The World Is Not Enough

Every time a James Bond installment arrives, I’m left with the same question: Does 007 still matter? He matters a great deal to MGM, I’m sure, as long as he continues to make money for them; but really, I’m afraid the only meaning left in the franchise is the guarantee, every two years, of an action blow-out with a veneer of class.

With Pierce Brosnan — a likable enough actor without too much personality to get in the way of the dumb thrills — firmly ensconced in the lead, the Bond movies are as big as ever, but also as redundant: Every damn time, some powerful nut will threaten world security; every damn time, Bond will stop him. Really, who decided that the Bond films should go on this long, anyway? One can’t imagine Indiana Jones being played by five different actors over a span of 37 years. Bond is the unkillable Michael Myers of the action-adventure genre, and he’s become just as stiff and unvarying. Perhaps the secret of such longevity is to tell the same story over and over until it becomes an institution, a sacred template, a biannual ritual.

The World Is Not Enough, the nineteenth episode in this interminable series, is easily the most boring of the three Brosnan adventures so far. (The Thomas Crown Affair with Brosnan, and even Entrapment with the definitive Bond, Sean Connery, were sleeker and more entertaining 007-style films than this.) As handled by Michael Apted, the latest gifted director to go where the cash is, the movie is a textbook example of craftsmanship without excitement. There’s no outlandishness here; what little there is comes early, when Bond gets into a roaring boat chase, in a tiny speedboat that skips along the rough waves like a black triangular rock. That little boat hops across the water almost cheerfully, as if it were happy to get out for a ride; the boat gives the most charming performance in the movie. Once we come down from the giddiness of this scene, though, we’re never raised back up again.

Once again, we have one of those solemnly incomprehensible plots — this one has to do with an oil heiress (Sophie Marceau) imperilled by a nasty terrorist named Renard (Robert Carlyle) who’s after a nuclear warhead. As always, there are many changes in locale, much dialogue about who’s doing what because of some past offense in which someone did something to someone. The Bond films are always meaninglessly complicated; I lack the mystery-espionage-buff mindset necessary to understand them, so I’ve given up trying, and besides it always boils down to “Bond has to stop the bad guy.” Also along for the ride is the usual Bond beauty with an improbable name: Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards), a nuclear scientist (you are forgiven for snickering) with the usual bodacious curves and the usual lack of personality.

The Bond girls have always been eye candy, never interesting human beings on a level with Bond; even Michelle Yeoh, an exciting presence in Hong Kong movies, was thrown away in Tomorrow Never Dies, and Famke Janssen, who has since proven herself an interesting actress in such films as Monument Ave, was used rather crudely and cartoonishly in GoldenEye, crushing men between her formidable thighs. No one could say that Denise Richards, with her eager cheerleader grin, and Sophie Marceau, with her hooded eyes and soft smile, are not good eye candy; however, they’re playing two of the dullest Bond girls ever, with performances to match. Whenever the movie turns its gaze to Dame Judi Dench as M, Bond’s iron-willed boss, we glimpse what a genuinely powerful woman — a genuine woman, period — looks like.

The World Is Not Enough also shares the weakness of the other two Brosnan Bonds: a tedious villain. Robert Carlyle has been great elsewhere (Trainspotting, The Full Monty, Ravenous), but as Renard, a scrawny villain with a bullet in his head that makes him impervious to pain, he just seems like a soccer hooligan who somehow commands a lot of armed men. The producers of these movies seem to have lost sight of what makes a good Bond villain: an actor having a grand time being diabolical. Carlyle just appears sickly, and vaguely pissed off at the world. (Perhaps Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil is a hard act to follow.)

A better villain might have been John Cleese, who’s been cast here as R, the gadget guy replacing the retiring Q (Desmond Llewellyn). This movie tosses Cleese away in one quick scene, but I’m sure the producers will bring him back; they’d better, because his presence (and Judi Dench’s) is about all that’ll keep the 007 films interesting. As always, the movie ends with the promise, “James Bond Will Return.” I’d have been happier to read “John Cleese Will Return.”

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