World Is Not Enough, The (United Kingdom/United States, 1999)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
World Is Not Enough, The Poster

Ten years ago, when the second and final Timothy Dalton Bond movie, Licence to Kill, tanked at the box office, it looked like the venerable secret agent had finally run out of gas, driven into the ground by the likes of The Terminator and Rambo. A six year hiatus followed, and, when Bond finally returned in 1995's Goldeneye, Dalton had been replaced by Pierce Brosnan and the series was said to have been given a complete overhaul. Actually, as Goldeneye and its sequel, Tomorrow Never Dies, illustrated, the changes were more cosmetic than anything else. Bond still drinks his martinis shaken not stirred, still utters his signature "Bond, James Bond," and still sleeps with any gorgeous woman who crosses his path. The only differences are that he has traded in his Aston Martin for a BMW and "M" has experienced a sex change. With Brosnan in the lead role, the Bond series has undergone an unprecedented revival. Both Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies exceeded the magical $100 million mark (the latter doing so while in direct competition with Titanic), and the latest movie (the 19th overall), The World Is Not Enough, stands poised to join them.

When it comes to Bond films, there's really only one question: Does it entertain for the entire running length? For The World Is Not Enough, as for the previous two endeavors with Brosnan, the answer is "yes." There's nothing special, shocking, or precedent-setting about the film, but it functions on a level that 007 fans will appreciate - as eye and ear candy for those who prefer action to exposition and character development. There are plenty of bangs, flashes, and chase sequences (on foot, on skis, and in the water), plus the usual array of beautiful women with skimpy outfits and funny names, science fiction-inspired gadgets (cars that drive themselves, x-ray glasses, a jacket that inflates into a survival bubble), and exotic locales (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Istanbul).

In many ways, it's difficult to judge a Bond film by the same standards applied to other movies. The series has lasted long enough to establish its own set of rules, and, as long as the latest movie plays by them, it usually works. Plot credibility, for example, is not a key element. Bond stories shouldn't be taken with just a grain of salt - you need the whole shaker. It's somehow easier to suspend disbelief to an extraordinary level while watching 007 execute the expected series of superhuman tricks. The fact is, when it comes to a Bond movie, the last thing anyone wants is believability. We're there to see the formula applied in the most ostentatious fashion possible - the louder and more over-the-top, the better. That's why it doesn't matter that we're supposed to accept Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist, or that the ending of The World Is Not Enough makes absolutely no sense. In fact, this is the most lame Bond climax since Roger Moore and Christopher Walken fought it out on the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of A View to a Kill, but who cares?

With its emphasis on personal revenge, The World Is Not Enough hearkens back to Licence To Kill. Only this time it's "M" (Judi Dench) who's making things personal. When a good friend of hers is killed while inside MI6 headquarters, "M" is determined to have the murderer hunted down and brought to justice. She assigns her best agent, Bond (Brosnan), to protect her dead friend's daughter, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau). Bond soon discovers that the man who killed Elektra's father, and is now trying to eliminate her, is a mysterious terrorist named Renard (Robert Carlyle), who is called "The Anarchist." Electra has previous ties to Renard. When she was younger, he kidnapped her, but she escaped before her father could pay the $5,000,000 ransom. But his purpose here seems more sinister than vengeance for a foiled plot. When Bond tracks him down, he finds Rendard about to steal a nuclear bomb from a group of scientists led by Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards). And "M" arrives on the scene just in time to be captured.

The World Is Not Enough contains the usual array of eye-popping action sequences. The first, preceding the opening credits, features a boat chase capped off by a hot air balloon ride that ends with a bang. Later, there's a high-tension ski chase that has Bond attacked from both land and sky (it seems that nearly every Bond movie gives the hero a chance to play in the snow). Then there's a race through an oil pipeline (something that hasn't been done before), some action in a submarine (another Bond staple), and a nicely-executed piece where Bond is the target of two helicopters armed with multiple, oversized buzzsaws. In terms of genuine suspense, The World Is Not Enough is a cut below Tomorrow Never Dies - but only a tiny cut.

Character development has never been one of the series' strong suits, but there's actually some evidence of it here. The relationship between villain and henchman is more complex than usual, not to mention a little unexpected in its nature. When it comes to the bad guys, it's business as usual, but with a twist. Meanwhile, Brosnan does a few interesting things with Bond. This is a rare movie in which we are given a clear picture of the character's loneliness - his dead wife is never mentioned, but her presence hovers over Bond almost from the beginning. 007 is also colder here than in any film since Licence To Kill. Brosnan actively works to bring the screen superhero closer to Ian Fleming's conscienceless secret agent.

Sophie Marceau (Braveheart), who is a solid actress, does a credible job as Elektra, Bond girl #1. Not only is she pleasant to look at, but she gives as good a performance as one can reasonably expect in these constricted circumstances. Equally attractive, although not as capable, is Denise Richards, whose portrayal of Dr. Jones follows the Tanya Roberts model. Robert Carlyle, still best known in the United States for his part in The Full Monty, plays a relatively generic villain. Renard has a bullet lodged in his brain that is slowly killing him, but, until he dies, it makes him stronger every day. (Warning: do not use Bond movies as a means to gain medical or scientific knowledge.) Old friend Valentin Dimitreveych Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), previously seen in Goldeneye, is back. The MI6 alphabet soup includes "M", "Q" (Desmond Llewelyn in what may be his last appearance), and newcomer "R" (John Cleese, playing the part like Basil Fawlty), who is "Q"'s protégé.

The score, by composer David Arnold, is the best in over a decade. While the opening song, "The World Is Not Enough," (sung by Garbage) is not destined for greatness, it's better than "Tomorrow Never Dies." Throughout the film, Arnold frequently borrows cues from John Barry's past work, making the music sound decidedly "Barry-esque." The "James Bond Theme" is used often and incorporated effectively, climaxing in a full, rousing rendition played over the end credits. For Goldeneye, Eric Serra didn't want to use the Dr. No music because he thought it was dated - The World Is Not Enough proves how wrong he was.

Following The World Is Not Enough, Brosnan is committed to one more Bond film, after which he will probably leave the franchise. Unlike back in the late '80s and early '90s, the series' future is not in doubt. Only a dud would have jeopardized Bond 20, and The World Is Not Enough is far from that. For those who have enjoyed the other Bond movies (especially the most recent two) or for anyone who appreciates fast-paced action films, The World Is Not Enough should prove to be a winner. Director Michael Apted may be best known for documentary efforts (the Seven Up series) and dramas (Gorillas In the Mist, Nell), but he proves to have a deft hand managing the taut pace and pyrotechnics of this kind of motion picture. When it comes to action and excitement, actors, directors, and screenwriters may change, but there's still only one James Bond.

World Is Not Enough, The (United Kingdom/United States, 1999)

Run Time: 2:08
U.S. Release Date: 1999-11-19
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1