Last time, in discussing Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007, I described his tenure in the role as a shame spiral that ended in total embarrassment. Thankfully, we aren’t there yet. Brosnan’s next adventure is the one where he takes the series off the cliff, so you have that to look forward to.
If Goldeneye poked fun at the Bond franchise and its possible status as a Cold War relic, Tomorrow Never Dies was a genuine attempt to move 007 into the modern era. There are, however, hints of the disaster looming ahead.
The expression “no news is good news” just doesn’t pay in a media landscape that has jumped to a 24-hour news cycle. Media mogul Elliott Carver, head of the Carver Media Group Network (CMGN), is launching a new satellite network named Tomorrow (because of course), and he needs to make a splash. This new network will be able to reach every human being on Earth… except the pesky Chinese, who have refused broadcast rights.
What to do? Why, instigate a skirmish between the British and the Chinese that puts everyone on the brink of World War III. M locates a curious signal originating from the site of the attack and gets the British government to give her 48 hours to investigate before they retaliate. Suspicious about how quickly Tomorrow managed to get their headline together (and with its intimate knowledge of the attack’s details), she sends James to investigate the CMGN. Conveniently, he has a romantic history with Carver’s wife, which should give him a, um, leg up on the investigation.
Goldeneye‘s script sharply walked a tightrope between seriousness and parody. Tomorrow Never Dies loses the parody angle to present a more traditional Bond adventure while simultaneously attempting to bring him into the modern era. In the end, it just tries too hard to have it both ways and stumbles. The seriousness is undermined by a curious obsession with camp and silliness, an obsession that would only get worse in Brosnan’s next two outings as Bond. The dialogue is frequently silly and wooden–occasionally some of the actors even seem embarrassed by it.
That could come down to accusations that the script was being created even as the movie was filming. Given that, it’s surprising Tomorrow Never Dies works as well as it does.
Gadgets: In the opening scene, James wields a cigarette lighter/grenade. For the main mission, Q outfits him with a cell phone that can act as a taser, fingerprint scanner, and a remote control to drive his car.
Bond Girl: YES! YES YES YES! Sorry, it is just SO EXCITING that producers finally managed to give 007 a Bond Girl that could truly be called his equal in Wai Lin, the Chinese version of James Bond. Naturally, she’s played by Michelle Yeoh, who has a long history of creating kick-ass female characters.
You’re probably saying “hold on a minute: wasn’t Anya Amasova the Russian equivalent of James Bond?” I would say you’re only half right: she was supposed to be, but in typical Bond movie style producers undermined her skills so much that by the end of the movie she was just another damsel in distress. That is the unfortunate state of female empowerment in the James Bond franchise. And yes, Lin is kidnapped (twice) during the final battle and nearly drowned until 007 rescues her. I fully admit that producers still misused her there. But even with that, Yeoh makes it impossible to deny that Wai Lin could mop the floor with James Bond. She’s smart. She’s tough. She’s cheeky. She has gadgets to spare. She has some sweet fighting moves.
Most importantly, she’s one of the precious few Bond Girls who isn’t immediately spellbound by 007’s penis. She’s independent and focused–more focused than James himself, what with his tendency to get distracted by the women around him.
There were rumors that producers tried to create a spin-off series for Jinx from Die Another Day, but for my money the only spin-off worth its salt would follow the further adventures of Wai Lin.
Supporting Bond Girl: Once again, producers tried to make audiences sympathize with James by attempting to give him an actual romantic entanglement. And just like every attempt that doesn’t involve Tracy di Vicenzo or Vesper Lynd, it fails miserably. At the end of the day, Paris Carver‘s here-and-gone appearance just can’t make enough of an impression to take it seriously. We’re told that she and James had a mad love affair that his job requirements ended, causing hurt feelings on both sides. We’re told that, but we never get to see it. We’re supposed to make a leap of faith that James loses the love of his life when (1) we’ve heard that before, and (2) there doesn’t seem to be anything about Paris that makes it seem as though she would be special compared to all the other women in James’ life.
I’ve heard rumors that Teri Hatcher was actually supposed to have a larger part in the movie, but that she acted like such a diva on the set that they unceremoniously killed her off ahead of schedule. It would explain her lack of chemistry with Brosnan (and the rumors of fighting on her TV show Desperate Housewives later), but I’m not sure I believe it. There are other rumors that say she unexpectedly got pregnant and had to complete her scenes much faster than expected. If either is true, I suppose there isn’t much producers could have done to give the storyline its due. As is, it’s just one big disappointment–and that’s a fact you can’t change.
Villain: Snooze. The villain/henchman categories are incredibly disappointing in this movie given how solid the rest is. Elliott Carver is basically just a spoiled narcissist, like Goldfinger. Unlike Goldfinger, however, he just isn’t interesting. How lame is he? When 007 corners him with a large drill, he just stands there and lets it kill him. I mean, come on, even the most rudimentary reflexes would have gotten him to jump to the side.
It really doesn’t help that Jonathan Pryce really overdoes it–which is an extremely serious accusation to make in a series as wildly over-the-top as this. He’s so desperately oily, but he’s not threatening at all. It’s like a gecko telling you it’s going to beat you up. Producers may not have had much say in the matter, though: Anthony Hopkins was originally cast, but walked off after three days, citing chaos amid constant script rewrites (alleging that there wasn’t even an ending). That says a lot, no?
Side note: the way Pryce keeps trying to convince you that he’s quickly typing on keyboards with one hand infuriated me because it’s just so obvious that all he’s doing is frantically mashing keys at random. Ugh.
Henchman: Yawn. Producers went back to the old, tired cliche of an Aryan-looking Germanic muscle man. And Stamper doesn’t even rock a banana hammock like some of his predecessors. Why bother?
Theme Song: Like the villain and henchman, “Tomorrow Never Dies” is underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong: I love Sheryl Crow. The song is just boring, it doesn’t have a good hook, and the vocals… well, as I said, I love Sheryl Crow. But to be brutally honest, it really sounds like she’s straining to hit the big moments of this song. She does a lot better with folksy, quiet songs.
Interestingly enough, producers had two mediocre songs to choose from. They originally asked K.D. Lang to record a song called “Surrender,” then decided not to use it and go with Sheryl Crow instead. If you’re curious, Lang’s song plays over the end credits. But it really isn’t any better aside from her ability to hit the high notes.
Iconic Moment: Give it up for the thrilling helicopter chase. Along with being a well-made sequence, it should have been sufficient proof that having a partner who is his equal only makes James Bond better.
Grades: Movie: 4/5; Bond Girl: 5/5; Villain: 2/5; Henchman: 1/5; Theme Song: 2.5/5
You can find links to all the Bond movie reviews as well as ‘Best of’ and ‘Worst of’ lists on my Bond Project page. Up next: The World is Not Enough.