Today, James Bond faces the oil crisis in…
. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Pierce Brosnan
SETUP: Bond recovers stolen money belonging to oil magnate Robert King, but the bills are booby-trapped and blast King through a sizable hole on the side of MI6. Bond discovers the trap was the work of Renard (Robert Carlyle), a terrorist who once kidnapped King’s daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau), but failed to get a ransom. Bond thinks Elektra might be next on Renard’s list, so he steps in to protect her.
BUT IN REALITY: But who’s going to protect Bond from her? Renard takes his orders from Elektra, a good girl who went sour when Daddy refused to pay Renard’s ransom. She plans to kill M (Judi Dench) and nuke Istanbul, securing her new oil pipeline’s dominance in international trade (it’s complicated.) Bond uncovers the plot, shoots Elektra, and skewers Renard with a radioactive rod.
VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: By my count, Elektra King is only the second female master villain to challenge Bond, and the first to do so without a poison shoe. Elektra uses sex and false vulnerability to convince men, including Bond, that she’s a hunted victim and not a power-mad genius. She’s pulled this trick before, turning her kidnapper Renard to her side, tearing up her own ear, and “escaping” with a fantastic story and the scars to prove it.
THE MUSCLE: Renard is the red herring villain, supposedly the mastermind but really just Elektra’s fanatical follower. He loves her, for whatever that’s worth, enough to die in a nuclear explosion and take all of Istanbul with him. And why not? In a sense, Renard is already dead. He survived an assassination attempt, but only just, and the bullet lodged in his brain will kill him eventually. In the meantime, he feels no pain at all.
BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: The femme fatale is obviously Elektra King, who sleeps with Bond to catch him in her web. Even as Bond connects the dots, her lies turn him around in circles. It takes M’s kidnapping to finally set Bond straight and send him on a hunt for King.
The good girl is Dr. Christmas Jones (really), played by flavor of the month Denise Richards. Jones is a nuclear physicist (really) that tags along with Bond after he suddenly forgets how to defuse a nuclear bomb. More on her below.
“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: After 17 appearances, Desmond Llewelyn makes his final turn here as Q. Shortly after shooting his scenes, Llewelyn died in a car accident and the role formally passed to John Cleese, who shows up here as Q’s successor. Llewelyn’s exit was too soon for any Bond fan’s liking, but he ended the role with the perfect line. As he disappears down a secret elevator into retirement, he quips “Always have an escape plan.” He’s very missed.
For the adventure, Q Branch equips Bond with a high-tech speedboat, an inflatable jacket, an exploding gun, rappel watch, and x-ray specs.
BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: Yes, Bond ends the movie while having sex with Christmas (really) Jones and speaking the line “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.” But that’s the best and the worst line.
The real best line probably goes to John Cleese. Bond: “If he’s Q, does that make you R?” Cleese responds, “Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.”
MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: Denise Richards was a big deal for about five minutes in Hollywood, and The World is Not Enough arrived with two seconds to go. In fact, you could make an argument that her performance is the reason her star dimmed so quickly. Her acting is definitely a low point in the film, but she’s not the only problem.
Christmas Jones, the nuclear physicist? Really? Exactly how much disbelief are we supposed to suspend? It feels like Purvis and Wade, the screenwriters, thought up the name, the punchline, and then took the rest of the day off to congratulate themselves. Bond heroines don’t have to be showy roles, but it’s insulting that so little thought went into a character and casting decision for a major franchise film. If anything, Richards got left out to dry in a role for which she was comically miscast, and the bad decisions by all involved guarantee that for years all people will think of when they think of The World is Not Enough are Christmas jokes and bad acting. A bonehead move.
WORTH MENTIONING: The title of the film is the motto on Bond’s family crest… Bond’s doctor joins Kissy Suzuki and Strawberry Fields on the list of “Bond women with improbable names never spoken on screen.” Her name is Dr. Molly Warmflash… The film’s ending is an homage to the classic Roger Moore movies, which usually ended with MI6 using spy gadgetry to find Bond, only to discover him in bed with a lady. The film even ends with the traditional “James Bond Will Return,” a flourish that’s fallen out of fashion since Moore left the role.
OVERALL: The World is Not Enough is a mediocre film that could’ve been great. The pieces are there, but they never come together and the whole thing ends up as a missed opportunity. The film has a good story built around a really nice twist, a feminist reversal of Stockholm Syndrome that added something completely unique to Bond’s usual rogue’s gallery of Cold War grotesques and fantasy supervillains.
Unfortunately, the casting never pays off the film’s potential. I’ve already ripped on a certain nuclear physicist, but what about Carlye’s performance as Renard, which is so listless that I half expect him to nod off. He was going for cold and emotionless, but the result feels passionless, which is a different kind of thing. His chemistry with Sophie Marceau is limp, and unfortunately their relationship is crucial to selling the story. If it doesn’t work, the movie fails, and friends, it doesn’t work.
Which is a shame, because The World is Not Enough has Pierce Brosnan’s single best performance as James Bond. He’s really on fire here, adding nuance and depth to what is basically a static, decades-old hero role. Keep your eye on Brosnan during the movie and you’ll see just how much fun he was having at this point in his career and just how seriously he took the role. Watching Brosnan in the role never felt like I was watching him collect a paycheck. He went for broke in every Bond film, but especially here. I just wish it was in service of a better movie.
The James Bond Project
13. The World is Not Enough
14. Live and Let Die
15. Licence to Kill
22. A View to a Kill