Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review – The World is Not Enough

November 3, 2011

The World is Not Enough – UK, 1999

There’s a scene in the nineteenth James Bond film that makes little sense in hindsight. In the scene, Bond (again played by Pierce Brosnan) drops from a helicopter with a beautiful young heiress named Elektra King (Sophia Marceau) after the helicopter that is transporting them is unable land despite the fact that the weather seems perfectly calm. The excursion, we’re told, is being carried out because Elektra wants to inspect her family’s oil line, and so from the top of a snow-capped mountain, she and Bond stare into the distance at some far-flung objects protruding out of the white snow. In truth, it’s not much to look at. Add to that the fact that there’s no one else around them, and you wouldn’t blame someone for feeling a little bit suspicious about the whole set-up. Of course, this being a Bond film, in no time at all, they are under attack. This time around those in pursuit are paragliding snow-mobiles armed with semi-automatic weapons manned by men who drop grenades at Bond as he tries to divert their attention away from their supposed target, Ms. King. There’s only one problem, apart from the fact that none of these hired assassins seem to be able shoot straight: Apparently not a single one of them pursues Ms. King, and uncharacteristically, Bond doesn't seem to notice.

In a later scene, the man in charge of the failed operation is conveniently cut off just before he can say exactly who the intended target was, and so we're left to wonder: Was it King, or was it Bond? This all makes sense in the beginning, mind you, yet as the pieces begin to fall into place and Bond begins to understand just what role each person plays in this high stakes game of corporate domination, the earlier scene on the mountain makes less and less sense, for later revelations make it clear that the mastermind of the operation on top of the mountain is someone who wouldn’t possibly have ordered a hit on Ms. King. And so, one is left with the impression that the scene exists for the sole purpose of pulling a fast one on the audience, of creating a false impression just so they can have the privilege of creating an equally false dramatic moment later on. In hindsight, the scene on the mountain top is the first on a long list of those “idiot” Bond-film moments we’ve unfortunately come to expect, most of which involve either the villain inviting Bond to sit down for dinner or capturing him but not killing him.

Here, the plan is even more awkward. Imagine the following set of instructions:

Evil villain: Gentlemen, your mission is to kill James Bond. However, if for some reason, you fail to kill him, I want you to capture him so that I can put him in this rather valuable-looking torture chair and stretch his neck out until he can’t breathe. Oh, and if he happens to have a female with him, spare her life too so that my partner can lock her in a room on a submarine.

Seems ridiculous. Perhaps that’s why we never see Bond-villains barking out such orders. However, give the film credit. For the first time, it seems the writers were not content to make the villains forget their senses just when it relates to Bond and the latest Bond-girl. No, The World is Not Enough extends that courtesy all the way to the top, to Bond’s boss, M, again played by Judi Dench. M gets to sit in a cell and watch a clock tick-tock its way to 12:00, when she and all of Istanbul will be destroyed in one mammoth nuclear explosion. Cue the evil laughter.

In all fairness, The World is Not Enough should work better than it does. It has an interesting storyline involving oil pipe lines and the power that they offer whomever it is that controls them. It also has a very interesting villain in Renard (Robert Carlyle), a man with a bullet in his head that is slowing killing him while simultaneously robbing him off the ability to feel basic sensations such as pain and pleasure. What is fascinating about this character is that he appears to be manipulating both MI6 and Bond, while simultaneously keeping his cards close to his chest. Like Goldfinger, The World is Not Enough keeps Bond and the audience in the dark as to Renard’s ultimate plan for much of the film, and this creates much more interest on the part of the viewer than the film probably deserves. There’s also a humorous bit involving Bond and what can only be described as X-ray glasses that are just strong enough to pierce the outer layer of clothing, but too weak to allow the kind of voyeuristic thrill that many teenage boys envision having with such an invention. Watching Brosnan smile uncontrollably and struggle to stay focused is a joy, and I imagine this is as close to Bond’s idea of heaven as he will ever get.

Unfortunately, the film introduces Renard in a scene that is almost laughable. I may be able to believe that a man without the ability to feel pain could pick up a rock that is scorching hot and not be affected by what it is doing to him. However, I cannot accept that such a rock would burn someone else’s hand badly while not even leaving a slight red mark on Renard’s. The film also undercuts its viewers with its consistent need to explain things that it shouldn’t. There’s a moment in which a character uses another character’s words in a way that arouses Bond’s suspicion. If viewers miss it though, they shouldn’t fret too much, for Bond explains it in detail a moment later. A smarter film would have had Bond notice it and watch the person who said it much more closely. There’s also an unnecessarily long explanation of Stockholm Syndrome, which apparently the writers felt the audience needed in order to understand the film. They should have trusted the audience’s intelligence a bit more, for if they don’t know what it is before the film, they certainly do by the end of it – even without the detailed description that Bond provides.

And then of course, there’s nuclear scientist Christmas “No Jokes Please” Jones, played by Denise Richards, who is clearly out of her element. Now, with a character like Christmas Jones in a Bond film, it’s only a matter of time before the double-entendres start flying. However, it’s disappointing that the writers chose to include only the most obvious ones. Bond is better than that. Richards has been rather savagely maligned for her performance in the film, yet the fault belongs to those who conceived the part in the first place. They seem to think that audiences will just accept whatever female character they put in front of Bond, regardless of how poorly thought out that character is. Just ask yourself to describe Elektra and Christmas after you’ve watched the film. My guess is that you’ll have far more to say about the former character.

The World is Not Enough was directed by Michael Apted, known more for the Up series, which is considered by many to be some of the finest documentaries ever made. He also directed the 1994 documentary Moving the Mountain, which I included on my list of films that deserve to seen. As much as I like Mr. Apted as a director, if asked to name something uniquely his in The World is Not Enough, I would not know what to say. Perhaps Bond films are what they are regardless of who is behind the lens. If the script is good, the film works. If the script is subpar, no amount of directing skill, nor any amount of energy from the cast, can cover this up. The World is Not Enough falls somewhere in the middle. It is neither On Her Majesty’s Secret Service nor Moonraker. It has more in common with a film like The Spy Who Loved Me, a film that could have been much better than it ended up being. The same can be said for The World is Not Enough. It is a film that when the credits roll seems slightly disappointing despite an engaging premise and a very promising start. (on DVD and Blu-ray)

2 and a half stars

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