1999 so naturally there’s a Millennium Bug joke, though John Cleese playing R at least has the decency to wait until the end of the movie to make it. ‘The World is Not Enough’ is a strange Bond, it wants to be a grown-up Bond movie, but doesn’t quite seem to make it. If anything it’s an interesting movie because a lot of the elements get recycled in ‘Quantum of Solace’ and more glaringly in ‘Skyfall’.

Let’s start with the focus of the movie Elektra King played with pouty reserve by Sophie Marceau. She does well in her opening scenes from grief at the death of her father to being the driven, but compassionate business woman driving her oil pipe through Azerbaijan but being careful not to destroy a local church. However we then spend more time with her and then more time. Director Michael Apted seems to want to put her front-and-centre of the movie so much she might as well be holding a sign that says ‘really the villain’. The sad truth is that were she just the victim the film’s narrative wouldn’t dwell on her the way it does, even if Bond does fall for her. In later scenes, once we know the truth and she gets to play out her dominatrix fantasy with Bond strapped to a chair that Marceau actually looks like she’s having fun, and consequently, we as the audience do too.

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The focus on King makes Renard played by a post-‘Full Monty’ Robert Carlyle into her familiar. He is more henchman than lead villain in this film, even if he does have super-villain qualities complete with his own origin stories. ‘Renard’, a name out of the ‘Big Book of Villainous Names’ (under ‘C’ for ‘Cunning’) doesn’t suit him at all. ‘Butcher’ or just ‘Psycho Nut Job’ might have done better. At least they decided to opt for a physical deformity to illustrate his criminality, in true Fleming style. We haven’t seen that since, ooh, two movies ago. Carlyle can be a very charismatic actor, but here he’s taken ‘not being able to feel anything’ to mean ‘act in a very stiff manner. He may have dialled-down the camp, but he’s lost something in the entertainment too.

Also a little flat (certainly in one way if not the other) is Denise Richards. Not as bad as you might remember playing nuclear weapons expert Dr Christmas Jones, but still not firing at 100%. Dressed like Lara Croft and therefore carrying more cultural signals that ‘this girl likes adventure’ than a dozen pantyliner ads, Richards does her best to keep up Brosnan. If one or two lines had been delivered with a little more enthusiasm, I think she would be a little bit more fondly remembered. She is, however, Oscar winning material compared to Goldie who is genuinely terrible.

This leaves at least three good performances to rescue the movie. Firstly Judi Dench as M, this time given the personal back-story designed to make us care a bit, after she went to university with King’s father. Dench does the restrained anger of someone who wants revenge very well, without drifting into righteous anger. Her subsequent capture and resolve is excellent. Her he-man-bitch-slap of King is expertly timed. Secondly there is Robbie Coltrane this time given more to do as Valentin Zukovsky. He is playful, charming and you warm-up every time he is onscreen. Even his acting in the trope of the ‘just one last shot as I lay dying’ is executed with a twinkle in his eye. A shame he couldn’t have been the new Felix.

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That leaves Pierce Brosnan, who is now comfortable in the role of Bond and knows exactly how to pitch it, even if his co-stars don’t. Admittedly he seems to be less ‘fun’ than in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ but he still acts like a horny teenager by hoping to impress Elektra King with his skiing skills and then bedding her. There’s an added physicality to Brosnan with each of his outings, his disarming of one of Zukovsky’s goons in the casino is particularly good, as is the fight in Swiss Bank in Bilbao. His one-liners are quite good in this one (though obviously not yet Roger or Sean standard).

Dr. Christmas Jones: The world’s greatest terrorist running around with six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I gotta get it back, or someone’s gonna have my ass.
James Bond: First things first.

Bond is also quite clever in this movie. Putting the King and Renard connection together in the Kazakhstan mine is smart, as is the idea of making King think he’s died in the pipeline explosion. It’s a shame that the movie only uses the ruse for about five minutes and that it has no real impact on King or Renard.

This is also the era where Bond does ‘extreme sports and vehicles’. Sure, it may have started with Roger snowboarding up a storm in ‘A View to a Kill’ but following the last movie’s HALO jump we now have PARA-GLIDING SNOW MOBILES and TURBO-POWERED STUNT BOATS! Maybe because ‘GoldenEye’ made do with helicopters and tanks and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ had helicopters and motorbikes, it feels like ‘The World is Not Enough’ is really trying too hard with the set pieces. Like the previous two movies it also has helicopters, but these have GIANT FREAKIN’ CIRCULAR SAWS attached to them (a leftover idea from ‘GoldenEye’). It is, of course, about to get much, much worse in the next film.

Overall then I find ‘The World is Not Enough’ to be a curiously dull movie. Its chosen locations of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkey all lack exoticism, even the filming in Bilbao looks like it was carried on a wet Tuesday in February. It signposts its twist by placing it front and centre and has to get its lead to carry the whole film in the wake of muted or wooden performances from the rest of the cast. Some of the creative decisions (the MI6 HQ in Scotland, characters passing around plutonium like they were Maltesers, the casting of Goldie) are very silly indeed. Some of the themes of the film would get a better chance of being explored in ‘Quantum of Solace’ (the use of resources) and ‘Skyfall’ (M under threat, a much better use of Scotland).

There is are two stand-out moments in the film, one poignant and one disturbing. Desmond Llewellyn’s final scene as Q is really quite moving.

Q: I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.
James Bond: And the second?
Q: Always have an escape plan.

Now, what’s odd about that is that the first thing is not something I’m ever sure Q has tried to teach Bond. I’m sure a quip about ‘returning government property’ might have worked better. The second line though is genius.

The disturbing moment is Bond killing Elektra and then standing over her body looking for all the world like he’s about to whip his old chap out and defile her body right there on the bed. More disturbingly M watches the whole thing, a little stunned at the monster she holds the reins of. The moment is over in seconds, but for me remains the stand-out scene in the whole film.

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