“You forgot the first rule of mass media, Elliot! Give the people what they want!”, The James Bond blogs: ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ (1997)

13 Nov

By the time Pierce Brosnan came to star in his second Bond picture, the general feeling was that his Bond was the best interpretation since Connery. I resisted this train of thought at the time, not because I don’t like Pierce’s performance, but rather because I saw him as a product of the times. In other words, Pierce Brosnan was very much the kind of Bond that most filmgoers wanted for the ’90s, but that didn’t automatically make him superior to the others. He’s certainly stylish and witty, but also far more a realistic man of action than Roger Moore was. But he also handles the humour far better than Timothy Dalton ever did. Not to devalue Roger or Timothy’s contribution of course. But because of the direction the films were headed in, Pierce was arguably the best man for the job and gets on with doing it with a minimum of fuss. I wouldn’t say he was outstanding, but he’s very good at what he does. For a Bond picture, that might be enough. And because he came along at that time, he was seen (and still is by many) as the best Bond since Sean Connery. Some years later, and I’ve come to really like him. On most days, I tend to agree with the fans that say he’s the one of the best Bonds. The other days I switch allegiance. Probably to SPECTRE.

Tomorrow never dies is also very much a film for it’s times. The villain here is Elliot Carver, a multi-media tycoon who is intent on starting a war by manipulating the news coverage. He gets to sell more newspapers and attract more viewers in the process. In the age of computers and digital communication, this makes Carver quite a plausible and scary character. Jonathan Pryce gets to play him, and is a bit of a departure from your usual Bond baddie. He’s quite a smarmy character, and doesn’t have a great deal of physical presence. What does actually make an impression is the character’s arrogance (which is ultimately his downfall). It’s amusing to watch him, as he initially doesn’t see Bond as a threat, more of a nuisance. The girl this time around is a fantastic departure, with Chinese film star Michelle Yeoh playing Wai Lin (Bond’s Chinese counterpart). When the two agents team up, there’s a surprising and entertaining amount of competition. Yeoh plays her as a tough and resourceful individual, who doesn’t fall for Bond’s romantic advances very easily. Less well served is Teri Hatcher as an old flame of Bond’s (and now Carver’s wife). She isn’t in it for long, which is just as well, as her character is mainly there to serve the advance of the plot and give Bond a little more emotional depth than usual. The new ‘Bond family’ is now firmly established, with Judi Dench as intelligence boss ‘M’, Samantha Bond as Moneypenny and Desmond Llewyln back as ‘Q’, supplying Bond with a rather nifty remote control car. The style is, as with Goldeneye, a change from what went before, but stays true to the series’ overall content. The Brosnan films are almost a reinvention of the Bond franchise, so that makes perfect sense.

The plot involves a gigantic stealth warship that is immune to radar. Carver, in the tradition of all Bond villains, has been thinking Big. He plans to use his satellites to lure a British ship off course, and sink it using the stealth ship. Then he intends to steal its nuclear warheads and fire one of them at China. If things get boring, in other words, Carver can spice up his news headlines by creating some of his own. How the nuclear devastation of one of his biggest markets could be seen as a good thing, might be a flaw in his plan. Then again, he might be bluffing.

Along the way the stunt work and action scenes are engaging, often exciting. One fine example is a top-of-a-skyscraper high escape jump, with Bond and Wai-Lin using a fabric banner of Carver as a makeshift abseil rope. Implausible, but not impossible, and I think that pretty much sums up the whole plot of Tomorrow never dies. But on the 18th official secret service assignment, we should be used to some fantastical elements by now. So saying that, this film does have more of a basis in reality than some of Bond’s more fantastical adventures. If From Russia with love is at one end of that particular spectrum, and Moonraker is at the other, Tomorrow never dies is somewhere comfortably in-between.

A newspaper editor as a Bond villain? Scarier than it sounds!

After watching this again recently I still enjoyed it, but feel it pales next to the two films before and after it in the series. Tomorrow never dies may well end up being the Brosnan picture that gets the least attention from future generations of fans. I say this because it’s bedfellows are quite colourful and convey a more epic feel. But Tomorrow never dies is still a stylish and well-executed production, and Roger Spottiswoode’s film never strays too far into the realms of the fantastic. Spottiswoode, incidentally, directs his only Bond film to date, and does a good job. The images of warships and the fight scenes have the essence of realism to them, and add to the unfussy dynamic of the film, and the photography is often creative and easy on the eye. David Arnold’s score is also a welcome return to the class and glamour of John Barry’s definitive Bond music. Apparently, after Barry was unavailable it seemed appropriate that one of Barry’s biggest fans got the job. His work is similar, but has it’s own modern style. After this film, Arnold would inherit Barry’s legacy as ‘Bond composer’. Cheryl Crow’s title song isn’t the most outstanding Bond song, but it’s original enough, and better than some.

Q is shocked at the news that this is the first Bond film with no Ian Fleming elements except the regular cast.

Ultimately Tomorrow never dies cements Brosnan as the then current Bond by giving him a quality adventure. There isn’t as much humour as usual though, and whereas I thought that was a good thing in some of the more ridiculous entries, I missed it here. But it’s still a good Bond thriller, and I’m not joking about that.

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