Tomorrow Never Dies (United Kingdom, 1997)
The scrutiny surrounding Tomorrow Never Dies, the eighteenth "official" James Bond film (not counting Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again), isn't as intense as it was around Goldeneye, but the attendant hype is, if anything, even more severe. Product tie-ins are everywhere. Turn on the TV, and you'll see Pierce Brosnan's Bond hawking cars and credit cards. (Product placements in the film are at an all-time high.) With Goldeneye, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson successfully re-invented 007 for the '90s (although, truth be told, little modification was necessary) and proved that the venerable action hero could still be a viable box office draw (Goldeneye was the first Bond film to break the $100 million mark). Now, with Tomorrow Never Dies, it's back to business as usual -- continuing the once-again healthy franchise.
Tomorrow Never Dies is a better film than Goldeneye. In fact, it's the best Bond film in many years. For the first time since the legendary Sean Connery left the part, this movie feels like a Connery Bond adventure. Pierce Brosnan, having left behind the jitters he occasionally exhibited during Goldeneye, now inhabits his character with a suave confidence that is very like Connery's. The villain of the piece, Elliot Carver (played with panache by Jonathan Pryce), is cut from the Blofeld/Goldfinger mold -- sinister, cunning, and charismatic. (How many of the Roger Moore/Timothy Dalton bad guys fit this type?) The henchman, Stamper (Gotz Otto), bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Shaw's killer in From Russia with Love. The ever-reliable "Q" (Desmond Llewelyn) is still around, showing off his latest wares and telling 007 to "grow up." Added to that are the usual Bond girls (Teri Hatcher and Michelle Yeoh), the gadgets, the chase scenes, the fights, the explosions, and a John Barry-esque score (by David Arnold) that makes repeated and effective use of the "James Bond Theme."
As is usually the case in a 007 flick, the bad guy is a megalomaniac. There's a twist, however -- Carver doesn't want to rule the world, he wants to rule the world's media. The Rupert Murdoch- like figure is launching his own cable news network, and, to encourage viewers to tune in, he has decided to literally make headlines. Using the advanced technological capabilities of the Carver Media Group, he engineers a conflict in the South China Sea between two Chinese planes and the HMS Devonshire. The ship is sunk and one of the planes is destroyed. War between China and Britain looms, with Carver having the inside story. And that's where Bond comes in.
Equipped with a brand new BMW that can almost drive itself, 007 goes undercover into Carver's empire, pretending to be a banker. At a posh party held by the tycoon, he meets Carver's wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher), an old flame. Also present is Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese secret agent posing as a newswoman. It doesn't take long for Bond to rub someone the wrong way, and soon he's ducking behind a printing press to escape a hail of bullets, then racing through the streets of Hamburg in his souped-up car. With the clock ticking, Bond and Wai Lin have less than forty- eight hours to stop World War III.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, the series breaks a little new ground. Wai Lin becomes the first "Bond girl" to function more as a partner for 007 than as a love interest, someone to be rescued, or both. Played by Hong Kong star Michelle Yeoh (also known as Michelle Khan), who is best known in America as Jackie Chan's co-star in Supercop, this character is just as physical and lethal as Bond, and she never screams for help. Brosnan and Yeoh click, and if there was ever a Bond girl worth considering for an encore, Wai Lin is it.
I can't be as positive regarding Teri Hatcher, who turns the supposedly-exotic Paris into a bland, unalluring figure. Her shared past with 007 is supposed to bring out his vulnerable side (last seen at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service), but it's hard to believe that such an uninteresting person could inspire any kind of emotion. Hatcher is the film's most obvious weak link -- fortunately, her screen time is limited.
The action sequences are suitably entertaining. It's impossible to count the number of bullets fired, and there are pyrotechnics aplenty, including exploding missiles, a fireworks show on the ground, and a fairly spectacular climactic conflagration. There are a couple of memorable chases, including one with a driverless car and another with a low-flying helicopter closing in on a motorcycle. For those who crave flashes, bangs, narrow escapes, and other action film staples, Tomorrow Never Dies delivers.
While the script isn't as openly jokey as some of the Roger Moore screenplays, it contains a fair number of one-liners. While some of these are predictable, several of them are unforgettably witty. "M" (Mrs. Brown's Judi Dench) makes an acid comment about the roles of men and women in the politics of war, and Moneypenney (Samantha Bond) offers a pun about Bond's canny knowledge of different languages (surely the best line of the film). There's also some playful repartee between 007 and his Chinese counterpart.
Bond fans will likely love this movie. Detractors will yawn it away as "more of the same." In a way, however, that's the point. No one really wants Bond to change or evolve, at least not significantly. We attend movies like Tomorrow Never Dies because they offer a predictably entertaining time with a popular superhero who can save the world with one hand while holding his vodka martini (shaken, not stirred) in the other. Tomorrow Never Dies isn't fundamentally much different from Goldeneye or Goldfinger, for that matter. It's the same basic formula put to effective use. What separates a good Bond movie from a bad one isn't the plot -- it's the supporting cast, the intangibles, and the energy level. With only a few exceptions, Tomorrow Never Dies scores high marks in all three categories. Following this effort, there's no doubt that, once again, James Bond will return.
Tomorrow Never Dies (United Kingdom, 1997)
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Gotz Otto, Judi Dench
Screenplay: Bruce Feirstein
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Music: David Arnold
U.S. Distributor: United Artists