Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane,
Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, Maria Grazia Cucinotta,
Serena Scott Thomas.
Written by Neil Purvis & Robert Wade.
Directed by Michael Apted.
Review by Carlo Cavagna.
As any true fan knows, the longest running movie franchise in history is not Star Wars or Star Trek, but the continuing adventures of British Secret Agent 007, James Bond. The box-office success of Tomorrow Never Dies having pumped new life into the series, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson assembled one of the biggest-name supporting casts ever to grace a Bond movie in The World Is Not Enough. It features Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting, The Full Monty) as the villainous Renard, British comedian Robbie Coltrane (Henry V, Nuns on the Run) in his second appearance as shady arms dealer and reluctant Bond ally Valentin Zukovsky, ex-Monty Pythoner John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda) as "R," the heir apparent to Desmond Llewelyn's "Q," and, of course, Academy Award Winner® Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown) in her third appearance as 007's boss, "M." Even the "Bond Girls," usually unknowns whose lack of talent condemns them to remain so, have familiar faces–they are Sophie Marceau (Braveheart), Denise Richards (Wild Things), Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Il Postino), and Serena Scott Thomas (Relax... It's Just Sex, and Kristin Scott Thomas' younger sister). To direct, the producers tabbed respected veteran Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorky Park, Gorillas in the Mist).
So why, with all the talent involved, is The World Is Not Enough a mediocre effort? Even diehard Bond fans will have to admit that it is not one of the stronger entries in the series, even by lowered post-Connery standards. The plot is an even greater muddle than usual. Of course, a ridiculous plot is not a major concern in a Bond movie–in fact, it's a requirement. But if you can't understand the villains' goals, then you don't know what the stakes are, and if you don't know what the stakes are, that diminishes the suspense.
In The World Is Not Enough, a rich tycoon named Sir Robert King and his daughter Elektra (Marceau) become the targets of terrorists because Elektra has escaped from kidnappers without her father having paid her ransom. M is King's close friend, so she sends Bond to protect Elektra, who is surveying construction of an oil pipeline through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. Subsequently Bond runs into Renard, a madman who can't feel pain because he has a bullet lodged in his brain, and Dr. Christmas Jones (Richards), a silicone-enhanced nuclear physicist. Beyond that, it's difficult to explain what's going on.
In addition to having an unfathomable plot, The World Is Not Enough seems to just go through the motions, sticking close to the established 007 formula. There's the opening action sequence, then there's a round of meetings with the usual clowns at headquarters, then off Bond goes to fight the world's most nefarious villains and sleep with the world's most beautiful women, until it's time for the final assault on the madman's stronghold. There's also the usual sexual innuendo, the usual gadgets, and the usual martinis–shaken, not stirred. In the best Bond movies, particularly the classic Sean Connery films, all of these elements come together to form campy cheesecake thrillers of the highest order. But in The World Is Not Enough, they never cohere.
Certainly, The World Is Not Enough has its moments. With the exception of the tired ski sequence (we've seen one too many of those), the chase scenes are reasonably exciting. In addition, Cleese promises to be a side-splittingly funny successor to Llewellyn as the gadgets wizard, and Dench is again a welcome change of pace as a tough woman in a position of authority (although in the writers' efforts to give her more to do, they've also made her a more vulnerable figure).
The "Bond Girls" are not as entertaining as Famke Janssen's over-sexed murderess or Michelle Yeoh's kickboxing spy in Brosnan's first two Bond movies (Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, respectively). But they are still a strength. Marceau brings above-average acting skill to her interpretation of a surprisingly complex character (although even Marceau is not quite good enough to make Elektra a believable person), and Richards... ahh, Denise Richards. What can one say about Denise Richards? This artificially pneumatic bubblehead is as close to a cartoon character as you can get without casting Jessica Rabbit. The choice of Richards, young enough to have played high school students in her two most recent films (Wild Things and Drop Dead Gorgeous), to portray a nuclear physicist is brilliant in its absurdity. She's not supposed to be believable. Her hilariously inept delivery of the line, "I've got to get this bomb back or somebody's going to have my butt!" (or something to that effect) is a high point in the film.
Unfortunately, at the movie's center is an empty suit. Pierce Brosnan is more of a prop than an actor. Yes, he makes a better Bond than goofy Roger Moore or uncharismatic Timothy Dalton, but that's not saying much. He's got the looks, the charm and the class, but he lacks Connery's forceful presence. With Connery, you actually believed that he could save the world. He was magnetic, and there was a palpable sense that somewhere underneath his upper class exterior lurked an uncivilized, dangerous man. You knew that he was a match for his opponents. When Connery's Bond was captured, as he inevitably was, it came across as serene self-confidence on his part. He would walk into a den of snakes because he knew he could get himself out again and it was the only way to get close to his target. Instead, when Brosnan's Bond is captured, it seems like he's just clueless.
In the 1960s, James Bond ushered in a new type of movie. Bond's adventures were action thrillers light on substance but heavy on style, and always on the cutting edge of technological innovation. They were the ultimate escape films, and a strong influence on modern action movies, spawning numerous imitations throughout the 1960s and 1970s. But at some point, perhaps beginning with 1979's Moonraker (which shamelessly sought to cash in on the science-fiction craze initiated by Star Wars), or perhaps even earlier with 1973's Live and Let Die (007's foray into Blacksploitation cinema), Bond has been imitating developments in action cinema rather than originating them. While Tomorrow Never Dies benefitted in part from Jonathan Pryce's delicious skewering of Ted Turner and Bill Gates, there's nothing new in The World Is Not Enough. For Bond fans, The World Is Not Enough is an enjoyable, albeit forgettable, night at the movies, but it is not recommended for non-fans. Even diehard Bond aficionados may find themselves thinking, "The formula is not enough."
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