James Bond Overdose Part 18 – Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Elated by the success of Goldeneye (which ousted Moonraker as the highest grossing Bond film up until that point), folks at MGM were eager to continue their winning streak. And aside from the fact that this one was up against Titanic which broke all the box office records, it’s pretty good. It’s not as good as Goldeneye in that it feels less cohesive, and complex, but it’s a fun, entertaining action film with a great cast.

Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), the worldwide media mogul, is manipulating events in China in order to start another world war, one which will cause people all over the world to flock to his newspapers and media networks for the latest news, of which he will have exclusive coverage. It’s up to James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), who has joined forces with the Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), to stop Carver before things escalate out of control.

It’s a fun, straightforward plot. Unlike in Goldeneye, there’s no complex backstory aside from Bond’s past romance with Carver’s wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher). There’s no secret identities, as we know Carver’s behind it all by the first post-credits scene. Much like in The Spy Who Loved Me or Thunderball, it’s more of a matter of how the villain will be defeated. There’s really not much else going on. Whereas Goldeneye had the big reveal of the identity of Janus, there’s not much like that here. And, I’m not too bothered by that. It’s a fun movie. Sure, it’s riddled with cliches and plot holes, but let’s be realistic here: which Bond movie isn’t?

The action sequences are top notch. Lots of chases and escapes, though not much to really write home about. I do love the pre-credits sequence in which Bond saves the day while M fights with Britain’s military leaders to get them to understand that her trust in Bond’s ability to do his job is not unfounded. The two of them have come a long way from their tense bickering in Goldeneye. We’ve only had Judi Dench as M for two films so far and she’s already an integral part of the whole series.

Regarding the music, this is where Bond finds its footing again. It’s been a while since a Bond film has had a truly excellent score. John Barry’s later Bond scores were ok, but didn’t really stick with you the way his incredible score for Thunderball does. It was not a great movie, but Barry’s score for Moonraker was excellent, probably his last really memorable score. After that, it was a bit of an orchestral desert until David Arnold, the man who gave us the scores for Stargate, and Independence Day, stepped into Barry’s shoes (at the recommendation of Barry himself). And we are so glad he did. The music is multilayered and well done, incorporating Bond’s signature tune here and there without really treading on Barry’s toes. This is definitely something new. I like Arnold’s scores because, like John Williams, he really sees a score as a big canvas on which he can work with many thematic elements. So many recent film scores tend to just be one theme repeated ad nauseum in a fast and slow variation, or a percussive series of chords and arpeggios. Arnold’s scores really feel like orchestral works that can stand on their own.

The only blah element is Sheryl Crow’s theme. It’s not that bad, really. It just feels out of place, in that it wasn’t done in collaboration with Arnold and is therefore never referenced in his score. Also, compared to the song Arnold himself did with k. d. lang, it pales in comparison. lang’s end-credits song, “Surrender” is not only a glorious homage to Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones, but it feels so much more like a Bond title song. Apparently the film’s producers wanted Sheryl Crow to do the song because she was more popular at the time, but Arnold felt that the best Bond title songs in past years were the ones that were done in collaboration with the composer (think “Diamonds are Forever” or “Live and Let Die”). Arnold lost that argument and his own superior theme was relegated to the end credits, which is a shame, because it’s fantastic. Crow’s more angsty, whiny theme does work well with Daniel Kleinman’s title animation, though. I like the surreal homage to the explosion of technology in the internet age and the transparency of people’s lives that it leads to (suggested by the x-ray shots of the gun firing).

Getting back to the movie itself, I like how it really draws on elements that worked well in previous Bond films. It does make for a bit of deja vu, but it’s not as silly as one would think. The stealth boat recalls Stromberg’s submarine-stealing tanker ship, especially when fighting breaks out inside it. Mr. Stamper (Götz Otto) seems to be a vicious reincarnation of Red Grant and any number of Aryan-esque thugs the series has returned to time and again. The search for the missiles in the sunken ship recalls a similar scene in For Your Eyes Only. But overall, it didn’t seem to be an unimaginative rehashing of old themes, but rather an homage to the series, and a way to show that Bond will always be fun, no matter which decade you’re watching. Die Another Day will try to do this same thing later on and will fail miserably, but that’s a story for another post. All in all, the plot feels familiar, but not boring.

Carver is an excellent villain. This was my first introduction to the fantastic Jonathan Pryce (who’s been awesome long before he starred in this film). It’s nice to have a slightly insane maniacal villain in the vein of Blofeld and Stromberg. He’s flamboyant and over the top, and Pryce chews the scenery with gusto. There’s no tragic backstory or hidden secret. He’s just a symbol of the media gone mad with power, toppling governments and manipulating economies to further his own goals, all with the enthusiasm of a circus ringleader. And when he gets angry and quiets down, you know things are about to get bad for whomever has made him mad. He’s just an all around fun villain, and I can’t help but like him.

In terms of Bond’s female costars, Teri Hatcher does the best she can with a pretty uninteresting character. Paris and Bond have good chemistry and it seems completely plausible that they have a romantic history, but Paris is only really there to add temporary drama, and so there’s not much substance to the character. Even Hatcher herself has been quoted as saying that she regretted accepting the part because of how simple the role was. but Hatcher does a good job with what she’s given. I just wish she was given more.

Michelle Yeoh, on the other hand, is way too awesome for her own good. I’m a HUGE fan of hers, and it’s no secret that Wai Lin is my all time favorite “Bond Girl” of all time. The term “Bond Girl” seems a little too sexist to me, though, so how about I just call her my favorite Female Bond Costar of all time. She’s strong, smart, is never relegated to window dressing, and is never a damsel in distress. When Bond saves her at the end, their positions could easily have been reversed. She just happened to be the one who was caught first. I’m also a huge fan of her super secret base filled with flamethrowers and weaponry. Overall, I think she’s just the best. She even beats out my beloved Sylvia Trench (I still love you, Sylvia!). She’s very much Bond’s equal, and the two have really great chemistry. The romantic thing thrown in right at the very end seems a bit forced (it’s more of a “So, we both just almost died. Do you wanna…?” “yeah, ok.”), but overall, Bond and Wai work together really well, and it’s a tragic shame that they didn’t get to do more movies together. Sigh.

I don’t think, as a whole, this one is quite as good as Goldeneye, but it is a fun Bond film, up there with The Spy Who Loved Me. I read that the production was pretty troubled at first as the script was sort of written as they went, which caused Anthony Hopkins (the first choice for Carver) to quit. It shows, in that the script has a few open seams showing, but I’m impressed they were able to cobble together such a fun movie with such a shaky script-writing process. So, we should enjoy it. After this, the Pierce Brosnan era starts getting a bit of Roger-Moore-itis as it resorts to increasingly goofy scenarios to appeal to broader and broader audiences. There’s still going to be good stuff here and there, though.

Random Observations

-Spotted a young Gerard Butler as an extra during the Devonshire scene. He has one line, but he’s there!
-The sea drill would not have been that easy to pilot through the ship…
-Moneypenny: “You always were a cunning linguist, James.” *Money penny hangs up the phone, turns around and sees M* “Don’t ask…”
M: “Don’t tell.”
-This BMW is fun, I guess, and we get to see it in action…but… *looks longingly at the beautiful blue roadster from Goldeneye*
-The magic Everything Phone gets a bit sonic screwdriver-y…
-The “edifice complex” quip is so cheesy you can almost see Pierce Brosnan grimace as he says it.
-a helicopter can’t lean forward like that and hover in place…
-“Never argue with a woman. They’re always right.” It’s cute that the filmmakers are trying to atone for the rampant sexism in previous years. It’s a good quote, though.
-sort of ends with them in a boat. Does burning wreckage of a boat count?

I will return, next week, with The World is Not Enough!

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