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Bond Blog: Tomorrow Never Dies – A James Bond Retrospective

On leaving the cinema after GoldenEye, I was very ready to see another Bronson Bond and so too were the studio and undoubtedly Brosnan himself, having waited so long to land the role. Tomorrow Never Dies ended up suffering from the rush, as the script had to be ditched and then rewritten as the film was going into production. The result however is a solid Bond and, for me, the best Brosnan.

The opening pre-credits scenes once more establishes Bond as a hardworking British agent. ‘What’s he doing? Geoffrey Palmer’s admiral splutters. ‘His job,’ comes M’s acerbic reply. Looking resplendent in brown leather jacket and polo neck, Brosnan immediately sets about punching machine-gunning and daredeviling his way through a a basket of terrorists and assorted baddies. The action is exciting and also witty. The ejector seat trick being a particularly applaudable moment of satisfactory violence. Perhaps less joyful is Jonathan Pryce’s media mogul villain Elliot Carver. Despite hints of Murdoch and the now forgotten Robert Maxwell, Carver is a bit grey and his fake typing skills leave a lot to be desired.

Not wanting to film two Bond movies in a row, Martin Campbell had turned down the director’s chair. Roger Spottiswoode was keen to take over and followed Campbell’s lead in injecting a sense of dynamism. This can even be seen in the M briefing which instead of taking place in an office, is held in the back seat of M’s car while being escorted by police outriders at speed through London. The story feels fairly familiar with once more a millionaire manipulating tensions between China and Britain to create a potential world war 3 and incidentally sell newspapers. In Hamburg, Bond meets up with Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher), an old flame who is now married to his target. There is a brief attempt at pathos, a gesture towards an interiority before we’re back to the fun of a remote-controlled car that can be played by a Nintendo DS style console.

The presence of Michelle Yeoh lifts matters considerably and the influence of Hong Kong action cinema is having its effect. These were the years in which Jackie Chan and John Woo films were becoming increasingly seen in the West, along with more obscure names, partly channeled through the work of Quentin Tarantino. Woo would direct Mission Impossible 2 in 2000 and there is a feel that with Tom Cruise’s new franchise gaining momentum and other action films upping the ante, that Bond could no longer get by on the four or five set pieces and a schoolboy sense of humour. Yeoh as Wai Lin is a breath of fresh air and there was even talk of her getting her own spin-off movie. If there’s any criticism, it’s that there simply isn’t enough of her.

David Arnold had already produced an album of Bond inspired music and got his dream job scoring the film. Moby provided a rejigged version of the Monty Norman Bond theme. But along with the very 90s-ness of the film, the producers seem keen to include references to the Bond legacy. As already noted the story rehashes the Thunderball plot, while adding the Spy Who Loved Me rivals who work together theme and the Thai locations from The Man with the Golden Gun. Q has been demoted to product placement. Brosnan stamps his identity solidly on the role and there’s a sense that this is going to be a run after the stuttering fizzle of the Dalton Bonds. And yet the tensions remain – as they almost always have post-Connery – between reinventing the franchise, bringing it up to date or sticking to the tried and tested formula. The first two Brosnan films were by far the most successful at addressing those tensions compared to what came before and after.

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