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Festivale online magazine, December, 1997, movie reviews

Tomorrow Never Dies

Bond Battles Media Mogul

The problem with reviewing a James Bond film is your frame of reference: what do you compare it to? In the end, the only meaningful comparison is with the other Bond films. In a sense it’s a class of its own.

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Tomorrow Never Dies is Pierce Brosnan’s return to the 007 role after his successful debut in Goldeneye. He brings a darker, morally ambiguous feel to the character which is more in keeping with Ian Fleming’s original creation and a far cry from the embarrassing self-parodies of the Roger Moore era. This Bond jokes less, is more ruthless and can kill without compunction if he deems it necessary. Brosnan is not a top actor but he moves convincingly through his scenes with a determination that works.

Other elements of a Bond film are crucial: the plot, villain, supporting characters and gadgets. This plot is fairly solid but a bit unoriginal, reminiscent of earlier films in some ways. The villain and his motivations, however, are quite new to the Bond genre and make a refreshing change to the usual “master villain set on ruling the world” refrain. This time the villain is media magnate Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a Rupert Murdoch type character who plans to rule the world’s airwaves rather than the world itself. He does however manage to steal a missile in true Bond villain style; presumably you don’t get membership to the Evil Mastermind club unless you’ve got one.

The supporting characters are mixed. Teri Hatcher of Lois & Clark fame plays a mediocre role as Carver’s wife and former Bond conquest. She disappears from the plot mercifully early, whereupon 007 teams up with Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). This character is the great surprise of the movie: she’s clever, witty, resourceful and shares the hard work equally with Bond. Yeoh plays her with zest and energy and works very well with Brosnan in their scenes. She’s a welcome change from the much-heralded “tough women” of previous films who would scream and melt into Bond’s arms as soon as the going got tough. Another tough woman who is still in Bond’s life is M, played again marvellously by Judi Dench. As for the gadgets, they are reasonably plausible this time and not too overused. Gone, thank God, are the days of Roger Moore zooming through the piazzas of Venice on a motorised gondola. The main gadgets this time are concentrated in his car and mobile phone, and used sparingly but effectively.

So what are the movie’s drawbacks? Mostly they relate to embarrassing traditions of the Moore era which no longer work. The worst of these is the terrible pun that Bond stops and delivers after a villain has met his end in an action scene. Brosnan is only called upon to do this twice but both times it stops the action dead and the actor looks exceedingly embarrassed about the whole thing. Likewise the secret base of Wai Lin in Saigon is packed full of ridiculous gadgets (like a flame-spewing Chinese dragon statue) which draw the viewer out of the suspension of disbelief that is so necessary to enjoy these films. The weaponry master Q (Desmond Llewelyn) should also be updated in the way that M has been. Llewelyn is no great actor and should really be off enjoying his retirement instead of reproducing the same cliched banter with 007 each movie. And the gratuitous scene with Bond writhing in bed with a Danish exchange student while telling Moneypenny on the phone that he’s “brushing up his Danish” is just cringeworthy, as is the rather predictable ending.

However, for a Bond film it’s not bad and you certainly won’t feel you’ve wasted your money. The series as been updated surprisingly well for the 90s and just needs a few remaining cobwebs swept away to produce a smoother product with a mix of thrills and plausibility that works.

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See also: Ali's review

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Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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