It’s strange to come back to Brosnan’s Bond tenure after covering Daniel Craig. Craig’s movies follow the Bond template, but they emphasize character drama in a way Brosnan’s (and really no Bond films save Lazenby’s sole entry and perhaps Dalton’s run) never did. It was easy to write more than 1000 words about Casino Royale and Skyfall. Finding a lot to say about 1999’s The World is Not Enough is a bit trickier. It’s slick, alternatively playful, and most (with a couple of glaring exceptions) of the performances are totally on target. For most of its runtime, it’s a completely enjoyable Bond film, ticking all the required boxes. I don’t need it to be more than that, but when it’s not, there’s less that needs to be said.
There’s a sense that when people remember their favorite Bond movies, they remember scenes or exchanges or particularly alluring Bond girls. It’s not the narrative that drives love for a James Bond film. Instead, it’s pieces of the whole. James Bond plots are a lot like points on Whose Line is it Anyway. They just don’t matter. It’s the framework upon which to hang explosions, quips, voluptuous women, and colorful villains with megalomaniacal schemes. The World is Not Enough, with its emphasis on pipelines and double-crosses, ultimately just leads me to shrug my shoulders and throw my hands in the air, resigned. It’s a plot that is never asking to be understood. Yet, I can still enjoy the film. It’s fine if it makes no sense. I didn’t watch it as a searing character study.
I’ve always had rather unfavorable feelings toward The World is Not Enough, Pierce Brosnan’s 3rd go-round in the James Bond role. Coming back to it for this countdown, I realized I hadn’t seen it since theatres. Watching it unfold, I wondered if I’d been too hard on it.
The film opens with a well-constructed hot-air balloon stand off and a nifty explosion. Brosnan seems at his most comfortable here, having settled nicely into the role, and the film gives him more of a chance to actually emote. M (Judi Dench) gets scenes that comprise more than just exposition, and any time Judi Dench gets a moment in the spotlight is plus. Renard (Robert Carlyle), a villain with a bullet in his brain that dulls his ability to feel sensations functions an impressively immovable force, even as the film gives him a modicum of emotional vulnerability.
It even brings back Robbie Coltrain’s Valentin Zukovsky, one of Goldeneye’s strongest supporting characters. Elektra (Sophie Marceau) as the woman Renard once kidnapped and who Bond must now protect from being taken again is a top-tier Bond girl. “Maybe,” I thought to myself, “just maybe, this film is good. Perhaps I’ve misjudged it all these years.”
Alas, at that moment, Denise Richards (as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones) enters the narrative. I suddenly realized there was a reason I’d always treated this film so derisively.
Granted, she’s not the only performance problem in the film. The World is Not Enough sees the farewell of Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, departing in a fashion that feels more poignant than it has any right to. Introducing John Cleese as his replacement, who Bond refers to as “R,” Cleese plays the scene as though he transferred to MI-6 by way of Bunsen’s and Beaker’s laboratory.
The movie screeches to a halt for his particular brand of pratfalls, and it’s not nearly as funny as the movie seems to think it is. His performance is the only facet upon which Die Another Day improves. However, once his scene is, mercifully, complete, the movie goes back to just zipping along. It’s sharp and entertaining, and is doing everything a Bond movie needs to do in order to work.
Before we get to that, though, let’s take a moment to sing Sophie Marceau’s praises. Her performance as Elektra is fierce and electrifying, with a playful roguishness that pulls focus whenever she’s onscreen. Her father is killed in the film’s explosive opening, and her Greek tragedy-based name may or may not be mere coincidence. She manages to make Brosnan’s performance stronger, because they play off of each other so well. She’s a character whose past has left her slightly broken, and that beautifully complements the clear emotional baggage James Bond is always carrying. The film manages to shift the Bond villain to Bond henchman when it reveals her as the scheming mastermind, and it is able to do that because she is such a screen presence. We’re not talking Daniel Craig and Eva Green, but this is the closest Brosnan ever comes to hitting that high.
The film’s touristy globetrotting looks great, with director Michael Apted bringing an appropriate amount of flash and panache to the franchise. He also has a knack for populating the film with actual characters. Apted’s filmography, including Gorillas in the Mist, Thunderheart, and Nell, tends to feature stronger female leads, which might explain why Elektra pops onscreen more than Brosnan’s other Bond girls and why M has an actual plot in which she can participate. It goes without saying that Dench is more than capable of selling the material she’s given, managing to convey guilt and rage at the drop of a hat.
However, allowing Denise Richards to spout the minutiae of nuclear physics strains credulity in a way that not even the Bond franchise can withstand. She grinds the movie to a halt whenever she’s onscreen, which is a problem as she takes more and more screen-time as the movie progresses. She might be comely, but she has the screen presence of a particularly eggshell shade of paint drying on a dingy room’s wall. You end the film wishing there was some way Bond and Elektra could have just worked things out, letting murderous bygones be murderous bygones. Christmas’s name also inspires one of Bond’s creepiest, most groan-inducing double entendres, which on its own would merely be a problem, but added to every other issue Richards brings to the role, simply increases the character’s awfulness.
Bond girls vary greatly in quality, but for a Bond girl from the 90’s to feel more regressive than Bond girls from the 60’s makes me wonder how hard EON studios was even trying when attempting to both cast and develop the character. The franchise has always had a dichotomy of strong and weak Bond girls, but to see that dichotomy represented in one film is remarkable. It’s a shame, because with a competent actress in the role, The World is Not Enough would rival Goldeneye for the title of Brosnan’s best. I hate to turn the review into a an article that chooses instead to ridicule Denise Richards throughout, but it’s difficult not to be annoyed with how severely she sinks the film. The less said about her “Nuclear physicist Barbie” outfit, the better.
As it is, The World is Not Enough rests comfortably in the middle of Brosnan’s tenure. It is neither the embarrassment that is Die Another Day nor does it hit the highs of his premiere outing, Goldeneye. However, Richards aside, the film is a fun, playful, sometimes thrilling entry into the Bond franchise.
Next Time: Tomorrow Never Dies