Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Parody Of Itself, Tomorrow Never Dies Is Fun James Bond!

The Good: Some great lines, Decent performances, Good pacing, Entertaining
The Bad: Some terrible, over-the-top lines, Very predictable plot progression, One of the least satisfying endings of any Bond film
The Basics: The final James Bond film I had to watch, Tomorrow Never Dies is remarkably average Bond . . . when it is not delivering laugh-out-loud funny one-liners.

With Tomorrow Never Dies, I am done with the James Bond franchise! As of now, I have seen all of the James Bond films in the franchise (at least until S.P.E.C.T.R.E. comes out later this year!) and I'm ending on an odd note. Tomorrow Never Dies is an emotionally-enjoyable film in many ways, though much of that comes from the writing and casting, as opposed to the film being an objectively good work. In fact, for the first half hour of Tomorrow Never Dies, the film is written in such a way that it seems almost like it is a parody of a James Bond film. A decent portion of the film has incredibly quotable one-liners that are funny and create a surprisingly light tone for the film. But the moment the Bond villain, Elliot Carver, gives his first, over-the-top presentation to his inner circle of slimeballs, the film takes a turn into utterly groanworthy territory.

Such is the "split personality" of Tomorrow Never Dies, a film smart enough to note that (even in 1997) a military incursion into Vietnamese waters by anyone with U.S. tech could be disastrous for U.S. foreign policy and dark enough to include a "long lost love" for James Bond who is horribly murdered, but features more tongue-in-cheek gags and ridiculousness (James Bond is beaten up by three characters who are, essentially, the Three Stooges, while at the Carver Media network launch!) than any other Bond film in memory. I was excited going into Tomorrow Never Dies because of my love of Jonathan Pryce from Brazil (reviewed here!) and my general enjoyment of Pierce Brosnan's portrayal of James Bond. But the positive elements are weighted pretty much equally with the film's detractions, making for an average (albeit enjoyable) movie.

Opening at a terrorist "supermarket" on the Russian border, where MI-6 is monitoring the potential sale of a small army's worth of hardware (including nuclear torpedoes on a Russian jet), James Bond has to outrace a British missile and terrorists when things go south. The H.M.S. Devonshire is in the South China Sea, where it is attacked by a stealth drill submarine operated by minions of a billionaire media mogul, who is launching a worldwide cable news network. The attack, triggered by the Devonshire's GPS system rerouting the boat out of international waters, is designed to bring about World War III and is used by Elliot Carver as the first big story for his news network. With the British Navy 48 hours away from being able to fully deploy in the South China Sea, M tasks James Bond with gathering the evidence needed to avert World War III.

That takes Bond to Hamburg, Germany, where he meets Carver. At the party, Bond meets Wai Lin, a spy posing as a Chinese journalist and he reunites with his lost love, Paris, who is now Carver's wife. Carver utilizes tech genius Henry Gupta to learn that Paris still has a soft spot for Bond and he easily discovers that she has betrayed him to Bond. After Elliot implicates Bond in the murder of Paris, Bond and Wai Lin find themselves exploring the sunken Devonshire together. The pair works together to try to avert a war between Britain and China and stop Carver from attaining world domination through media manipulation.

Tomorrow Never Dies is enjoyable in that it is one of the Bond films that has Bond balanced by a superspy that appears for all intents and purposes to be his equal. Wai Lin is anything but the typical Bond Girl, which balances the especially easy Paris in the film. Wai Lin comes with her own tech and, like the C.I.A. ally of Bond Jack Wade, Bond is forced to rely upon both her help and her assets to achieve his mission objectives.

Wai Lin is credibly played by Michelle Yeoh, who is a martial arts expert and is able to completely sell the film's action scenes. She and Pierce Brosnan have decent timing for the quips their characters deliver. While some might not like how Bond's reliance upon an ally weakens the superspy, after watching dozens of Bond films where Bond alone accomplishes impossible things, it is refreshing to see some level of realism where he cannot achieve everything on his own. Moreover, the realism of the team of super-spies balances the almost cartoonish nature of the film's villain.

Elliot Carver is a great concept for a villain and it is hard to criticize Jonathan Pryce for how he delivers the worst, most over-the-top lines of the film (and the franchise). Carver is a brilliant idea who is written as a quip-spewing maniac who has all the weaknesses of a Bond villain. He details his plans as exposition, he trusts all the wrong people and he is handicapped by a desire for power that is utterly unrealistic. Pryce does the best he can, but the role is a pretty lousy character.

The result is a funny, action-filled film that is filled with ticking clocks, decent actors, ridiculous characters, good lines, chases and gadgets. Tomorrow Never Dies is fun, so long as one disengages much of their sense of reason and just goes with it.

For other works with Geoffrey Palmer, please check out my reviews of:
The Pink Panther 2
"Goodbyeee" - Blackadder Goes Forth


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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