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007/50: The Bondathon reviews (1990s)

October 31, 2012

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So, after reaching the Bond fan’s promised land that’s attending the Royal Premiere of Skyfall last week – oh yes! (my thoughts on that flick later) – it’s back to the grindstone of review-writing thanks to my ‘Bondathon’, a James Bond film-watching marathon (the 1960s era’s here: 1 and 2; the 1970s’  here and the 1980s’ here: 1 and 2) this week.

But surely the 1990s Bond film era’s far from a grindstone, boasting as it does the tank-chasing of GoldenEye, the Rupert Murdoch-bashing of Tomorrow Never Dies and the Thames-speedboating of The World Is Not Enough. Or is it? Do – as Elliot Carver’s more ethical peers (certainly in these post-phone hacking days of ours) may ask – the facts fit that story? Well, read on and find out, my blog-friendly friends…

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Bondathon’ takes in all 24 cinematically released Bond films, from Dr No (1962) right through to Quantum Of Solace (2008) – including the ‘unofficial’ efforts Casino Royale(1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983)
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories, the inclusion of which tend to define a Bond film as a Bond film (‘Plot‘, ‘Bond‘, ‘Girls‘, ‘Villains‘, ‘Action‘, ‘Humour‘, ‘Music‘, ‘Locations‘, ‘Gadgets‘ and ‘Style‘), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100 – which ensures all 24 films can be properly ranked
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster‘ for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus five points) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Directed by: Martin Campbell; Produced by: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; Screenplay by: Jeffrey Caine, Bruce Fierstein and Michael France – title Fleming’s Jamaican home where he wrote Bond; Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Gottfried John, Alan Cumming, Tchéky Karyo, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Michael Kitchen, Serena Gordon and Minnie Driver; Certificate: 12; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 130 minutes; Colour; Released: November 13 1995; Worldwide box-office: $356.4m (inflation adjusted: $529.5m ~ 12/24*)

denotes worldwide box-office ranking out of all 24 Bond films (inflation adjusted), according to 007james.com

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Finally, after six years away, the cinematic Bond is back in GoldenEye, whose plot aims to place him slap-bang in the ’90s, but with a retro glance back at his past glories. A pre-titles teaser sees 007 and MI6 colleague 006 (aka Alec Trevelyan) in deepest Soviet Russia on a mission to infiltrate and destroy a chemical weapons facility. The job soon goes awry, though, when Bond’s buddy is captured and seemingly executed. Escaping, 007 completes his mission – but without 006. Nine years later, an attack is made on the former USSR’s Severnaya space programme centre by the electromagnetic pulse-toting satellite weapon it controls (‘GoldenEye’). Presuming the attack’s ensured the ability to control the weapon’s been half-inched, a new female M puts Bond on the case. Arriving in St. Petersburg, he has CIA contact Jack Wade put him on to ex-KGB agent Valentin Zukovsky, whom has many hands in many Russian underworld pies. Reluctantly, Zukovsky leads 007 to ‘Janus’ – a big-wig in post-Soviet Ruskkie crime – whom our man finds is a ‘resurrected’ Trevelyan. Escaping from the latter with useful Severnaya ‘pooter expert Natalya Simonova, the pair trace Trevelyan to Cuba, where they discover he’s stolen the ‘GoldenEye’ and with it plans to strike the UK, destroying its economy in revenge for its treatment of his Cossack parents. Post-Soviet- and IT-centric, GoldenEye‘s narrative is wilfully modern, but also unashamedly fantastical.

With its 1986-set kick-off, is this flick pretending Brosnan became Bond that year as he (and Broccoli) had intended and the Dalton years don’t exist? Perhaps not, but no question, in his first foray as 007, The Brozzer makes up for lost time. Yet not in a swaggering manner. His Bond is smooth, urbane and ’90s male model-handsome for sure, but more quietly confident, witty and efficient than cocksure, innuendo spouting and brazen. ‘James Bond’ and ‘his new film’ are the stars here not Brosnan. There’s nothing at all wrong with him, but it’d be over his next three films he’d grow into the role. Note: it’s also with this 007 portrayal that properly for the first time (maybe or maybe not since 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), the hero’s introspection became a Bond movie trope – his and Natalya’s “How can you be so cold”/ “It’s what keeps me alive”/ “No, it’s what keeps you alone” exchange was quite the revelation.

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The first Bond film of the pro- or even post-feminist era, GoldenEye was publicised as not featuring ‘Bond Girls‘, but ‘Bond Women’ – and it actually lives up to that hype. Both female leads are excellent. Izabella Scorupco’s Natalya Simonova (two names you’d struggle to pronounce with a mouthful of Q’s baguette lunch) may just be the best ever ‘real world’ female foil to Bond. While she realistically screams at a near death experience in the exploding Severnaya base and is scared amid a machine gun battle, she’s also competent, sure of herself, a fast-learner when it comes to espionage techniques and, yes, very sexy. And I mean very sexy. Indeed, she’s the sort of Bond Girl whose presence would certainly improve lesser Eon efforts. Conversely, Famke Janssen’s marvellously monikered Xenia Onatopp is a gloriously fantastic creation, getting off on killing victims by snapping their spines with her thighs during coitus, finding firing guns similarly orgasmic and generally flouting her Georgian background by dressing vampishly, smoking cigars and speeding around in Ferraris. She’s the series’ best villainess since Thunderball‘s (1965) Fiona Volpe. GoldenEye‘s also notable for featuring Brit film star Minnie Driver’s near big screen debut as Zukovsky’s chanteuse squeeze Irina, whom humorously murders a version of Stand By Your Man.

To a nasty-piece-of-work, GoldenEye‘s villains are all intriguing, unusual, satisfying foes. First up is Alec ‘Janus’ Trevelyan. As he’s played by fit and handsome thirty-something Sean Bean, he’s not just a genuine physical match for Brosnan’s Bond, but also a dark alternative to our hero (an almost clichéd fictional villain type, sure, but pulled off well here). Not only does the fact both were one-time mates add unique spice to their tête-à-têtes, but there’s also a sense Trevelyan’s insight into Bond’s psychosis may give him a genuine edge. It’s a shame then that Bean’s accent can’t decide between being an RSC brogue or his native Sheffield tones, but what can you do? Elsewhere, Gottfried John gives a hard, almost earthy performance as former Soviet turncoat General Ourumov (a hundred times more conceivable than Steven Berkoff’s pantomimic Orlov in 1983’s Octopussy), while at the other end of the spectrum, Alan Cumming’s weaselly nerdish rogue Boris Grishenko may be an acquired taste, but I’ve a huge soft spot for him.

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When it comes to GoldenEye‘s action the first thing that springs to mind is the tank chase. It’s the mid-movie money-shot – or sequence – that must have sounded irresistibly bombastic on paper (‘Bond destroys half of St. Petersburg – in a tank!’), but it’s smartly planned and executed, as 007’s borrowed battering-ram chases Ourumov’s car – the latter having kidnapped Natalya – through the sites of Russia’s most picturesque city. Yet, for me it never quite delights as much as it might – not to say it’s pedestrian, but it doesn’t hit the heights of, say, Live And Let Die‘s (1973) speedboat chase. Or those of this flick’s outstanding pre-title sequence, which opens with a very ’90s-friendly, damned dangerous looking bungee jump down a huge dam and closes with a seemingly law-of-physics-defying free-fall as Bond successfully catches up with a pilotless plane by diving after it over the edge of a cliff. Mention too should go to the destruction of the Severnaya centre, which with Natalya caught right in the middle plays like a disaster movie set-piece; explosions here, falling masonry there, life threatening danger everywhere. And top marks go to the flick’s finale. The series’ best climax since The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), it sees an underground lair go boom, while 007 faces off with 006 dizzyingly high above it on a satellite dish – with a brutal punch-up between them that echoes Bond versus Grant in From Russia With Love (1963).

In keeping with Brosnan’s laconic new 007, GoldenEye‘s humour (the tank chase apart) is less-is-more. The movie’s comedy mostly comes in the shape of sardonic wit (Xenia tries to kill Bond via her favourite method, cue his killer line as he points his PPK at her: “No more foreplay – take me to Janus”; M on MI6’s impressive state-of-the-art satellite-delivered monitoring of Severnaya’s destruction: “Unlike the CIA we prefer not to get our news from CNN”). It’s the early Eon humour of Russia and Goldfinger (1964) and, as such, visual gags include the likes of Bond’s double-take to Natalya’s sarcastic “Either way, I’m fine thank you” after they’ve just scarpered from Trevelyan’s exploding lair and, of course, the very first, nicely understated, but self-mocking tie-straighten from The Brozzer mid-way through an action sequence (the tank chase). Admittedly, the comedy provided by Robbie Coltrane’s knowingly vulgar Zukovsky and Cumming’s Boris (“I’m invincible!”) is pretty broad, but as it’s good stuff, it’s more than welcome for me.

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A bone of contention for many Bond fans is GoldenEye‘s music. Few have many gripes about U2 pair Bono and The Edge’s marvellously flamboyant title song performed with Bassey-esque bombast by Tina Turner. Instead, their grief is aimed at composer Éric Serra’s idiosyncratic score. Favouring guitar-ish electronica and, to the layman’s ear, what seems like metallic sound effects over the strong showtune and/ or orchestral melody and brass highlights of the John Barry ‘Bond sound’, the man behind the music of Luc Besson’s The Big Blue (1988), Nikita (1990) and Léon: The Professional  (1994) delivers a radical departure for Bond scoring here. As far as mainstream cinema goes, Serra’s contribution to Bondom is definitely avant garde, but for me, must admit, it works. Its reliance in some sequences on  echoing Russian-esque bells offers the onscreen action effective eeriness, while its very electronic percussive-heavy rendition of The James Bond Theme (with synthy delivery of its high notes) is unique and pretty memorable – and suits the murky, concrete grey but unstable, unsure St. Peterburg underworld of the flick’s first half (listen to a sample by clicking on the above image). Mention too should go to Brit movie and TV ad composer John Altman, whom provided music for the tank chase owing to the producers deciding Serra’s scoring for that sequence was just that bit too radical. Ah well, may’ve been for the best.

Fittingly for quite the retro 007 movie, GoldenEye boasts a classic complementary collision of two major locations. The use of St. Petersburg in the flick’s second third could have been a ‘stunt setting’, being the first time the Eon team went to Russia to film, but it works admirably. The beautiful architecture of its wide Contintental boulevards and the crumbing Stalinist-era statues of its abandoned squares evoke a somewhat glossy, yet down-to-earth espionage-y air. By fine contrast are the bright and vertiginous beaches, jungles and vistas of Puerto Rico (standing in for Cuba) of the final third, as 007 and Natalya stretch their legs, throw on summer- and swimwear and cruise around in sportscars and planes in sunny Central America. Furthering GoldenEye‘s glamour credentials are Monaco (and its famed casino) in the post-titles scenes, while several locales in and around London double for St. Petersburg counterparts, as well as Cambridgeshire’s Nene Valley Railway (last seen in Octopussy) for that city’s train scene.

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GoldenEye‘s gadgets may not be the sexiest, but they’re very worthwhile. Chief among them’s the Parker pen that, when clicked three times, becomes a bomb. It features when Boris, whom by absent-mindedly clicking it sets off the fuse, leads Bond to knock it out of his hand and begin the explosive demise of Trevelyan’s base. Bond also wears an Omega Seamaster wristwatch (now an iconic 007 accoutrement, but making its first appearance here), which boasts a laser that cuts through thick metal and a button that detonates magnetic attachable mines. Other highlights are a pair of piton guns – the first in the pre-title sequence ensures Bond safely reaches the Arkangel dam’s bottom following his bungee leap (and also offers a laser option), the second ensures he escapes the archives room in Ruskkie army HQ by firing a rappelling cord hidden in his belt, on which he swings over an impasse and out through the room’s window.

Coming as its release did in autumn ’95 at the height of a resurgent British popular culture brimming with swaggering self-confidence (Britpop, groundbreaking cinema and TV and controversial art), all of which nodded to Blighty’s ’60s and ’70s cultural heritage, GoldenEye offers not just a slick, modern version of Bondian style, but also a look and feel that owes much to Eon’s Connery era. The script features a high-tech macguffin, the Internet, email, a very feminist leading lady and Boris’s geek chic – this is unquestionably a movie of the ’90s. Yet Brosnan’s suave, perfectly moving, one-liner-delivering 007 in his Aston Martin DB5 is something of an echo of both Connery and Moore’s versions, while the glamorous but unfussy ‘heightened reality’ of the St. Petersburg sequences and a luxuriant, almost luscious palette in the Monaco and Cuba sequences thanks to cinematographer Phil Meheux harks back to the smooth richness of Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice (1967). Additionally, director Martin Campbell’s dynamic shots (for instance, the first showing of Brosnan’s face is merely a close-up of his eyes à la Lazenby’s introduction in OHMSS), is reminiscent of the playful, arty, almost avant garde ‘New Wavey’ cinema of the Swinging Sixties. Style-wise, GoldenEye is definitely the cinematic Bond at its best.

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Adjuster: 0

Granted, GoldenEye is not perfect (its pace slackens in its middle third), but like The Spy Who Loved Me nearly 20 years before, it’s one hell of a greatest hits package. Marrying the style, wit and confidence of the ’60s 007 with the trademarks of Eon’s fantastical efforts (a subterranean villain’s lair and Bond Girls with innuendos for names) and the ‘real world’ aspirations of the ’80s offerings (the hard espionage of St. Petersburg and Severnaya), this is an ambitiously conceived, smartly realised renaissance Bond flick.

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Best bit: The entire pre-title sequence – the best in the series

Best line: “For England, James?”/ “No, for me”

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Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode; Produced by: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; Screenplay by: Bruce Fierstein; Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Götz Otto, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon, Vincent Schiavelli, Ricky Jay, Geoffrey Palmer, Julian Fellowes and Cecilie Thomsen; Certificate: 12; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 119 minutes; Colour; Released: December 12 1997; Worldwide box-office: $339.5m (inflation adjusted: $478.9m ~ 16/24*)

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The second movie of a long-serving Bond actor’s tenure is about consolidation and Tomorrow Never Dies is no exception. Its plot is a driver here – going for a ‘classic’ Bond film narrative. Our man sets out to discover who’s behind the sinking of a Royal Navy vessel, made to look like the work of the Chinese. The clues the superpower’s not to blame lie in the facts the Brit ship thought it was in neutral territory when actually in Chinese waters, while at a recent arms bazaar Bond broke up a device that sends satellite GPS systems off course was sold and media mogul Elliot Carver’s network somehow gained exclusive video footage of the ship’s sinking. 007 goes to Hamburg to monitor Carver, where he reconnects with old flame Paris (now Carver’s wife) and discovers the GPS-altering device hidden in the tycoon’s HQ. Escaping the latter’s goons, he makes for the sunken ship off the Vietnam coast and finds one of its missiles missing. There, he and Chinese operative Colonel Wai Lin are caught and, again escaping Carver’s clutches, conclude he aims to provoke war between the UK and China (pushing things further by launching the British missile into Beijing), thus creating instability in the latter power so a rogue general can gain control and grant him broadcast rights there for the next 100 years. With its Rupert Murdoch-echoing villain yet rather formulaic Bond plot, Tomorrow Never Dies‘ narrative is both ’90s modern and 007 traditional.

Following his understated 007 debut in GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan gets the chance to flex more Bond muscles in Tomorrow. Our hero this time possesses more of a swagger and more obvious confidence, dresses with more ostentatious style and delivers more quips and cocky mannerisms. It’s as if he’s more centre-stage; somehow a bigger presence – and ultimately he’s more memorable than he was in the preceding film. The Brozzer’s Bond is developing (and fast) as a sort of cross between Connery and Moore, which is frankly perfect for the times. He does distinct himself excellently, though, in the Hamburg hotel scene, in which (very rarely for 007) he lets his guard down by loosening his bow-tie, drinking too much vodka and coming clean with Paris on why he finished with her years before. It’s arguably the most dramatically satisfying and – in its way – most genuinely Bondian moment of Brosnan’s entire tenure.

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This flick’s girls promise much, but are ultimately underwhelming. Leading lady duties fall to Michelle Yeoh as Chinese 007 counterpart Wai Lin. With her martial arts movie credentials, plus not insubstantial acting abilities (2001’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s certainly testament to that), Yeoh makes for an intriguing and unique Bond Girl prospect. Yet her character never really catches fire. She’s self-assured, very capable and more than comfortable in the action moments (mind, her Saigon base-bound minute or so of martial arts action feels more like the filmmakers indulging her than it does seamless fisticuffs), but despite being a one-time Miss Malaysia she’s not the most beautiful 007 squeeze and the script doesn’t invest enough in her character to make her an always engaging, eye-catching watch. Tomorrow‘s secondary girl is Teri Hatcher’s Paris Carver. More a desperate housewife than a Lois Lane, Hatcher lends her charisma and empathy along with a very American beauty, but Paris is pretty obviously ‘sacrificial lamb’ material – and thus receives little screen time. Even less featured (in a manner of speaking) is Cecilie Thomsen’s clothes-less Professor Inga Bergstrom, the Danish dolly – or boffin – bird with whom Bond shares an Oxford college bed and gives rise to the flick’s best line (see bottom of the review).

A media baron as chief of villains is a radical, dynamic departure for a Bond film – and, due to both the could-be-better screenplay (script rewrites went on during filming) and could-be-better performance from Jonathan Pryce, it’s one that rather disappoints. Unfortunately, Pryce takes too many opportunities to chew the scenery as Elliot Carver (grabbing the hair of a minion fallen asleep at his post as he berates him; performing chopsocky karate as he mocks Wai Lin and referring to the latter and Bond as ‘b*stards’ during the climax). Mind you, Carver’s über-branded media empire is well realised, as is his madness (“the distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success”). There’s also Götz Otto’s main henchman Stamper (a sort muscular Necros from 1987’s The Living Daylights) and Ricky Jay’s ursine techno-geek Henry Gupta, but both are dull as dishwater. Although, Vincent Schiavelli’s cameo as stiffly Teutonic assassin Dr Kaufman is full of dark humour thanks to understatement and faux modesty.

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While Tomorrow delivers some of the best action of the Brosnan era, it also offers some of the silliest. Hands-down, the biggest highlight is the pre-titles sequence, in which our man destroys a Khyber Pass arms bazaar with the weapons of a jet fighter, then flies it and its nuclear torpedoes out of harm’s way seconds before the site’s struck by a British warship’s missile. Finely paced and thrilling, it’s simply one of the best ever Eon openings. There’s also the excellent motorcycle chase through the streets – and buildings and balconies – of Saigon, culminating in the bike’s outstanding jump over a helicopter and the underground car-pack chase in which Bond’s pursued in his remote-controlled BMW 750i car; funny and clever, a pity then it features such a dull vehicle. Less successful, though, is the daft OTT HALO jump (a parachute leap Felix Baumgartner’d proud of) and the climax aboard Carver’s stealth boat. Sure, it’s bombastic, but too much; it’s far too Die Hard for Bond. I mean, why on earth is 007 packing a machine gun in one hand and in the other his new Walther P99 pistol – the latter with its silencer on? Ridiculous. Worth noting here is it was during this flick 007 acquires the P99, ensuring it replaced the PPK as his weapon of choice for the rest of The Brozzer’s reign and up to the end of Casino Royale (2006) – an unsubtle, unnecessary effort to update the Bond brand. Thank goodness the PPK’s now back once more.

They may be less subtle than GoldenEye‘s, but Tomorrow certainly has its moments of humour – many of which tap into the  broad comedy of the ’70s Moore era. Take Bond having to ‘pull out’ while brushing up on his little Danish at Oxford or the car-park chase and especially its conclusion that sees 007 ‘return’ the car by crashing it in through the window of an AVIS vehicle rental centre. There’s also a Q scene that sees the latter demonstrate how to remotely drive the BMW (only for Bond to rather ridiculously outdo him) and a scene in which Bond checks out Chinese Intelligence’s latest gadgets in Wai Lin’s Saigon HQ. Less funny though is, as mentioned, Carver’s worst, near toe-curling efforts at humour. Still, at least there’s Kaufman – although quite how Bond’s so quickly able to shrug off the latter’s murder of his one-time love in the film’s second half, during which he’s often just as chipper as ever, is a bit of a mystery.

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Arguably Tomorrow‘s best facet is its music. Scored by composer David Arnold, it’s very much of the John Barry school, boasting full-out orchestral themes, blaring brass, soaring stings and an all-round style that’s the biggest and boldest to soundtrack a Bond film for many a year. Arnold unquestionably positions himself as heir to Barry here (bringing back the stonking electric guitar solo of the Bond Theme as 007 merely coolly walks about and the familiar staccato-like brass cue from Russia), a ploy that pays off big time – not least for him as it landed him the gig for the next four Eon efforts. The score’s probably at its best in White Knight, which accompanies the awesome opening sequence (click above image to hear it), and in the rich, Eastern-esque Kowloon Bay, then shows a different hand – and something of what Arnold would later bring to the table – in the car-park chase-backing Backseat Driver, with its techno-like electronic rhythms (courtesy of Propellerheads’ Alex Gifford). Surely wrongly though, the rather excellent Bassey-esque song Surrender (performed by k.d. Lang and written by Arnold with lyricist Don Black), whose theme nicely appears throughout the score, is shunted to the end titles as Sheryl Crow’s rather drab title song takes centre stage over the opening titles. Not Eon’s finest hour that decision.

Tomorrow is let down by its locations – especially its first half’s major setting. Seriously, what the hell is James Bond doing in Hamburg? I’ve nothing against the place (as a Beatles fan, I’m grateful for the crucial role it plays in their story), but exotic, unique and Bondian it’s not. Sure, its best parts on display here (rather than the parts The Beatles frequented) are handsome, but that shouldn’t be enough for 007. I mean, he might as well have visited either Manchester or Birmingham; both at their best are as handsome as Hamburg. Things pick up in the second half when Bond, Wai Lin and Carver decamp to Saigon. Sadly, though, despite what we’re offered brimming with Eastern flavour, we’re not actually in Vietnam, as the filmmakers deemed it too difficult to film there; instead it’s Bangkok and other bits of Thailand again (previously visited in 1974’s Golden Gun), and, apparently to a surprisingly large extent, mocked-up street scenes shot at Pinewood. A bit of a shame then. In which case, Tomorrow‘s most unusual and best locale may actually be Oxford and its dreaming spires, which we’re in for about 30 seconds.

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Tomorrow doesn’t lack on the gadgets front, but (not unlike other aspects of this film) its devices aren’t exactly the most imaginative. Indeed, the primary gadget is, erm, a mobile phone. Mind you, it does open up to reveal a pad that can be used to remotely-drive the BMW, as well as fire electric sparks that can separately pick door locks and stun assailants with up to 2,000 volts. Wai Lin sports a rather nifty device in the shape of a bangle that doubles as a piton, which she fires into the wall of Carver’s Hamburg HQ, allowing her simply to descend by walking down the wall. Her Saigon base also boasts several gadgets, of course, most of which exist merely for comedy value, though (this scene coming off rather like Bond’s reveal of Holly Godhead’s CIA gadgets in 1979’s Moonraker). But Tomorrow‘s most significant gadget is surely the GPS encoder thing itself. A very clever piece of kit, even if it’s a little difficult to pick up exactly what it does, it’s being stolen by 007 ensures he can locate the real resting place of the Brit warship off the coast of Saigon, somewhat turning the tables on Carver, whom originally used it send the ship off-course.

For the most part, Tomorrow certainly looks good. Taking the ‘heightened reality’ glamour of GoldenEye and running with it, the result’s a very self-confident style informed by a mid- to late ’90s ‘Cool Britannia’ swagger (Bond getting briefed in M’s limousine as, flanked by outriders, it speeds through Westminster; British Navy bods on warships; the classic DB5 cruising through London and Oxford; and Bond’s look itself, dark suits under long, light brown overcoats) and the then rising phenomenon that is the global 24-hour media (as represented by Carver’s empire consisting branded buildings in Hamburg and Saigon, full of TV screens displaying constantly changing images). Palette-wise, the side may be let down a little by the sterile Hamburg and drab BMW saloon cars, but Saigon/ Bangkok throws into the mix welcome colour and exoticism, as well as the unusual sight of 007 in a baggy blue shirt and sneakers following capture by Carver’s goons, which contrasts nicely with the earlier vodka-quaffing, hotel room-residing Bond looking dishevelled but still irresistibly smoother even than a Tony Blair New Labour speech.

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Adjuster: -2

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A film of two halves, Tomorrow Never Dies opens as a superior if disappointingly Hamburg-set espionage thriller, flushed with style and ‘realist’ fantasy, but then ups sticks to the Far East where the careful pacing and plotting disappear just as Caver’s face-banner is ripped apart, with the action ramping up to dizzying levels. Rather a missed opportunity then, this Eon effort nonetheless gets the job done competently.

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Best bit: Bond escapes from the Khyber Pass in a jet

Best line: “You always were a cunning linguist, James”

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Directed by: Michael Apted; Produced by: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; Screenplay by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Fierstein – title taken from a passage in the Ian Fleming novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963); Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Goldie, Desmond Llewelyn, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, Michael Kitchen, Colin Salmon, David Calder, Ulrich Thomsen, John Seru and Serena Scott Thomas; Certificate: 12; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 128 minutes; Colour; Released: November 8 1999; Worldwide box-office: $361.7m (inflation adjusted: $491.6m ~ 14/24*)

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The ‘millennium’ Bond film, The World Is Not Enough fittingly looks back as much as forward – and its plot plays a big role here. Having retrieved a suitcase of money in Bilbao, Bond returns it to its owner, British oil magnate Sir Robert King. Unbeknownst to the latter and 007, the money notes themselves are topped with chemicals that when in proximity with King’s duplicate lapel pin cause an explosion, killing him. Sensing M (an old friend of King) is hiding something, Bond gets it out of her – several years ago King’s daughter Elektra was kidnapped by former KGB killer-turned-terrorist Renard and, rather than pay the ransom, M oversaw a botched operation to rescue her, ensuring an arduous captivity. Bond realises the money ‘returned’ to King was the same amount as the ransom, thus deduces it was stolen and returned by Renard, so Elektra must be in danger again. He’s ordered to ‘shadow’ her in Azerbaijan where she now runs her father’s oil business and eventually learns she turned Renard when in captivity, scheming with him to kill her father and inherit the oil. The pair then kidnap M and hijack a submarine in order to explode its nuclear reactor in Istanbul and destroy a Russian oil route under the Bosphoros, leaving Elektra’s pipeline far more valuable. Aiming for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service-style emotional complexity with turn-of-the-century touches, TWINE‘s narrative is ambitious, but oddly underwhelming.

There’s a great drinking game to be played when watching Brosnan’s Bond in TWINE: imbibe whenever he touches his face (especially his lips), walks with a hand in one of his pockets, puts another in his suit jacket (à la Admiral Nelson) or delivers a ‘pain face’ – a letterbox-mouth grimace. Why’s it so good? It gets you plastered. Unlike in GoldenEye and Tomorrow, he noticeably falls back on suave but obvious tics here – ‘Brosnanisms’, if you will – which after more than one viewing tend to diminish his impact. Yet he isn’t alone with this rather soapy acting, practically every one of the flick’s leads are culpable (certainly Marceau and Carlyle), suggesting heavy-handed direction from helmer Michael Apted and melodrama from its scribes. For all this though,The Brozzer’s as smooth, confident and indispensable a presence here as you’d want from a 007 actor. It’s his third effort and, don’t doubt it, he’s definitely James Bond.

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Impressively, Sophie Marceau could be said to be the series’ first lead villainess (although Russia‘s Lotte Lenya aka Rosa Klebb may have something to say about that). And she makes the unique Elektra King memorable – sultry, seductive, egotistical and seemingly driven to psychopathic evil owing to her father and M’s non-attempt to rescue her from Renard years before the events of TWINE. Offering undeniable beauty, charisma and youthful abandon, her quality as a thesp often shines despite the hokey dialogue with which the script lumps her and others. Indeed, this movie’s girls would certainly receive a higher score were its others to get nearer Elektra’s standards. But Denise Richards’ nuclear scientist Dr Christmas Jones is a throwaway Bond Girl. Richards tends to get the brunt of the blame here from the series’ fans, but its more the screenplay’s fault; she’s given little characterisation to work with, coming off as a far more straightforward, bimbo-ish Bond companion than Elektra in the flick’s second half (the tone’s set from her entrance, undressing to reveal a Lara Croft outfit and strutting towards Bond, and moves on little from there). There’s also Maria Grazia Cucinotta’s ‘Cigar Girl’ assassin under Renard’s employ and Serena Scott Thomas’s MI6 medic, the nicely named Dr Molly Warmflash, but both appear only briefly.

While TWINE‘s main baddie is Elektra, lead villainy duties are actually shared with Robert Carlyle’s Renard. The latter’s a missed opportunity. Starting off a chaos-loving, deranged, diminutive git whom seems a nightmare for 007, as soon as it’s apparent Elektra’s the object of his affection (an unusual twist for such a hard-arsed villain) and the brains behind their scheme, he loses his early menace, now a love-lorn freak who’ll do anything for his seductress. Still, he possesses a great bad guy deformity, a bullet lodged in his brain that, while handily and eerily making him impervious to pain, will eventually kill him. A shame then during the submarine-set climax it’s not this that does him in (which surely would have added to the poignant figure he’s become), but a a nuclear bolt launched by Bond into his stomach. Further villains number Ulrich Thomsen’s Davidov, John Seru’s (‘Vulcan’ on ITV’s Gladiators) Gabor and DJ Goldie’s Mr ‘The Bull’ Bullion, a comedic but two-faced sidekick for returning ally Valentin Zukovsky.

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Things kick off in the action stakes with the pre-titles chase in which Bond in his ‘Q-Boat’ pursues The Cigar Girl on the Thames. Taking in riverside sights from Westminster through to the Millennium Dome, it’s an epic, imaginative sequence, what with 007 taking out the gun mounted on his opponent’s boat by launching his mini-vessel at it, passing under a closing bridge by plunging underwater and propelling his boat through Docklands streets and even a restaurant as he chases his quarry. As TWINE‘s action goes, it’s the highlight. The trouble with the rest is it isn’t memorable. It sounds good (007 and Elektra attacked by parahawks – motorised sleds with parachutes – in snow-topped mountains; a fire-fight between Bond and Renard in a subterranean Kazakhstan nuclear weapons facility; 007 and Christmas pursuing a bomb in one of Elektra’s oil pipes; Bond, Christmas and Zukovsky surviving an attack on his caviar factory from buzz-saw-toting helicopters; and a final showdown between our man and Renard aboard the stolen submarine). The trouble, contrasted with other modern Bonds’ action sequences, is they don’t get the pulse going. Least of all the damp squib of the submarine finale (pun intended), in which Bond seems to be giving Christmas and us a lesson in how a submarine works as much as trying to defeat his foe.

Many Bond fans blame new in-house Eon writers Purvis and Wade for TWINE‘s clunky one-liner-driven humour, but hey, they just wrote the lines – along with GoldenEye and Tomorrow scribe Bruce Fierstein, I might add – they don’t deliver them. Yes, as soon as The Brozzer offers up the pre-titles double entendre about The Cigar Girls’ ‘figures’ as if he’s spelling it out to a 13 year-old (“I’m sure they’re perfectly rounded”), we know what we’re in for. There’s too many sledge-hammer-like clever-clever puns from Brosnan and co. Still, there are comic highpoints. The last ever Desmond Llewelyn-Q scene’s one to savour (this would be the magnificent servant to the series’ final appearance), nicely introducing new quartermaster John Cleese. Plus, the return of Robbie Coltrane’s grubby Zukovsky’s a delight, getting the flick’s best line as he does – after the attack on his caviar factory it literally collapses in two halves, leaving him to exclaim: “The insurance company is never going to believe this”.

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It has its moments, but David Arnold’s music for TWINE is a comedown after his 007 debut for Tomorrow. It’s at its best with the lilting, melancholic Elektra’s Theme that soundtracks her story during the second third of the film (click the above image to hear it). In something of a rare instance for the modern Bond, Arnold himself co-wrote the title song – along with its performers rock band Garbage – meaning its theme is woven into his score at choice intervals and ensuring, musically speaking, the movie might be more of a cohesive whole than Tomorrow. Yet, the title tune, although decent, is a bit dull. And Arnold’s insistence of falling back on repetitive techno-esque electronica to back the action sequences instead of Barry-esque brass and percussion is a mis-step (Come In 007, Your Time Is Up; Ice Bandits; Caviar Factory), doing little to enliven these under-performing sequences. However, there are moments that blend perfectly with the on-screen visuals such as Casino, a flutey and jazz-inflected version of Elektra’s Theme, and the OHMSS-style soaring brass and strings of Snow Business, as the camera swirls panoramically around the mountains Bond and Elektra are about to ski down.

In a first for the Eon series, TWINE puts London front and centre in the Bond universe (hello, Skyfall!). Showing off Westminster, Docklands and the Millennium Dome by water offers an unusual cinematic view of The Big Smoke and works well as a Bond-friendly one-sequence-only locale. Sadly, this film’s other locations don’t get the juices going as much. There’s nowt wrong with taking 007 to Central Asia; after all, the post-Cold War Bond flicks are fittingly sprinkled with after-the-collapse-of-the-USSR touches, so former Soviet locales for Brosnan’s Bond feel naturalistic and right. The trouble is Azerbaijan (and Kazakhstan, for which parts of Spain is used) is dull. It’s neither glamorous nor exotic – I mean, a strip of land featuring old oil pumps just outside Swindon doubles for it at one point and you can’t tell the difference. Things are better when old favourite Istanbul is called on for the last third, yet aside from the iconic Maiden’s Tower we don’t get that much of the colour this terrific city lent Russia. Bilbao makes a welcome but very brief cameo at the pre-titles’ start and the French Alps stand in for the ski sequence.

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TWINE does well when it comes to gadgets, but none are amazing. Chief among them is the Q-Boat. It’s cool, fun and works well in its sequence, but ultimately it’s a variation on a vehicular theme in Bond – a mini-helicopter, a mini-jet and now a mini-speedboat. By now, the Bond brand isn’t complete without an Omega Seamaster and 007’s model boasts a nifty grappling hook and an extra-powerful light-up display that he uses when deploying the spherical security cushion thingee, via pulling a tag on his ski jacket, that encases him and Elektra during an avalanche. Bond’s also armed with a Visa card that splits to become a lock-pick, a switch on a pair of fake glasses that detonate a blinding flash from his P99 pistol and silly blue-tinted x-ray-esque shades. The movie’s simplest and coolest gadget is Zukovsky’s, though, a walking stick doubling as a one-shot gun, which he uses with his dying breath, having been shot by Elektra, to free Bond’s hand from one of the binds that keep him captive in the villainess’s torture chair.

In the words of The Brozzer, first things first – the man has never looked (and will never look) better as Bond than he does in TWINE. Still in good shape and with a trendy, shorter haircut, he wears each of his dark jackets (including the customary tux) with consummate ease and cool, while looking bloody brilliant in the awesome white suit, blue shirt and brown shoes combo he sports for the Istanbul finale. His delivery of the script’s one-liners may be a little cringe-worthy, but his look is light-years ahead of where the Dalton Bond was a decade before. Elsewhere, the movie doesn’t quite match its lead’s style, but has a good stab. The London opening offers a nod to the dying embers of ‘Cool Britannia’ – 007 operating in his nation’s capital looks and feels right, even if its climax is an advert for the once white elephant that’s the Millennium Dome. Meanwhile, Elektra’s semi-Asian-suggesting lilac and purple robes offer genuine glamour as she sashays about in Istanbul and the exoticism of that locale’s boosted by the smart inclusion of the supposedly ancient executioner chair, which brings back the torture scene (very much a Fleming trope) to the cinematic Bond. The appearances of both the buzz-saw helicopters and the parahawks are very welcome in the Azerbaijan section, but as mentioned that setting adds little to TWINE‘s style.

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Adjuster: -2

Those across-the-board ‘7/10’s suggest The World Is Not Enough is the ultimate mediocre Bond film – it may well be. It looks good and has a top cast, but its action underwhelms and its efforts to deliver satisfying emotional depth and human drama have since been put heavily in the shade by the Craig era.

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Best bit: The torture chair sequence

Best line: “I never miss”

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Rankings

(All scores out of 100/ new entries in blue/ * denotes a non-Eon Bond film)

1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) ~ 90

2. From Russia With Love (1963) ~ 88

3. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) ~ 87

4. GoldenEye (1995) ~ 85

=  Goldfinger (1964) ~ 85

6. You Only Live Twice (1967) ~ 84

7. Live And Let Die (1973) ~ 82

8. A View To A Kill (1985) ~ 75

9. Dr No (1962) ~ 74

10. Moonraker (1979) ~ 73

11. Thunderball (1965) ~ 70

12. For Your Eyes Only (1981) ~ 69

13. Never Say Never Again (1983)* ~ 68

=   Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) ~ 68

=   The World Is Not Enough (1999) ~ 68

16. The Living Daylights (1987) ~ 67

17. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) ~ 66

18. Octopussy (1983) ~ 64

19. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) ~ 62

20. Licence To Kill (1989) ~ 50

21. Casino Royale (1967)* ~ 48

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The James Bond reviews will return…

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