Having recently seen one of the Timothy Dalton James Bond movies (Licence To Kill) and one of the Daniel Craig movies (Casino Royale), and having been bitterly disappointed by both, I approached my first Pierce Brosnan Bond movie with some trepidation. In fact Tomorrow Never Dies turned out to be a very pleasant surprise indeed.
This time Bond is facing off against crazed media mogul Elliot Carver who wants a nice spectacular war with which to launch his new cable news channel. A British warship is decoyed off course into Chinese territorial waters where it is sunk, but not by the Chinese. Elliot Carver sinks it himself, giving him a ready made international crisis. As it happens the media baron’s wife is an old flame of 007’s so naturally he’s chosen to investigate the tycoon’s activities.
There’s someone else investigating Carver’s activities, a reporter from the New China News Agency named Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). At least she claims to be a reporter. In fact both she and Bond are trying to prevent this incident from developing into a full-scale shooting war.
One thing becomes very clear about this movie very early on. This is a real Bond movie. It has a real Bond villain - Elliot Carver is a full-blown insane diabolical criminal mastermind. It has a real Bond plot, with the fate of nations and quite possibly the world being at stake. It has the witty dialogue and the sexual innuendo-ridden banter we expect in a Bond film.
And most importantly it has a real Bond. Pierce Brosnan manages to be recognisably James Bond while still giving the role his own personal spin. He handles the serious moments and the sardonic humour equally well. He has the charm, and the ruthlessness. He’s really quite superb.
Jonathan Pryce is a memorable villain, creepy and scary and totally bonkers. Judi Dench makes an effective M, while Desmond Llewelyn makes his sixteenth appearance in a Bond films as Q. There’s a fine supporting cast, with Geoffrey Palmer making a fine belligerent British admiral while Götz Otto is a classic Bond heavy.
Plus this movie has Michelle Yeoh who is all kinds of awesome (as she always is). She’s a real action heroine Bond girl and gets to do her trademark martial arts thing, and do it very well.
One of the best things about the movie is that although it utilises CGI it also makes use of lots of pre-CGI special effects. Lots of miniatures, all of which look terrific and have that solidity that you just can’t get with CGI. And lots of stunts done for real. The action sequences are exciting and they display a genuine visual wit, as in the best movies of this long-running series.
In some ways it’s an old-fashioned Bond film, but it’s old-fashioned in a very good way. It’s consciously in the tradition of the great Bond films of the Connery/Moore eras. On the other hand it has the obsession with media, communications and digital gadgetry to give it a contemporary feel. The balance is perfect. There are the endless explosions that modern audiences crave, combined with the sense of tongue-in-cheek fun of the classic Bond movies.
This was Roger Spottiswoode’s only outing as director of a Bond film and he doesn’t put a foot wrong. Bruce Feirstein’s script captures the essential feel of a Bond film. Glamorous locations, non-stop action, great acting, a terrific lead actor - there’s so much to enjoy in this one and it’s difficult to find anything at all to complain of. I loved it.