Writing a retrospective review of this movie seemed at first mildly strange to me. The film still seeming too recent in one’s mind’s eye to undergo such a ‘retro’ treatment. Yet it’s actually over ten years now since The World Is Not Enough graced our cinema screens. Perhaps more bizarre sounding is the thought that incredibly, it came out almost two years BEFORE the terror attacks of 9/11 in NYC. All of a sudden this movie is feeling kind of ‘of a different time’ to me. Watching it again confirms its late 90s credentials. Not a bad thing per se, but certainly noticeable.
The World Is Not Enough (TWINE – great acronym) was the 19th Bond movie overall, and Brosnan’s third go in the tux. They do say “three’s the charm” and for me; this is the best of his four movies overall. I know that’s slightly controversial, particularly with the massive support and following that Goldeneye in particular still elicits. However for this reviewer; (re: Goldeneye), it seems obvious that they hadn’t quite nailed who Brosnan’s Bond was gonna be, how he should behave or how he should look. Something about the slightly too long bouffant hairdo and a tangible sense that he was physically a little too slender to be tough enough to cut it.
It’s certainly something that was noted and addressed though, because by the second film, Brosnan’s Bond had obviously been to the gym and choked down a few protein shakes! The hair was more businesslike too. A shame then that the second movie (for me anyway) was so instantly forgettable. What was the car again? A 7 series BMW saloon? Yawn! Exactly.
One of the things that defined the Brosnan-era movies, or at least was a prominent commonality they all had, was that the plots were always closely reflective of what was pertinent to the times. They were seldom abstract, never too far removed from some generally understood state of real world affairs. I guess one could argue that this thread could be applied to link most Bond movies, not just the Brosnan's. However, with the reintroduction of Bond in ’95 after it’s extended absence, there were definitely forces at work trying to keep as many elements ‘topical’ as possible.
Naturally, as it’s James Bond there’s the usual filter of hyper-reality layered over it all, but I feel that the Brosnan movies did this trick quite well. Perhaps the relatively peaceful and economically stable mid to late 90s empowered filmmakers to safely be more topical. I’ve certainly noticed a lessening of this (almost an avoidance) in the post 9/11 movies, so who knows.
After what I think is the longest pre-title sequence in the series; director Michael Apted gives us a medium weight Bond plot that nicely combines industrial espionage and world oil price fixing with a personal revenge thread involving ‘M’, a secret Stockholm Syndrome suffering villainess and an ex-KGB terrorist with a terminal headache.
Principal casting is for the most part very agreeable. Judi Dench returns as M, in a slightly expanded role. Further cementing her as easily the best M since Bernard Lee. Desmond Llewelyn also returns once again as Q. This would be his last appearance in the role. It’s interesting to note that the way he exits his main scene with Bond does have a certain finality about it even though it was not intentional (Llewelyn sadly died just after the film’s release). Robert Carlyle plays main baddie ‘Renard’ – ex-KGB turned terrorist. He has a bullet in his head that is killing him slowly and rendering him unable to feel any pain (or pleasure). Sophie Marceau plays Elektra King, the oil heiress secretly in league with Renard. Denise Richards plays the unlikely role of nuclear physicist Dr Christmas Jones (Ahem!). She copped a lot of the negative press for her role, and I can understand it. However, I really don’t think anything about her performance merited such hostility. Admittedly, Richards isn’t Meryl Streep, but she does plenty with what little she’s given and I think provides a decently peppy performance. Yes she’s eye candy in a ridiculously obvious way (just watch the underwater scenes on the sub), but you can’t condemn her for having breasts and a pretty face. What I found most interesting was her obviously ‘Lara Croft’ inspired outfit of shorts, vest top and boots. Hmmmm…
Other notable cast members are Robbie Coltrane returning as Goldeneye’s Valentin Zukovsky. I love the way he greets JB by saying “Bond, James Bond, how are you?” – very funny! Samantha Bond’s delectable Miss Moneypenny and the introduction of a certain Mr John Cleese get honourable shout out. I’m not mentioning the presence of Goldie on purpose…oops damit I just did!
After the slight misstep of Tomorrow Never Dies it seems the producers were keen to ‘re-district’ the staple Bond ingredients and try again to come up with an agreeable mix. Brosnan himself – never a particularly physically imposing man, here cuts his best lean and mean look. He’s perhaps a little soft round the edges with his shirt off, but generally he delivers a good solid physicality, coupled with a stonier more grizzled demeanour that I for one liked very much. Bond’s cold blooded killing of the over confident Elektra for instance tells us that this 007 is not taking any nonsense, and will shoot your ass no matter who you are. It’s a great scene and it certainly helped give Brosnan (in my opinion) a much needed harder edge that presaged the way the character would go in the Daniel Craig era.
The film delivers some great action scenes, terrific miniature work and some very imaginative set pieces (I’m thinking the buzz saw-equipped helicopter attack on Zukovsky’s caviar factory), truly shredding, and absolutely classic Bond stuff.
However the movie is not over dominated by the loud bits and some good solid characterisation is developed between the principals. Thanks in no small part to Robert Carlyle’s ‘Renard’. I found his performance to be enjoyably nuanced, understated and multi-dimensional. The character is evil and wicked to be sure, but also tragic and resigned to the certain death that surely awaits him.
So to the demerits.
I really like this movie (as I’ve said), but there are a few things that don’t work for me. The decision to shoot a scene where Bond pilots his funky little jet boat on land through an east-end fish-market is absurd and harks back to Roger Moore’s Venetian hover-gondola in Moonraker. At least that craft had a viable (if ludicrously unlikely) means of moving on land. Here we are just expected to accept that Bond’s boat can be driven on a Tarmac street without any suitable hardware in evidence at all. He even turns a corner…with the rudder?! Please!
Also, tell me why do vehicles in movies instantly explode when they hit things? The scene where Bond and Electra are skiing and are attacked by paragliding skidoos is a particularly lazy example of the blowing up of several vehicles simply because they crashed. It’s like a fleet of flying Ford Pintos out there!!
Speaking of vehicles, this was the third BMW sponsored movie, which again was disappointing for fans hoping JB would be driving something more Aston’ee. At least this time it was a Z-8 roadster which had some wow factor. Although I was not too bothered when it got chopped in half!!
Also, what’s occurring with Brosnan’s accent? He has this bizarre transatlantic twang in places and it’s irksome to say the least. It may be because he’s Irish maybe, but when uttering the immortal line “Bond, James Bond” it really shouldn’t come out as “Barned, James Barned” grrrr…
Lastly it does bother me that the filmmakers got themselves written into a situation where they allow 007 to have Renard on his knees with a gun to his head, but doesn’t shoot him. He’s a double-0 for God’s sake, shoot shoot!!
I know, I know, you can’t very well dispatch your villain three minutes after meeting him, but in reality there is no way Bond would have gas-bagged with Renard instead of just popping him in the head there and then. What’s he waiting for?
David Arnold once again provided the music score. It’s ok, and fairly unobtrusive. I’ve never liked the tendency in the Brosnan movies to use these techno beat remixes of the classic Bond theme. But I know others who really like that approach so I guess it’s a taste thing. As for the Garbage song, it’s garbage – nuff said. None of the Brosnan movies got decent songs actually, which is a shame. Tina’s ‘Goldeneye’ probably the pick of a bad bunch.
In conclusion, I’m still a big fan of this movie, and it’s the only repeat view Brosnan for me (I promise it’s nothing to do with Denise Richard’s assets either). The film rocks along at a good pace and never feels lacking or bloated. It’s not an overblown megalomaniac yarn and not so small as to be trivial either. The leftover remnants of Moore comedy are just about in check, and Brosnan delivers in my opinion his most complete performance as Bond.
I’ll always feel aggrieved that instead of building on and improving the winning formula of The World Is Not Enough, they chose to throw it all in the crapper and do the abysmal Die Another Day instead. However that’s for someone else to lament.
Ben Pegley for Filmwerk, December 2010
Addendum, April 2019
In the years since first writing of this retrospective, I have come to love Brosnan's first outing (Goldeneye), a little more. The orchestral score is still one of the worst of any Bond film, and my comments regarding Brosnan's appearance and character still stand. However, It is an excellent Bond movie, and in many ways I would grudgingly admit its superiority to The World Is Not Enough. Shhh, you didn't read that here.