James Bond – Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) REVIEW
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Producer: Michael G. Wilson & Barbara Broccoli
Writer: Bruce Feirstein
Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench, Gotz Otto
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If GoldenEye is up here (raise your hands high), then Tomorrow Never Dies is way down here (touch your toes).
Right out the gate, Tomorrow Never Dies is a completely average James Bond film. Actually, average would be saying this film is in the middle of a scale system which I have never really used for Bond films. No, Tomorrow Never Dies falls under the middle point of whatever scale you’re thinking. It is a below average Bond film and sadly begins the decline of Pierce Brosnan 007 films that do not get any better.
After the successful release of GoldenEye, producers were in a tough position. How do you follow-up a Bond film which received praise from critics and fans alike? How do you possibly give fans what they want, and then go bigger and better without falling flat on their faces? How do you make a film better than that? In truth, you hire the same director, same screen writer and hope for the best.
Martin Campbell was asked back to direct Tomorrow Never Lies (original title), but he declined on the basis that he didn’t want to direct two Bond films back to back. Of course history will prove that Campbell does eventually return many years later, so producers decided to call upon Roger Spottiswoode. Director of such classics as Turner & Hooch and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Coming on board with only 18 months until release, Spottiswoode done his best with a script that was still being worked on well into filming.
Like normal for a big budget film, multiple rewrites were done to polish the script. Sole credit eventually rested with Bruce Feirstein (returning from GoldenEye). Unfortunately it’s since been revealed that even with a completed script, several cast weren’t happy with the changes their characters had gone through from initial form to final shooting.
To ring the film in the new generation, Barbara Broccoli had David Arnold compose the film score. He was recommended by John Barry himself after coming to the new composer’s attention. David Arnold wanted to bring a classic, yet modern take on the familiar Bond score. And that he did.
Filming began in early 1997 with a release date later that same year.
On a mission near the Russian border, James Bond encounters a bit of trouble thanks to an overzealous British General who orders a missile strike on the terrorist meeting. Bond however sees a jet carrying nuclear torpedoes onboard. Before the missile arrives, Bond jumps in the jet and leaves with the nuclear weapons while Gupta, a techno-terrorist, also escapes with a GPS encoder.
Later on, media mogul Elliot Carver uses the GPS encoder to trick the British HMS Devonshire into travelling off course into Chinese waters. This leaves them open for attack by the ‘enemy’ which is exactly what Elliot wants. On a stealth ship, his henchman Mr. Stamper, uses a sea drill to rip into the Devonshire and sink it to the bottom of the ocean. At the same time destroying the Chinese fighter jet sent to investigate. All survivors of the sinking Devonshire are killed, while Elliot Carver writes up the headline for his newspaper, Tomorrow.
M sends 007 to investigate Carver Media when the news report was released before most details were known. Bond arrives in Hamburg, seduces an old flame and current wife of Carver, Paris and ‘pumps her for information’. Eventually 007 steals back the encoder, escapes death multiple times, we hear the Bond theme on nauseating repeat until Bond locates and finds the Devonshire’s last true location. Wai Lin, a Chinese spy tags along with Bond as they intend to stop World War III, which Carver wishes to entice for the sole purpose of having total media control.
Eventually Carver is killed, World War III is prevented and Bond breathes new life into Wai Lin at the end of the action film.
If you couldn’t tell from that synopsis of Tomorrow Never Dies, I am really bitter on this film. I understand it has fans and I will not fault those people at all, because strangely I can see the appeal some might find. I just failed to enjoy this film on most viewing. Most. This month alone, it was in my Blu Ray player and viewed a total of eight times. Only one of those times I actually relaxed enough to find it mildly enjoyable. And I think it comes down to the fact I was a bit sick.
Now for my reasons I didn’t really like Tomorrow Never Dies. The musical score by David Arnold really bugs me. Maybe its the fact he relies heavily on the James Bond theme (over 30 times used) or the fact it doesn’t feel like a traditional Bond score when I listen to it. Every time the Bond theme kicks in, it reminds me of those terrible jokes of 007 walking down the street and the theme kicking in whenever he moved his head. It was in use far too often and having listened to his later film scores in the franchise, I know David Arnold is capable of so much more. The use of techno weaved throughout the film doesn’t do anything for me, and only manages to take me out of the picture.
When it comes to the directing here, well Roger Spottiswoode is someone who decided that using slow motion to enhance action scenes was the right choice. Because I’m here to tell you, those slow motion moments are utterly pathetic. They only appear in the film mostly toward the end while taking on Carver’s stealth ship, but in those fleeting seconds, it grinds my gears. Even the way he handles the action and general romance scenes throughout, there is no sense of tension at all. I don’t know how he does it, but Spottiswoode manages to remove all sense of danger.
Which brings me to my next point, we need to talk about the fact that James Bond is now portrayed like as a Superman, I blame this on everyone from producers to writers and director here. Pierce Brosnan often gets the blame for having all his films being simply action movies starring James Bond. Let me just clear it up right now, Brosnan is not to blame, he tries his best here and every 007 picture he stars in, but the scripts he’s given don’t do him justice. Brosnan is fantastic in Tomorrow Never Dies and one of the good aspects of this film.
One of the other outstanding performances must be given to Michelle Yeoh who plays, Wai Lin. I’ve never come across Michelle Yeoh in any other films, so I can’t base her acting talents on anything else. But I am so glad to see the strong female leads from GoldenEye had an impact and the writers decided to give us Wai Lin. Her character reminded me of Anya Amasova from The Spy Who Loved Me, who I very much enjoyed. Both come from potential ‘enemy’ nations with their own missions during the film. Action wise, you can clearly see Michelle is able to handle herself. Especially when attacked in her place after the motorbike chase. Her chemistry with Brosnan is friendly and flirty, but for some reason I struggle to buy the forced love shown here. Tomorrow Never Dies wants us to believe they’re in love and 007 would risk all to save her, but it is clearly only done so to have him bed her at the end. At least in The Spy Who Loved Me, I could buy into the love story. Maybe its the weak script.
Another issue with this film is the piss weak villain. Elliot Carver is a joke right? I mean, this is all just some cruel move on behalf of the film makers to put us in a false sense of security and then unleash the true mastermind behind the events of Tomorrow Never Dies, right? Nope, Elliot Carver only exists here because someone thought it would be funny to make fun of Rupert Murdoch. More power to the decision maker on that one, next time though, give us a character with a little dimension. Jonathan Pryce does as good a job as he can playing a media crazed mogul, but his plan of creating World War III to gain sole disruption and increase sales is a joke. I mean, we’ve had Bond battle people who wish to cause mass death to repopulate the planet, and other want to hold the world to ransom, but never has the Bond franchise used a reason for mass murder to increase sales.
Elliot Carver has never done much for me as a character, and he’s always been fairly low in my rankings of villains. And the way he types on that keyboard just infuriates me. NOBODY types that way. Believe me. I’m a fairly quicker typer and even with one hand, I wouldn’t be typing like that. He just appears to be mashing the keys and we’re expected to believe he’s a genius. NO. I refuse to accept it.
I should really be taking a breather, but not until I get through this dreadful review.
Next up, Mr. Stamper. He just…well…no I actually like this guy. Gotz Otto brings this guy to life and although he’s a typical henchman in every sense of the word, he’s pretty good throughout this film. Reminds me of early Bond henchmen, and even comes with his own Chakra torture knives. Sadly, we never get to see Stamper use his torture skills and I would’ve sacrificed a little bit here and there to see him in action. Stamper’s action scenes alongside Bond at the end of the film are pretty good, and Gotz just looks so damn evil.
There are others in this film, but frankly they mostly bug me. Teri Hatcher is one note and piss poor, but begins the trend of having a Bond girl straight out of a magazine. She looks gorgeous but sadly the chemistry is all off. Of course, playing a new female character requires an investment by both writer and director to make us, the audience, feel connected so her death means something, however it doesn’t work. If she was Sylvia Trench (from Dr. No and From Russia With Love) it would’ve meant something, maybe. Even returning CIA agent, Jake Wade is pointless and painful here. He is comic relief but I cringe all the time. Then you have M and Moneypenny. The mission briefing scene in M’s car is filled with sexual innuendo that borders on sexism, which is coming from two female characters. I can’t stand it.
The saving grace of Tomorrow Never Dies also happens to be my biggest pet peeve of the Brosnan era; the action scenes. You see, ever since Pierce Brosnan took over, the James Bond franchise became less spy film and more action. I don’t mind action in a James Bond film, actually I rather enjoy it, but here it seems to be a showcase for BMW. The car chase in the multilevel car park is fantastic. Whenever I watch it I get chills from the fun Brosnan appears to be having rolling around in the backseat while dishing it out on the bad guys. The gadgets of the BMW also get shown off in spectacular fashion and the scene works nicely to showcase some fun stunt work. This scene works for me. The BMW bike chase not so much. At first, the fact Bond and Wai Lin are cuffed together provides some fun moments. Shifting between moving from in front to behind Bond is amusing and provides a bit of sexual tension, Brosnan always sells the awkward look, but by the time the helicopter is introduced, the chase gets a little long in the tooth.
I appreciate the stunt work on offer, and will continue to praise the stunt guys at every turn, but when it feels like padding, or used to pay off the BMW pay cheque, that’s when I have a major issue.
Worse part of Tomorrow Never Dies comes down to my reluctance to accept that James Bond has shifted with the times. I was happy when Bond was a spy first and action star third. It was a franchise always pushing the boundaries of stunt performers and usually set the bar high for what others needed to accomplish in the industry. Now, the franchise seems limp. Maybe I’m looking at what comes next in the Brosnan era and lumping all my negative thoughts here, however I’ve never been truly sold on this period of the 007 films.
Save for a few scenes and fleeting moments, I struggle to pay attention in Tomorrow Never Dies largely because it’s a fairly run of the mill movie. The action is nothing I haven’t seen before (except the car chase), and the stunts never feel Bond like. Everything comes across like it’s trying too hard when it could’ve used another character and been Generic Action Movie Number 2 of the year.
James Bond will return in The World Is Not Enough