Directed By: Michael Apted
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle
Tag line: "Danger. Suspense. Excitement. There must be when he's around"
Trivia: Tiffani Thiessen was considered for the role of Dr. Christmas Jones
The pre-title sequence in 1999’s The World is Not Enough, the 19th film in the James Bond series and the third to star Pierce Brosnan, runs for over 14 minutes, making it the longest in the franchise’s history. It’s also one of my favorites.
The sequence begins with our hero, James Bond, Agent 007 (Brosnan), visiting a Swiss Banker in the Spanish city of Bilbao (home of the Guggenheim museum, which looms heavy in the background). Sent to retrieve over 3 million pounds that had been stolen from British oil tycoon Robert King (David Calder), Bond also tries to pressure the banker into revealing the identity of the thief, who is responsible for the death of a fellow MI6 agent. Before the banker can talk, he’s killed by his gorgeous office assistant, Guilietta Da Vinci (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), who then quickly disappears. Bond tries to catch her, but abandons his pursuit when the police show up, at which point he quietly slips away with the money.
Back at MI6 headquarters, Bond checks in with M (Judi Dench), who is entertaining Robert King in her office (it’s clear from the way they interact that King and M are more than casual acquaintances). King excuses himself to pick up his money, only to be killed in an explosion as he attempts to do so (the pound notes were laced with a highly volatile chemical). Moments later, Bond spots Giulietta Da Vinci on a motorboat in the middle of the Thames. Hopping into a specialized boat developed by the Q Branch, Bond gives chase (a thrilling scene from start to finish), catching up to Da Vinci near London’s Millennium Dome, where she tries to escape with the help of a hot-air balloon.
Yet another explosion rings out, and then, finally, the credits roll. I have a few minor issues with the rest of The World is Not Enough, but director Michael Apted and his team certainly kicked things off in magnificent fashion.
Once the credits (and the title song, performed by Garbage) are over, the movie picks up where it left off. At a briefing, Bond and his fellow agents are informed by M that the prime suspect in King’s death is former Soviet agent Renard (Robert Carlyle), who left the KGB some time ago and is now considered one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. Years earlier, Renard kidnapped King’s only daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau) and demanded $5 million in ransom for her safe return. It was around this time that Renard was also shot in the head by an MI6 agent, and since doctors were unable to remove the bullet, it’s still working its way into his brain, slowly destroying his various senses (touch, smell, etc), which it will continue to do right up to the day it finally kills him for good.
With King dead, M is convinced Elektra will be Renard’s next target, so Bond is sent to the Caspian Sea (where Ms. King is overseeing the construction of a new pipeline) with orders to keep a close eye on the heiress. Though reluctant at first to trust one of Her Majesty’s secret agents, Elektra soon warms up to Bond (in more ways than one). When an attempt to eliminate Elektra fails, Bond visits his old nemesis Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) to see what information he has on Renard. It isn’t until later that night that 007 discovers Elektra’s head of security, Davidov (Ulrich Thomsen), is in league with the rogue terrorist. After disposing of him, Bond assumes Davidov's identity and finds himself transported to a Russian missile base in Kazakhstan, where Renard manages to swipe a nuclear warhead! Aided by Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards), an American nuclear physicist working in Kazakhstan, Bond tries to determine what Renard’s next move will be, all the while keeping an eye on Elektra King (who may know more than she’s letting on).
To add to his worries, Bond must also locate M, who, due to her strong ties with the King family, flew to the area to assist, only to be captured by one of Renard’s craftiest associates.
I know… that’s a hell of a lot of story there, and this is one thing that irks me about many of the later Bond outings (including The World is Not Enough); too much damn plot (and I didn’t even reveal all of this film’s twists and turns, seeing as some would be major spoilers)! I don’t think it’s a coincidence these bloated storylines started right around the time the series veered away from the source materials penned by Ian Fleming (the final few to be “based on” a Fleming novel or novella, The Living Daylights and License to Kill, took only their titles from the author’s work while changing the plots completely). Looking back at the early movies, you didn’t need a scorecard to keep up with Dr. No, Goldfinger, or Thunderball, which leads me to believe that Fleming not only knew how to spin a good yarn, but also kept them simple. It’s a shame these later films didn’t follow his lead.
That said, there’s plenty in The World is Not Enough that works well, starting with Pierce Brosnan, who once again strikes a nice balance between no-nonsense hard-ass and witty romantic (considering how he handled himself in the pre-title sequence, I’d say his Bond is one you definitely don’t want to tangle with). Judi Dench is also in top form, and this time out does more than sit behind a desk barking orders, while Desmond Llewelyn delivers one final performance as gadgets expert Q, appearing just long enough to introduce his replacement, who is none other than Monty Python alum John Cleese! As for Bond’s cohorts in the field, Robbie Coltrane reprises his role as Zukovsky (a part he also played in Goldeneye), and ends up helping 007 even more than he intended.
Robert Carlyle plays what is arguably the most dangerous adversary 007 has faced in some time (seeing as Renard is already dying, he has absolutely nothing to lose), and the actor is more than up to the challenge, giving the movie a villain you truly fear. As for the Bond girls, Sophie Marceau is both sexy and mysterious as Elektra King, while Denise Richards, though certainly beautiful, isn’t particularly believable as a nuclear physicist, and gives what I consider the film’s weakest performance. And, of course, Bond gets to use some cool gadgets along the way, from an inflatable dinner jacket to a fully-loaded BMW, complete with handy-dandy rocket launchers.
The World is Not Enough is also action-heavy; aside from the opening detailed above, there’s a cool ski sequence in which Renard’s men, seated on snowmobiles, drop in by way of parachute. I also liked the scene set inside the pipeline, where Bond and Christmas Jones try to defuse a bomb that’s cruising along at top speed. The kicker, though, is the grand finale on board the submarine, where Bone defies death more than once to prevent a major city from going up in smoke.
Though not the most popular Bond outing (In 2008, Entertainment Weekly named it the worst film in the series, while MSN ranked it as the 3rd worst, behind A View to a Kill and License to Kill), The World is Not Enough kept me entertained.
It’s a shame Brosnan’s last outing as 007 didn’t do likewise (more on that later).