We’ve reached an oddly momentous occasion here on this Bondathon rewatch. Because today’s film, The World Is Not Enough, while being one of the films I have the most conflicting opinions on, is also the first Bond movie I believe I ever saw. This may be incorrect, but from my recollections my parents were forced to bring my brother and me along to a double-date to watch this film in the theaters. We sat separately from them, and having no real idea of what were about to watch, I was plunged into the world of James Bond. And was more or less hooked immediately. It may not be the most perfect Bond to be introduced to, but it’s the one I got. It’s always given this film a certain amount of a pass due to the nostalgia that I have for it. Similarly, Pierce Brosnan is not one of my favorite actors to portray Bond, but he always has this special something for being my first Bond. It’s just a shame that this isn’t one of the better films in the franchise. There’s certainly some fantastic elements in it, and it’s so damn close to being a great Bond flick, but there’s just a couple huge roadblocks that keep it from reaching the potential that it’s striving for. But we’ll get to all of that a little later.
When I did some research for this movie I was a little surprised to find that there didn’t appear to be that much drama behind the scenes. Especially after reading about the complete and utter mess that Tomorrow Never Dies was, basically from beginning to end. Because this movie feels like it should have had a tumultuous background, and I was kind of hoping that that would explain some of the issues with the movie. But from all I could tell, it was relatively smooth sailing. There were some brief flirtations with some absurd directors for the film, such as a pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson, which would have been absolutely insane, given his early work. But Barbara Broccoli didn’t much care for the Frighteners and passed. No word on her opinion of Meet the Feebles. There’s also the fact that they for a while thought about naming the film Bond 2000, which would have been a ludicrously bad idea. But luckily they realized what a terrible plan that would have been, and instead named the film after the Bond family motto that Ian Fleming created for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was actually a pretty good idea. Other than all of that it seemed to be your typical Bond movie production, finding some new sites that hadn’t been portrayed in the films, like the new art museum in Spain that the opening scene revolved around, and they just kind of churned out a very familiar and classic feeling Bond movie.
The film opens up with James Bond on a personal mission from M. A powerful oil baron named Sir Robert King has had a substantial amount of money stolen from him, and Bond has been sent to Spain to meet with a banker who has retrieved it. Bond gets the money, and survives an assassination attempt from a mysterious person who kills the banker. He then returns to England and gives the money back to the delighted King. However, this turns out to be an elaborate assassination plot, because there was a secret bomb in the money, and when King approaches it a receiver in his lapel pin triggers the explosion, killing him and destroying a chunk of the MI6 headquarters. Bond chases after a potential assassin, getting in an insane boat-chase through the Thames, before the assassin kills herself in a hot air balloon. Bond and the rest of MI6 then move to a safehouse in Scotland, and Bond begins investigating. He ends up finding that the amount of money stolen from King is the exact same amount that a terrorist once demanded when he kidnapped King’s daughter Elektra. So Bond becomes convinced that the terrorist, a former KGB assassin named Renard, has come back for revenge on the King family. M agrees with this assertion, and after informing us that Renard has had several assassination attempts made on him that have resulted in having a bullet lodged in his brain that leaves him without the ability to feel pain, Bond heads out to investigate. Oh, and he says goodbye to Q, who is retiring and leaving behind John Cleese as his replacement.
Bond then heads to Azerbaijan where Elektra King is taking over for her father and inspecting a massive new oil pipeline that will connect Middle East oil supplies to the West through Turkey. Elektra is very wary of Bond at first, since MI6 wasn’t exactly helpful with her kidnapping years before, but she starts to appreciate him a little more when he helps Elektra survive an attack from a bunch of goons on flying snowmobiles. After the attack Bond finds that their equipment came from Russian special forces, and he realizes he needs a little advice from someone. Which means James Bond gets to hang out with Valentin Zukovsky again! Zukovsky has really come up in the world since we last saw him in GoldenEye, and he know owns a casino in Azerbaijan. Bond asks him about the equipment, and Zukovsky confirms that it points in Renard’s direction. But things are complicated when Elektra shows up in the casino, and ends up losing a million dollars to Zukovsky in a very strange gamble. Bond and Elektra end up sleeping together, and he finds out that Elektra’s chief of security, a man named Davidoff has been acting strangely. We also learn at this point that Davidoff is working with Renard, and is planning on visiting Kazakhstan to help Renard with something. Bond investigates Davidoff, and ends up killing him and taking his place on the mission. No one seemed to know what Davidoff looked like, so Bond is able to sneak into Kazakhstan where he’s taken to a facility that’s decommissioning nuclear weapons. Bond ends up meeting an American scientist named Christmas Jones, who is the worst, at the facility, but then just heads right down into it. He finds Renard and his men taking the nuclear warheads out of the bombs, and attempts to stop them and kill Renard. Renard mocks Bond a bit, and ends up saying a phrase that Elektra also said to him, which gets Bond a little confused. But things really go pear-shaped when Jones and some guards come down and see what’s going on. A shootout begins and Renard ends up escaping with the nuclear warhead. Bond then returns to Azerbaijan, concerned that Elektra may not be as innocent as she appears.
Elektra takes offense to this line of questioning though, and ends up calling M and requesting that she comes to Azerbaijan personally to help protect her. M agrees, but as soon as she get there some shit hits the fan. Some of Renard’s men attack Elektra’s pipeline and they seem to have place the stolen nuclear device inside of it. Bond and Christmas Jones (who is there for some reason) end up getting into the pipe to stop it. They find that half of the plutonium is missing, and Bond decides to fake their deaths and let the bomb partially explode. And when they think Bond is dead Elektra drops the pretense and has her men attack the other MI6 workers and hold M hostage. Turns out that Elektra is working with Renard, and has been calling the shots. And to find out why Bond heads back to Zukovsky. He confronts the man about the million dollars that Elektra “lost” to him, and Zukovsky ends up admitting that Elektra is basically borrowing a nuclear submarine from Zukovsky’s cousin. It’s at this point that we figure out Elektra is the brains of the operation, and she’s convinced Renard to die for her in her plan. She’s going to have Renard take the stolen plutonium and load it into the nuclear submarine when it’s off the shore of Istanbul, causing a nuclear meltdown that would irradiate the Caspian Sea and destroy all other oil pipelines except her own, making Elektra the richest and most powerful woman in the world. So Bond and Christmas Jones head out to Istanbul, looking for Elektra and Renard. And he ends up getting some help from M, who has used her ingenuity to trigger a location chip that the bomb used to have, getting Bond to her exact location. Bond enters Elektra’s hideout, and ends up getting caught immediately. He’s held prisoner and Elektra begins torturing him, but the day is saved when Zukovsky and his men arrive, looking for Zukovsky’s cousin. When he learns that Elektra has killed him he attacks Elektra and frees Bond with his dying action. Bond then kills Elektra and chases after Renard who is ready to trigger the meltdown. Bond gets aboard the submarine and ends up fighting Renard, eventually impaling him on the plutonium rod that they were trying to use to overload the submarine. So with both villains dead Bond and Christmas Jones head to a hotel to have sex and deliver the worst James Bond line of all time.
This movie just kind of drives me crazy. There are some seriously great moments and ideas in this film, and it’s so close to being a fantastic Bond flick. It’s probably tied with GoldenEye as Pierce’s best film, but that’s not really saying much. Tone is certainly one of the biggest issues with the film. Pierce Brosnan’s films were always a bit of an amalgamation for all of the movies that came before him, so he would switch on a dime between some Connery grittiness and some Moore silliness. There’s a line early on in the film where a character says “Our only lead committed suicide on that balloon,” and that kind of sums up the weird tonal fluctuations this film makes in a nutshell. It goes from goofy to dark far too quickly, and often creates a sort of tonal whiplash that really takes you out of the movie. But there are still some good parts to the movie. Pierce Brosnan puts in one of his better performances in this movie, handling the sillier and campier moments much better than he had in previous movies. I’m always a fan of Robbie Coltrane as Valentin Zukovsky, and it’s a serious bummer that they killed him off in this film, because he’s seriously become one of my favorite Bond allies in the whole franchise. Judi Dench is always great as M, and her prevalence in this film really gives her a chance to shine that she won’t have again until Skyfall. The character of Renard is a little boring, just being a malevolent terrorist without a whole lot of ideology, but the reveal that he’s basically just a henchman is pretty interesting, and Robert Carlyle does a good job with what he’s give. And then there’s poor old Desmond Llewellyn, giving his final performance as Q before his death. And the sad thing is that he didn’t even die of natural causes, he was killed in a traffic accident shortly before the movie premiered. Poor Desmond.
But I think that the most interesting performances in the movie, and the two that really come to define it, are from the leading ladies. Sophie Marceau and Denise Richard are playing two characters that could not be less similar, and their performances couldn’t be more different. Sophie Marceau as Elektra King become one of my favorite Bond villains of all time, and a shockingly interesting character. Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones completely derails this film and ruins every scene that she’s in. And I find that dichotomy fascinating. Now, I’m going to say right here, I’m a dorky white dude, I am the last person that people should be interested in hearing thoughts on portrayal of women in movies, especially Bond movies, but I’m going to give it a shot. The Bond franchise has never been particularly kind to women. You can try and explain it away with historical context, but there’s no excusing the fact that James Bond films are often extremely misogynist. It’s the biggest conflict that you have to deal with when you’re a fan of the series. And I think no other Bond movie has such a complicated issue with its female characters. I’m stunned that there hasn’t been more female villains in this series, and other than maybe Rosa Klebb Elektra King may be the first one. Because she really is the brains of the operation, and the inciting character. It’s all Elektra’s idea, she’s the one who benefits, and she’s the one who planned it. Renard is just the muscle that gets it done. For a while we’re supposed to believe that she was a weak-willed person who succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome and is working as Renard’s puppet. But instead we learn that Elektra has bent Renard to her will, and is planning it all. She’s one of the most interesting and complex female characters that the Bond franchise has ever had, and her role in the film almost is enough to make it one of the best Bond movies. But then there’s Denise Richards. Now, I wish to give no offense to Ms. Richards, but it legitimately feels like she learned her lines phonetically and had no idea what they meant. She’s one of the most typical Bond girls that we could get. Her name is ridiculous and only exists to get a bad sex-pun at the end, she was cast as eye-candy, and they decide to make her an integral part of the plot, and a scientist, which strains the credulity of the film to the point that it ruptures. The film before Christmas Jones is introduced is quite excellent. And as soon as she’s brought into the film it flies off the rails and just gets worse and worse. And I have no idea why she’s in the film. Other than having someone to defuse some nuclear bombs, which Bond has been shown to do in the past, she serves nothing. Having the film set up that Elektra was going to be the Bond Girl, and then having Elektra be revealed as the villain would have been amazing, and having a back-up Bond Girl just dilutes that punch. As soon as Jones is introduced you realize that Elektra isn’t going to be on the level, because Jones is going to be the primary love interest. The film would be immensely better without Jones, and you really wouldn’t need to change much to take her out. It’s just a shame that this film gives us possibly the most interesting female character, and the least interesting, in the same movie.
The World Is Not Enough was written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Bruce Feirstein, directed by Michael Apted, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1999.
Categories: Reel Talk
You know what… I agree! I think Elektra is one of the better Bond villains, and played on the damsel in distress cliche perfectly. Denise Richards was hot but made absolutely no sense. “It’s Christmas Jones, and yes I’ve heard all the jokes.” What jokes?????
Take that character out, you’ve got yourself a solid movie. Goldfinger was the first Bond movie I saw when I was pretty young, and then Goldeneye was the first for me in the theaters. I recommend watching Brandon Hardesty’s No Small Parts youtube series on Bond henchmen, they are quite interesting, especially the one on Jaws.
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It blows my mind that Elektra doesn’t get the respect she deserves as a villain. She’s so good!
And I’ll have to check out the No Small Parts series, I haven’t heard of that.