Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0018 The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Today we continue our journey through the James Bond films with No. 0018 of 0023: The World Is Not Enough. Bond films always seem to have a theme. . . sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. The theme in this film was “confused.” The motives, the plot, and even the action were all confused. This film probably should have been lower on our countdown except for the stiff competition it faced.

Plot Quality: The plot stinks. World revolves around the assassination of a billionaire oil tycoon by KGB agent-turned-terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle). This turns into a scheme to trigger a nuclear explosion near Istanbul so that a Russian oil pipeline would be useless, which would increase the value of a competing pipeline. The plot is hatched, possibly, by Renard. I say “possibly” because the film isn’t all that clear. It might also have been hatched by the billionaire’s daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau). She was a kidnap victim of Renard who now seems to be his lover and his boss, though she also answers to him. . . depending on the scene.
Anyhoo, the story begins with Bond and the billionaire visiting a Swiss banker to buy a report stolen from MI-6. The banker gets killed. Why? Something to do with the plot. Then Bond and the banker return to MI-6 Headquarters, where the billionaire gets blown up by booby-trapped money – this is one of those booby traps which takes precognition to work. Bond, of course, sees the killer, who just happens to be hanging around outside in the Thames river waiting to be spotted. A boat chase ensues, which results in a hotair balloon escape... because those are fast and agile escape vehicles.

Bond then flies to scenic Upper Krapistan (f.k.a. Azerbaijan) where villainess Elektra tries to convince him that he’s got nothing to worry about. She then has him attacked by winged monkey, i.e. guys on paraglider-equipped motorcycles, which kind of contradicts her plan of telling Bond there’s nothing to worry about. Bond then discovers that Elektra’s head of security is linked to Renard. Oh no!

Bang! We’re off to scenic Lower Krapistan (f.k.a. Kazakhstan) where we meet silicon-based ditz Denise Richards who is actually playing nuclear scientist Christmas Jones. Bond and Renard fight and everyone gets trapped in a nuclear silo. Bond escapes and goes back to Krapistan, where M gets kidnapped by Elektra because she’s angry at M as well. Bond is then attacked by helicopters with tree-cutting blades because that looks cool. He is captured by Elektra, but freed by a Russian mobster, and kills Elektra and saves M. Eventually, they all end up on a submarine where Renard intends to inject plutonium taken from the missile in Lower Krapistan and blow up Istanbul. Good riddance, I say. Of course, Bond saves the day.
Bond Quality: This was Brosnan’s third film and overall he was a decent Bond. He was always suave and, once his confidence grew, he handled the other aspects of Bond quite nicely as well. Unfortunately, he probably peaked in his prior film, Tomorrow Never Dies, and this was not his best outing. For one thing, Brosnan was stuck with some very poor material. By and large, he was just a tourist in his own movie as he rarely drove events. Even worse, he seemed to struggle with his chemistry with the Bond girls. Elektra was too much in control of their relationship for him to come across as Bond and he seemed too uninterested in Jones. In fact, the only person he really had solid chemistry with was M (Judy Dench).

The Bond Girl: This film has two Bond girls, but I’m only going to talk about Denise Richards here. Casting Richards as anything more than a stripper or cheerleader is a stretch and casting her as a nuclear scientist fell flat. She’s a ditz who adds little to the film. Most Bond girls add a sense of glamour, she didn’t. Most Bond girls add a high degree of sexual tension with Bond, Richards didn’t. Most Bond girls present a challenge for Bond; they are always involved some way in the scheme and they either need to be won over, controlled or killed. Not Richards. She’s just a bystander Bond runs across. If most Bond girls are on unobtainable object of desire wrapped in a dangerous package, Richards is a stripper looking for a ride home.
Villain Quality: There are two villains in this film, if you exclude the writer. Unfortunately, neither is all that great. On the one hand, you have Robert Carlyle as Renard. He’s an ex-KGB agent who has become a world famous terrorist. The other is Elektra, the daughter of the dead billionaire.

The problem here is that the relationship between the two isn’t clear and it appears contradictory. Renard kidnapped Elektra at one point and they became lovers. Yet, Elektra kills her father as revenge for using her as bait to catch Renard. That is a confused motive as one would assume that she would feel happy to have found Renard. Moreover, as the plot moves forward, it is implied that Renard is taking orders from her. I say “implied” because the film is never clear, but the film basically shifts midway through from having Renard driving the scheme to having Elektra driving the scheme. At one point, Elektra even seems happy to let Renard die. This doesn’t make a lot of sense. If he’s the evil terrorist mastermind, why is he taking orders from his former victim? I suspect we’re supposed to believe that Elektra is a psychopath and Renard fell for her in some sort of reverse Stockholm Syndrome, but the story just never makes any of this clear.

Moreover, Elektra’s revenge motive doesn’t mesh with her motive being economic, which is the motive driving the main plot. According to the main plot, Elektra wants to blow up Istanbul to destroy a Russian pipeline. She wants to do this to raise the value of her own pipeline and she’s clearly been planning this for months. But think about that. Until she killed her father a few days ago, she didn’t own the pipeline, so why is she so obsessed with coming up with insane ways to improve its value? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. You would think she would own it for a while and see how it works before she decided her best plan was to set off a nuke to destroy a competitor.
Further, the scheme itself is bizarre. Bond schemes always need to be larger than life, but they simultaneously need to sound plausible. This scheme sits on the border of plausible. The problem here is the proportionality. There are easier ways to increase the value of a pipeline. And even if she pulls this off, she still won’t even own a monopoly as there are other pipelines and thousands of tankers that could be used as alternatives. Nor is a monopoly all that great in this instance because she doesn’t own the oil, she just transports it, and with oil being a commodity, there no chance she can demand more than market prices.

Ultimately, everything here is confused. Is her motive personal or business? And if it’s business, why be so psychotic about a business she didn’t own until a couple days ago and without more reason to believe it will really benefit her? The whole relationship with Renard feels like an add-on just to give the plot a “big reveal” halfway through as Bond discovers she’s the real villain. Beyond that, their relationship is simply confused and inconsistent. Why she thinks she can get away with playing innocent as she has Bond attacked and then kidnaps M isn’t clear either. And if she really wanted to kill Bond, why not just shoot him on one of their dates? Why try any number of low-probability-of-success attacks? It feels like the writer was writing a caricature of a James Bond story.

All in all, the film has the elements of a Bond film, so you can’t complain about that. It just doesn’t use them very well. It’s not that the film ever insults you, it just doesn’t quite come together. That’s why this film is No. 0018 of 0023.


Dave Olson said...

There is a story that when Issac Asimov had nearly completed his doctoral dissertation, he discovered a flaw that threw off his entire premise. After trying to reason it out, he gave up and went down to the local cinema which happened to be playing a Three Stooges movie. He made an effort to not think about anything and just focus on the film. Basically, he was shutting off his conscious brain and letting his subconscious work the problem. By the time the end credits rolled, Asimov had figured out where he made his mistake and corrected it, thus receiving his doctorate. If you prefer James Bond to The Three Stooges, TWiNE is the perfect movie for shutting off your brain for 2 hours. It's a lot like The Fifth Element in that the plot doesn't make a great deal of sense but it's fun to watch.

Just a few quibbles: In the London chase scene, Bond didn't see Reynard but one of his henchman. Of course I meant to say henchwoman.
Oh, and this was released in 1999, not 1987 as listed in the header.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Dave... fixed. That's what happens when I rush things.

I like The Fifth Element a lot on many levels, but TWINE doesn't do it for me. This one just doesn't catch my attention. It's certainly not as bad as the ones we've already reviewed, but it just leaves me thinking... meh.

As for Asimov, there is a lot to that. Getting away from a problem is a great way for your mind to process the problem and find a solution.

shawn said...

Another good review Andrew.

I agree with Dave Olson in "TWiNE is the perfect movie for shutting off your brain for 2 hours."

Concerning crazy Elektra- I understood it that she was kidnapped, she seduced her captor and then took the lead as she was pissed that dad used her as bait and then didn't use the money he got from the oilfields discovered by her mother's family.

Anonymous said...

This one just kinda drags after the half-way point and I don't even remember some parts of it.

The pre-credit sequence is excellent and the Thames chase is one of the best Bond action scenes, period. Of course, the problem is that the movie is so strong out of the gate that the rest of the movie can't measure up.

And it's been said before but Brosnan got better as his scripts got worse, which is a shame. And it's never pleasant watching otherwise talented actors work their way around subpar material. In this movie, you've got Sophie Marceau and Robert Carlyle, both of whom could've been in separate Bond movies. But this movie muddles them together.

Anthony said...

Yeah, this is an utterly crappy Bond movie (stupid plot, boring villians, no good action scenes) and Denise Richards is hilarious as a nuclear scientist.

However, there are a lot more hilariously terrible Bond girls than good ones and some of them (including Gloria Hendry in Live and Let Die) were worse than Richards.

tryanmax said...

This one may deserved to be ranked lower, but it gets bonus points for the horrible pun at the end (so bad it's good). "I thought Christmas only comes once a year."

Classy, James, real classy.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Thanks!

I think you almost have to see her as more psychotic that Renard to begin with. The story kind of suggests this whole Stockholm Syndrome aspect, but that really doesn't work with the way they behave. Ultimately, the problem is that it's confusing and inconsistent and they just don't explain it well at all.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I didn't think much of the Thames chase. There just wasn't much tension to me because there was no point where you felt either was in danger or either would escape.

I do agree though that the movie just dies halfway through. Maybe the two halves were written by different people?

True about Brosnan, though I think the high point in his evolution was the garage scene in Tomorrow Never Dies. To me, that's the moment he finally shows all the elements he needs. Unfortunately, then his scripts turned to garbage and by the time we reach Die Another Die he clearly hates the role.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I'm kind of indifferent to Sophie Marceau. I think she's ok, but nothing special as actresses go. But Carlyle absolutely deserved to be his own villain in his own film.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, "stupid plot, boring villians, no good action scenes"... that pretty much describes it.

I agree about Richards. She's pretty worthless as a nuclear scientist and the way they use her in this film. She probably could have been decent in some other film. In either event, you are right that there have been some other horrible ones. Gloria Hendry is a great example of that. Though, that film had the awesome Jane Seymour to make up for it.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, LOL! Yes, very classy. This one could indeed be ranked lower except for one thing. I think the ones below it were actively offensive in some ways. They left you with a sense of "Why the hell did they do that to James Bond?!" This one never reaches that level. This one just leaves you with, "Meh." Essentially, forgettable is better than angered.

Anonymous said...

Man, the spam has been crazy the last couple of days!

I agree - this movie doesn't leave you with your mouth hanging open, wondering "What did I just watch?" Instead, it's just kinda... there.

And as for the final line, Mel Brooks once said regarding comedy, "If you walk up to the button, push the button."

It's like a dare from the filmmakers: "You don't think we're gonna make that pun. Maybe we will, maybe we won't, but you won't find out till the end." :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, We're getting over 200 spam hits a day. I'm spending half my day deleting it.

Yeah, they could have called this film: "Meh!!"

True about Brooks. People do like those moments (except in serious dramas). There's just something about seeing an obvious joke right before it happens and waiting to see if they do it.

Backthrow said...

I remember when I was leaving the theater with my dad, we agreed that the producers should've had Denise Richards and Maria Grazia Cucinotta (the female assassin in the TWINE pre-credits sequence) switch roles. I have no idea how good an actress Cucinotta was, at that time, but she couldn't have been any worse than Richards, who seems to have been promoted to her position as nuclear (oops, sorry... 'nukuler') expert from a beach volleyball team. The movie would still be a muddled mass of 'meh', but it'd still be a little better than what we got.

I also remember, before the TWINE's release, the description of Renard was kind of cool, and had some promise (a bullet lodged in his brain had removed his ability to feel pain, but was also slowly killing him); a cold, somewhat inhuman, go-for-broke bad guy... but he was pretty dull in the finished product, merely a pawn so that the plot could reveal the gimmicky twist that his hostage was the villan(ess). Bond finishing her off had a nice hard edge, but it was an non-involving, convoluted trip to get there, and it made the (dull) climax with Bond vs. Renard seem all the more tacked-on.

Despite the implausibilities, I liked the extended pre-credits sequence, more or less, but it was so big that the rest of the movie couldn't hope live up to it. Plus, since the producers decided Brosnan should be the 'hybrid Bond', they had to add a few dopey Moore-esque bits, like Bond taking that little dry boat-ride through the crowded restaurant, and straightening his tie underwater.

Director Michael Apted wasn't a good match for Bond; some of the dramatic scenes were handled okay, but he seemed to have no know-how or interest in action scenes, so apparently handed planning and filming of all of that over to the 2nd Unit (I remember reading that, at the time, in an interview with him), so there was no flow or plan when those silly para-ski-glider flying monkey things attacked, for instance. That helicopter dangly saw thing, cutting through the house and to have it then literally split in half down the middle, was pretty cartoon-dumb, I thought (maybe that was Denise Richard's idea). So was the oil pipeline plot, as Andrew has outlined.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I concur. The action in this felt "cartoon-dumb." Everything about it from the choice of weapons to how the choreography was handled felt like someone was staging something they thought would be cool for kids, and that didn't fit with the seriousness of the character or story at all. The tie-straightening is the perfect example. That's something Bugs Bunny would do.

I agree too with your point about Renard. He sounds interesting in principle. And they picked a great actor. But then he ends up just tacked onto the film and his backstory and characteristics have nothing to do with the film really. He more or less just becomes a henchman with no real purpose other than to do what the plot requires. And yeah, the ending feels really awkward with the main villain(ess) dead.

Switching Richards and Cucinotta would have been interesting. I don't know much about Cucinotta, but seeing Richards as the assassin would have been really unexpected and quite eye-opening.

As an aside, I thought about spelling it "nuklar" when I wrote the article. :) In all honesty, this would have been a great opportunity to cast somebody older but still sexy to see how Brosnan can do with that. Maybe an actress in her mid-40s at the time.

rlaWTX said...

no opinion, but I loved this line in the article:
"There are two villains in this film, if you exclude the writer."

AndrewPrice said...

:) Glad you liked it!

Anonymous said...

To date, this is the only Bond film I have seen in theaters. And then it was only because I was in college, it was January, and there was nothing else to do.

Andrew, I think you pretty much nailed all the problems with this film. (Except I think you were a little too nice towards Richards' acting "skill.") However, we're going to have to agree to disagree on Brosnan. He's my least favorite actor in the role and I like him about as much as you like Dalton as Bond. For me, he put too much effort into being a playboy instead of being a badass (and intelligent) secret agent. But he's not the only problem I had with this film.

The Brosnan movies, IMO, never felt like BOND movies. They felt like 90's action films that happened to be starring some British guy named James Bond- could've been the agent, could've been the bird scientust. Who knows? I think this was due to the series taking a hiatus between "License to Kill" (1989) and "Goldeneye" (1995). In that time, several action classics including 'Lethal Weapon 2,' Die Hard,' Die Hard 2,' 'Speed, 'The Fugitive,' 'Terminator 2,' 'Under Siege,' and many others hit the screen. While Brosnan was in the role, the Bond filmmakers seemed to be following trends instead of setting them. (Not unlike today, with the Craig movies trying to be 'Bourne'-type flicks.) 'Bandwagon' is a word that should never be used to describe Bond, but this seems to be the case from 1995 to the present.


Anonymous said...

BTW...I'm surprised no one's mentioned this was the last time Desmond Llewelyn played 'Q' before his tragic death in a car accident in December 1999. Say what you want about Bond, this role was one man.

I mean, come one! John Cleese as the new 'Q'? This MI6 position is officially no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet it's maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! It's metabolic processes are now history! It's off the twig! It's kicked the bucket, it's shuffled off it's mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-POSITION!!

In short, good comedy is mostly situational. Forced, underwritten, and underused comedic parts are just wrong in any country or genre.

R.I.P., Q.


AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, Thanks! I have to agree about the Brosnan films. I think that following the end of Moore's reign, the producers became trend followers rather than trend setters. I do think that with Craig, they've finally gone their own way though.

As for Brosnan himself, he is my third or fourth favorite, but I think he was head and shoulders better than Dalton and probably better than most of Moore's films. I do agree that he lacked the right tone of seriousness versus playboy-ism, but I think that overall he was adequate enough to be believable as Bond.

Totally agree about Cleese. He was completely in appropriate to the role. Adding him was like adding a guy in a clown suit.

Anonymous said...

rlaWTX said what I was going to say.

"There are two villains in this film, if you exclude the writer."

This is one of the greatest lines I've ever read in any film review.

Oh and this film was forgettable. The worst things about this film were criminally misusing Robert Carlyle and casting Denise Richards as anything.

And Tryanmax is also right the "I thought Christmas only comes once a year."
pun is absolutely horrible.


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks! I'm glad you liked it! Greatest... line... ever! :D

Agreed. Carlyle is a fantastic actor and they just completely misused him.

As for Richards, she never should have been cast in anything more than a teen film.

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