Fun fact: Tomorrow Never Dies revisits two location from previous Bond films. The Stoke Park Club, which was the location where Oddjob knocked a statues head off with his hat in Goldfinger, here used as an interior for a romance scene between Pierce Brosnan’s Bond and Terri Hatcher’s Paris Carver. The other location was Khow-Ping-Khan islands near Phuket which were used as Scaramanga’s island home in The Man With The Golden Gun. No reference is made to those films when they visit these locations. Opportunity missed Bond. Anyway… that’s what I’m passing off as an intro to my review of Tomorrow Never Dies, the 18th film in the Bond series. Not far to go now…
So Tomorrow Never Dies has one of those plots that someone at the studio thought was being real cutting edge and modern when really it’s more than a little bit silly. Not Moonraker or Octopussy silly, but it’s up there. A worldwide media mogul named Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is about to launch his new satellite TV station and dreams of providing the world with tomorrow’s new today. One problem he has is the fact China won’t let him in. So naturally he uses a stealth boat he had developed and a GPS scrambling device to trick a British frigate into sailing into Chinese waters. When Chinese jets are scrambled he uses his boat to fire an overly complex saw headed torpedo into the British vessel and then blows up one of the Chinese jets thus potentially starting World War 3 and allowing him to be the first to report it. I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that Carver is behind all this because the film literally tells you right away at the outset. No attempt at building mystery around who the villain could be then. Well, as you’d expect, Bond is sent to find evidence that Carver is in fact a total crazy mentalist and then blow whatever he can up until the problem is solved. Also he has to try chatting up Michelle Yeoh along the way.
Can you tell I’m not overly enamoured by the story? For a start why tell us Carver is behind all this from the start. He’s just a media owner, clearly modelled on Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell, there could have been at least some allusions that he wasn’t the real villain. They could have just used the strand that a techno terrorist (Their words not mine) named Henry Gupta (Ricky Jay), who had already been established as having a GPS encoding device in the pre-credits scene, had used one of Carver’s satellites to beam his GPS tricking signal off of. That would have been a coincidental link for us as well as Bond. Except we know it was Carver behind the entire event and so we spend the first part of the film ahead of Bond. You don’t do that in screenwriting. You have to let your audience discover events at the same time as the main character and you have to make sure they make sense. If the audience has the answers before the protagonist then they’ll disengage with the story because they’re waiting for the lead to catch up. Plus Carver could have been used as a red herring this way to allow for a more secret and logical villain that had a reason for wanting to start World War 3 that was a little grander.
It maybe would have helped if Carver wasn’t so much of an obvious villain for the whole film. He comes across like someone who woke up one day, unsure what to do with his billions of dollars, and just decided to be evil from now on. To be fair there’s something to be said for a villain that’s unashamedly evil, but even when Carver talks in public in one scene he talks about world domination. He’s referring to him having domination of the media but at the same time he’s pretty much laying out to the world via a satellite broadcast that he intends to control what everyone sees. How does that not end up getting any sort of attention? If Mark Zuckerberg went on TV and announced his plans to have total domination over the worlds information and internet use people would think he was crazy and facebook stocks would plummet. He’s not far off achieving that to be fair, but he wouldn’t tell the world it was a goal.
The film picks up a bit when Bond reaches China, that has now given Carver broadcast rights in the space of 2 days… yep. Here Bond teams with Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) in order to do a few stunts, kick people for a bit and ride motorbike around the streets of Saigon all whilst handcuffed together. These sequences are amongst the best in the film and it’s clear at least some attempt was made to mirror the Hong Kong action style. Towards the end of the film director Roger Spottiswoode even throws in a few John Woo style blurred slow motion turn around shots with Yeoh. For some reason she doesn’t perform all her stunts despite being one of the most qualified to do so. She does most of the fight sequences herself but there’s a lot of body doubling going on during the bike chase. I never understand why you’d hire a Chinese star, who’s made a name for herself in plenty of action films doing her own stunt work, and then not have her do her own stunts. You use an actor’s strengths, not hold them back. Luckily Michelle Yeoh has always been a solid actor which instantly puts her above most of the Bond girls over the years.
The film has plenty of fun action sequences but it’s dragged down by some awful dialogue, a poorly plotted story and a villain who’s nefarious scheme reeks of a “what’s hot right now” brainstorming session. There’s far worse Bond films, hell, there’s far worse Brosnan Bond films, but this is certainly a middle of the road adventure. It’s sloppy and inconsistent. On the plus side Brosnan’s Bond shows a slightly darker side to what we saw in GoldenEye in a scene where eh executes a would be assassin. The assassin is also a high point. A marksman by the name of Doctor Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli) who displays more character and quirks in his one scene than the films main henchman Stamper (Gotz Otto). Honestly I would have rather had a hell of a lot more Kaufman and his confidence in his marksmanship than any of the other villains. Tomorrow Never Dies is a disappointment then that’s at least enjoyable in parts. Next up, The World Is Not Enough… which is also not the worst Brosnan Bond film.