It took Roger Moore about three-ish movies before things started going seriously downhill. With Pierce Brosnan, apparently it only takes two movies. The World is Not Enough isn’t necessarily a bad movie–it does have lots of great moments–but it’s clear that the magic which made Goldeneye so satisfying and Tomorrow Never Dies so fun is starting to wane. Part of it is a plot which is overly confusing, and part of it is an odd marriage of goofy slapstick humor with intense and rather dark human drama.
After a terrorist attack on MI6 claims the life of a wealthy oil industrialist, M (Judi Dench) assigns James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to protect his daughter, Elektra (Sophie Marceau), fearing that the terrorists will try to target her next. All the while, Elektra is working to maintain her family’s oil pipeline which has come under attack from competing oil companies. But things may not be what they seem.
That summary is the main thrust of the plot, but there are TONS of details propping it up. So many details that, at times, the plot is maddeningly difficult to follow. For example, I still have no idea what actually happens in the pre-credits sequence. Once things devolve into explosions and boat chases, I’m fine, but the conversation between Bond and the Swiss bankers is so densely filled with expository details that won’t make sense until you get further into the plot (or that aren’t relevant to the plot in any way) that the whole scene is a bit bewildering.
That’s the thing about this movie as a whole. I can’t decide if it’s a fantastically intelligent script that fans of more straightforward (translation: cliche) Bond movies like myself just don’t get, or if it’s a convoluted script that tries too hard to be complex to cover up the fact that it’s a pretty standard Bond outing. It’s either brilliant or awkward. It uses a similar villain setup as Goldeneye with a big reveal of the main villain halfway through (and, to be honest, it’s one of this movie’s best scenes), and a similar web of deception and misinformation as did The Living Daylights. The plot is pretty easy to follow once you realize that a lot of the complex exposition and details introduced early on really aren’t that relevant. But, all in all, I didn’t find it to be a very satisfying movie in the way that previous Brosnan entries had been.
The darker villain plot is actually marvelously done, but it seems diluted by a lot of awkward humor sprinkled throughout. Renard is an interesting character (if medically improbable), and Robert Carlyle portrays the sadism and pathos of the character in a way that only Robert Carlyle can (I love you Rumpelstiltskin!) But I feel like his storyline, which is otherwise fantastic, gets lost amidst the rest of the plot, much like how Andrea Anders’ storyline was sidelined in The Man with the Golden Gun.
The action sequences, aside from the fantastic boat chase at the beginning, feel really clunky and forced. The razor blade helicopter attack and the parahawk chase in the mountains just feel like the writers needed something new and couldn’t rally think of anything interesting. Slow moving, parachute-suspended snowmobiles that get easily tangled up in trees don’t really make for a riveting chase scene.
The complex relationship between Bond and Elektra is my favorite part of this movie, despite the silliness surrounding it. Sophie Marceau is a truly accomplished actress, and she never seems goofy or over the top, even though she’s worthy of the melodrama of the Ancient Greek play from which she gets her name. She’s childish and shallow, and then swings towards poignant observations and dark emotions. And Marceau plays every nuance in that wildly swinging pendulum beautifully. I love the character. Elektra is quite possibly the most unique individual Bond has faced thus far, and she really gets under his skin in ways that few other characters, good and bad, are able to. This movie is awkward in many ways, but it’s safe to say that this one character redeems it and makes it worth watching.
While I’m discussing this film’s merits, I do want to point out Q’s absolutely perfect exit. It’s one of those happy accidents where things just work out in ways that weren’t planned. Desmond Llewelyn had said he was planning on coming back to the series if they’d have him, and his tragic death after the film’s release was an unexpected shock, but it really served to make Q’s final scene really touching. After griping and complaining to Bond about the destruction of his boat, there’s a beautiful moment where you see in Bond’s eyes just how much he needs Q, who’s always been a constant in his world. You get the suggestion that when Bond called him Uncle Q in The Living Daylights, it wasn’t just a goofy nickname. Bond needs Q. For all Q’s complaining and gruff behavior, he cares about Bond and Bond respects him as he would an uncle. So, when Q gives Bond those pieces of advice and then vanishes offscreen via secret trap door, the moment becomes the most perfect goodbye those two characters could have. I just love it. It’ll be a while before we get a Q worth stepping into Llewelyn’s shoes.
And finally, the music. David Arnold gives us another good score, peppered with samplings from From Russia with Love. It’s not as memorable as his previous Bond score, but it’s pretty decent. When it comes to Garbage’s title song, I’m dismayed at the slapdash editing it endured to be squeezed into the time constrainsts of the opening credits. It’s an absolutely phenomenal song, one of my favorites, and the version we get in the movie is a pale ghost of it’s unedited glory. On top of that, the opening credit animation is sub par. Oil features prominently, but there’s no depth. The theme is basically just “Oil makes naked women attractive” which is sort of meh. It could have been done better. But do listen to the full version of the title song. It’s glorious. And the music video is fantastic.
-steering a boat through a network of streets is silly, no matter how many rockets you have.
-I love John Cleese, but I don’t like how the writers can’t decide if he’s a goofy klutz or a dry-witted curmudgeon.
-“I hope you know how to ski, then.” Clearly Elektra has never seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, or A View to a Kill.
-Denise Richards. Ugh.
-“Can’t you just say ‘hello’ like a normal person?”
-The pretty BMW gets sliced! Noooooooo!
-Nice to see M getting a lot more to do.
-I wish we’d gotten more Renard.
-“Must be a premature form of the millenium bug…” I wonder how many kids nowadays won’t get that reference. *shakes cane at youngsters*
Next week. Well, things get silly. Die Another Day makes Moonraker seem deep and compelling, by comparison. But we’ll have fun ripping it to pieces!