The World is Not Enough
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1999
"Somehow, the whole art of intrigue has been lost in a giant fireball," I bemoaned back in 1997 after viewing the Schwarzenegger-ization of James Bond in "Tomorrow Never Dies." Now, two years later, having viewed "The World is Not Enough," the 19th installment of the James Bond series, there was little evidence to suggest that anything has changed. In fact, the series seems to have sunk a little further by casting Denise Richards ("Wild Things") as a sexy nuclear physicist for no other reason than to attract the horny teenage male crowd who has made her the most downloaded woman on the Internet.
In "The World is Not Enough," Bond (Pierce Brosnan, in his third turn as 007) is charged with protecting Elektra King (French siren Sophie Marceau), the wealthy heiress of an oil fortune whose father, a good friend of the British government, was killed in the movie's opening sequence. The government fears that Elektra will be the target of the movie's arch-villain, Renard (Robert Carlyle), who we find out had already kidnapped and held Elektra hostage before. Every villain in a James Bond film has to have something unique, and Renard, a renegade Russian terrorist, has an interesting twist: he has a bullet in his brain that is slowly working its way to the cerebral cortex, and along the way it is killing off his ability to feel. Thus, not only is he suicide-mad since he will die soon anyway, but he is at an advantage because he cannot feel pain.
The movie also gives us Richards as Christmas Jones, a nuclear physicist with whom Bond teams up to stop a global plan to destroy oil pipelines. Richards is by the far the weakest link in the movie. Not only is she of dubious acting ability, but screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Bruce Feirstein do her no favors by saddling her with either expository dialogue meant to explain complex situations with lots of pseudo-scientific babble ("If the plutonium is put in the nuclear reaction ..."), or banal exclamations ("Look out, James!"). Other than that, Richards' personality-devoid character has no purpose beyond providing a shapely figure in tank top and hot pants. Luckily, Marceau is significantly more effective as Elektra, not only because her acting is of a superior quality, but because she is actually given a complex character to play.
This is not to say that "The World is Not Enough," like all films in the 007 franchise, does not have its pleasurable aspects. Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love") continues to flesh out her role as M, Bond's tough superior. M is actually given a place in the film beyond the requisite opening scene where she gives 007 his assignment. Dench, tough and motherly at the same time, gives M a human side she's never had a chance to show before, and even shows in a little Bond-like ingenuity when she is captured and held prisoner.
The movie also benefits greatly from a bit of humorous stunt casting, when ex-Monty Python member John Cleese is introduced as R, the successor to Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Bond's long-time gadget inventor. The humorous bantering between R and Bond is frivolously enjoyable, and it makes you look forward to the next installment when R will presumably take over for good.
Director Michael Apted ("Extreme Measures," "Nell"), in his first stint as a Bond director, does not add anything particularly notable to the film. He is a competent action director, and the opening chase sequence across the Thames River in London involving a couple of high-powered speedboats is a wild ride, as is a ski chase scene involving a group of terrorists descending from the sky in snow-mobiles that also fly. The rest of the action is unfortunately ho-hum, with the explosions getting bigger and the suspense getting weaker.
Special effects have slowly been replacing stunt work in the Bond films, which has resulted in the loss of that extra dimension of danger. When, in "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977), Bond skies off an enormous cliff and glides to safety with a Union Jack parachute, the scene had heart-rushing intensity because you always knew in the back of your mind that someone actually did that.
In today's movie world of blue screens and digital effects, the action is getting bigger and less effective because that palpable sense of danger and actuality is missing. The closest "The World is Not Enough" comes to achieving that sensation is when Bond and Christmas are trapped in a crashed nuclear submarine that is slowly flooding from the bottom up, but even then all I could think of was the fact that James Cameron has already done it better in "Titanic."
©1998 James Kendrick