The third one´s the charm.
That at least is the conventional wisdom concerning actors playing Bond in more than two films. For Connery, GOLDFINGER catapulted him and the character of James Bond into the stratosphere of worldwide fame. For Moore, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME not only saved his tenure but also the franchise, establishing him as Connery´s equal with different qualities and turned him into a hugely beloved and successful Bond alter ego who managed to give us seven films, so far the most of any tenure. And while Lazenby never even got a second one he could have rebounded from with a third one, Dalton at least starred in two great ones before his third one fell by the wayside of the dreaded MGM situation.
Enter Pierce Brosnan, the next saviour of the franchise, who visibly and publicly enjoyed being Bond, generating huge interest and box office returns so that EON and MGM brought him back to the screen every two years, resulting in a third film only four years after GOLDENEYE introduced his brand of the British agent.
Since the predecessor TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997) had been an even for a Bond film especially troubled production, leaning more on action set pieces than story, EON gambled on changing up some things. Hiring new writers, Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, TWINE was planned to add more interesting character shades to the tried and true mix of spectacle and spy thriller. Also, the main opponent – disguised as the victim of the bad guy until the third act – was chosen to be female. And instead of letting an action veteran helm the movie respected drama filmmaker Michael Apted (“Nashville Lady”, “Gorillas in the Mist”) was enticed to lend Bond more dramatic weight. In addition to those changes, Judi Dench´s role as M was extended, making Bond´s superior integral to the plot for the first time.
Much has been said about some elements of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH being reworked into Craig´s third film, SKYFALL, and there surely are parallels: M being responsible for the villain´s behaviour, Bond getting personally entangled with the villain, Bond being hurt at the beginning of the film. However, every Bond film in a way is a remake of what has come before, rejuggling all the different pieces again and again, sometimes refining them, having learnt from the previous films what worked and what did not.
In contrast to SKYFALL, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is still very much a child of 90´s era Bond: lots of explosions from which Bond can jump away from, machine gun fire mowing down faceless enemies, and an obvious crowd-pleasing approach by eagerly catering to all the expectations on what Bond films have to offer. The decision to let veteran stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong direct most of the action set pieces, leaving Apted to concentrate on the character interplay, could have resulted in an uneven film. Instead, Apted´s directorial style is not so distinctive that it sticks out from Armstrong´s routine. Which sounds like a backhanded compliment. But really, Apted probably wisely chooses not to draw attention to his direction and visually achieves a rather seamless connection with Armstrong´s work.
Still, many action sequences were criticized as being rather unspectacular or even tired. And the character interplay also did not surprise with the kind of depth one might have expected from a filmmaker like Apted. But that perspective on the film mainly was influenced by watching it years later, after the internet allowed and encouraged such discourse among fans who now had access to all the Bond films not by going to the cinema but by popping in the DVDs, Blu-Rays or finally clicking on a button whenever they wanted. Overfamiliarity can breed contempt. And in hindsight many things indeed look like lost opportunities or overdone. But comparing any 90´s action blockbuster with those made today tend to bring out the know-it-better-cynics in all of us, just like comparing the Craig era films with the Connery era films.
I myself enjoyed THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH during its initial run enormously. I loved the opening boat chase on the Thames, Bond´s injury, the dynamic between him and Elektra (a seductively arrogant Sophie Marceau), the reapparance of Robbie Coltrane as Russian gangster Zukowsky, and the brisk but not hectic rhythm of the film. I adored Bond´s line “I never miss”, and I also laughed along with the audience at the saucy double entendre at the end. Most of all I was a total fan of Brosnan as Bond since he managed to bring the best of Connery´s ruthlessness and Moore´s charme and humour and even add an own emotional undercurrent. So when I ranked all the Bond films THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH always placed in my top ten. The third Brosnan film really was the charm for me, the one in which all the elements transcended the previous configuration in that era.
Then, a few years later, I rewatched every Bond film in the order of their release. And I was bored and disappointed by TWINE. This happened with other Bond films I had held in high esteem, too. And at that time I thought that re-watching the films allowed me to have a more honest view, one not influenced by the enthusiasm I feel whenever a new Bond film arrives in theatres. So, attempting to write this evaluation for the 20th anniversary, I was even dreading to revisit the film. I had made up my mind that TWINE was what so many fans on the internet had repeated again and again: a poor cousin of SKYFALL, a misstep indulging in overacting and timidness regarding its good ideas.
But when I started the blu ray I surprisingly got hooked by the film immediately. The Bilbao sequence presents Brosnan´s Bond as shrewd, cruel and sardonic. And although I was already familiar with the plot the film swept me along and… did not bore me anymore. Instead, I tried to find fault with the storytelling and could not. This does not mean that I love this script or even consider it better than those for the other Bond films. The machinations on display are often very apparent and functional rather than inspired. (Which no one really can blame Purvis & Wade for since they only wrote the first two drafts and got rewritten by Dana Stevens and then Bruce Feirstein – and probably more uncredited ones.)
Are the stunt sequences, apart from the magnificent Thames chase, better than in the other Brosnan films? No. Is the villain´s caper more interesting? No. Is the film more fun than the predecessors? No. In fact, the cinematography is surprisingly drab, using a lot of gray and beige as main colours (a decision I would love to explain away as a signifier for the grey moral area between M, Elektra and Bond), and the settings are seldomly vibrant or eye-poppingly interesting.
Also, there is that villain: terrorist Renard. What a great idea it was to depict him as the victim of a bullet wandering through his brain, killing him slowly and already taking away his ability to feel any pain or pleasure. And how thrilling it is to find out that Elektra actually has learned to turn the tables on her former tormentor, manipulating him to do what she wants, emerging herself as the real villain who teases him that sending him to his death will be an exiting beginning… for her, since only she has a future.
But this Renard is used very sparingly in the film. And the role is cast with the very capable but physically not at all imposing Robert Carlyle. He is not only thin but much smaller than Brosnan. Which might explain why they shaved his head and gave him a Donald Pleasance-as-Blofeld-like eye scar (and a bulky jacket). I wonder whether a physically imposing actor as the feel-no-pain Renard would have been more effective, more scary. For example, what about “Mr. Hinx” Dave Bautista? Even the reveal of Renard actually being reduced to a pawn by Elektra would have been more surprising with an actor whose enormous build already had signified danger. Then again, one should not fall into the trap of criticizing something for not being what one wants. Instead I try to look at what is given. And Carlyle, through his different physicality, does manage to give Renard an interesting melancholy. This is not a villain who is a brute – he was turned into one, and he hates it. “Life is not worth living if you can´t feel alive” is his catchphrase, repeated jokingly by Elektra. And maybe that describes Carlyle´s Renard perfectly – for him life has lost its worth. In that regard this casting choice actually makes more sense and is more daring than going for the obvious giant.
Talking about the casting, one must mention Denise Richards as nuclear scientist Christmas Jones. Yes, even the name is double entendre galore. But I remain unconvinced that Richards was miscast. I consider her acting perfectly fine, she even manages to be ironically unimpressed by Bond before she inevitably becomes his ally. And the often repeated argument that a woman who looks like her is just not credible as a scientist is not only misogynistic but also unrealistic; by the way, which spy does look (and dress) as handsome as all the Bond actors so far?
Whether one goes along with all this or not – the film works, helped enormously by Arnold´s score with its haunting main theme which fuels the great title song, visualized perfectly by Daniel Kleinman. But the most important ingredient remains Pierce Brosnan. Ridiculed and considered light weight after Craig came along, he actually handles a broad variety of Bondian traits extremely well. And to my surprise (since I had forgotten about this),
in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH he actually is very often absolutely cold blooded and relishing it. Look at the scene in which he shoots Davidoff. Or the way in which he disposes of the goons in the banker´s office, using one body as dead weight for his jump. And then there is the immediateness of his shooting when Elektra betrays him for one last time. Coupled with one of the best Bond´s character revealing lines, “I never miss”, that moment alone raises the film above many others. Yes, Brosnan balances the ruthlessness with remorse throughout the film. But he always stays the charming assassin prioritizing his job over his personal feelings. He really gets Bond. And the always visible enthusiasm and power and magnetism he brings to the role in all of his films should not remain as underappreciated as it is right now. Maybe that is the curse of many popular Bond actors – when a new one is accepted and widely lauded, he often overshadows the previous ones. It happened to Moore, it happened to Dalton. And it will happen to Craig as well. And maybe one of the Craig films, at some point, will also be regarded as containing elements which were used again to greater effect in future Bond films. Maybe even in the third one of his successor.
20 years ago, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH performed spectacularly at the box office and cemented Brosnan as a popular Bond with a bright future ahead. Alas, only one more film was granted to him, and again it was one with ideas greater than the sum of its parts. Nevertheless Brosnan again delivered a powerful performance which fueled the film to be financially even more successful. Who knows if the fifth one had been the charm to win over the later doubters. In any event, re-watching THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH on its own, not as the 20th in a row (including NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN), made me think that to really evaluate the Bond films one probably should rather watch them on their own instead of spending the better part of a month with all of them. Otherwise one might tend to overlook what is there due to having seen too much of what has been done before.
Movie poster: The World is Not Enough © 1999 Danjaq LLC. & Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).