The World is Not Enough

  • world_is_not_enough_ver4Year:  1999
  • Director:  Michael Apted
  • Series Rank:  #19
  • Year Rank:  #97
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Bond Girl:  Denise Richards (Christmas Jones)
  • Bond Villain:  Sophie Marceau (Electra King), Robert Carlyle (Renard), Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Cigar Girl)
  • Bond Support:  Judi Dench (M), Samantha Bond (Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Robbie Coltrane (Zukovsky), John Cleese (R)

In Tomorrow Never Dies the plot and major villain were weak and the Bond girl was great.  The plot here is decent enough, the villains are not particularly good and the Bond girl is a complete disaster.  So what is it that saves this film itself from being a complete disaster?  Partially it’s Brosnan himself, so determined and athletic, preventing the film from falling into the almost-parody of the later Roger Moore films.  Partially it’s the supporting cast, really stepping up.  And partially it’s the presence of some good action sequences, including one of the best ever done in a Bond film on some very unfamiliar territory.

This film begins with what is, by far, the longest pre-credits sequence.  It was originally going to be much shorter but it was decided that the initial scene wasn’t a big enough bang and so the whole boat chase was moved before the title scene.  That both works and doesn’t.  It works because this sequence is not only one of the great chase scenes in Bond history – Bond leaping out of MI-6 headquarters in a rocket-powered boat and then giving chase down the River Thames (including cutting through a canal and across a street to cut her off) – but because in all of the Bond films up until this point we rarely see much of London.  Bond gets his assignment and then is jetting off all across the world.  This chase makes great use of the city – it is a stark contrast against the never-ending boat chase from Live and Let Die – it begins with Bond trying to correct his mistake and it ends with the acknowledgement that Bond is indeed human and can be hurt.  The downside to placing it before the credits is that nothing that comes afterwards is nearly as good.

marceaurobertcarlylebond1The film’s main villain is Renard, a terrorist who can not feel pain and whose plan involves (eventually) blowing up Istanbul to prevent Russian oil from reaching the West and forcing the West to rely on the pipeline of Elektra King.  Renard is played by Robert Carlyle, who was so good as the psychopath Begbie in Trainspotting and as a blue-collar divorced dad in The Full Monty, but here his accent goes in and out and he never really seems menacing in spite of his inability to feel pain (that accounts for him being able to take on Bond, which at least pushes him ahead of Jonathan Pryce from Tomorrow Never Dies).  It’s also not helped that Sophie Marceau plays Elektra King fairly badly.  She’s on a mission of revenge (there’s a complicated back story, but she starts as an ally of M and a Bond girl but turns out to be a villain in a move so obvious that Veronica guessed it before she even appears for the second time on film) but she can’t seem to work up any real emotions.

the_world_is_not_enough_20890_mediumThe good thing that comes out of her mission of revenge is that we get a lot more of Judi Dench as M.  It won’t be until the Craig films where Bond and M really bond but getting her out into the field and relying on Bond makes things more interesting.  There is also Robbie Coltrane returning as Zukovsky, and that’s good because he at least can have a consistent (and good) Russian accent.  When he walks into a room and Bond pulls a gun on him from behind, he replies “Can’t you just say hello, like a normal person?”  Every time he’s on screen he brings a smile to my face and he did even the first time I saw this film, two years before he started playing Hagrid.  Moneypenny gets a few more scenes in this one as well, instead of just the standard one interaction with Bond.  This film also has the final appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q.  It was obvious from the grooming of his replacement (John Cleese – prompting Bond to quip “If you’re Q, does that make him R”?) and the way he exits, that this would be his last appearance as Q and sadly he would die just a month after the film’s premiere.

Denise Richards as Christmas JonesBut none of the supporting characters can save this film from Denise Richards.  I can’t imagine what idiot thought she would make a good Bond girl, but it’s not as stupid as making her a nuclear physicist.  Now, I am a believer that it doesn’t matter how old you are, but how old you can realistically seem on film.  The year before, Richards, at 27, had played a high schooler in Wild Things and seemed realistic.  But here, I don’t buy her as having a PhD for a second.  She is far and away the most awful Bond girl and even her knowledge is worthless.  She supposedly must be around for the conclusion, but she gets knocked down (“She’s completely worthless!” Veronica yelled) and does nothing to actually defuse anything.  But that’s just one part of the problem here.

Just before we rush into the big climax of the film, we get a moment where Elektra King says to Bond “You could have had the world.”  That line comes out of nowhere, since she’s never actually offered Bond anything, always viewing him as her enemy, so when could he have had the world?  Thankfully, you can get past that line, when he replies “The world is not enough.”  “Foolish sentiment,” she tells him.  “Family motto.”  It is the family motto, of course, as anyone who remembers On Her Majesty’s Secret Service will know.  But that moment, followed by Zukovsky’s decision that stopping this plot is more important than revenge are the last good moments in the film.

There is a bomb that is going to blow up Istanbul.  But it’s in a submarine.  Yet, when Bond and Christmas Jones (yes, that’s her name, and I suspect it’s in there just for the worst pun ever) escape, supposedly the water will contain the explosion.  So why did they need to stop it?  Wouldn’t it have just not worked?  The whole end of the film is a mess, with Jones being worthless, Bond having a fight that’s pretty uninteresting and then a terrible conclusion, complete with that horrible final last line that I feel I should repeat so you know that you can basically stop watching after Zukovksy’s shot and not have to actually hear Bond say it: “I thought Christmas only came once a year.”