We’ve seen all kinds of villains face off against James Bond. Delusional magnates, greedy golfers, drug dealers, Voodoo practitioners, cat-petting dictators. The one thing they all have in common is the irritating habit of lecturing Bond about their grand evil scheme when they should be shooting him in the head. What they don’t realise is that Bond is never interested. In Tomorrow Never Dies, the eighteenth Bond movie, the villain does it again, but this time, he has a good reason for it: He’s a media mogul.
Don’t media moguls always want to tell their story before it actually happens? Don’t they want their headlines in the papers before the tragedy strikes? Elliot Carver certainly does. He wants to take over the world… with the news. Or at least he just wants exclusive broadcasting rights in China. But this is a James Bond movie, which means the bad guy must, in some way, involve nuclear weapons. And so Elliot does. He steals missiles from a British ship and threatens to fire them at China in an attempt to start a new world war with him in the front row recording it as it happens. China will think Britain’s the culprit; Britain will think China’s the culprit. And Elliot will come out the winner. It’s nothing new.
He is played by Jonathan Pryce, who makes a wonderfully sinister villain. He can tweak and turn his voice to make himself sound evil, and his eyebrows rise and twitch as if he’s just witnessed something very pleasing. He knows how to sell an idea to big shots around the world, but when it comes to actually doing bad guy stuff, he’s about as competent as a plumber tiling a roof. He just isn’t imposing enough. His right hand man, Mr. Stamper, would’ve made a more menacing villain if he wasn’t already running around doing the dirty work. He is the muscle; Elliot is the brains. Imagine if the two had somehow melded into one. Now that would’ve made a good villain.
Pierce Brosnan returns for a second time as 007, and if possible, he seems more assured in the role. He doesn’t need to think about what to say or do, he just says and does them, with minimal effort and maximum efficiency. The corny one-liners roll off his tongue as if they’ve always been stored in a little pouch in his throat. They’re not good, of course, but they’re effortless. He knows how to behave in fight scenes, and this time, he’s joined by Michelle Yeoh, a Chinese agent who can definitely take on a group of charging men and still come out unscathed. She’s something of a kung fu expert, and if it ever came down to her against Bond, I’d give Bond a couple of semi-autos. Unfortunately, she doesn’t make a good Bond Girl. She can fight, and sit on a BMW motorcycle backwards, but she shares no chemistry with Brosnan, and (this isn’t a stab at her nationality) her accent prevents some of her lines from hitting the right emotional pitch. I would’ve preferred seeing Teri Hatcher’s character play out for the rest of the movie.
So the plot’s in place, the villain is there, and Bond and his girl are ready to rumble. How do they all come together? The movie’s directed by Roger Spottiswoode, whom I’ve never heard of before, and he treats Tomorrow Never Dies not as an elegant action drama, but as a series of incredible stunts that aim to etch themselves forever in our minds. Bond and Wai Lin (Yeoh) leap over a helicopter on their bike, from one building to the rooftop of another, after being chased by naughty henchmen around the streets of Saigon. They also grab hold of a giant banner and ride its length down the side of a skyscraper. And what, I am sure, is one of BMW’s most ludicrous product placements sees Bond in his new high-tech car speeding around a multi-storey carpark as he controls it from the backseat by way of his portable remote control. We remember what the stunts are, not why they’ve happened. And that is the movie’s biggest fault. It doesn’t turn Bond into an action hero — like one of the future installments does — but it replaces all the elegance that Bond should have with a whole lot of explosions and machine gun fire (none of which hits Bond, and there are at least three separate occasions where the bad guys are raining bullets down on him, sometimes at very close range).
I enjoyed Elliot’s stealth ship and the whole media angle, but I was ultimately left underwhelmed by the movie’s lack of sophistication. James Bond is one of cinema’s most sophisticated characters. Sure, not all the movies portray him this way, but he is. Tomorrow Never Dies removes the sophistication and replaces it with martial arts.
Best Moment | Gerard Butler’s cameo.
Worst Moment | The lack of logic in some of the scenes, as when Bond and Wai Lin approach the stealth boat head-on, and none of the people aboard the boat can see them.