Does the world really need a dour James Bond?
As the durable 007 returns for his 19th filmed adventure, director Michael Apted and writers Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein have apparently decided James needs to ratchet up the gravitas level a bit, to seem a tad more serious. So we get a Bond who begins the film mourning the death of a fellow agent, who tenderly strokes the cheek of a woman he's just killed (one must make sacrifices when the fate of the world is at stake) and basically refuses to lighten up for the entire run of "The World Is Not Enough" (at least until a groan-inducing final line).
Star Pierce Brosnan, making his third appearance as Bond, is reportedly thrilled with all this, saying they've succeeded in making Ian Fleming's secret agent less of a caricature and more of a human being.
Which may be true. But they've also made him seem out of place in his own movie. After all, Bond films are nothing if not ludicrous, and playing him without tongue planted at least marginally in cheek is to miss the point. In his first two efforts as Bond, Brosnan suggested a return to the glory days of Sean Connery, but here, he's more the mirror image of Roger Moore, whose sense of the absurd threatened to turn Bond into a comic-book hero. Here, Brosnan aspires to high tragedy, and the result is just as disappointing.
"The World Is Not Enough" starts off promisingly, with one of the series' most exciting sequences, a high-speed boat chase along the Thames that pits Bond against the de rigueur beautiful would-be assassin and ends with 007 dangling from a helicopter above London's Millennium Dome. It's all quite thrilling and suggests a top-notch adventure to come.
Unfortunately, the movie's already peaked, even before the opening credits.
Not that "The World Is Not Enough" is dull. Far from it; like all good Bond films, there are chases aplenty, bad guys around every corner, and plenty of beautiful women with suspicious motives. But the plot is simply too convoluted (something about an oil pipeline and a kidnapping and some evil Russian dude who's got a bullet lodged in his skull that makes him impervious to pain) to follow without a flow chart.
And the whole thing is so deadly serious. What should prove a comic master stroke, the introduction of John Cleese as R, the gimmicks expert tapped to succeed Desmond Llewelyn's Q, is criminally wasted; Cleese is only on screen for two scenes. And the filmmakers overuse Judi Dench as M, making her integral to the plot, but only because she betrays her best instincts -- hard to believe anyone who has risen to the top of MI6 would do that.
While plausibility has never been the Bond films' strong point, "The World Is Not Enough" takes things to the breaking point. Too many lousy shots are fired at Bond, too many villains pass up the opportunity to simply kill him, opting to play with him instead.
The film's supporting cast is also a mixed bag: Robert Carlyle as Renard, the doomed Russian, keeps his teeth clenched and looks plenty fierce. And Sophie Marceau is fatally slinky as Elektra, the woman for whose honor Bond fights. But Denise Richards, as atomic scientist Christmas Jones, is one-dimensional even for a Bond girl, letting her chest and her eyebrows do all the acting.
'The World Is Not Enough'
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau and Judi Dench
Directed by Michael Apted
Distributed by MGM
Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of action violence, some sexuality and innuendo)
Running time 127 minutes
Sun score: ** 1/2