In anticipation of the North American release of the latest 007 adventure, Skyfall, we here at The Shattered Lens are systematically going through each and every film of the James Bond franchise and reviewing them for you! Today, we’ll take a look at the eighteenth film of the James Bond franchise, and the second one to star Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. It’s one of my personal favourites… Tomorrow Never Dies.
It’s the return of Pierce Brosnan as Agent 007, a cold-war relic modernized for a more discerning audience. While the Bond of old – Connery in particular – could flash his smile, make a pun, and have a girl in bed, the modern Bond is often challenged by the women in his life. As a modern viewer, I’m much more comfortable with this view of the sexes, though it would be quite a stretch to say that Bond has ‘struggles’ trying to find the affections of women. Anyway.
Our cold open takes us to the Russian border, and a so-called Terrorist bazaar. Yes, it’s more or less a marketplace of weapons, illegal technology, and mercenary services. And it’s under surveillance by MI6 and the British armed forces, led by M (Dame Judi Dench) and Admiral Roebuck (Geoffrey Palmer). MI6’s analysis is being led by the strangely memorable Charles Robinson (Colin Salmon), M’s Chief of Staff in this film, and the next two. Although his part is minor, Salmon impressed me enough in this part (the first time I can recollect seeing him; Tomorrow Never Dies was a first day viewing for my father and I when it released) that I instantly associate him any time I see him with his role in this film, not in the newer Resident Evil franchise, or in any of his other work. Robinson is in contact with an unidentified (but I’ll bet you can guess!) agent on the ground who is observing the terrorist bazaar through a telephoto lens. In addition to the formidably terrifying hardware, the as-yet-un-named agent also identifies cyber terrorist Henry Gupta (Ricky Jay) an American wanted for all kinds of technology-related crimes. Although he seems to have obtained an extremely secret, extremely valuable, American GPS code cracking machine, I’m sure he won’t turn up later.
Eager to be rid of “half the world’s terrorists” as he describes it, Admiral Roebuck first attempts to negotiate a Soviet strike using ground assets against the bazaar. When the Soviet liaison reports that casualties would be inconvenient to the electorate so close to party elections, Roebuck instead opts for a British naval strike which will dismantle the bazaar – cruise missiles launched from afar. Overriding M’s objections that the survey of the bazaar is not yet complete, Roebuck provides authorization for missile launch, and in no time, two massive cruise missiles are en route.
It’s about this time that we learn that the mysterious, unnamed, ground agent in Russia is Agent 007 – an unsmiling Pierce Brosnan. Bond has detected a pair of L-39 Albatross fighters, one of which has been outfitted with nuclear-yield weapons of Soviet origin. At best, the cruise missile attack will scatter weapons-grade plutonium over a huge area, and Admiral Roebuck immediately orders the cruise missiles to be aborted remotely. Unfortunately, the missiles are already out of range in the network of (presumably Afghani) canyons they are maneuvering down. If nuclear disaster is to be averted, it’s up to an unsmiling 007 – now revealed as M’s agent in the field.
As anyone could have predicted, Bond chooses a heroically stupid solution. He charges into the bazaar, knocking out several terrorists and seizing an automatic weapon. Clearing enemies from his area, he makes his way to the L-39 with the nuclear payload. After dispatching the pilot, Bond boards the aircraft, and barely manages to get airborne before the cruise missiles detonate behind him, wiping out most of the terrorists involved. Suspiciously, it seems that Henry Gupta survived the naval strike. I continue to remain convinced that he won’t pop up again later in the story, though. After escaping aboard his stolen aircraft, Bond’s reel man inexplicably feels the need to strangle him which will crash and kill them both while Bond is pursued by a second L-39. Eventually, Bond manages to eject his would-be strangler straight up into the other aircraft, neatly eliminating his problems, and he heads home.
In a reveal with our evil super-villain, Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), we learn that he is manipulating headlines for the profit of his super powerful Viacom-esque media conglomerate. I wonder if that Gupta fellow and his stolen GPS controller will show up again?
I probably don’t need to spoil much more about the plot than that. Suffice to say that the concept behind this Bond yarn is actually a touch on the original side. It correctly anticipated the importance of mass media, its complete transformation into a corporate entity (rather than a ‘news’ entity), and some of the possible consequences. Of course, the plot of the film has also aged terribly, because the internet has changed everything about communication in a way that we would never have anticipated in the mid 90s. Still, Tomorrow Never Dies has always struck a chord with me for both the nature of its villain, and his designs upon the world. The rest of the villainous cast is somewhat less impressive, as beyond Carver, we have the eminently forgettable Mr. Stamper (Götz Otto) and the certainly-not-a-plot-point Henry Gupta to satiate our need for nemeses. Oh, and a hired assassin, but I’ll get to him in a moment. Suffice to say that Mr. Stamper is not exactly this generation’s Oddjob, and we can probably leave it there.
Once we pass the initial setup, the action of Tomorrow Never Dies doesn’t really let up. It’s very tech-heavy, the true realization of the gadet-heavy accusations that are often levied against post-Connery bond. Yes, Pierce Brosnan has a huge variety of gadgets at his disposal. Notable in this particular film is Bond’s seemingly indestructible BMW, which leads to a humourous exchange between he, a hired hitman named Dr. Kaufmann (Vincent Schiavelli), and a gaggle of minions attempting to break into the vehicle with hammers and other tools.
As usual, the women around Bond are beautiful. In this incarnation, we get a heavy dose of Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher), Elliot’s trophy wife, and a former flame of James Bond’s (to, I assume, no one’s surprise) as well as Colonel Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) an ass-kicking Chinese intelligence agent who is assigned to the same case as Bond. Yeoh’s character enters the film relatively late, but repeatedly proves her chops as Bond’s Chinese counterpart. She is healthily proficient with firearms and has all of the ninja skills that we would expect from any slight Asian female character in a Bond film.
The set pieces of Tomorrow Never Dies are probably also worth noting, as they range from Elliot Carver’s bizarrely fortress-like mass media headquarters (notably, also, a haven for both digital media and the printing of a newspaper), to extensive time spent in China, to Elliot Carver’s special stealth boat. The production values of the film are certainly not lacking, and unlike so many more ‘modern’ action films, Bond is not immersed in a CGI universe, but rather surrounded by practical effects that make it easy for us to fall into the story and its various locales.
Let me leave you with the theme to Tomorrow Never Dies, also oddly amongst my favourites!