The World Is Not Enough concludes a fine trilogy of Pierce Brosnan Bond films according to Cal. Just don’t mention Die Another Day.
A follow-up to the superlative (well, in my opinion) Tomorrow Never Dies, 1999’s The World Is Not Enough is the nineteenth entry in the official James Bond franchise, and Pierce Brosnan’s third outing as the venerable spy. Though the film has ultimately received a bum rap from moviegoers and critics alike, it’s actually a solid Bond flick which delivers all the elements we’ve come to expect from this franchise. The script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and GoldenEye‘s Bruce Feirstein admittedly contains little fresh or remarkable since it’s a fairly by-the-numbers entry, but it achieves the formula in a competent enough fashion. The World Is Not Enough comes packaged with larger-than-life action sequences, amusing one-liners, a few nice explosions, a selection of gadgets, and the usual assortment of beautiful girls. For action junkies seeking a fix, there’s not much to complain about, and it’s hard to imagine 007 fans being entirely unsatisfied with this entertaining film.
After successful oil magnate Sir Robert King (David Calder) is assassinated by terrorists, James Bond is assigned to protect Robert’s daughter, Elektra (Sophie Marceau). MI6 believe that Elektra will be targeted by an anarchist named Renard (Robert Carlyle), who survived a bullet to the head which now renders him impervious to pain. While investigating the potential nuclear implications of Renard’s plan, Bond meets and pairs up with a physicist named Christmas Jones (Denise Richard). Also heavily in the mix is Bond’s stern superior, M (Judi Dench), who has a personal stake in the assignment since she’s a close friend of the King family. Suffice it to say, Bond’s assignment is not as clear-cut as it seems, and things progressively grow more dangerous.
In keeping with the franchise’s time-honoured tradition, The World Is Not Enough opens with a top-notch pre-credits action sequence. The longest opening in Bond history, the sequence is gripping and well-constructed, observing Agent 007 as he wreaks havoc in both Spain and London. From there, director Michael Apted’s pacing is smooth as he moves through the narrative. Although The World Is Not Enough conforms to the conventions of the 007 series, it does contain a few unique touches: more insights into M’s character, a farewell to our beloved Q (Desmond Llewelyn), and a depiction of Bond that’s both vulnerable and cold-blooded. (A returning character is actually killed here, too.) The script has a few obligatory one-liners and humorous moments, but otherwise the tone is fairly serious, closer to something like For Your Eyes Only than the tongue-in-cheek sensibilities of Brosnan’s past Bond adventures. This was the coldest 007 had been since Licence to Kill a decade prior, as he kills with little compunction here. There’s an especially powerful scene towards the climax when Bond is forced to off someone unexpected. Added to this, The World Is Not Enough pushes the limits of its PG-13 rating to the limit.
To the credit of the producers, it’s a terrific idea to keep recruiting different directors for each new instalment to bring a fresh voice to the series. For The World Is Not Enough, Apted was recruited and he was an odd choice considering his previous dramas and documentaries. Indeed, the result is a far quieter film than Tomorrow Never Dies, and the plot and character development here is surprisingly strong under Apted’s watch. Fortunately, he’s equally skilled at staging exhilarating action scenes. Past the rip-roaring opening sequence, The World Is Not Enough flaunts a number of noteworthy set-pieces, including an entertaining snow-based chase and an awesome shootout in a nuclear facility. Furthermore, the third act is genuinely thrilling, and the climax aboard a nuclear submarine continually ups the stakes. As to be expected, the production values are first-rate; the film looks polished and attractive, and the special effects are excellent as always. Also notable is David Arnold’s score, which often borrows cues from John Barry’s old work. The music here is incredibly flavoursome, and it’s rousing to watch action beats unfold when accompanied by a modern rendition of the classic Bond theme.
With this, his third outing, Brosnan looks comfortable in the role, pulling off the physical requirements and delivering sly quips with ease. His biggest success is that he has the ability to mix charm, brutality and toughness well, though he also affords a certain emotional vulnerability that distinguishes him from prior Bonds. Earlier iterations rarely had such emotional depth, but it humanises the character, making Brosnan’s interpretation more of a modern Bond. Unfortunately, however, Richards is one of the very worst Bond girls in history. 007 films always require a suspension of disbelief, but The World Is Not Enough takes it too far with the casting of Richards – how can anyone believe that this twentysomething beauty with nice boobs is one of the world’s top nuclear scientists? Arnold Schwarzenegger would be more convincing as Stephen Hawking, for crying out loud! Richards is admittedly attractive enough for the role, but she’s too bland and devoid of personality, condemned to deliver clichéd action movie speak (“Watch out!”) while looking unsure of her own casting. Fortunately, Marceau (Braveheart) is better as Elektra King; she’s beautiful and was given a character of some complexity to portray.
As the proverbial Bond villain, Carlyle is fairly good, though not outstanding due to a lack of screentime. Dench was actually given a place in the narrative beyond giving 007 his assignment, and she expertly fleshes out the character, giving M an unexpected human side and demonstrating her ingenuity when held prisoner. This was Llewelyn’s last appearance as Q since he sadly died in a car accident not long after the premiere. Llewelyn was first featured in 1963’s From Russia with Love, and had continued to star in almost every instalment until TWINE. As Q’s replacement, R, John Cleese is wonderful and perhaps overlooked, providing some agreeable, humorous touches.
Running at two hours, The World Is Not Enough doesn’t quite sustain itself for its entire runtime, but it remains lavishly-produced and predominantly entertaining. Put together, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough represent a solid 90s Bond trilogy for Brosnan, whose run as 007 unfortunately had to end on an underwhelming note three years later with the execrable Die Another Day. Although The World Is Not Enough is not the best Bond film in existence, it’s a wonderfully enjoyable actioner which deserves more credit than it receives.
- The boat chase took seven weeks to shoot, as the Thames’ 9-MPH boat speed limit had to be factored in. The filming of the boat chase sequence was broadcast live over the Internet via webcam set up at specific points over the River Thames. Two “Clamper” policemen were disturbed in their line of duty during filming, being soaked so much that one of them ended up nearly going over the front of the car they were supposed to be clamping. Needless to say, their reactions in the film are very much real. The scene was not originally intended to be part of the opening sequence, until test audiences said that the jump-from-the-window opener was anticlimactic. As such, it was brought forward and had to be shortened. As it is now, this 14-to-15-minute opener is still the longest pre-credits sequence ever in a James Bond movie.
- The first James Bond film that was not released or co-produced by United Artists. Instead, UA’s parent company MGM released and co-produced the film.
- A kidnapping of the M character was a subplot of the James Bond novel Colonel Sun written by Kingsley Amis. Baku in Azerbaijan was a setting for the 1991 James Bond novel The Man From Barbarosa written by John Gardner.
- When the real MI6 learned that this film would shoot a scene around their headquarters, they moved to prohibit it, citing a security risk. However, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, at the urging of Member of Parliament Janet Anderson, moved to overrule them and allow the shoot, stating, “After all Bond has done for Britain, it was the least we could do for Bond.”
- Desmond Llewellyn said just before his death that he was planning to appear in the next Bond film. This movie’s video release was dedicated to Llewelyn and features a tribute montage of his appearances in seventeen Bond films over 36 years.