17 June 2009

The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day

Visuals and Played Style Taint The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day

By Kristin Battestella

Initially, I began writing two separate reviews for 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and 2002’s Die Another Day. After viewing Brosnan’s final two Bond pictures in one night, however, I found my writing so darn negative, similar, and depressing that I combined my commentaries. Do I really want to talk about all the wrongs in these Bond pictures? It just hurts so much!

After losing an assassin in Spain, 007 James Bond (Brosnan) returns to London. Unfortunately, he unwittingly facilitates the death of oil guru Robert King (David Calder, Bramwell), an old friend of MI 6 boss M (Judi Dench). Fearing an assassination attempt or another kidnapping of King’s daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau), Bond protects Elektra as she oversees her father’s vision of a cross continental oil pipeline. Bond tracks down former KGB agent Renard (Robert Carlyle) and uncovers ties to Russian mobster Valentin Zuchovsky (Robbie Coltrane). When Renard steals a nuclear bomb, American physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) helps Bond recover the stolen plutonium.

The Word Is Not Enough makes unique strides in its action packed and plot critical pre opening sequence. It’s the series’ longest opener at nearly fifteen minutes; and the slick assassinations, touches of MI 6 proper, and sweet boat chase make time fly here. However, I have to say I’m a little tired of snow sequences and skiing and parachute action. It’s been done so many times in these movies alone. It’s not cool anymore. It’s not nearly as action oriented-perhaps over actioned- as the subsequent Die Another Day or Craig’s updated pictures, but The World is Not Enough makes no new action attempts, either.

An international cross continental pipeline and Stockholm Syndrome, nuclear warheads and cute doctors, wow- The World Is Not Enough pulled out all the stops, didn’t it. House writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Bruce Feirstein’s plot starts off strong but meanders with double talk drivel and a mishmash of devices and locations. Onscreen titles tell us whether we’re in Kazakhstan or Turkey or Spain, but at some point, it doesn’t matter to me where the action’s at. Most of The World Is Not Enough is predictable and redundant. By time something interesting happens-like the kidnap of M- it’s just too unbelievable and too weak for the audience to care. It’s global! It’s nuclear! No its not, its pieces of every other Bond picture. The World Is Not Enough is very superficial. Real oil crisis, nuclear intrigue, and Stockholm Syndrome analysis never happen. Though not one of the franchise’s best, the title song is fine, as are the nineties psychedelic titles. It’s all so ho hum though, like The World Is Not Enough itself; not super bad, but not enough to stand out either. Really, I don’t even know who Garbage is.

Now, as much as we love Pierce Brosnan and love Pierce Brosnan as Bond, he seems to have peaked with his debut in Goldeneye and gone downhill since. Brosnan is on form here, and the bland nature of The World Is Not Enough is not his fault. The humor, innuendo, and quips are all there; but the story and script relegate Bond to a blind bodyguard. How did he not see through Elektra King from the start? Sure, he gets his fun, and villains always say that women are his weakness-but Bond isn’t usually so, well, duped. This, his shoulder injury and the youth of Christmas Jones make Brosnan’s Bond appear far older than he really is. Is he that dumb, out of practice, and far from his prime? Of course not, but the story and action in The World Is Not Enough would have us think so. Some love to hate Roger Moore’s tenure-but his films seem to alternate between horrendously bad and really, really good. Unfortunately, Brosnan’s four pictures slowly meander in story, become slaves to action, and don’t do him justice.

Like Brosnan, I really love Judi Dench (As Time Goes By, Shakespeare In Love) and I really love her hard ass M. Nevertheless, attempts to put M into the main plot of a picture don’t seem to work. Her abduction happens way to easy, and seeing such a posh and classy lady in a dingy cell isn’t dangerous, it’s laughable. Thankfully, the humor with Q and John Cleese’s R is better. A bit obvious yes with a Monty Python alum, but its fun to see someone who’s as dorky and somehow charming as Q. Tragically, this is Desmond Llewelyn’s final picture, but he’s a delight as always. While it’s understandable to have the gadgetry scene and it’s a stretch this time around for more M; but where the heck is Moneypenny? I’d like more of her and MI 6’s easy doctor, Molly Warmflash. Great name and intelligence from Serene Scott Thomas; she’s believable as a doctor and still smokin’. It would have been great fun to see her become a regular. It’s also nice to see M’s aides Robinson (Colin Salmon, Dinotopia) and Bill Tanner (Michael Kitchen, Foyle’s War) both return. I suppose we can have too many house players hogging a picture, but with an increased M and MI 6 headquarters, The World Is Not Enough misses another opportunity in expanding these players.

Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King is the series’ first true female villain, but it’s not as if we haven’t had bad girls and twisted henchwomen before. I don’t think any onscreen explanation is given for her French accent, but its okay. Her delivery is authentic and believable. It’s certainly better than all the dub jobs of old. There’s an explanation for it, but her big ass odd earrings annoy the heck out of me. Marceau (Braveheart) is beautiful and sexy and in some ways Bond’s female match, that’s all that matters. Unfortunately, The World Is Not Enough again strays from what could be so good. By time we get to the supposedly sexually angsted final confrontation between Elektra and Bond, it’s a little anticlimactic.

I like Robert Carlyle in his comedy work like The Fully Monty but his Renard is one of dumbest villains in the franchise. It’s not the bullet in the brain and no pain touches-though they are silly enough-but Carlyle’s style and accent just don’t seem badass enough here. When watching, I kept expecting him to peel off the bullet scar, say ‘Cheers’ and eat it. Also unbelievable is Denise Richards (Wild Things, Starship Troopers) and her Dr. Christmas Jones. Like bootylicious Tanya Roberts in A View to A Kill, Richards’ is too young and her delivery to marshmallow to be scientific. Her Tomb Raider short shorts and cropped top are also ridiculous. If she’s there to look at, then don’t try to deny it. Bond pictures are the one place where its okay-nay it’s preferred and expected to have completely superficial women. Besides, for however smart they try to make Christmas, she’s still the damsel in distress. Always crying for James, isn’t she? Much time is also spent on the second series appearance of Robbie Coltrane’s (Harry Potter) Valentin Zukovsky, but this is also a rehash and uncharming attempt by Feirstein to recapture the wit of Goldeneye. One time Bond director Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter) should have kept the focus on Bond and Elektra-creating a strong antagonistic relationship instead of these supposedly important people.

Fans of the cast will of course enjoy The World Is Not Enough, as will die hard Bondafiles regardless of this missed boat. I feel bad for younger folks who say they grew up with Brosnan as Bond. If you think this is the finer point of the franchise, then you are sorely mistaken. I suppose straight action fans might enjoy this outing and its nuclear intrigue, but unfortunately, middle of the road fans are somewhat left out by this middle of the pack Bond picture. After a night with The World Is Not Enough, I can see how audiences felt tired by this long-standing series and thought Bond needed time to cool and re-establish itself

The trouble is, the franchise went from bad to worse with Brosnan’s final picture, Die Another Day. In this 20th James Bond picture, 007 is captured and tortured in North Korea after the apparent death of General Moon’s (Kenneth Tsang, Parental Guidance) son Colonel Tan Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee, Witchblade). Bond is traded for Moon’s captured assistant Zao (Rick Yune) and escapes the custody of M (Judi Dench) as he plots his revenge. In Cuba, he crosses paths with NSA agent Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson (Halle Berry) and traces a series of diamonds to British playboy Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). At a special gala in Iceland, the truth about Graves and Bond’s revenge is revealed.

Like its predecessor, Die Another Day meanders like a montage of every other Bond picture. I really liked the touches of 40th Anniversary specialness in Q’s laboratory, but yes, the invisible Aston Martin is just too much. This isn’t the sixties films, where we can blame such travesties on it being an old picture. Give Bond the Batmobile complete with a Robin saying ‘Holy Invisible Aston Martin, James!’ why don’t you. The knife in the shoe, the jetpack-even the simple use of series staples like ‘Universal exports’ is all that’s needed to honor 40 years of films. Can’t you just do what makes the series good? I would trade one allusion to the hat toss over all the ice palace magic and chases. After the first five minutes, the ice chase wasn’t cool-The Living Daylights did it better. (Nobody does it better…)

Die Another Day starts off well enough, too, with a fine pre title sequence and the torture montage stylized within the titles. Very neat, we think we’re going somewhere Bond hasn’t really gone before-and then, we hear the theme song. Only modern pups who like hip hop electronic gibberish can rate this as one of the series’ top songs-the same crowd that doesn’t know of any other Bond before Brosnan. I thought the blu-ray disc was skipping! Madonna’s woeful title song is another sign of the series’ recent reliance on product placement and marketing to the MTV generation. It’s supposed to be so hip and edgy, but in the end it’s just bad. I much prefer ‘Beautiful Stranger’, Madonna’s song for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. How ironic. Die Another Day does look great on blu-ray, but the sound was so agitating- big explosions and music over such soft voices. Sure, this is often a technical issue with most systems, but it’s also more writing on the wall that stock writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade’s story is less important.

Die Another Day was moved to 2002 to hit the 40 years of Bond exactly, but its Korean locales and sentiments seemed to come at just the wrong time. Again, we’re given some serious political intrigue with such promise; it’s modern and realistic, but a little too much, too. How can we take the pros and cons of Korean unification seriously when its hidden behind invisible cars, ice castles, mirrored satellites, and a General’s son stomping his foot while pretending to be a white boy? Whew, I think I lost myself there for a moment. If this is the film, I’d rather have Moneypenny’s VR sex romp, too.

I don’t care for Toby Stephens in Sharpe’s Challenge and I certainly don’t care for him here. It doesn’t bode well for a Bond when we prefer the villain over him, but it’s worse for the picture if the villain is useless all together. Spoiled adventurer Graves is too obviously going to get his wings burned like Icarus. We get it already! Rick Yune’s (The Fast and Furious) Zao is a far better villain, with freaky eyes and diamonds embedded in his face. This guy looks scary-he’s the one we want to be put down by Bond. Graves is just a spoiled little rich boy with big toys to over compensate for his daddy complex. Should I make a joke about Toby Stephens only getting anywhere in film because his mother is Maggie Smith? Nah.

Of course it’s fake, but Brosnan works the shaggy hair, itching beard, and prison scrubs to perfection. If the movie sucks, again it’s not his fault. Brosnan has the suave believability as well as the spy charm, and we can like him as Bond while admitting most of his tenure was ho-hum. Brosnan keeps his Bond mannerisms on form regardless of how realistic (like the Korean torture) or unrealistic (like that frigging car) things get. We watch Die Another Day because we want to see Brosnan’s Bond make it out of this picture unscathed. It was director Lee Tamahori (Along Came a Spider, Next, XXX) that let us down. The balance between the hyperbole and Bond’s revenge is just too askew.

While I don’t dislike Oscar winner Halle Berry, I’m not swooning over her Jinx, either. Dramatically, Berry’s fine, and many Bond fans think Jinx is one of the coolest and badass Bond Girls ever. However, I find her roles in action films off somehow. Berry seems out of place as Storm in the X-Men series, and in Die Another Day, it seemed like her Jinx wasn’t even in the room when the doody hit the fan. The romance and innuendo are on, but the supposedly water rise show stopper is the film’s obvious ‘homage’ to Honey Ryder, and the backwards dive in the hot pink bikini is such bad CGI it’s not even funny. In the supposedly so serious laser battle, can you honestly tell me it doesn’t look like Berry’s scenes weren’t filmed on different days? She’s hot and sexy and all that, but Jinx is another attempt to smarten and mature a Bond Girl, and it just doesn’t work. I never though I’d prefer Madonna over Halle Berry, but her uncredited fencing instructor Verity works far better than Jinx. She looks good, makes sex jokes with Bond, and provides him villainous information that brings him one step closer in the cat and mouse at hand. Madonna serves her purpose and departs in five minutes. Not bad.

There are a few fine things in Die Another Day, don’t get me wrong. Judi Dench makes the most of her M here. She struggles to keep the political and international peace while secretly supporting James. As skeptical as M may seem, we know deep down her tough love is also on Bond’s side. Equally complex- if underutilized- is Rosamund Pike (Pride and Prejudice) as Miranda Frost. Again, the simple formula of using a double entrĂ©e name goes a long way. She hot, she’s uptight, there’s ice. It’s a shame that Tamahori and the media upstaged this fine Bond Girl for the mediocrity of Jinx. Though he’ll never be Desmond Llewelyn, John Cleese’s first official film as Q has the wit and class of his predecessor. Again, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The quiet ‘I never joke about my work’ does wonders in tribute to all the fun and wizardry of Q’s long standing relationship with 007.

On that note, it’s also great fun to simply hear the various mixes of the James Bond Theme and hints of other music associated with the series. And humor! Some of the innuendo is corny and forced, yes, but it’s these little Bondisms that are lacking in Craig’s tenure. If you stick to what makes Bond, well, Bond, you can take a mish-mashed picture like Die Another Day-or even a not too bad picture like the subsequent reboot Casino Royale- and make it something truly great. Despite some pretty awful pictures over these forty plus years, we’re still talking about Bond movies for a reason. Stop copying Bourne and give us the good stuff!

Bond collectors surely own The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day on DVD, but the numerous editions and pricey blu-ray sets are not for the casual fan. Brosnan lovers and fans of the casts can find what they’re looking for cheap enough, but again; I drive my husband insane with my complaints regarding the uneven sets and staggered blu-ray releases. Can the pups who only like Brosnan as Bond buy a single set of his four films alone? No. Mainstream action audiences might enjoy the visuals, fast pacing, and plot loss of The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, but Bond fans can certainly find better pictures in the Eon canon. Intelligent viewers, unfortunately, should stay far, far away. Holy Bad Bond Reviews, James!

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