Reel Talk

Tomorrow Never Dies and the Proper Bond Story

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Well everyone, it’s time to discuss Pierce Brosnan’s second entry to the James Bond series, Tomorrow Never Dies. And, let me tell you, it’s not one of my favorites. I feel like that’s a pretty common feeling among Bond fans, and it’s usually held in a bit of disdain. I don’t hate it or anything, but it usually ends up pretty low on my rankings of the films. Primarily because this film commits one of the greatest sins that a Bond movie can. It’s just kind of boring. There’s nothing too notable about this film, and it just feels like it’s going through the motions. No Bond movie is fully bad, as we’ve come to find during this project, and they all have at least some great aspects or moments, but this is a film that really struggles to find anything new or different to show or say. It’s a Bond movie. No more, no less. It takes the formula that we’ve all come to know and love, and then does the bare minimum with it. It’s like writing a paper to the rubric, just trying to get a passing grade and not trying to do anything special. Which is obviously a bummer, since I’m always in favor of more ambitious and interesting Bond’s, or at least ones that use the formula and put something unique about it. But it’s still a Bond movie, so I still enjoy watching it. It’s just kind of an experience that you almost immediately forget about as soon as we’re ensured that James Bond will return.

And it’s actually not overly shocking that things were a bit of a mess with this film, because when you look into the production of Tomorrow Never Dies you really get the feeling that no one knew what was going on. There was pressure to get the film out faster than made sense so that it would be released around an MGM stock going public, which is never a good sign. There’s also the fact that there didn’t seem to be a functioning script by the time that they began filming. They knew that they wanted to talk about Hong Kong, since it was being given back to the Chinese people from Britain, but even that didn’t really survive into the final product. You can also looks at the fact that several actors, including Teri Hatcher and Jonathan Pryce were unhappy with the fact that they ended up with characters that they didn’t like, and that they hadn’t signed on for. But that’s not it! Because there was also the drama surrounding the theme song for the film, which was originally written for k.d. lang to perform, and bits of that song were already threaded into the film’s score. However the producers instead decided to have Sheryl Crowe do a completely different song, figuring she would lead to a bigger single hit, and thus delegated lang’s song “Surrender” to the closing credits, despite the fact that the film’s score was linked to it. But nothing about this film will ever puzzle me more than the story behind the title. It’s kind of nonsense, isn’t it? Well, that’s because it was originally going to be Tomorrow Never Lies, referring to the newspaper that Elliot Carver owns called Tomorrow. But when it was faxed over to MGM some ink ran, and “Lies” looked like “Dies,” which they thought sounded cooler, and then insisted on running with. Yep! This film is named after a typo that some suit thought would be more marketable. And, folks? That kind of sums this film up perfectly.

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Tomorrow Never Dies begins with an incredibly vague title sequence, informing us that we’re at a “Terrorist Arms Bazaar” which is taking place “somewhere on the Russian border” It’s then established that MI6 have sent James Bond in to ruin the bazaar, and specifically retrieve a GPS device that the US military has lost. However, an admiral insists on them just bombing the bazaar, and fires a missile. Which was a bad call, since there’s some nuclear bombs there. Luckily though James Bond is on site, and he’s able to steal the bomber that contains the bombs, and flies away from the bazaar, saving the day. We’re then given a title sequence with lots of x-rays and microchips, before tossing us into the South China Sea. the HMSS Devonshire is sailing through what it thinks is international waters, when they’re harassed by some Chinese fighters, claiming that they’ve sailed into their sovereign waters. Things get tense, especially when the Devonshire consults their GPS device, but everything gets much worse when a ship that’s invisible to radar arrives, and sinks the Devonshire while also shooting down one of the Chinese planes. But because neither knew that the stealth ship existed, they’re both left sending messages to their respective governments that it was their fault. So England and China are now at each other’s throats, and war seems imminent. The military ensures M that they’re going to declare war in 48 hours, which gives Bond just two days to solve things. Luckily, they have a slight lead. M says that MI6 may have picked up a signal originating in the headquarters of a media mogul named Elliot Carver, and that that signal may have affected the Devonshire’s GPS system. So Bond is off to Hamburg, ready to infiltrate Carver’s organization. Which should prove to be somewhat simple, since he has had a previous relationship with Carver’s wife Paris.

Bond flies to Hamburg, picks up his new car, complete with remote-control capabilities, and heads into a fancy party celebrating the Carver Media Group launching their final satellite in a project that will give them reach to everyone on the planet. Except China. China isn’t playing ball with him. But that’ll come up later, for now Bond is going to head into the party, and immediately start provoking Carver with veiled references to the Devonshire disaster. He then heads up to talk to Paris, who is less than thrilled to see him. And these two details makes Carver realize he can’t trust Bond, and has some goons come and beat him up. But Bond is able to get away, and shuts down the power to the party, ruining Carver’s big moment. He then flees back to his hotel, where Paris shows up to sleep with him and give him some info. And with that info, the next morning, Bond heads to Carver’s headquarters and breaks in. He begins poking around the offices, and ends up coming across the GPS encoder he saw being bought in the beginning, and a Chinese secret agent named Wai Lin who is also infiltrating the office. Lin and Bond manage to escape, and then go their separate ways. But Bond got the GPS encoder! Unfortunately when he gets back to his hotel room he finds that Paris has been murdered by some of Carver’s henchmen. Bond manages to kill them though, and then gets in a crazy car-chase through a parking garage, using the remote-control function of the car so that he can drive it from the back seat. Bond eventually escapes and then heads off with the encoder, ready to get it analyzed. He then meets up with the terrible Jack Wade, who confirms that this encoder isn’t correct, and that it could have been used to get the Devonshire off track. So they use the encoder to find where the Devonshire actually sunk, taking into account where it thought it was, and Bond flies off to investigate the wreck. And when he gets there he’s shocked to find Wai Lin also investigating. How did she find this location? No clue, but it doesn’t matter because after confirming that there are some missiles missing from the ship they’re almost immediately abducted by Carver’s men and brought into Saigon, where Carver is waiting.

Carver then explains what’s going on, which is helped out by establishing that he’s working with a radical Chinese general named Chang. Apparently Carver’s plan is to get Britain and China to almost declare war on each other, getting a lot of money from covering it, and then use the stolen missiles to attack China, killing off the leadership. General Chang will then take over China, avert the war, and let Elliot Carver become the sole provider of news and entertainment to the world’s largest economy, making him the richest man in history. And once that’s established Bond and Wai Lin escape from Carver’s skyscraper, and are sent into the streets of Saigon, both handcuffed and riding on a single motorcycle. It’s a really fun chase, and once they escape Carver’s men they go to a safe-house operated by Wai Lin and plan their attack. They load up on gear and head out to where Carver’s stealth ship will be to launch the attack on China. Which just so happens to be where the British Navy is, making it look like they’re the ones who launched the attack. But Bond and Wai Lin manage to get into the ship, which Carver is on for some reason, and they begin ruining everything. Bond and Wai Lin begin fighting their way through the ship, trying to find a way to foil the plan. Which they accomplish when Bond causes an explosion on the ship, no longer making it radar invisible, and getting word to the British Navy what’s going on. The Navy then attacks the ship, and everything falls apart. Bond throws Carver into a massive drill, killing him, and then saved Wai Lin from one of Carver’s henchmen, ruining the missile launch and destroying the ship. Bond and Wai Lin then have sex on a boat, as is custom, and the film ends.

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Like I said up top, this is not one of my favorite Bond films. I have a lot of nostalgia for Pierce Brosnan and his films, but they really don’t hold up that well. Brosnan himself is fine in this movie, continuing to prove that his tenure will be an odd hodgepodge of all of the actors who came before him, not doing anything particularly interesting with the character. Michelle Yeoh is pretty fun as Wai Lin, even though she doesn’t have a whole lot to do. It’s nice to see a Bond Girl who is a capable secret agent, even though you can really see the groundwork being laid for a future regrettable Bond Girl. But we’ll get to that shortly. Teri Hatcher really doesn’t have much to do in the film, and I have to assume that her part was much beefier when she first signed on, because she feels like a bit of an afterthought. The real star of the film is of course Jonathan Pryce as Elliot Carver. I love this guy. Prycer is swinging for the fences in this film, putting in one of the most delightfully hammy and over the top performances this franchise has ever seen. Pryce loves being a Bond villain, and it shows. Elliot Carver revels in evil, and is a complete joy to watch. Which helps distract you from the fact that this film’s plot it kind of ridiculous. They obviously had no idea that the idea of Elliot Carver trying to become the world’s greatest newspaper, television, and radio provider would become a laughable goal in just five years, but it really does come off as kind of sad in retrospect. The internet was just poised to defeat Elliot Carver, James Bond didn’t really need to do anything.

This is a film that overall doesn’t impress me that much. It’s a slave to the formula, but didn’t have enough time to do anything interesting with it. Obviously there was a lot of studio interference involved in this movie, and it didn’t get enough pre-production time to really make anything of itself. But despite all of that, this movie does have a weird place in the Bond franchise. It’s kind of the last proper Bond movie we get. This is a very typical and formulaic Bond movie. Bond goes on a mini-adventure before the title sequence, and is then given a mission by M to investigate a mysterious industrialist who may be linked to a terrorist attack. Bond investigates, and ends up finding that the industrialist is planning on triggering a World War for his own gain. That’s a description that could be for several Bond movies. It’s the formula that most of them follow. And yet, from here on out, it’s kind of abandoned. We’ll get into it more in future entries of this project, but we aren’t going to see Bond getting a mission from M, and then following her orders for quite some time, if at all. From here on out Bond is going to be going rogue a lot, and even when he goes on more traditional missions it’s not coming from direct orders. No plan is going to be as extreme as triggering a World War again. Things are going to get more simple, while still horrible. It’s a bizarre moment for the franchise, which is about to radically change itself. The times were changing rapidly, and people’s expectations of actions movies were changing. Like they always were. And, for reasons we’ll get into later on, the people behind the James Bond franchise decided that things needed to change. People didn’t want to see James Bond getting a mission, and accomplishing it. Apparently. I’m still quite fine with it, but I guess they weren’t wrong, because the remaining movies have all been quite successful. It’s just a shame that the last true Bond film that we received, that uses the classic formula created by Dr. No and refined by Goldfinger, would be such a lukewarm affair. But don’t worry, things are at least going to get more eccentric in the next two days!

 

Tomorrow Never Dies was written by Bruce Feirstein, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, and released by MGM Distribution Company, 1997.

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