Page to Screen: The World is Not Enough (1999)

The World is Not Enough
based on characters by Ian Fleming


Throughout the entire process of the Bondathon, I had been looking forward to the Brosnan years, especially when I was struggling for breath during the Moore years. I first experienced conscious thought in a world where Brosnan was Bond; the two could not be separated. I knew, on a gut level, that GoldenEye was a good movie. And even after watching Tomorrow Never Dies, I still held out hope that the next two Brosnan films would self-correct, even though I knew Die Another Day exists. I probably should have listened to my friend Natalya, who would only nod knowingly at me every time I mentioned Pierce Brosnan. Ah, bliss. Or, as it’s often better known, ignorance.

The World is Not Enough opens with the assassination of British oil tycoon Sir Robert King by the anarchist terrorist known as “Renard”, despite the best efforts of MI6. Concerned that Renard will go after King’s daughter, Elektra, whom he recently released from captivity, M assigns James Bond to protect her as she continues her father’s work by building a pipeline through Azerbaijan. The headstrong and capable Elektra captivates Bond, even as he saves her from an assassination and continues to investigate Renard. But when the investigation takes an unexpected turn, Bond will face danger from a quarter he never expected.

Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough share one particular problem (although I could list many). Both have interesting ideas that turn the Bond formula on its head and somehow manage to make them formulaic and boring. Tomorrow Never Dies asks how man of action Bond fits into a world where words are the true weapons; The World is Not Enough asks what would happen if a Bond girl was the Big Bad. Both ideas, and especially the latter, are interesting ideas; it’s the execution that’s bad.

Save for that question, The World is Not Enough is a paint-by-the-numbers action film. Extended action scenes that somehow manage to bore! A romance that comes out of nowhere! Concepts brought up but ultimately abandoned if they create an actual obstacle! It doesn’t even have the decency to be deliriously awful. As I’ve said before, I am attracted to extremes of quality—bring me the very good or the very bad. Both will entertain me, in their own respective fashion. But I cannot and will not accept mediocrity. I mean, this is a film that asks us to buy that having a bullet trapped in your skull gives you superpowers and that Bond’s busted shoulder, incurred during the opening title sequence, is not an inconvenience unless the script says so. I realize this is the franchise that produced Moonraker, but the way to pull off stunningly stupid ideas (like skin suffocation) is to completely commit to them.

The script’s inconsistency hurts all the more because this film was written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The pair wrote Plunkett and Macleane, a film I quite like (imagine A Knight’s Tale’s romantic Goth of an older sister), so it’s a bit of a disappointment. There are momentary flashes of light here and there, especially when Sophie Marceau, as Elektra, and Judi Dench, as M, interact, elevating the material. But following Pierce Brosnan through this script made me realize something: he’s not a very good Bond.

He’s a good actor and, I’m sure, a nice guy. (I’d like to think everybody who was in Mamma Mia is a nice person.) But there’s something slightly dead in the eyes of Brosnan’s Bond. Every Bond after Lazenby must deal with a veiled reference to Tracy’s death. Here, when Elektra asks if he’s ever lost anyone, Brosnan’s Bond merely looks uncomfortable and changes the subject. Contrast that against Dalton looking like he’s had a dagger to the heart when his closest female friend just mentions the idea of him getting remarried. The other men who have played Bond managed to put a specific stamp onto their version of the secret agent. Brosnan feels like he’s playing an average of all of their performances, an average that ends up being pretty flat. At least he wears suits well.

The other bright spots include Garbage’s title song, the first full-on villain song for the franchise, and, surprisingly, Denise Richards. Her appearance as a nuclear physicist in The World is Not Enough earned her a Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress and damaged her career. I expected the worst. Instead, Christmas is low-key, capable, and sarcastic. Richards isn’t an amazing actress, especially contrasted against Sophie Marceau and Judi Dench. But there’s something engaging about watching a woman calmly hotwire her way out of a locked room and constantly look at Bond like he’s a moron, all while cosplaying as Lara Croft. Of course, her relationship with Bond becomes suddenly sexual with zero establishment in the last three minutes, because this film is took weak to break away from the pull of the Bond formula.

Bottom line: The World is Not Enough has a good idea, but its execution is so poor and formulaic that it’s really a shame. Come for the Garbage song; leave immediately after. A miss.

I rented this film on iTunes.

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