Reflecting on one of the worlds most successful movie sagas, it’s quite difficult to comprehend that Pierce Brosnan began his adventures as James Bond some 15 years ago in the movie Goldeneye – something which sounds older and older the more you say it. The problem with this film however, despite the praise it earns, is that visually it has begun to look dated. But Brosnan’s adventure that followed two years later, Tomorrow Never Dies, has yet to fall into this trap, and I would be keen to argue that this 1997 film still has the punch to knock-out Brosnan’s later outings – missions fuelled by ridiculous gadgets and special effects.
Tomorrow Never Dies is arguably as significant as For Your Eyes Only when considering the change in Bond’s personality. In both films, we see the Agent taking out more enemies in cold blood, and both make references to a past love life, though arguably that of For Your Eyes Only is very densely placed in the beginning shots of the film. In Tomorrow Never Dies Bond meets an ex-lover by the name of ‘Paris’, who is funnily played by another ex-lover in Teri Hatcher – aka, Lois Lane of the 1990’s Superman sitcom (who was always just one step away from snogging the young man).
There is a significance to this inclusion – Paris risks her life to help Bond with his mission, despite the fact they apparently split up over the nature of Bond’s career. What is most satisfying about this film is that the mission itself is very modest and reminiscent of earlier 007 films. The story begins with a British Navy Vessel that, after cruising what they believe are international waters, are threatened by Chinese authority that they are in fact in Chinese waters. Still convinced that they have done nothing wrong, the vessel continues to cruise the ocean, leaving them exposed to a wave of attack. But unbeknowingly to the crew, what at first appears to be a torpedo hit is in fact a remote controlled drill, forcing them to sink and then mysteriously, being killed by a gunfire.
The GPS (Grid Positioning Satellite) systems continue to affirm that the ship was in fact in international waters when it sank, leaving M and the Secretary of Defence with a problematic situation in which they must decide whether to retaliate or investigate? The third option of course is Bond – retaliation and investigation usually come after the women!
But unlike Goldeneye, there is no stand-out Bond Girl (or girls) for Brosnan to mollycoddle on his adventure. Sure enough, Michelle Yeoh takes the role of ‘Wai Lin’ comfortably, but the eventual relationship that this Chinese spy has with Bond is far from heated, at least according to what his history of frolicking might suggest. Needless to say, Wai Lin is purely interested in a compromise between the British and Chinese, but Bond is relentless and the two continue to keep meeting on their mission.
The standout performance, however, comes from Jonathan Pryce’s portrayal of ‘Elliot Carver’, whom is the insecure and control-freaked villain that Bond had been missing for a while. Carver at first glance appears to just be a highly ambitious news reporter that has developed his own media organisation that transmits ‘tomorrows news’ globally. But of course, anyone who can astonishingly print ‘tomorrows news’ accurately should be tested for unrivalled psychic abilities; a subject area I don’t believe Bond is strongest in. So when M tells Bond that one of Carvers satellites was interfering with their ships GPS system at the time of sinking, he has a good enough incentive to intercept the odd gentleman and seek answers.
It shouldn’t be of too much concern, yet my memory suggests that when the film was released, there was a ‘big deal’ (that’s media talk for “a couple of people in the office mentioned it”) surrounding the nature of Bond’s vehicle for this film – that being a BMW. Oh, ‘big deal’… Sure enough it’s always nice to see Bond driving one of our Astons, yet the role of his car in this film is passable to say the least. Although there are some fantastic visual effects as Bond guides his car around gunfire from remote-control, it is one step away from being as useful as the BMW that featured in The World is Not Enough. In fact, I believe the only role for that car despite its techno-fangled attributes was that Bond drove it to a Missile silo, and then to the Caviar warehouse where it was sawn in two halves. So much for German efficiency…
Reflecting on Brosnan’s time as Bond, I feel that Tomorrow Never Dies is suitably placed as one of his best performances and easily the most likeable film of his saga. The film fails in very few areas apart from some of the more traditional elements, such as the very average title song & video, though I would forgive these anyway since the so called ‘modern’ artists chosen now (I’m looking at you too, Madonna) have the compositional imagination of an orchestra baton left alone in a bag. Locked in a dark closet.
The film endeavours and cleans up what Goldeneye had left before it. The result is a much more composed film that, although lacks any contributing ‘killer’ scene or set of quotes for Bond folk-lore, is very entertaining and a reflection of what makes Bond films so great.