The World is Not Enough (1999)

D: Michael Apted
S: Pierce Brosnan, Robert Carlyle, Sophie Marceau

Each passing Brosnan Bond film makes the previous one a much fonder memory, which is ironic, because while they're on, none of them have seemed all that special. Yet now as the third adventure graces our screens, I can't help but think how much better GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies were by comparison. But then, when I watched GoldenEye I longed for the days of the old-fashioned Bond who had died with Timothy Dalton, and as I sat through Tomorrow Never Dies I kept thinking how much more true to form GoldenEye had been. I'm sure that when Bond 20 comes out, I'll feel the same way about The World is Not Enough. Right now, for my money The World is Not Enough is the weakest of the three Brosnan Bonds, which is surprising to me because it has many elements which make it quite interesting.

The plot has Bond facing off against international anarchist Robert Carlyle at the behest of female industrialist Sophie Marceau. Things get personal when M (Judi Dench) is kidnapped and layers of deceit begin to reveal the hidden motivations of all and sundry. Meanwhile nuclear physicist Denise Richards (Starship Troopers) gets worked in somehow and as the redoubtable Desmond Llewellyn bows out as quartermaster 'Q', John Cleese (Fierce Creatures) steps in as his replacement.

There's lots going on in this busy plot and there are some pauses for thought as Carlyle and Marceau begin to represent shadowy reflections of one another in more ways than one, and Bond finds himself wondering just who is an ally and who is an enemy (Robbie Coltrane reprises his role from GoldenEye as a Russian mobster, but seems to have been lumbered with a different dialogue coach, as too much of his rich Scots accent comes through for his own good). Carlyle is probably the most well-rounded villain we've seen in a while, with even his megalomaniacal tendencies eclipsed by his depth of feeling (echoes of Sean Bean in GoldenEye there), though his political commitment to anarchism is thrown into some doubt before the film is over (destroying pipelines so that other pipelines will prosper is hardly subverting global capitalism).

The film's biggest problem is directorial. Michael Apted must rate as the strangest choice of director for a Bond film there has been. Famed as a documentarist, erratic as a feature director (Gorillas in the Mist, Nell, Extreme Measures), Apted is not a natural action specialist. The film opens with a bright and sustained bit of hokum which rather than seeming like the end of a previous adventure (as the preludes usually do), seems almost complete in itself. It builds to a nicely outrageous climax and feeds nicely into the credit sequence (and the somewhat dreary song performed by Garbage), and all in all it feels like it's about time to get up and go home when it's over. The rest of the film is badly paced, literally one-twoing with a bit of investigation/exposition followed by a short, sharp blast of action. While this is more or less standard procedure in a Bond movie, the problem is that the action scenes themselves, while handled well, don't get any more interesting than their immediate predecessors. There's no great sense of mounting danger as Brosnan careers from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and though he's clearly having a great time exploring some of the complexities of the character dynamics, Apted seems unable to top the opening scene for sheer visceral thrills and outrageous Bondian fun (though we do get our first ski chase since A View to a Kill).

There are other things worth noting. Despite the push towards monogamy in the previous two Brosnan outings, Bond seems to have reverted to type here, down to flirting with Moneypenny (who seemed to have little enough interest in him in the previous two) and seducing more or less any available female other than his boss. I'm not making a judgment on this, other than to note that the misogyny this time extends as far (spoiler alert here) as giving us the Bond series' first genuine female megalomaniac (if you don't count M herself).

On the whole The World is Not Enough is pretty much bogstandard Bond, which is to say that it will fill the usual corners quite adequately and keep the popcorn munchers happy enough for the time it takes to get from one end to the other. It does arguably give us a little bit more to play with on a character level than we've seen for a while, but whatever ground it gains in this department it loses by forgetting to keep things the right side of action/adventure in terms of its thrills and spills. Not that it's boring. There's always plenty to look at and admire when millions of dollars are being spent so carefully making sure BMW and Omega are the hot products for Christmas (okay, cheap shot, but a valid one all the same). The performances are good on the whole, with Brosnan clearly taking himself as seriously as necessary, Dench commanding as ever, Carlyle more interesting than you'd think, Marceau suitably regal and Coltrane trying very hard to overcome some silly loopholes and his accent. Richards is serviceable, but honesty prevents me from claiming she's there for anything more than eye-candy, as her character is given the least to do and is far and away the least credible in terms of casting.

Bond is Bond, of course, and you either like these films or you don't. The World is Not Enough will not make any conversions, but it will happily slip into nostalgic memory as quickly as it takes them to make the next one.

Note: The Region 2 DVD is extremely well endowed with additional features including several production documentaries, a director's commentary from Michael Apted (though the documentaries show that the 2nd unit people were ultimately equally important), a second audio commentary with 2nd unit director Vic Armstrong, production designer Peter Lamont, and composer David Arnold, the music video featuring Garbage, and a short tribute to Desmond Llewelyn comprised of some of his finest moments as 'Q' throughout the years. A great DVD, whatever about the movie.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.