I thought Goldeneye was a good return for Bond after six years absence. I’ve also always felt Tomorrow never dies was a worthy follow up, but not exceptional. For Brosnan’s third outing as Bond, though, we’re in a different league. The World is not enough is a very good entry, and gives Pierce Brosnan an epic adventure in the spirit of Thunderball and You only live twice. Here Brosnan also feels more like the Bond we knew and loved all those years ago. His seduction of his female Doctor while on sabbatical, echoes scenes of Connery at the health farm in Thunderball, and the ski chases are easily some of the best since The Spy who Loved Me. But this never feels like a deliberate ‘greatest hits’ package, unlike some earlier entries, and survives on its own merit as an exhilarating and comic action adventure.
The film has a great title for starters, and like Goldeneye takes its inspiration from a source linked to Bond’s creator Ian Fleming. Whereas Goldeneye was the name of Fleming’s Jamaican hideaway, The World is not enough was Bond’s family motto, as featured in his 1963 novel On Her Majesty’s secret service (and on screen in Peter Hunt’s 1969 film adaptation).
The plot follows a personal vendetta by MI6 boss ‘M’ (again played by the wonderful Judi Dench) who is determined to avenge the death of a good friend. Bond is assigned to protect her dead friend’s daughter, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), from her father’s murderer. This man turns out to be a dangerous terrorist called Renard (Robert Carlyle), whom Elektra has previous links with. When she was younger, he kidnapped her, but she escaped before her father could pay the substantial ransom. When Bond finally catches up with Renard, he’s trying to hi-jack a nuclear bomb from a group of scientists (including Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards, whose name is the subject of one of the film’s ruder quips).
The film begins with one of the very best pre-credit sequences for many years, with Bond pursuing an assassin down the Thames in one of Q’s proto-type speedboats. The river has never looked as stylish as it does here, but this is a Bond film after all, so everywhere gets given an extra gloss of glamour. The fact that this is one of the longer opening sequences means that there’s enough action and suspense in the first fifteen minutes than most films have in an hour- it’s almost a self-contained story that sets up the rest of the film very well. Bond’s fall from an exploding balloon, and onto the Millennium dome, fades into the title sequence so well it’s as sublime as Maurice Binder’s best work on the earlier films. There’s more eye-popping spectacle elsewhere, as Bond and Jones have a race through an oil pipeline, Bond gets attacked by a helicopter with a huge buzz saw and that’s in addition to that ski chase.
The cast also give good performances, with Brosnan giving the character a little more depth than usual. He’s actually more ruthless and cold than before, and several scenes examine the character’s loneliness and commitment to duty quite effectively. Sophie Marceau is also a very capable actress, and her performance as Elektra is more emotionally grounded than the average Bond girl. To add some light relief, there’s the welcome return of Robbie Coltrane as Bond’s Russian contact Valentin Dimitreveych Zukovsky. There are poor performances though, and they belong to Denise Richards and (to a lesser extent) Robert Carlyle. While Richards plays a totally implausible version of an American scientist (and not very convincingly), Carlyle is a villain who feels no pain (due to a bullet lodged in his brain, apparently), but offers little screen presence. This isn’t all Carlyle’s fault. He’s a good actor, but is let down by a very generic character. A few words must also be said of Desmond Llewelyn. The Bond veteran again turns up as gadget master ‘Q’, but it was to be for the last time. Llewelyn died in a car accident soon after completing this film, although retirement was perhaps on the cards. He delivers a touching and wonderfully proud cameo, and the introduction of John Cleese as his assistant ‘R’ can’t make up for the fact that ‘Q’ is ready to leave us. Llewelyn’s Major Boothroyd/Q featured in all but two of the official Bond films up to this point. He has been missed.
Any minor quibbles about the cast don’t detract from what is a good action picture. David Arnold gives another great score, often sounding very much like John Barry’s previous music for the series (which is no bad thing), and the title song by Garbage is catchy enough. Peter Lamont’s production design is well up to scratch, and director Michael Apted handles the whole affair with some skilful touches amongst the flashes and bangs. If the whole film does often offer more and more spectacle in favour of a consistently great script and wonderful performances, The World is not enough is still a masterpiece compared to the overblown spectacle which was to follow it three years later.
Die Another Day was to follow as the 20th official James Bond film.