Pierce Brosnan was my way into Bond. Goldeneye was the first film in the franchise I ever saw, and I loved it. I started slowly collecting the series on VHS, sticking mostly to the Connery films as he was widely regarded as “the best,”1 while also eagerly awaiting the next Brosnan film.
That eagerness disintegrated over the course of his run as 007 before ending up as a pile of ash on the floor by halfway through Die Another Day. But I’m here to talk about The World is Not Enough, Brosnan’s third at bat as Bond, and thus his de facto third best Bond film (or second worst, depending how you want to rank these things).
Directed by Michael Apted, best known for his 7UP series of documentary films,2 and Gorillas in the Mist, The World is Not Enough is a Bond film that tends to work best when not focused on Bond himself, or his unique brand of spycraft, and features perhaps one of the best villain stories in one of the most mediocre (at best) films in the series.
The opening of the film takes us to Bilbao, Spain, to a meeting between Bond and a Swiss Banker; a meeting where Bond asks for the return of some money that a friend of M’s used to purchase bogus reports. There is also the matter of a murdered MI6 agent, but that thread is dropped long before the opening titles even roll, and seems shoehorned in only to give the proceedings a more official sheen.3 Things quickly become violent, resulting in a murdered Swiss Banker, and a mysterious sniper who saves Bond’s life from Nameless Thug #2. Moments later 007 has rigged up a DIY descender, using it to make his escape to the street by jumping out a window just before the police burst into the office.
But wait – there’s more!
Back at headquarters Bond and M’s celebration of his successful personal errand for M’s bestie (the murdered MI6 agent completely forgotten) is cut short by an explosion that kills said bestie (the money itself was the bomb!), and then a boat chase down the Thames and through some canals to the Millennium Dome, where the plan B assassin4 attempts her escape via perhaps the world’s worst getaway vehicle – a hot air balloon. Which of course explodes.
And after nearly 15 minutes we finally get to the title sequence,5 which treats us to oil drenched women, and oil derricks pump pump pumping away (remind you of anyone?) as Garbage’s theme song plays. This is one of my favourite Bond theme songs, and features a video that suggests a film far more interesting than the film to which it is attached.
The biggest issue with the cold open is that it feels long, and the rest of the film fares little better thanks to its lack of flow. Things just seem to happen throughout the majority of the film because the plot dictates it, or because Bond needs to do X because Bond does X in every movie.6 In a weird, albeit unintentional, inversion of the typical Bond film, it is the character work that is most satisfying; it offers us glimpses of interesting and complex people who just happen to be at the centre of a plot that struggles across the screen like a three-legged bulldog with asthma. The stunts, cornucopia of dad jokes, and sexual chemistry often land with a hollow thud.
Sophie Marceau plays Elektra, daughter of M’s dearly departed bosom buddy, and former kidnap victim of the unfeeling (literally – a botched assassination attempt left him with slowly degrading senses) Renard, who has now returned seemingly to exact his revenge. Elektra is beautiful and dangerous, even before the reveal that she is in fact the mastermind pulling everyone’s strings, and responsible for her father’s death. Marceau brings a wounded vulnerability to the character, allowing us glimpses of the deep well of hurt in her heart. At least when the material allows her to, such as during the scene where she slowly tortures Bond (of course), baring her soul in a villain monologue better than most as she does.
Playing the heavy and sort of red-herring villain is Robert Carlyle, whose Renard is a menacing proto-Blofeld-reboot who, it is revealed, is wrapped tightly around Elektra’s finger. One of the great turns in the film (and probably the only one, frankly) is the reveal that he did not give the ol’ Stockholm-syndrome to her, but the other way around. This gives Renard a desperate, emo puppy dog quality upon rewatch. Carlyle so often excels at playing sociopaths, and to see him both play that and slyly subvert it is one of the few good things aboutThe World is Not Enough.
Brosnan does solid work as Bond, swinging between the broad comedy of his scenes with Q and the newly introduced R (John Cleese), and his (usually) more serious tête-à-têtes with Marceau and Carlyle with relative ease. But his relaxed charm is no match for Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones, whose every line-delivery sounds as though she is acting in a completely different film. Unfortunately for her (and us) that completely different film is the porn parody7 of the one she is actually in. Miscast on every level other than wearing the hell out of some short shorts and a tank top, there are maybe two lines she utters where she doesn’t sound like the most unconvincing movie scientist of all time8. I can practically hear Michael Apted’s resigned sigh after each one of her scenes.
Besides featuring one of the worst Bond girls,The World is Not Enough also has the distinction of being the last pre-9/11 Bond film, which (in hindsight, anyway) might actually be in it’s favour. The film has an innocence to it that is missing from even Brosnan’s final Bond, and is certainly nowhere to be seen in the Craig era. In that respect it now feels like a bit of throwback to the Moore films, with concerns that seem very far away from the real world (even the threat of nuclear destruction seems quaint and relatively low key, somehow).
Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about The World is Not Enough, sometimes enjoying it, and sometimes (like this time) spending the majority of the running time waiting for it to be over. Still, it could be worse.
Does It Look Like It’s Our First Time will return….
Die Another Day
- I think all Bond actors have had worthwhile interpretations of the character, but Connery was lucky to be the first, and he set the tone.
- They are fantastic and fascinating, and I urge you to watch them, if you can find them.
- Because otherwise Bond is just running an errand for M’s BFF, and that’s probably not a good use of MI6 resources
- In case the explosion didn’t work, I guess. And also because Bond needs someone to chase.
- Is this the longest Bond opening? It sure feels like it.
- In this case X = sexy doctor lady.
- In which her character’s name is probably still Dr. Christmas Jones, because how can you top that, or the one liner at the end of the film that it was clearly written around?
- At least until Mark Wahlberg signed on the dotted line to play Cade Yeager, Inventor.