Construction isn't exactly Matthew Kresal's speciality...
After two highly successful films it was clear that Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond had definitely caught on with both the public and critics alike. For a series that had been in ill-health for a good chunk of the 1990s, Bond looked ready to enter the 21st century in as secure a position as ever. Yet Tomorrow Never Dies had been criticized for its lack of plot and so perhaps taking this criticism on board brought a change of pace for Brosnan’s third Bond film, The World Is Not Enough. In came acclaimed director Michael Apted, better known for dramas and having not directed a full blown action film before, ensuring this film would be a more character driven but no less action packed affair all around.
The change starts with Brosnan’s 007. While Brosnan had certainly proven he could handle both the action and more “acting” moments in his previous films, here he is given the chance to show his acting chops. This Bond harkens back in some ways to Dalton’s Bond: a tough but vulnerable man of action caught up in a world where nobody is quite what they seem. The vulnerability is partly physical (the shoulder injury incurred at the end of the pre-titles sequence) and partly emotional as witnessed in the film’s last hour or so. Bond here is no less tough or action capable, but Brosnan finds the right balance between the two, excelling throughout and proving he is more than an amalgamation of his predecessors. The result then is perhaps Brosnan’s best performance as Bond.
Far less successful is Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards. While Richards definitely has the looks (and, let's be honest, the wardrobe) to be in a Bond film, she lacks the acting talent to pull off the nuclear physicist role believably. The character of Jones is given a ton of exposition and Richards, try though she might, simply spits them out as fast as she can as though she might forget them at any moment. It’s hard to tell if the role is badly written or if Richards is simply the most miscast Bond girl since Tanya Roberts in A View To A Kill, but Richards’ Christmas Jones is the one bad spot on an otherwise good cast.
Far more successful is Sophie Marceau as Elektra King and Robert Carlyle as Renard. Marceau in particular shines throughout, given one of the best written female roles in any Bond film and quite possibly the best since Tracy three decades earlier. One imagines that, in the hands of a lesser actress, like her co-star Richards, the role of Elektra and the plot twist that comes with her would simply fail to be convincing. But Marceau makes the role believable as she plays two very different versions of the same character, switching for the film’s back half. It also helps that she shares some good chemistry with Brosnan which also allows her to outshine Richards as well. Carlyle also excels as the films villain, the character being built up until his first appearance when the movie is almost half over. But while he might not be physically impressive at first, Carlyle proves himself to be more than a match for Bond in both brawn and brain. Like Marceau, he makes an unlikely twist (his own injury) seem not only credible but cool as well.
The supporting cast is strong as well. Judi Dench’s M has her largest role yet and is given far more of a character than any of her male predecessors across sixteen films. Robbie Coltrane returns as Valentin Zukovsk and has far more screen time than in Goldeneye, which he makes the most of. Also of note are Serena Scott Thomas as Dr. Molly Warmflash, Ulrich Thomsen as Davidov and John Cleese as R. Last but not least is of course Desmond Llewelyn, making his final appearance as gadget master Q. He is given a proper send off with one of the film’s most memorable moments. The result is an overall strong cast.
Unlike Tomorrow Never Dies, which was arguably action driven to a fault, The World In Not Enough is a far more character driven story. Both the script and Apted’s direction bring this out following the film’s opening credits and the themes of both vulnerability and trust. As a result, this film presents us a Bond who is perhaps at his most vulnerable and, as a result, more than willing to be cold blooded. The characters around him (minus Christmas Jones) feel far more fleshed out just at a script level than those in Tomorrow Never Dies. Also, the film’s plot, with its focus on oil and terrorism, is incredibly relevant more than fifteen years after its release. Keeping that in mind, plus its focus on characterization and the way the movie opens, The World Is Not Enough feels more and more in retrospect like a test run for the Craig films that were to follow.
That isn’t to say that this film is any less action driven. The pre-credit sequence alone contains not one but two stunt filled sequences featuring both Bond’s escape from a Swiss bankers office in Spain, a terrorist attack at MI6 and a boat chase up the Thames in its aftermath. It’s both the series’ lost opening sequence and quite possibly its best as well. From there we are treated to a ski sequence echoing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and numerous firefights ranging from a missile silo to a caviar factory. The film ends with a fight sequence with echoes of the climatic scene from Thunderball, though not quite as memorable. These sequences, combined with the more character driven moments, makes this one of the best paced of the Bond films.
So where does all that leave this film? It features Brosnan at his best as 007, it has a strong cast for the most part and it finds the right balance between its characters and its action sequences. As a result then, The World Is Not Enough is easily the best film of the Brosnan era.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.
James Bond will return next Thursday...