardly mentioning her. The screenplay went through a lot of writers so my assumption is that her part was much larger and simply got trimmed a way bit by bit for the greater focus on action. It’s a shame that they didn’t make it work because it could have been an interesting concept. 

As for the villains they’re a mixed bag. Stamper, Elliot Carver’s blonde, jacked eastern European henchman, couldn’t be any blander. It’s clear they needed him for the muscle, but he’s about as interesting as the cliche he sounds like. I guess someone has to throw the punches at Bond, but couldn’t he be an interesting someone? On the other hand Vincent Schiavelli’s Dr. Kaufman is wickedly evil in his smaller role as the assassin sent to kill Bond and Paris. Given some of the best villain lines in the film he subverts much of what we come to expect from a Bond villain. Jonathan Pryce’s Carver is a mixed bag. His megalomaniac quest to control everything ever through media is definitely a veiled reference to Rupert Murdoch, and at times he seems threatening. Pryce himself is a great actor and brings a certain controlled insanity to the character that could have been missing. However, he’s often a bit too much at times and I find that you easily forget him in the pantheon of Bond villains. 

I have to admit I enjoy Tomorrow Never Dies up until the climatic ending that falls flat because of some poor direction and lack of light on the stealth ship. I enjoy it for its action and its charm, but it’s one of the few Bond films that doesn’t really feel like a Bond film. I think in their rush to top GoldenEye they forgot what a Bond movie was all about. This one has the goods, but it lacks the soul. 

Xander Markham

I think Elliot Carver is a fantastic Bond villain. I’m throwing that out there because it’s probably the most contentious, and therefore interesting, thing I have to say about Tomorrow Never Dies, which for the most part is a middle of the road actioner as far as any movie goes, let alone a series with such a strong identity as the Bond movies. It’s not bad, but generally feels inert and lacking purpose. There’s little particularly Bondian about it, other than a couple of diverting gadgets and the obligatory scene where our hero strolls around in black tie before getting in a fight. The best Bonds exaggerate reality to make the villains that little bit more grotesque, the girls that little bit more beautiful, the situations that little bit more unusual. Where the Moore era too often took that notion to ludicrous extremes, Tomorrow is the opposite, making even its big action set-pieces fall flat.

Jonathan Pryce’s evil media mogul, though, is a clever spin on the megalomaniac figure who has populated so many Bond movies to date. As he himself notes, the modern world is no longer controlled by governments and armies, but communication. On its own terms, his devising a scheme to start a global conflict just to get broadcasting rights in China sounds excessive, but makes a kind of sense when seen through Carver’s eyes: one last territory to conquer before his influence spans the entire world. If GoldenEye looked at how the world had changed for its heroes, Tomorrow tips its hat towards how rapidly evolving technology requires a new breed of supervillain. With all the revelations about the Murdoch empire over the past year, the movie ironically feels more timely now that it did when first released. You can just imagine Carver sitting before an inquiry and saying it is the humblest moment of his life, before returning to his office and ordering his international news bureaus to start shovelling dirt on everyone who dared cross him. Critics often moan that Carver isn’t a larger-than-life figure in the Goldfinger vein, but that’s the point: he doesn’t need to be physically domineering because his network does the intimidation work for him. He’s a slimy little control freak, and while the big villains are fun, it’s nice to have expectations mixed up a little.

The movie’s other strong point is Michelle Yeoh, who may be wasted in a role giving her only one martial arts scene, but still pulls off the tough girl role with more charm than any other actress in the series to date. Despite her physical prowess, Wai Lin mostly ends up just following Bond around, but Yeoh is a constantly engaging screen presence despite her romantic chemistry with Brosnan being almost nil. That might be because Brosnan’s Bond feels like he could be replaced with just about anyone, compounded in the climactic scene aboard the stealth boat, where he’s running around firing dual machine guns like a Terminator. Brosnan does his best and has a few enjoyable moments (he and Desmond Llewellyn are always a great pair, and Bond‘s boyish delight at his car’s self-inflating tyres is wonderful), but is asked to play a void of a character. He throws out a few half-hearted quips, but this is a Bond reflecting the sanitised sensibilities of his time. His ‘filthy habit’ line about a cigarette-smoking henchman would make Fleming turn in his grave. There’s no edge, no vices, nothing to stir excitement other than an exceedingly fancy dress sense.

An attempt to make his assignment more personal by bringing in an old flame in the shape of Teri Hatcher’s Paris Carver doesn’t ring true for a moment, since Hatcher is so stiff in the role and, like Bond, lacking any discernable personality. Their big emotional reunion in Bond‘s hotel room, though accompanied by a lovely visual homage to Dr. No as he waits for her in much the same way Connery awaited Professor Dent, is meaningless because no context provided for why they seemingly share such a strong connection (most of the ‘facts’ we’re given about their history come from the apparent lies Paris tells her husband), but neither are remotely interesting as people. The scene where Bond later discovers her body only manages to be interesting thanks to Vincent Schiavelli’s eccentric Dr. Kaufman, one of the movie’s few actual personalities. Naturally, he cops it after only a few minutes’ screentime, leaving us back with Stamper (whose actor, Gotz Otto, won the part after describing himself as ‘big, blond and German’, thus entirely summing the depth of his character) as lead henchman for the remainder of the movie.

Of the gadgets, the remote controlled car is a wonderful idea, but its abilities are taken to a ridiculous extreme in the parking lot chase scene, with every enemy traps designed explicitly to show off one of the car’s tricks, including a buzz saw at just the right height to cut through a taut cable. Why Bond would then consider it acceptable to drive said car over the side of the rooftop and down towards a street packed with civilians (certainly injuring everyone inside the office it crashes into) beggars belief. The much-publicised decision to swap Bond‘s PPK for a more modern P99 is further proof of the movie’s misguided sensibilities: the PPK may be weak and old fashioned, but its shape is intimately associated with the Bondcharacter. The P99, on the other hand, looks like any other handgun, costing the movie yet more character in favour of tedious realism. I suspect commercial interests were probably also at play, although have no idea whether Walther actually sponsored the movie.

Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t terrible by any stretch, but makes no attempt to break out of first gear and confuses modernising for whitewashing every trace of identity from Bond‘s character. There’s some good stuff in there – the baddie is pretty interesting (to my mind at least), Michelle Yeoh does a terrific job with a nothing character, the remote-controlled BMW is cool (again, despite being a BMW), Judi Dench has a wonderful snapping turtle quality as M and nails the movie’s best line (in reference to an accusation of her not having the balls for her job: ‘Perhaps, but it means I don’t have to think with them all the time.’) and the pre-credits sequence has an amusing use of a fighter jet ejector seat – but while it’s the kind of movie I’ll happily leave on in the background whenever it’s on TV, it’s pretty rote as an actioner and especially anodyne as a Bond.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.