The James Bond franchise has become the cinematic equivalent of those stadium-rock tours by mega-successful ‘60s bands: they are bigger and more elaborate than ever before, and they make tons of money from eager ticket-buyers; while critics carp about recycling past glories, new fans get to go out and see something they have previously experienced only on home media, and older fans can relive their favorite hits, performed by a new lead singer.
In this case, the “singer” is actually an actor, Pierce Brosnan, and he is not exactly new, having previously appeared in GOLDENEYE. Still, his presence goes a long way toward making a new-sounding song out of the same old notes: the supervillain and his lethal sidekick; the woman whose death fuels Bond’s personal vendetta; the female agent who teams up with 007; the banter with Moneypenny; the action, the gadgets, the one-liners. Desmond Llewelyn’s Q even pops up like a former bandmate who walks on stage for a one-song reunion, much to the joy of long time fans.
The film seldom reaches the pitch of GOLDFINGER, but it does stay on tune, thanks to performers who know how to belt out an old favorite. Brosnan and Teri Hatcher play a marvelous duet as two people whose personal past intersects the current mission, with fatal results. Michelle Yeoh, as Chinese spy Wai Lin, gets to perform only one martial arts aria, but it brings some variety to the action. And Jonathan Pryce plays Elliot Carver as if he were a villain of operatic grandeur and menace.
TOMORROW NEVER DIES even has the ghost of an idea beneath its surface – not to lend thematic depth but to make Bond seem relevant (not a “misogynistic dinosaur,” as he was labeled last time out). The film sets up a nice subplot portraying the conflict between the military, who want to go in with guns glazing, and M (Judi Dench, displaying more force of personality this time), who wants to rely on the subtler methods of 007. The film seems to suggest that in a world where the nuclear stakes could lead to mass destruction, espionage – once viewed as a dirty, underhanded business with none of the noble glory of open, armed combat – is now preferable to full-scale war.
Brosnan tries to combine the best of Sean Connery and Roger Moore in his portrayal. He plays the serious side of the character without his tongue in cheek; he wants you to feel the pain when Bond finds Paris (Hatcher) murdered. Still, he mostly lacks the lethal intensity of Connery, except in one neat scene wherein he grapples with Paris’ assassin. “I’m only a professional doing a job,” pleads Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Shiavelli) as Bond gets the upper hand. “Me too,” seethes Bond as he pulls the trigger, and Brosnan’s delivery tells us that 007, despite his words, indeed does take this quite personally. At the other end of the spectrum, Brosnan cannot resist stepping out of character to be funny upon accidentally triggering one Wai Lin’s lethal gadgets — his startled laughter is the equivalent of Moore’s old double-takes.
Tech credits are solid. The script adds a few decorative notes to the old songs, and director Roger Spottiswoode conducts the action well, but his work is fairly impersonal. The result is a film that, although exciting, never reaches the kinetic intensity of John Woo’s FACE/OFF. Perhaps next time the producers should hire a virtuoso who can compose some new tunes, not just variations on the established themes.
This film’s title was originally “Tomorrow Never Lies,” which ties in with the plot: Villain Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) manipulates world events to create sensational headlines for his media empire. Reportedly, a typo turned ‘Lies” to “Dies,” and the filmmakers thought it had a better sound for a Bond title.
TOMORORW NEVER DIES the first Bond film to be completed after the death of Albert R. Broccoli, the producer who (along with partner Harry Saltzman) turned Ian Fleming’s 007 novels into a powerhouse film franchise. The film is dedicated to Broccoli.
TOMORROW NEVER DIES (United Artists, 1997). Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Screenplay by Bruce Feirstein, based on the character created by Ian Fleming. Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Ricky Jay, Gotz Otto, Joe Don Baker, Vincent Schiavelli, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond.