By 1999, Pierce Brosnan had been established in the role of James Bond with two hits, “Goldeneye” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”. While “Goldeneye” took a look at Bond’s place in a cold-war world, and Tomorrow Never Dies was a somewhat more traditional, action-packed Bond film, the next film, “The World Is Not Enough”-named after Bond’s family motto from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”-would attempt to form a fusion of the two, with some mixed results.
For the film, they got celebrated British drama and documentary filmmaker Michael Apted, well known at this point for “Gorillas In The Mist” “Coal Miner’s daughter” and the “7 up” documentary series. Apted would bring an interesting dramatic touch to this installment.
World Is Not Enough begins with what was at the time, the longest of the Bond pre-credits sequences-after a short Spanish sequence-in which we get what I believe is one of the only gunbarrels to open on Bond himself-uncharacteristically in glasses no less-to set up the plot, we get Bond arriving at a briefing only for MI6 to come under attack (killing a friend of M’s, industrialist Robert King), leading to a chase on the Thames that is similar in a few ways to Goldeneye’s tank chase, involving civilians, landmarks and police caught in the chaos. We even get a nod to that scene with Brosnan even straightening his tie!
Bond unexpectedly for a pre-credit sequence-mostly fails his mission, as the female villain decides to end her own life by destroying a hot air balloon, an act which injures Bond’s shoulder as he gets it caught in part of the Millennium Dome in order to escape the explosion.
This time, the theme of the opening credits is “oil”, and we get a nice title song by Shirley Manson/Garbage. In my opinion, it’s the best of Brosnan’s Bond intro songs, although the film’s mix of it leaves out the important lyric “There’s no point in living if you can’t feel alive”.
We then go to Scotland, where the funeral is held and where MI6 has set up a temporary HQ. Bond, due to his shoulder injury, gets sidelined, but is eventually cleared when he makes a move on MI6’s Doctor. We also get the last Desmond Llewellyn Q scene (as Desmond died shortly after the film’s premiere), and it’s an apt scene that works in that Q is retiring, and it’s unfortunately timely. It also serves to introduce his replacement played by John Cleese, although Cleese would only stick around for the next film before the Casino Royale reboot. There’s also sort of more of the nice kind of friendly exchange between 007 and Q that we saw in Goldeneye, with Cleese providing more of the insults this time.
Although introduced as a strict boss in Goldeneye, and with not much done with her in Tomorrow Never Dies, we have here Judi Dench’s first chance to really shine as the new M, especially as she was getting a lot of press around this time for her role in “Shakespeare in Love”. Here, Bond wonders if her personal feelings towards her dead friend and his heiress daughter Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) are somehow clouding her judgement, and we see some more of the slightly antagonistic relationship between the two that we saw in Goldeneye (but pretty much absent from TND) which continues in the next film,and which was pretty much the norm for her during the Craig era as well.
Bond figures out that Renard-an anarchist who had kidnapped Elektra a few years back-is beyond King’s death and the attack on MI6, and he’s a man who can feel no pain due to a bullet lodged in his skull that’s slowly killing him. Bond is assigned to be Elektra’s bodyguard and also figure out where Renard is.
Bond and Elektra’s relationship is initially cold at first, and we also get what appears to be a ‘sort of’ reference to Bond’s dead wife Tracy (When Bond dodges the question about losing a loved one, although it could also refer to his parents). After the two go skiing, we get an action sequence in which Bond fights some para-hawks. Unfortunately, this illustrates one of the film’s problems. While Apted is great at directing the film’s dramatic scenes, his action scenes seem kind of clumsy and awkwardly edited, although the music by David Arnold is pretty good.
Next we get a casino scene and the return of Goldeneye’s Valentin Zukovsky, now a “legitimate” Casino owner and Cavier seller instead of running a shady nightclub. It’s an amusing sequence with Robbie Coltrane playing more of his comedy skills than in Goldeneye, and his character is far less bulldogish than that film, even advising James to relax! Although not quite the same, it’s a fun role, and recalls similar Bond allies such as Kerim Bey and Columbo (and Raoul in the next film).
Here we also get some hints that Elektra’s not quite what she appears to be as she somewhat recklessly bets at the table.
Bond’s convinced that there’s a mole in Elektra’s organization-and he’s right-as he starts to figure things out, even as he and Elektra become closer together. He’s able to finally track Renard and his men to a nuclear disposal site. In both this scene and a slightly earlier one, Robert Carlyle comes off as kind of scary and sadistic, willing to off his own men to keep Bond away.
However, we’re also introduced here to Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) who although not as bad as some of the more helpless Bond girls, doesn’t really make much of an impact, especially with Sophie Marceau’s excellent performance as Elektra. She pretty much just plays the ‘good’ Bond girl with some scientific expertise and that’s it.
During this scene, Bond starts to get more clues that Elektra isn’t quite who she appears to be, as Renard seems to know about his injuries and her motto.
Renard escapes with a nuke, and Bond tries to confront Elektra about the real connection between her and Renard, but unfortunately they’re called away as Renard appears to threaten her oil pipeline with a nuke. Here we learn Elektra’s true intentions-that she actually did kill her father with Renard’s help, and she kidnaps M. Bond, in a meanwhile, figures out that the nuke isn’t in the pipeline (just a smaller explosive) and fakes his death so he could figure out more of what she’s up to.
Turns out her plan is to destroy the pipeline near Istanbul, leaving her with a monopoly on her own Oil pipeline. Here we see her interact with Renard, in some interesting scenes which actually have Renard be sort of more uncertain about himself, with her actually being the main diabolical mastermind. She’s actually the main Bond villain! We also see her face off against M, but fortunately M’s resourcefulness-and a locator chip Bond gave her in a previous scene-help 007 to locate her, and Elektra’s base of operations.
Bond tries to figure out what Valentin knows (although he helped with parts of her plan, she was unaware of her true insanity and endgame) and we do get a fairly exciting, if once again, confusingly edited action sequence with some dodgy CG at Valentin’s cavier factory. We also get some car action, but like “Goldeneye” the car is kind of wasted. This time literally. The highlight of this scene is David Arnold’s score, which has a rousing version of the Bond theme along with his action cues.
We then go to Istanbul, and the final confrontation where Bond is captured, and there’s a tense sequence where Bond is put on the ‘rack’ and it’s a sort of weird torture/seduction scene as she monologues her plan.
When Bond finally escapes due to Valentin’s timely-but fatal-intervention, we get a scene where Bond rescues M and finally confronts Elektra, who has pretty much gone full barking mad, thinking Bond would hesitate to kill her, and we get one of the best Brosnan Bond lines ever, if not one of the best Bond lines ever- “I never miss!”
Then it’s the final submarine fight, which once again is kind of a confusing mess, unfortunately. Although the final fight between Bond and Renard is pretty decent.
The film then ends with one of the Bond in a compromising romantic position ending, one of the most infamous for reasons I’d rather not write here.
Overall, “World Is Not Enough” is a flawed Bond film, one that has some really great dramatic scenes, one of David Arnold’s best Bond scores,and an interesting concept for the villain-as well as more screen time and an active role in the plot for Judi Dench’s M-but it is let down by some poor casting choices (Denise Richards) and the action directing not being the best (when it’s a must in a Bond film).
It’s interesting also that certain elements of the film-an attack on MI6, Bond being badly injured, M having a large role in the plot, particularly the role of the villain-bear quite a few similarities to 2012’s Skyfall, the 50th anniversary film with Daniel Craig. But I’ll cross that bridge a few reviews later.