No pain, no gain
I can’t help it; whenever I hear that opening theme music to a James Bond film, I get a tingle. I can’t help but to hope for the best. This time out, my hopes were raised by a great opening sequence to The World Is Not Enough, which involves a thrilling highspeed boat chase. What’s more, TWINE gives us the premise for a most excellent villain. Renard (Robert Carlyle) is an anarchist-terrorist out to wreak havoc upon capitalism and the world. Yeah baby! And that’s not the half of it: he has a bullet lodged in his brain which has damaged his nerves and will eventually kill him, but until his death, it renders him impervious to pain and stronger each day. A bad-guy with super hero powers it can’t get any better than that!
But it can get worse. The first of several disappointments in this 19th Bond offering is that this glorious specimen of a bad guy is whipped. That’s right, he’s got himself a girlfriend and he has left his anarchist ways behind in order to do her bidding. Doesn’t this scoundrel have any ideological commitment to his evil? Apparently not, because he spends the film moping and helping his girlfriend get lots of oil, in the interest of her capital gains (the plot is all about oil and nuclear bombs and revenge, not that it really matters). A lovesick, deeply feeling bad guy who supposedly cannot feel pain doesn’t belong here. How about just a plain old cruel and wicked villain!
Which brings up an important point James Bond cannot exist alone. He requires martinis, the swanky high life, a crazy-ass diabolic virtuoso of an outlaw, sexy babes with cool names, and ingenious gadgets. If all that isn’t there, our Mr. Bond suffers.
At least the movie got the Bond girls half-right. Sophie Marceau is good as heiress-in-peril Elektra King, and Pierce Brosnan’s Bond (his third time in the role) plays well off of her. Unfortunately, the much-ballyhooed Denise Richards as nuclear physicist/bombshell Dr. Christmas Jones doesn’t fare so well. The improbability of her being a flame-red mini-dress wearing nuclear physicist wouldn’t be an issue (hey, it’s a Bond film) if she could say her lines without sounding like a high school freshman trying out for drama club. And not making it. Her “acting” is so slight that she seems barely present in her own scenes. Apparently, a Bond girl needs to have a little bit more going on than just a nice figure and short shorts.
It is also clear that James Bond only shines when in good company. Said to someone of equal dynamism, his adolescent innuendoes and quips are smarmy, but funny and ironic. Said to Dr. Christmas Jones, they just sound dumb (as romantic prelude in an exotic locale, “I’ve always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey”). I won’t accuse this film of being the most witty of the series, but what material there was worked best when everyone was fully engaged, and not on Christmas’ holiday, if you will.
Despite his lackluster co-star, I actually like Brosnan as Bond. I just wish that he had, well, better working conditions. I would suggest that he bring some of the cool charm of his Thomas Crown, from this year’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, to 007. Perhaps the Bond writers (Bruce Feirstein, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) and director (Michael Apted) could take a page from that film as well. Though chases and stunts are a staple in the series, the Bond films are leaning more and more toward the full-out, Bruce-Willis-esque action genre, and losing some of the cool spy caper thrills. (You can’t have too many of Q’s cool gadgets, and there are a couple here. With new x-ray glasses, Bond is able to do what we will never see goody-two-shoes Superman doing look at women’s underwear!)
This loss of gadgets is particularly highlighted when the action scenes, which should have been thrilling by virtue of their elaborate locales and appliances (speed boats, choppers, submarines), are simply not. During Bond’s high-speed ride through an oil pipeline while trying to disarm a nuclear device, I found my mind wandering. I thought about the Austin Powers films, and then about the recent Saturday Night Live skit where James Bond is diagnosed with hundreds of STDs and spends weeks telephoning the many women he has been with to share the news hey, at least I was on topic. By the should-have-been-high-anxiety-under-water-bomb-and-bad-guy scene, I was making a to-do list in my head for the next day.
In lieu of seductive accessories, then, the most enjoyable moments in TWINE occur when Brosnan interacts with many of the excellent extra players. I was happy to see the return of Robbie Coltrane’s Valentin Zukovsky, a sleazy but invariably likable casino owner (with some rather illegal side ventures) and Judi Dench as M (who, thank goodness, has no scenes with Richardson the poor girl would have been blown off the screen entirely). Desmond Llewellyn’s Q also returns for his last appearance in the series, in a just-right scene. And, in one of the film’s few moments of inspiration, John Cleese is introduced as Q’s successor, which seems just right as well.
But overall, the good in The World Is Not Enough is not enough to outweigh the bad they dropped the ball with the villain and casting Gen-X demographic ploy Richardson, not to mention a mediocre script and Apted’s adequate but uninteresting direction. True James Bond fans might find enough in the film to satisfy, but we should all hope that next time, M will make sure that her top agent gets better treatment.