I’ve seen all of the Bond movies. I’ve read all of the original Fleming novels. And yet, this DVD is the only Bond item I’ve ever owned. Is it the best Bond film of all time? Probably not, but it is a completely worthwhile and accomplished entry in the series that’s worth another look. It’s also the first Bond film with no relation to Fleming’s life or work, and the first Bond film made after the death of Cubby Broccoli, who had been involved with production of the series since its start. As such, the producers had added incentive to deliver a great film, and thankfully they rose to the challenge.
Fans may gripe nowadays about Pierce Brosnan not seeming tough enough to be a virtually indestructible spy, but at the time of his casting he was the best choice in the world. Keep in mind that he was following in the footsteps of fellow wimpy Bonds Moore and Dalton, making it hard to justify the barbs thrown his way about lack of toughness. Already famous, suave, age-appropriate, and British, he had the role locked up long before his casting. Legend has it that he was actually in talks about the role prior to Dalton’s casting in the The Living Daylights, but NBC wouldn’t let him take the part due to his ongoing role in Remington Steele. At least that’s the way I remember it, and I’m too lazy to research now even though the modern powers of the Interwebs would instantly verify or debunk that story. After Dalton’s meh contributions to the legacy and Brosnan’s completed TV series, Brosnan finally got to take the role.
Goldeneye proved he could own the part, but the movie was largely a bore. For his second outing, the producers upped the action and also broke the mold of a Bond girl by hiring kick-ass martial arts star Michelle Yeoh as Bond’s near equal, a deadly Chinese spy named Wai Lin working toward a common goal with Bond. OK, there was also the unfortunate casting of Teri Hatcher as the traditional subservient eye-candy, but Yeoh is the only girl who made a lasting impression in the film. The Malaysian beauty queen turned HK action star was already a cult legend thanks to turns in films such as Supercop, The Heroic Trio, and Wing Chun, but hadn’t yet achieved the worldwide fame gained three years later through her performance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That made her matchup with Brosnan all the more rewarding, as it was her first true emergence on the international stage, and it was a completely refreshing change of pace to the classic Bond formula.
The movie opens with a great action set piece atop a snowy mountain hosting a weapons bazaar, where Bond is up to some stealthy shenanigans that eventually go south, causing lots of stuff to blow up and forcing our hero to steal a jet to make a harrowing escape from the exploding surroundings. After the credits sequence over a regrettably lame Sheryl Crow song, Bond dons his tux to investigate media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) at a glitzy corporate shindig, where Bond also gets his fling with Hatcher’s character out of the way. The Carver character is another innovative aspect of the film; he’s an evil mastermind, but his plans for global domination center on the power of media, not weapons. It’s a nice tech-generation slant on the formula that gets predictably hokey in its execution but still earns points for originality.
Bond and Wai Lin discover each other when they’re separately attempting to infiltrate one of Carver’s facilities, and eventually decide to team up in more ways than one as they rush to stop the evil menace. The action shifts to Vietnam, where Bond and Wai Lin hole up as they plan their final assault on Carver, but not before another great action sequence featuring a helicopter pursuing them through a shantytown. From there, the heroes sneak aboard Carver’s top-secret stealth ship cruising around the East Vietnam Sea, confront Carver and save the day. There’s some unfortunate use of an obvious scale model of the stealth ship that totally ruins any sense believability when it sinks, but that’s really the only other gripe I remember about the film. As for Brosnan, he works hard to nail the stone cold aspect of the emotionally-detached Bond as created by Fleming, biting Hatcher’s lip during a smooch and maintaining a steely visage throughout the film lest a Moore twinkle of the eye slip through, marking him as a true student of the source material who may not measure up physically but remaining fully capable of demonstrating the Bond mentality.
Operation: BOND will return with The World Is Not Enough.