Welcome back to 007(x3) Weeks of 007. Today we have Pierce Brosnan’s second, and perhaps second best, Bond outing, “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Sure, I could talk about Sam Smith’s song for “Spectre” which was released last week, but I’m not going to do that.
Why? Because it isn’t very good and that makes me sad. The “Writing’s on the Wall?” Oh god, I hope not, but that’s certainly my fear with the movie (alternatively, “along with the rest of him”).
So, “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Rewatching it, the thing that stands out the most is Jonathan Pryce’s media mogul villain, Elliot Carver. The man just chews scenery every time he’s on screen. This is most apparent when Carver is talking with the heads of his various enterprises and the software guy explains that, as requested, whatever they’re releasing is going to have a lot of bugs so that people are forced to keep on upgrading for years to come.
This is Bond villainy at its height and what seems to be an attempt to go back to the days of SPECTRE and classic Bond baddies who had their fingers in multiple pies. I am reminded of the early movies with SPECTRE meetings and discussions about how things were growing across the board, except with Carver running the show instead of some guy we never fully see but who likes his cat a whole lot.
Of course, there is no SPECTRE. There is only Carver, madly typing away on his mini-keyboard in a manner that seems unbelievable. That, and his crazy eyes. Seriously. How did this guy become the head of such a massive media conglomeration? One look and you know he’s insane.
As much as I like Dalton as Bond, those movies moved away from the Bond stories, and the Brosnan years feel as though they’re about reestablishing that. Brosnan’s films are big, fun, movies with a Bond who feels deeply but can still quip with the best of them. Thus, Elliot Carver, a purposeful throwback to early Bond villains, and Stamper his throwback to those henchman (just as Xenia Onatopp is in “GoldenEye”).
The thing is, as the franchise learned decades before “Tomorrow Never Dies,” and as we’ve talked about, once you start getting bigger it becomes difficult to stop and there can be a tendency towards foolishness. Brosnan’s movies get bigger as they go along, and while “GoldenEye” hits the perfect pitch, you can see “Tomorrow Never Dies” going just slightly too far. Best example of this outside of Carver and his crazy eyes? The remote control BMW. It is a cool gadget and it is fun, but the chase in the garage goes on for a while and, Bond dropping the car back off at AVIS by sending it off the roof of the garage and into AVIS’s front window is a little much. Next week they’ll go further and the week after further than that. Then, we’ll be done with Brosnan and they’ll strip it all away for another reboot.
I love the Brosnan films, whether they get big and a little silly or not. To me, they synthesize the Connery Bond villains and set pieces with the Moore Bond’s penchant for humor. According to Box Office Mojo, adjusted for inflation, the two Dalton Bonds rank last and third-to-last at the box office (22 for “Daylights” & 24 for “Licence”). “GoldenEye” jumps to 12 and “Tomorrow Never Dies” to seven (“TWINE” is 11 & “Die Another Day” is six). Brosnan’s Bonds were massively successful, even the less good ones. Brosnan made the character and franchise back into a worldwide phenomenon (Moore’s last movie, “A View to a Kill” is 21 on the list).
This isn’t me arguing that they are perfect—they most certainly are not—but they brought Bond into the modern era in a way that makes sure to acknowledge the past. They are, I think, what the Connery Bonds would have been if they were made 30 years later. Craig is great, but he doesn’t exist without Brosnan, and you definitely don’t get “Casino Royale” as an immediate follow-up to “Licence to Kill.” No, you need the Brosnan movies in there to show you where everything goes after “Casino Royale” and that alleged first mission (I say “alleged” because of some of the continuity problems).
What bothers me the most about “Tomorrow Never Dies” isn’t it starting to lean towards excess, it’s the way M is depicted. Early on they go back to the lack of “balls” Judi Dench’s character has. They used almost the exact same phrasing in “GoldenEye.” Then, at the end of the film when the Chinese and British navies are squaring off against each other and M has the information Bond sent to diffuse the situation, rather than making a phone call to the Admiralty, she goes to see them in person. While she is taking this drive, which is really just to rub the British Navy’s nose in it in person, the two fleets could have attacked each other with disastrous consequences. World War III and the bad guy wins-like consequences. Bad call on M’s part and something that only exists so that she can be seen to “win” the pissing contest between MI6 and the British Navy.
Some of this blame lands on director Roger Spottiswoode as there is a way to construct the end so M is already with the Navy, just as she was at the start of the film. It is certainly more dramatic this way, but it isn’t right.
One last complaint, which I again lay at Spottiswoode’s feet, and I’ll be done. When Wai Lin and Bond are at the top of the Carver building in Saigon, they cut out the bit where Bond severs the ropes he and Wai Lin use to drop down the side of the building. This has always bothered me. We see the two spies looking at the ropes, we see Bond find a conveniently placed toolbox, and then we see the ropes separated and them ready for the jump off the side of the building. I need the moment where he cuts the ropes with whatever he finds in the toolbox. Either that or a cutaway to something else and then back to Bond. I’m sorry, but I do.
I also need to close this week’s installment without even mentioning the spectacular motorbike ride which, now that I’ve mentioned, I can feel satisfied about. 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return next week where we will all learn that “The World is Not Enough.”
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment