The good, the bad, and the Bond: Re-evaluating 007 – Tomorrow Never Dies

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CARRYING ON with James Bond: Irish Edition, we have Brosnan’s second adventure. After the topical cyberpunk outing in post-cold war Russia, we have the equally topical forays into mass-media global warfare. Can Bond stop the nefarious Rupert Murdo… Elliot Carver? Anyway, for SCM, here’s Andrew and Truan.

Andrew Simpson: To follow on from the reinvigorated GoldenEye is quite a task. Brosnan continues to ease his way into the Bond persona, and does a credible job at showing he is fit for the role and is as good as his predecessors. With $350 million being made for GoldenEye, there was a new benchmark to try and beat, a new level of explosive action to try and bring to our screens. They delivered.

All the parts of a ‘Bond film’ are here, with the focus on action, exotic locations, gadgets, an easy to hate villain and the female sidekick – all the boxes were ticked. This time though, there’s more of it and it’s brilliant. The opening of the film sets the pace, being filled with action-packed stunts and Cecilie Thomsen – what more could you ask for? The actions scenes are full of car chases, explosions and sometimes ridiculous fights that just leave you wanting more.

The film’s villain, Jonathan Pryce, does an amiable job of fulfilling the criteria of a Bond Villain and is livelier than some we have seen before, but sometimes made things a little too over the top. He’s definitely not standout. The fact that when I first thought back about this film I couldn’t remember who the hell he was, was not the best of signs, yet on re-watching he did perform commendably.

The introduction of Michelle Yeoh, the martial arts star, was something new to the franchise and it works well. Yeoh comes across as very independent and capable, as well as incredibly exciting to watch through her stunts and martial arts. It’s a refreshing addition to have Yeoh who plays the part of a foil for Bond perfectly.

We’re treated to the epics of the supporting cast, with Judi Dench returning as M – who is simply superb in the role and epitome of displaying that women have a serious role to play. Desmond Llewelyn, probably my favourite supporting Bond character of the series, returns as Q – (un)fortunately Bond doesn’t heed his “don’t damage it, 007” advice – but I don’t think we really would ever want him to. Even fan favourite Joe Don Baker (one of the two villains from The Living Daylights) is back for a brief cameo as Jack Wade.

This film takes Bond to the next level. It’s polished and entwines everything that makes up a Bond film and takes it that much further, and increases the pace up five notches. Sheryl Crow’s title song is a much improved track from that we heard in GoldenEye, and reproduces the earlier classic sounds heard in For Your Eyes Only. The gadgets are more high-tech and bring the franchise in line with the modern era, lending more believability to their utility. The stunts and action scenes are also portrayed well on screen.

It’s Brosnan’s second outing and it is a more than solid instalment for the Bond franchise: gloriously fun, fast-paced and full of action. It may be formula-driven, but it’s still great to watch. Top entertainment that would easily outclass many other action films of the time.

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Truan Evans: Well, if you thought GoldenEye would be all the better for an extra dollop of cheese, I guess Tomorrow Never Dies is just the film for you. When GoldenEye at least tried very hard, and not without some success, to breathe new life into a waning franchise, Tomorrow Never Dies plays it very safe, relying on stock clichés; it’s crammed full of more painful puns and smarmy double-entendres than Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, whilst ramping up the silliness and removing any palpable sense of urgency or threat.

Tomorrow Never Dies brings some ‘fresh’ ideas to the table: quirky new gadgets (including a ‘state-of-the-art’ 90’s cell phone/remote control!), a spunky new Asian partner in crime, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), and a media mogul villain obsessed with gaining power through networks and ratings, Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) – a bit like the twisted lovechild of Steve Jobs and Rupert Murdoch. They all either seem very dated, or, not necessarily for a lack of trying on the part of Yeoh and Pryce, come across as ill-explored and/or stereotypical tropes due to the general half-arsedness of the plot. Carver in particular just comes across as a comical corporate media bogeyman like Ellsworth Toohey or something.

The film’s theme song really sets the note that’ll resound throughout: It’s a bit dull, cheesy, meandering and it doesn’t make much sense, though the full version works much better for me.

One of TND‘s biggest weaknesses is an over-dependence on expository threats. From early on in the film, we’re presented with the threat to a precariously kept world peace resulting from the sinking of a HMS Devonshire apparently by Chinese forces, with hawkish Admiral Roebuck (Geoffrey Palmer) recommending strong-arm tactics whilst M (Dench) recommends conciliation and investigation. But, since we already know Carver is behind the attacks, and since everybody in the know, including Bond, already think it’s him, there really is no investigative aspect at all.

Bond and Wai just turn up, seduce Carver and his wife (Teri Hatcher) respectively, get caught and proceed to mess shit up. Meanwhile, despite the apparent ’48 hours till doomsday’ scenario, neither side, especially the Chinese, show any real presence save as blips on radar screens and one solitary frigate. Furthermore, neither side really have any obvious motivation for the said conflict, beyond vague retaliation, and there’s a glaring lack of discussion or contact between the two allegedly opposing sides. The action scenes can be impressive, like the chase across Ho Chi Minh City (actually shot in Bangkok), but they generally punctuate what is otherwise a pretty lifeless affair.

What is worse, Brosnan just comes as untouchable; nothing fazes him or even makes an impression. When he finds his one-time lover Paris Carver lifeless in a hotel room, he looks more like someone who’s come home to a ruined dinner than someone who’s found a loved one murdered. Both Bond and Wei project an, almost camp, air of invincibility, ploughing through waves of henchmen like an afterthought. The over-abundance of kung-fu only makes this come across as yet more silly and the villains spend laughable amounts of time informing Bond, as per norm, just how efficient they are at killing. Oh, the irony.

The film’s a tired example of the tried and tested Bond formula, replete with a not-so-imminent lurking catastrophe, not-so deadly villains and henchmen and bursting at the seams with a masterclass in awful innuendo. It doesn’t go all-out for pace and thrills like Skyfall or even GoldenEye, nor is it a well-nuanced slow burner like From Russia with Love; it’s just thoroughly run-of-the-mill.

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