Wednesday 27 April 2011

Movie Review: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

The 18th James Bond movie adventure maintains the momentum regained by the series re-boot that GoldenEye provided. The action is sustained, the characters dynamic, the humour appropriately dry, and the set-pieces deliver. The package may be familiar, but Tomorrow Never Dies nevertheless provides shiny entertainment with creative touches.

Megalomaniac media tycoon Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) has a simple plan for world domination: create the news and be the first to report on it. He deploys his resources to build a combat stealth warship, and he hires master criminals Henry Gupta (Ricky Jay) and Stamper (Gotz Otto) to do his dirty work. Gupta has in his illegal possession a highly coveted piece of American military hardware that allows him to manipulate satellite signals, and Carver uses this gizmo to trick a British warship into straying into Chinese territorial waters, sparking a bloody international incident that threatens to erupt into World War Three. A side-benefit to Carver's war plan is the decapitation of the Chinese leadership, the installation of a Carver-picked new leader, and securing exclusive Chinese broadcast rights for his media empire.

Both the British and the Chinese intelligence services send in their agents in the form of James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) to foil the plan. Bond is re-acquainted with an old flame called Paris (Teri Hatcher), who is now Mrs. Carver. After Paris pays the ultimate price for betraying her husband, Bond and Lin start to work together to bring down Carver's empire and to fight off the countless goons on Carver's payroll, including the sadistic Stamper. They also need to stop Carver from launching a massive killer missile that the Chinese will blame on the British.

Tomorrow Never Dies does suffer from an overtly cartoonish villain. Jonathan Pryce as Elliot Carver quickly steps into over-the-top histrionic territory, and makes no attempt at cultivating quiet nuance or controlled menace as the evil mastermind. Carver is outright nuts, and he is totally nuts from his first scene. Also blatant is the BMW-obsessed product placement, with the Munich firm supplying both Bond's four-wheel and two-wheel rides.

But the weaknesses are easily outweighed by the strengths of the movie, and Tomorrow Never Dies enjoys some terrific highlights. The pre-credit sequence with Bond spying on a terrorist arms bazaar is gritty and explosive. Bond navigating his BMW by remote control in a multi-level parkade while being chased by bad guys armed with machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades is ridiculously fun. And the best sequence features Bond and Lin handcuffed together in Vietnam, having to escape by motorcycle from Carver's henchmen and a killer helicopter.

Roger Spottiswoode directs with a light touch, complemented by brisk but seamless editing work and excellent use of the Bond theme music. Two years after his Bond debut in GoldenEye, Brosnan is fully into his stride as the smooth agent, effortlessly dispatching enemies and seducing ladies. Michelle Yeoh holds her own opposite Brosnan's Bond, matching him in innovative combat and steely-eyed determination.

Tomorrow Never Dies does not stress the intellect, but it does celebrate Bond at his action-packed best in the spy series that never ends.

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