"The World Is Not Enough" and "Die Another Day" begin with a lot of promise, both have solid elements, and there’s plenty of spectacle, but both ultimately collapse in their respective second halves.
Pierce Brosnan isn’t given a lot to work with in either film. The great character material from “GoldenEye” is pretty much gone at this point. The romance with Elektra (the beautiful Sophie Marceau) in "World" has some nice subtext to it. We first see Bond captivated with her beauty at her father’s funeral, and later as he runs his finger along her face on a video monitor. He is motivated, it seems, by a desire to protect an apparently wounded bird.
Bond’s development throughout the series as both Lothario, and yet, also protector of women he doesn't need to protect, has always been an interesting dichotomy for his character. That she turns out to be a femme fatale is all the more ironic, and it is worth praising writers Bruce Feirstein, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade for finding this aspect to Bond’s character and doing what they could with it (amidst an explosive action film).
I think critics of "World" are too quick to write off this aspect of the story and too quick to dismiss Bond’s cold-blooded, point-blank, called-bluff shooting of Elektra. The conflict Elektra has with Renard is also interesting. Here we have a man who cannot feel either pleasure or pain, contrasted with the virile masculinity of Bond. That she nonetheless chooses Renard over Bond is also telling.
There’s also some strong character material in “Die Another Day.” We’ve never seen Bond captured and tortured. The last time he was “off the grid” was in “License to Kill,” also a revenge mission. The rapprochement he receives at M’s hands is embarrassing and humbling. We’ve never seen this before. So Bond’s mission is actually one not only of revenge, but to restore his credibility. Regrettably, this interesting character material vanishes halfway in. I have to say Brosnan looks better in this film than any of the others – his 49 years look great on him, as do all the clothing the costume designers outfit him with. He’s transitioned from more actorly good looks to a certain rugged handsomeness in this film, and it plays well.
“The World is Not Enough” begins promisingly enough, with a great sequence inside a Bilbao bank, then with a hint that M and Sir Robert were lovers, his money booby-trapped and exploding inside MI6, and a wild boat chase down the Thames. The stunts are terrific, and it’s a good sequence, but one ultimately undone by the strained credulity of an assassin wearing bright red leather, her terrible marksmanship, and Bond’s miniboat speeding through the street.
There is a likely-missed visual correlative from OHMSS that concludes the sequence, where Bond hands off the Millenium Dome by one arm, just as his silhouette does from an hourglass in OHMSS. In fact, there is another homage to the same film, with romantic sweeping music playing as Bond and Elektra ski down the mountain, only to be attacked by the paragliders (correlative to the scene where Bond and Rigg are chased by Blofeld). The paragliders are a neat idea, but also kind of silly, as the producers obviously felt the well-intentioned desire to constantly top themselves.
Ultimately, the film falls apart when Denise Richards enters the picture, the plot to destroy the pipeline (who cares?), and a series of weighty action scenes. The buzzsaw helicopter strains credulity. The final scenes inside the submarine put everyone in a box – it’s difficult to execute a fight scene with bars and pipes and a man who can’t feel pain.
Still, Renard is an interesting character with a lot of unrealized potential, the capture of M is a nice twist, and the romance worked for me.
“Die Another Day” also starts out very strong. Although the idea of three MI6 agents surfing onto the shores of North Korea is totally ridiculous, the sequence is shot with flair, and Bond replacing the diamond courier is good Bond material. The idea of a young North Korean seeking his father’s approval by invading the South is a great character notion, and this plays very well throughout.
We’ve never seen hovercrafts like these before, and the opening chase sequence is inventive and thrilling (although, again, Zao has terrible marksmanship). Bond’s capture, torture, and humiliating release are also new twists to the series – something that knocks our hero down a peg. The sequence in Cuba, with his roguish Cuban ally, plays very well. The destruction of the clinic is a solidly directed and choreographed action sequence, that’s executed about as well as any Bond sequence that you’ll find.
Yet once Bond is officially back to work, the film goes awry. It’s still not clear to me where the real Gustav Graves is. Why is it necessary to launder conflict diamonds with artificial diamonds? If diamonds are being used for Icarus, why not just use the artificial ones? There’s not one, but two ice car chases. Bond escapes the ice palace only to return. The parasailing sequence has such awful CGI that it’s laughable. And an invisible car? Enough already.
I admire and, frankly, enjoy the spectacle of a car chase inside a melting ice palace. No viewer is going to tell me they’d ever seen that before. It’s a spectacular sequence, even if it is ridiculous, executed with panache and flair, as all the action sequences are. The escape from a disintegrating airplane is also unexpected and fun, again setting aside the credulity of the sequence.
“Die Another Day” has the benefit of Lee Tamahori directing. Michael Apted just doesn’t quite seem up to the task in “The World is Not Enough." Judging by the fact that most of the production personnel are the same, Tamahori obviously sought to inject some visual thematics that we really haven’t seen in a Bond film since the early days. The opening credit sequence establishes the contrast of fire and ice – skillfully executed as Bond’s hallucinations during his 14 months in captivity. It’s probably the best credit sequence in the series, as it visually reinforces both the story and the visual theme. We see fire and ice alternate throughout the film – from cold and damp North Korea to warm and sunny Cuba, then to cold and frosty Iceland and on to a flaming plane. We also have the apocalyptic heat of Icarus melting the ice of Iceland and the ice castle itself. There’s Miranda Frost, the ice queen herself dressed in whites, blacks, greys and blues contrasting with Jinx, dressed in warmer colors of orange, pinks and reds.
Rosemund Pike is a damn fine actress, and she plays Frost as completely inscrutable, not giving us any hint that she’s a double agent. I also want to mention Colin Salmon, as Charles Robinson, who we’ve seen fill a role as a high ranking MI6 agent in the last three films. His presence and delivery really helps ground every scene in MI6. I liked John Cleese as the new Q, and actually wished they’d let him write his own lines, because I think he could’ve been even funnier.
I’m totally baffled by Michael Madsen’s Damian Falco. He’s a good actor and might’ve made a good Felix Leiter, but the film seemed intent on making him a stereotype. I also think Halle Berry, who has proven acting chops in dramatic films, is miscast here.
There are plenty of good things in both of these films, but ultimately they seem to rely too much on spectacle. We all want spectacle in a Bond film, but these sequences need to serve the story and have stronger emotional or dramatic stakes associated with them. I think Brosnan carried Bond as far as he could with his interpretation, and the decision to reboot the series with Daniel Craig was a wise one.
I rate both film TWO STARS.
"On Her Majesty’s Secret Service"
"For Your Eyes Only"
"From Russia With Love"
"The Man With The Golden Gun"
“The Living Daylights”
“Tomorrow Never Dies”
"Diamonds Are Forever"
"The Spy Who Loved Me"
"Never Say Never Again"
“Licence to Kill”
“The World is Not Enough”
“Die Another Day”
"You Only Live Twice"
"Live and Let Die"
"A View To A Kill"
James Bond will return in “Casino Royale”