James Bond Retrospective: The World Is Not Enough

Bond celebrates the turn of the millennia with another action-packed thrill ride! In this episode of our retrospective, we will look at:

  • A major subversion to the formula this film embraced.
  • Another look at what happens when a Bond actor ages. Again. For the third time.
  • Discuss the trends in this film that led to its sequel. The film that shall not be named.

Let’s party like it’s 1999 with:

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Over thirty years of dealing with Bond, Q clearly did not take any of his aging tips.

Seeing every Bond film in chronological order can get pretty tiring. They’re largely the same formula, with only a few different elements changed around. One of the famous tropes is Bond falling in love with a person he needs to protect. This is actually one of the better tropes, because it usually means giving the female character development in contrast to other females in the franchise. We mostly see it in good Bond films like For Your Eyes Only (1981) and The Living Daylights (1987). It usually gives Bond a softer edge to him too, he’s not just sleeping with the girl to get some nookie. In these films there’s a tenderness to those specific relationships and Bond shows more vulnerability.

The gimmick of today’s film is that the girl Bond falls in love with protecting is secretly the evil mastermind. The evil mastermind being female is a novel approach in and of itself, but directly tying the villain to Bond in a more visceral way leads to some interesting results.

Let’s dive into…

The Plot

Bond’s not actually very good at manners. See, it’s all about extending the pinky when you hold anything.

A bomb containing oil tycoon Robert King’s money blows up in MI6. King and some innocents die, and Bond chases down the assassin only for her to commit suicide. HQ is momentarily relocated to Scotland, Bond and other MI6 members attend King’s funeral. They meet Robert’s daughter, Elektra King, at the funeral. She had recently escaped a kidnapping attempt, and she is to inherit her father’s empire. They tied the money to known terrorist and Elektra’s kidnapper Viktor “Renard” Zokas. Renard had been attacked by another MI6 agent 009, and has a gunshot wound near his right temple. The bullet is still lodged in his brain, killing him but severing his nerve endings. He no longer feels pain, but he will eventually die.

Because of Renard, M assigns Bond to protect Elektra. He goes to Azerbaijan, where King is installing a new oil pipeline. Bond and Elektra start a relationship, and they are eventually attacked. Bond and Elektra go to a casino owned by Valentin Zukovsky (remember him, from Goldeneye, 1995?) to get information on the attackers. Bond figures out the head of Elektra’s security team, Davidov, works for Renard. He disguises as Davidov and arrives in Kazakhstan to a Russian Nuclear site. He meets a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones (not that bad of a name, all things considered) and catches Renard stealing a GPS locator and plutonium. Before he is able to kill Renard, they talk and eventually the Russians catch Bond in the act of lying. Renard breaks free and all hell breaks loose. Renard takes the plutonium, Bond takes Jones and the GPS locator.

Bond starts to doubt Elektra. He thinks she’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and she’s in love with Renard. Before he can confirm the suspicion, there is a nuclear bomb being put into Elektra’s new oil pipeline. Bond and Jones are sent to disarm it, but when Jones tells Bond that there’s only half of the stolen plutonium there (the bomb is gonna mostly be a dud) Bond decides to let the bomb explode and leaves with Christmas. Elektra, under the assumption Bond is dead and she’s no longer in suspicion, kidnaps M. The reason being that M personally advised Elektra’s father not to give the kidnappers money.

Bond and Jones team up with Zukovsky, who was working with Elektra. Zukovsky gave Elektra a Soviet submarine, and in command is Zukovsky’s nephew. Jones figures out the plan: If the remaining plutonium is put into that submarine’s reactor, the nuclear explosion would destroy Istanbul and the only oil pipeline threatening Elektra’s empire from becoming a monopoly. Renard and his men take over the submarine, murdering Zukovsky’s nephew and his crew.

M activates the GPS locator while she’s in captivity. The Russian command center Bond is hiding in is attacked after a tip to Elektra by Zukovsky’s bodyguard. Elektra takes Bond, and Jones is taken to the submarine. Elektra straps Bond to a weird choking torture device as she interrogates him about relationships and motivations. She doesn’t have Stockholm Syndrome, she uses her body to get what she wants, and when her father didn’t pay for her kidnapping she decided to seduce Renard and take over everything.

Zukovsky survived the attack, and, with what little force he has, storms Elektra’s hideout. In his final moments, Zukovsky curses Elektra for murdering his nephew and frees Bond from his captivity. Bond murders Elektra in front of M and boards the sub. Bond and Jones fight with Renard, Renard goes crazy when he finds out Elektra has died. Bond sabotages Renard and he’s pierced with the plutonium rod. Bond and Jones escape the sinking submarine and save the day, they celebrate and Bond is pleased to say “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”

A Closer Look

Do you think evil bodyguards pay attention? Like, how often do they zone out during exposition scenes?

First, let’s look at the title. The World is Not Enough isn’t a new title nor is it a title from a story. It’s actually the Bond family motto. I think it mainly hints towards the insatiable appetite Bond has for adventure and romance, but it also hints that the material world isn’t enough for satisfaction and the family won’t compromise on virtues. The motto was previously seen and discussed in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

Second, the film lives and dies by its villains. You’ll notice that this is a core principle of the Brosnan films. Alec was a 00 agent turned rogue that had a personal history with James, Carver was a media mogul that was a knock against growing entrepreneurs and a 24/7 news cycle, and this film has the core love interest be the bad guy. That initial subversion is great, Elektra is really cool. Elektra’s actress, Sophia Marceau, rides the line between innocence and malevolence well in her scenes. The first half of that film, however, is structured under that formulaic love story, and when the turn happens Bond drops all pretense for love and the movie loses all gravity. The death of Tracy Bond is hinted at, also hinting towards Bond’s cold demeanor towards love. Bond’s claims that Elektra meant nothing feel a tad too real for any sentimentality found later.

This film also focuses on M’s sins. Dench’s M is beautifully flawed. A number cruncher dedicated to compromise to get the job done. She is cold, yet represents an unyielding maternal force. She believes in Bond with total conviction, though she never admits it to him. She confesses her instincts about one party to another twice in the film. Once, to Elektra about Bond, and once to Bond about Elektra. These instincts aren’t observed by Elektra. Elektra thinks of M as a monster. Bond typically agrees with that assessment in these films, but he sees the opposite of M in this film, and warns M about having too much faith in Elektra. This is a beautiful reversal of dynamics, and every Brosnan film (and indeed, some of the Craig films) does creative things with the M character. It’s also worth noting there’s a portrait of Bernard Lee’s M hanging in the Scotland HQ. Nothing special, just worthy to say. I love continuity.

What’s Good?

Your chair sofa things all around that room are too low to the ground. How is anybody supposed to sit there? That would kill anybody’s knees, you’re better off on the floor.

I like Zukovsky’s return. His scenes are largely mediocre and childish, but Zukovsky is a strong supporting character that reminds the audience of how much Russia has changed and what realities reflect onto Bond.

The chase sequences are the highlight to the film. Bond utilizes a speedy little boat to zip around a larger one and chase an assassin to the ends of the Earth and it’s remarkable. The ski chase (God, how many ski chases have there been in Bond films?) is one of the better ones in the series.

Brosnan has good chemistry with all the female leads of the film, and again Elektra becomes the gravitational center of the film’s appeal.

I appreciate the fact that despite how formulaic the film is, it also tries to shake up the order and details. There’s an extended introduction, the theme doesn’t happen until fifteen minutes in. In that time we go back the HQ and we see it threatened for the first time in a Bond film. It makes everyone more vulnerable, and the change of HQ’s setting is a nice reminder of that vulnerability.

The theme is also okay, all things considered. Garbage played this theme, and the worst part is how average it is. I think the song tries to be epic and sweeping yet foreboding and ominous. The film’s title is the crux of the song here, and they play into the villainous angle the title suggests. What’s better than the song is the accompanying visuals. Still not amazing because a lot of dated effects are used, but this film is much better about incorporating imagery into the title credits than the previous film, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). This film commits to oil as the enduring image, and a sweeping universe orbiting it. This intro covers women in oil much the same way a future Bond film will do it to remind us of Goldfinger (1964). This film certainly has ideas, but nothing ever meshes into a satisfying product.

What’s Bad?

Better than nothing, but worse than a photograph. Welcome to 1999 graphic technology.

Notice that there was over seven years between Licence to Kill (1989) and Goldeneye. After, it was only a two year difference between Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. It was another two year difference between that and this. By this point in the franchise’s lifespan, it should be clear that productions as large as this need time to develop. When you rush, you cut corners.

I think the biggest sign of corners being cut is the action scenes. Most are fabulously made, and I already praised the expansive chase sequences. Yet… The film feels claustrophobic. The film relies on small, cramped sets for a lot of major pieces. There’s a lot of small rooms, a lot of headquarters scenes with heavy dialogue from M and the MI6 supporting cast. The opening starts inside an office room, and ends with Bond zipping only a few stories down. The nuclear site and pipe scene are also intentionally cramped as well. Elektra’s big fortress is… Her bedroom set? Tomorrow Never Dies had a giant naval fortress for its ending climax, and this film’s climax submarine is made up of small rooms and hallways. I actually also like that, there’s a welcome aspect of verticality to the set design, but it still feels like lower stakes, and a small presence.

This is emphasized by the fact that the mastermind is already dead by this point of the film. Elektra’s death was the real climax, Renard isn’t the brains. Hell, he has a bullet in his brain. He’s going to die no matter what, and if the sub explodes yes, people die, but Elektra still wouldn’t gain anything by this point. It’s hard to have the audience care about offscreen peoples in a mostly unimpressive sequence. Most other Bond films save the main villain for the very end, and have the fortress escape be the last moment for them. Renard isn’t a strong enough character for the end of the film.

This is Desmond’s last time playing the Q character. He introduces the new Q, named R for this film, played by John Cleese. I think Q’s final depiction here is the right amount of sentimental and still within character and scene. Q mentions retirement, but doesn’t admit to Bond when it will happen. He merely reminds Bond of some life lessons before escaping. Cleese’s R however, is too broadly comical within the film. Maybe it’s the physicality of making him the dummy that tests Q’s gadgets, maybe it’s the casting, maybe it’s the dialogue he says or the fact that he’s R because Q comes before R. All of it feels dumb and inappropriate.

Did somebody say dumb and inappropriate? Enter Denise Richards. Richards plays Christmas Jones. I don’t necessarily think models can’t play nuclear physicists. This is not the first super model scientist Bond has ever met, but Richards is not that good of an actress and the role isn’t very strong to begin with. First, she’s hinted at being a lesbian. Yep, we are in Pussy Galore territory. The difference is Pussy Galore is cool. Galore is evil, but smart. She’s the smartest character in Goldfinger. Galore’s conversion and sex with Bond is seen as an act of mercy and an ugly moment for Bond. Jones is not written nearly on that same level so the conversion is doubly disgusting. What’s worse is Jones is also bratty, her only real dialogue is exposition or one-liners. Exposition and one-liners are two huge dialogue sins for this franchise and she bears them all.

To speak of the one liners, this film is continuing the sins of the Brosnan era. It tries to utilize new technology that, by modern standards, looks laughable. Bond uses CRT monitors like they’re the touch screen computers your parents bought last year. The 3D effects for Renard’s introduction look worse than Playstation 2 graphics. Every character tries to have little quotes and comments so the audience can remember them. It feels like the writers can only write jokes or exposition, and that’s a death sentence for a Bond script.

Brosnan himself is also showing his age. He has a shirtless scene and he already has major dad-bod. I think his grey hair adds a note of sophistication to the character and is honest about where in the continuity he is. Bond’s shoulder injury is also worth noting, as it feels like a humanizing aspect for the character. In many ways, with Bond’s decay and M’s sins, this film could be seen as a prototype for Skyfall (2012). Brosnan also tries to dance around his age. He does exactly what Moore did, hit on women with little shame or regard for the age difference. If you ask me, this was the film Brosnan should have stopped playing Bond, even if the next one was good. Speaking of that one…

Looking Forward

Wait, Elektra is around 21 years old? Holy crap. When I was 21 my biggest ambition was to stop smoking weed. Hers is seduce terrorists, grey fox super spies, and rule the oil world.

There is only one film left in the Brosnan era. While the other Brosnan films tried to balance comedy and drama and yielded mixed results, this next one shows what a lack of conviction to a tone can do for a film. All of the sins of these past three films culminate into a monster that almost killed the Bond franchise entirely. One liners, attempts at commentary through villains, and the celebrity casting found here is going to be a big problem for this bad boy.

But don’t worry, the article won’t come out for another two weeks when this is published. You can die another day. Oh shi-

What I Drank

Being drenched in water for these shots, Brosnan thought to himself how many houses this film’s payday could buy him. It was the only thing that kept him going. Such bravery.

It’s cold outside, there’s a woman here named Christmas Jones, I think it’s time for a winter drink. I drank a Hot Toddy. It’s 1 1/2 ounce brown liquor, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1/2 ounce of lemon juice, 1 cup of hot water (think of this like a tea without tea), and an entire cinnamon stick for the most un-garnish garnish to ever garnish. Not very alcoholic, but man I’m cold.

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