It wasn't unusual for Bond films to borrow stunts from previous movies, repurposing them, and helicopters were a particular favorite vehicle for stuntwork, having been used For Your Eyes Only, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker, among others. Goldeneye's helicopter bungee jump then used in similar fashion with Michele Yeoh and Brosnan, with less gruesome end result. This film also began a mini-trend for the more recent Bonds that there be some sort of geeky sidekick character who does the mental dirty work for the villain just as the henchman does the physical dirty work: Alan Cumming's nerdy Russian hacker in GoldenEye, in this case. Things usually don't end well for these types.
The supporting cast overall is above average for a Bond film. X-Men's Famke Janssen plays the wonderfully named Xenia Onatopp, the Georgian villainess with the killer thighs (literally). Killing has rarely seemed so sexy. She and Brosnan have one great fight scene - a passionate medley of attacking sexuality, full of violent come-ons and knockdowns. British actor Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid in the Harry Potter films) plays Valentin Kukovsky, an ex-KGB agent. He has fun with the part, even in limited screen time, and made enough of an impact that he'd reprise the role again two films later.
The movie as a whole flags at times as the plot fails to maintain interest but it has enough good action, and most importantly, Brosnan: charming throughout, he sheds his Remington Steele-ishness somewhere along the way to slide more naturally into Bond's suit.
Goldeneye was not only Brosnan's first Bond effort, it was future Dame and Oscar winner Judi Dench's as well, playing Bond's boss, M. She's a refreshing new presence in BondWorld, not afraid to show him where her priorities are (and aren't): "If you don't think I have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong."
Stirring moment: Minnie Driver singing "Stand By Your Man" off-key, with Russian accent, in the scene in which Bond confronts Zukovsky.
Shaken moment(s): Oops! Look for the boom mike in Q's room; Look for Bond to magically acquire gloves after falling out of a plane.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Despite the rather ludicrous plot and a certain cartoonishness, Tomorrow Never Dies, Brosnan's sophomore effort and the first Bond without producer Cubby Broccoli, who'd passed away, is above par overall. That plot involes Jonathan Pryce's (in a role initially offered to Anthony Hopkins) sociopath media mogul plotting to send the world into chaos so he can control and scoop all the world's media outlets and achieve "complete worldwide domination," certainly begs questions - such as: how can a man with eyes and ears everywhere in the world have never heard of Bond before? Why would Pryce's character list a book among his media demands from his minions after his first attack? Why is Teri Hatcher given parts in films? But the plot is meant to be a little tongue in cheek - an over the top dig at Rupert Murdoch - and the film is solidly directed by the generally underrated Roger Spottiswoode with more pep in his step than most John Glen-directed entries, if still a bit workmanlike.
Yeoh and Brosnan
Much of the action prompts have a warmed-over feel - though death by newspaper printer is a new, amusingly sick twist - but some great stunts, particularly with Michele Yeoh as his agile sidekick, breathe life into the proceedings. A motorcycle vs. helicopter sequence in Saigon is near perfectly executed, for example; "Don't get any ideas, Mr. Bond," she warns him as they straddle the bike together. Doing almost all of her own stunts here, Yeoh even gets her own Bond-free martial arts ass kicking scene (although he does come to "save" her), and after an overly protracted climax, she and Brosnan have a good moment underwater in which he saves her by breathing life into her lips.
Gotz Otto's Stamper, a bland sharply-shorn blond muscle man, will make you miss Richard Kiel, making for one of the weaker villain sidekick characters, with about as much personality as Dolph Lundgren. Late, lamented character actor Vincent Schiavelli (the undercaffeinated biology teacher in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) has a wonderful cameo in a memorable scene as an assassin tangling wits with Bond; while, in the token technogeek role, illusionist-turned-actor Ricky Jay - as character actors go a better character than an actor - isn't put to much use. He's also inexplicably named "Gupta," though he's about as Indian as Jonathan Pryce.
If the script for Tomorrow Never Dies
seems a little disjointed at times, it should come as no surprise; filming began before a shooting script was completed and the screenplay was being rewritten practically every day. But the film did well at the box office and, most importantly for fans, Brosnan
appeared to be having great fun here - more than we saw from Dalton, more than latter year Moore, and enough to rev the franchise up to healthy levels.
Look fast for: Gerard Butler (Phantom of the Opera, 300) as a Seaman on the HMS Devonshire. Also: Dench gets to play off her As Time Goes By co-star Geoffrey Palmer as an Admiral.
Gadget rating: Four out of 5: Much more gadgetry here to make up for the lack of such in the Goldeneye. Features surely the best remote control car chase scene ever (car: "unsafe driving will void warranty.")
The World is Not Enough (1999)
In the original drafts of the Tomorrow Never Dies script, the character Stamper was to have suffered a brain injury that caused pleasure to be registered as pain. The idea was dropped, but a version of it made it into the next film The World is Not Enough (1999), where the main villain is unable to feel pain.
Beginning in Bilbao, Spain - presumably so they can begin with several shots of the new Frank Gehry designed museum - The World is Not Enough kicks off in terrific fashion, with a supremely well-orchestrated, extended sequence featuring Maria Grazia Cucinotta with a deadly weapon (what more could you want?), a boat chase, exploding money, and an exploding balloon.
While the rest of the film doesn't quite match the opening as the plot denigrates into ludicrousness and formula, it's actually one of the most entertaining late-era Bonds, certainly more satisfying than Tomorrow Never Dies. Michael Apted, an excellent director of non-action films (Gorillas in the Mist, the documentary 42 Up, Enigma) has a much more interesting background than some of the series' previous by-the-numbers helmers. Screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein keep things moving swiftly, so much so that you can't think hard about how ludicrous the whole thing is. (Purvis and Wade are also the writers of Casino Royale and the Bond film to follow.) The film scores points, too, for involving Judi Dench's M more directly into the plot, rather than wasting a good actress by relegating her to the sidelines.
Initially a.k.a., Rear Admiral Sir Miles Messer, a.k.a., "M," Bond's long-time boss
Played by Bernard Lee
from the first Bond movie, Dr. No, until Moonraker (1979). Lee died in 1981 and for several subsequent films there was no "M" - except for the unofficial Bond film (with Sean Connery returning) Never Say Never Again, in which Edward Fox played a stodgy M with little love lost for Bond.
He was resurrected as a she, as Dame Judi Dench became the new "M," obviously an entirely new character starting right off with much more of an adversarial relationship with Bond, whom she calls a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War" - which is certainly fair. But her character grows affectionate, and protective, of Bond as the series continued, and was particularly involved in the plot of The World is Not Enough. There are those who theorize that Dench's version of M is based in part on Stella Rimington, former head of the real MI5, but this has never been confirmed.
She's even reprised the role for Casino Royale (2006), even though the film is essentially hitting "reboot" on the storyline and starting Bond out for his first mission. But they realized what a fine thing going they have in Dench's M, and why muss with that?
Gorgeous Sophie Marceau (at left), a good actress (Braveheart, D'Artagnan's Daughter), makes for a first-rate female lead, playing an oil magnate named Elektra (no relation to the superheroine) targeted for assassination protected by Bonds. Marceau's characterization, as both an agoraphobic and femme fatale, is a more complex treatment than expected. Unfortunately, the film also gives us one for the Maxxim crowd: Denise Richards, as nuclear scientist "Christmas Jones." Richards reminds me of a line comedienne Paula Poundstone once said about actress Daryl Hannah - sure, she's pretty - but instead of having her in a speaking role, can't they just put a picture of her up in the background? Still, the character is given a few amusing lines - and plays on the "Christmas" name ad nauseum - and Richards doesn't sink the film. The film also gives us, briefly, Molly Warmflash (Serena Scott Thomas), an MI5 physician who gives Bond a
physical, and Graziani's aforementioned "Cigar Girl."
The rest of the cast is quite good: Robbie Coltrane reprises his Russian hustler character from Goldeneye to enjoyable effect, enlivening any of the scenes he's in. Robert Carlyle plays the anarchist terrorist who can literally feel no pain - a bullet lodged in his brain is gradually robbing him of his senses, rendering him stronger and stronger - until he'll die. He also doesn't appear onscreen until about 50 minutes in.
The film does one share one drawback with many other Bonds - a tendency toward overlength. (I'll hug the first director who can clip a Bond film down to 90 minutes.) But it remains the most mindlessly fun of all the Brosnan
Stunts: Above average, including an exciting ski chase (one of the better Bond ski chases outside of For Your Eyes Only) and a tense escape-through-an-oil-pipeline sequence.
Next in line: The film marks John Cleese's amusing debut as Q's replacement R ("Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it") - the only film in which the two of them shared screen time. Desmond Llewelyn, who would pass away the year of the film's release, makes a touching exit.
Die Another Day (2002)
What turned out to be Brosnan's
last go round as Bond unintentionally set his departure up by having 007 become a rogue agent of sorts. The film starts with Bond captured, incarcerated and tortured by North Korea (the global enemy du jour/this decade's flavor when it comes to enemies we can all agree on), and is then traded for a North Korean terrorist named Zao (Rick Yune) and returned to M16 - which in turn blames him for leaking information. To set things straight, Bond sets off on his own to chase Zao around the world, leading to Cuba (and Halle Berry) and mysterious British Billionaire Gustav Graves (the hissable Toby Stephens, son of Maggie Smith), just your requisite world-conquering megalomaniac. His scheme will remind of similar plots in Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker and Goldeneye: an orbital mirror system made, yes, of diamonds, which he tells potential investors will aim solar energy on a small area to provide year-round sunshine for crop development, but in actuality is a superweapon, bringing us full (arctic) circle back to North Korea.
Brosnan (or more accurately, his stunt driver) on thin ice in Die Another Day
The 20th Bond film in forty years was directed by Lee Tamahori - the second Kiwi director after Martin Campbell; Tamahori had made an auspicious debut with Once Were Warriors and seemed a good choice for director, although his American work has seemingly relegated him to studio action hack, despite not really being a great action director. Still, he keeps things moving along at a good clip and even if there's some déjà vu to the plot, there's more than enough to keep interest - until it ultimately degrades into predictable pointlessness by the prolonged finale. Since they were borrowing from previous Bond movies anyway, the film might have been stronger if its makers had taken a page out of The World is Not Enough and given Dench's M and Cleese's Q more to do, and twisted the plot a bit more in the film's final act.
Both women here are most appealing: Berry's Jinx - who first emerges dripping wet in a bikini, from the Caribbean sea, returning us full circle to Dr. No's Ursula Andress -- a spy, as it turns out; and Miranda Frost's sexy Rosamund Pike. Jinx was so popular - at least in the minds of the MGM studio - that they announced plans for the first-ever James Bond spin-off movie based upon that character, and starring Berry. The plans were scrapped when several other female-centered comic book and video game spin-offs (Lara Croft; Elektra; not to mention Berry's own Catwoman movie in 2003) tanked.
It's a shame, in a way, that this is Brosnan's last go-round because while Die Another Day isn't particularly memorable, he seemed to have come into his own in the character - not the "best" Bond, but arguably the most human - vulnerable to pain, even flappable, while still cool with a martini and tuxedo. He breathes life into a movie that might otherwise have been a dud had Brosnan coasted. One gets the sense that Ian Fleming would be pleased with Brosnan's interpretations of the character.
Kudos to the film's set designers, who constructed a gorgeous ice palace set for Gustav Graves, inspired no doubt, at least in part, by the famous Icehotel in Sweden, and which subsequently inspired the President of Turkmenistan to order the construction of similar palace made of ice for himself - in the heart of his desert country, one of the hottest on earth.
Best ludicrous stunt: Bond surfs down the face of a glacier being melted by a laser beam from space.
Worst ludicrous stunt: Bond windsurfing through a rough Icelandic sea (and digitally enhanced whitecaps) versus a possessed weather satellite.
Shaken, not stirring: Madonna becomes the first person to sing a Bond theme song and appear in the film as well - with a distracting cameo as a fencing instructor.
Epilogue: Bond Never Dies
The more recent Bonds all share one unfortunate trait - it's hard to pick one out from the other. While the best of the Connery and Moore
films each have standout, unforgettable moments - the woman murdered by gold paint in Goldfinger
, Bond running for his life from the helicopter attack in From Russia With Love, Bond zipping off the cliff in The Spy Who Loved Me. The Bond of the 80s through the present often suffered from convoluted plotting and by the numbers direction, but it was the lack of great moments that keep most of them from achieving greatness. However, both for Bond completists, as well as action and espionage fans, and - in a few instances - connoisseurs of campy spy films, there's much pleasure to be had in James Bond films, circa 1979-2002.
And the franchise has been resurrected on more than one occasion, with new faces breathing life into it just when it seemed 007 might not live to die another day (tomorrow). With Casino Royale, the James Bond series appears set to completely reinvent itself again.
Craig's picks for the 5 Best Bond films, 1979 to present (each imperfect but all worthwhile):
- For Your Eyes Only: one of Moore's most solid 007 outings, and looks all the better when viewed after Moonraker.
- GoldenEye: Brosnan hits the ground running.
- Living Daylights: Dalton hit the ground jogging, but sure-footed.
- The World is Not Enough: Often silly and overlong, but very entertaining.
- Tomorrow Never Dies: For Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh in particular.
Craig's own personal all-time 007 favorites: From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me.
Craig Phillips is a San Francisco-based writer, screenwriter, doodler, and GreenCine staffer. He holds an MFA in writing from CCA and studied film at SFSU; both degrees are suitable for framing or wrapping fish.