After Goldeneye reinstated James Bond as a cinematic force to once again be reckoned with, the stage was set for Pierce Brosnan’s sophomore crack at 007. However, things didn’t exactly go a smooth as it should, with this being the first Bond film made after Albert “Cubby” Broccoli’s death, a rushed shooting schedule and problems filming in Vietnam, the movie took it’s fair share of licks before it even made it to cinema screens but even when it finally got there it ultimately opened against the monolithic success story that was James Cameron’s Titanic. The result of all this chaos is a film that doesn’t come close to living up to the potential of Goldeneye, yet somehow is bizarrely enjoyable on a purely fun level. Not bad for a film that strangely feels good completely by accident…
Maniacal media tycoon Elliot Carver has a history of manipulating the news for his own endgame but even Rupert Murdoch would balk at sinking a British battleship in Chinese waters in order to kick start world war III in order to boost ratings for his new network. Knowing that Carver’s up to something, MI6 sends Bond to snuggle up to old his old girlfriend and current wife to Carver, Paris, in order to gain some valuable insight to the mogul’s plan (“Pump her for information.” is the somewhat undelicate phasing). The enduing carnage takes Bond from Berlin to Saigon and sees him forging a temporary alliance with high-kicking Chinese agent Wai Lin and tracking down Carver’s secret invention, a “stealth boat”, before he ignites world tensions in a far fetched effort to score ratings.
Reviewing Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as Ian Fleming’s immortal British secret agent is somewhat of a difficult task for me as even though I’ve always vastly enjoyed watching it, it’s laden down some clumsy plotting, unsubtle characters and an opening third that labours along with all the fleetness of foot as a sloth crippled with arthritis. Yet while it’s a noticeable step down from the peerless Goldeneye – almost all the playful but direct criticism of Bond’s misogyny has all but vanished in favour of excruciating double entendres by characters who should know better – it’s action sequences are huge, enormously fun and yank the final two thirds of the movie up by it’s bootstrap and drags it home in style.
Kicking off with a fantastic opening which sees Bond take on an entire weapons bizarre of terrorists in order to snatch a nuke out of the blast radius out of a rapidly approaching British missile, you get the feeling that the REAL director of note here is not in fact Roger Spottiswoode but second unit director and legendary stuntman Vic Armstrong who keeps the explosions coming thick and fast.
Once we muscle through Sheryl Crow’s teeth-grindingly tin-eared Bond theme (Kd Lang’s completely different version which plays over the end credits is vastly superior) and we get to the meat of the plot we have to sit patiently as the film wanders aimlessly through it’s own story like a child lost in a supermarket.
Bouncing between 007’s interactions with Jonathan Pryce’s breathy media mogul Elliot Carver and Terri Hatcher’s old flame, the film treads water at impressive rate. Carver, who could quite possibly be the most broadly performed Bond villain in history – and not in a good way is an obvious mud slinging Robert Maxwell wannabe whose theatrics are distracting as they are melodramatic and Hatcher, displaying a remarkable lack of chemistry with virtually everything within her orbit, simply looks like she’d rather be anywhere but in this film. Trust when I say that the feeling is mutual.
However, once we get to the exact moment where Bond shoots an elderly hitman in the face with his own gun in spectacular cold blood, the film somehow shifts gears in entertaining fashion.
I’ve already mentioned how inventive the action is in this film but scenes such as Bond steering his car around a multi story car from the back seat with his phone as assailants rain fire upon him, or Bond and Wai Lin handcuffed together, trying to work as a team while piloting a motorcycle away from a pursuing chopper through the streets of Saigon are highly polished, visually interesting and, most importantly of all, bloody cool.
Also helping immensely is the addition of the always wonderful Michelle Yeoh portraying a “Bond girl” unlike any we’ve ever seen before (i.e a legitimate engine of spin-kicking awesomeness) – although it is mildly jarring to watch the actress have to rely on 007 when we know she can keep up with Jackie Chan…
Finally, a noticable addition to the franchise that makes his debut here is composer David Arnold who went on to score the next four movies and was the most important musical contributor to the entire franchise since the mighty John Barry. His updated themes expertly trod the line that every Bond score needs to do to make the outlandish antics the agent gets up to work on screen.
I know full well I’m probably going to cop some shit for highly endorsing a film that honestly only seems to get by on pure luck rather than design, and Tomorrow Never Dies may be a tough film to rate, but I sure find it an easy film to enjoy. Undemanding, fun and a perfectly acceptable action experience while you’re watching it, just don’t expect it to not completely slip out of your memory afterwards – like James sneaking out on his next conquest…