1999, Michael Apted
The World Is Not Enough Preamble:
Oh boy, here we go. I was actually writing reviews of films when this one came out, but those archives are currently inaccessible since I let my personal domain lapse (only to be appropriated by a hospital bed company), so I can't pull some quotes of what I thought of this movie at the time. My recollection though is that I adamantly hated it, getting less and less enthused with each passing minute. I really like Robert Carlyle at the time, so I was excited to see him as villain, but I thought he was terrible, and while I could tolerate Denise Richards in Wild Things and laugh at her (as we were supposed to) in Starship Troopers, there's fewer greater miscastings in cinematic history than her as Dr. Christmas Jones. She decimated the movie for me, such that I couldn't bring myself to watch it on for over a decade. After a recent James Bonding episode, wherein Matt and Matt said, effectively, outside of Richards, it's not altogether terrible, I watched a few minutes on a recent televisual airing and true enough, the scenes with Sophie Marceau were actually really meaty and quite good... but i didn't stick around for more than a few minutes on it. I'm both apprehensive and intrigued to rewatch at this point actually.
Renard (Robert Carlyle) aka Victor Tsokas is an ex-KGB agent that took a bullet to the head that remains lodged in his brain and is slowly moving inward, in the process it's damaging his nerve receptors numbing any pain and making him stronger. Like the shrapnel in Iron Man's heart, eventually it will kill him. Renard killed the MI6 agent who put a bullet in his head, the agent was following a cash-for-information exchange M's buddy, English tycoon Sir Robert King had arranged. This draws Bond into the fray to retrieve King's cash from a Swiss banker in the cold open, but it goes terribly wrong. After King is assassinated (at MI6 headquarters no less), M, Bond and company suspect King's daughter, Elektra, is next, since she was once kidnapped by Renard and held for ransom before escaping (her farther wouldn't pay). We don't actually meet him until 48 minutes into the film, up until then he's just mentioned in conversation.
Robbie Coltraine returns as Valentin Zukovsky, now heavily invested in caviar production. He's a little friendlier to Bond's investigation once it suits him to be, and ultimate is killed by Elektra, but not before he frees Bond from Elektra's trap.
Zukovsky has an aide, Bullion (Goldie) who works for him as well as Elektra. He's dubbed a bodyguard, but he's ridiculously cowardly and borderline comic relief with his mouth full of gold and blond hair.
Gabor (John Seru) is Elektra's bodyguard, most notable for his mane of dreadlocks. He's brawny but not a giant like Jaws or any of the German uber-monsters that have been quiet right-hand men in past Bond flicks.
The film opens with Bond sitting in a Swiss banker's office in Bilbao, Spain admiring the assets of his personal assistant, played by Maria_Grazia_Cucinotta, but never given a name on screen (credited as "Cigar Girl" but given the name Giulietta da Vinci in the script. She's a trained assassin, killing the Swiss banker before he can reveal that Renard was responsible for the MI6 Agent's death. I like her from moment one, because when the banker makes a very generous set up of "Would you like to check my figures?" Bond's leering reply of "I'm sure they're well-rounded" results in a tremendously executed eyeroll on her part.
She escapes from Bond thanks to covering fire, but emerges again in London just after Sir Robert King's explosive assassination. She has an impressive boat chase with Bond and seems exceptionally capable as an assassin, only marginally outmatched by Bond's persistence. She eventually blows her own balloon up rather than, you know, become another of Bond's conquests... that's how much she disliked that "well-rounded" comment.
Samantha Bond is back as Moneypenny but has less to do than even the last outing... a role of diminishing returns. Meanwhile Judy Dench is Back as M, and her performance feels rushed here, never quite getting the gravitas that she managed in earlier films (and definitely not up to the Craig films). The establishment of her friendship with Sir Robert King wasn't very well done, nor was her reaction to his killing.
There's Serena Scott Thomas as Dr. Molly Warmflash, one of the absolute worst Bond Girl names, as an MI6 physician who has to look 007 over (why do they keep sending female doctors and psychiatrists to examine him, unless they want him to seduce them into putting him back in the field?) and gives him a "clean bill of health" (noting particularly his stamina).
Sophie Marceau's Elektra King, I had hoped, would be the revelation here, but it's a wildly uneven performance. Marceau never seems quite sure how to portray Elektra. She was once a victim of a kidnapping, of abuse, but she appears to have come through it as a strong, confident, self assured woman. Bond woos her, but it turns out she was ultimately manipulating him, eventually revealing herself as a bit of a sadist and a megalomaniacal psychopath, hellbent on both revenge and commercial aspirations, which don't seem to jibe well. Renard, her former captor is now her lover (though he can feel nothing physical in their lovemaking), altogether a fully unhealthy situation in which Elektra seems all too at ease. Marceau takes what should be a complex character and slowly whittles her down into a petty nutbag. With Elektra being the villain of the piece, it winds up pulling back Renard's role in the proceedings and diminishes his character quite a bit. Next to Elektra's craziness, he never seems quite as dangerous.
Finally there's Doctor Christmas Jones as "portrayed" by Denise Richards. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a less convincing nuclear physicist on screen. There's barely a single word uttered from Richards' lips that doesn't come across as strained and you never get a sense that Richards understands, nevermind owns the words she saying. Perhaps it's the midriff tank top and short shorts that undermines her performance or perhaps it's the dopey grin on her face at the most inopportune moments, but she always looks out of place. You could more convincingly put a Golden Retriever in her place. And yet, I disliked her performance less this time around, in direct contrast I disliked Marceau's performance more.
Title/Credits:The theme sung by Garbage (written by the film's composer David Arnold with Don Black) isn't the most memorable of Bond themes but it's not that terrible either. It's too long by one stanza for sure and it has a bit of that late-'90s post-trip-hop drone to it that makes it kind of monotonous. It feels as much like a Garbage song as a Bond theme, which I guess is a compliment to the fusion, but it's also the lesser of both.
The credits sequence, though, beyond the opening 10 seconds is dull. A lot of oil-based imagery (dancing women in oily black catsuits and naked women being doused in an oil like product) and at least one unforgivably hacky transitional effect. This fits very much at the bottom of the franchise's credit sequences. One commenter on the below youtube video mentioned how this is supposed to be shot from the POV of Elektra King. How incredible would that be if it were an arty montage of Elektra's harrowing kidnapping and escape?
Bond:Brosnan is on autopilot at this point, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. He knows who his version of Bond is, as do the writers (he's quick with a comment, he's quick to get angry, and he's quick to fall for the wrong girl. He's always performing hurt, running through the story with a fractured collarbone, and going his own way, typically against orders. That's the thing about the Brosnan years, he wasn't a bad Bond. In theory he should be the perfect Bond. Tragically, though, the movies he was in, particularly this and the next, were just out of control trying to be something other than -- or at the very least, more than -- Bond.
There was the potential from this cast (less Richards) to pull out a decent film, but so much of the primary cast doesn't seem to give a shit about what's getting to the screen, or perhaps it's the director unsure of what he wanted to put there. There's no chemistry between any of the characters (no scene chemistry between Richards and Brosnan, or Densch and Carlyle, or Marceau and Carlyle..) and the character portrayals are either uneven or lacking in conviction,. The overall plot is muddy (which is status quo for a Bond film, bu this is next level. What is the real scheme, is it terrorism or economic destabilization or revenge?
Brosnan's doing his share, but here his presence seems almost sidecar to the Elektra King story, and being pulled down in every scene by Richard's awful mugging. Unlike the Craig films, which are very character-focussed, and previous Bonds which keep the character familiar yet somewhat enigmatic for the audience, here Bond is kind of left exposed, duped by Elektra King, which is a terrible position to put Bond in (compare against Vesper's betrayal in Casino Royale to see it done far, far better without compromising the character's integrity).
Let's just be blunt, this is a terrible film. It's thoroughly unenjoyable, and actively unlikeable. It starts off middling, and gets progressively worse. Every big sequence past the opening boat chase (and even then it's gloomy overcast London sky and lack of access to the London Eye/Millennium Dome left it bland looking) is mishandled. The missile silo heist is overblown and ridiculous (not good ridiculous either), the caviar factory sequence is ugly and shot terribly like a set with all the logic of an MC Escher drawing, and the finale with Bond against Renard on a sinking submarine never feels like the conflict nor the stakes are real and it concludes with such a deus ex machina.
I hate this movie.
Q-gadgets:This introduces John Cleese as "R", Q's replacement. It's a cute scene, but it (as well as Cleese) feel completely out of place. Overall the Q sequences have increasingly felt out of place in the modern films. Q gadgets were initially disguised weapons or other limited functionality tools in everyday items, but that idea has become more nonsensical and self-parodying with each film (and each spy spoof thereafter). They're fun but they don't have a place anymore (Skyfall handled it's beautifully).
Glasses that set off a small detonator in his gun
Bagpipe machine gun/flamethrower
Winter coat-that expands into safety bubbleX-Ray glasses, bond uses to perv out at a casino
Credit card lock pick
Classification [out of 01.0] - 00.2, I'm not sure if this is worse than Octopussy or not. It feels like it's on the same level.