#18 in my Ranking of the James Bond Franchise.
This is an odd one. I really like large parts of Brosnan’s second Bond adventure, but I groaned through other large parts. It’s a movie at war with itself, and it ultimately loses the fight. The iconography of the franchise is all there, but so much of it feels out of place, and the new stuff feels squeezed into the Bond box uncomfortably.
Starting with the pre-credits sequence, the execution of it is quite adept, but it’s…odd in concept. A terrorist weapons bazaar in the middle of a snowy noplace? Is that how things actually work? Whatever, the sequence is fun as Bond shoots and punches his way to a plane with a nuclear bomb and flies it away, fighting the copilot and another plane as he goes. It’s tight and effective, if a bit loopy, feeling a bit more Roger Moore than Goldeneye felt.
The action moves on to the South China Sea where a British destroyer has wandered into Chinese waters, convinced that they are seventy miles away from where they are, and getting into a standoff with some Chinese MiGs. In between is a stealth boat that’s egging the confrontation on, destroys one of the planes, and sinks the destroyer with a drill missile from which they steal a cruise missile. This is the opening gambit to a rather ingenious plan to set two major powers against each other with the ultimate goal of getting exclusive broadcasting rights in China for Elliot Carver, the media mogul antagonist.
That’s not a typical Bond villain motive, but I like it in the aggregate. It’s in the execution of how the movie presents the plan that I end up having problems with. There’s a central character to this whole thing, General Chang, a Chinese military officer working with Carver to help make things happen with the ultimate goal of becoming the head of the Chinese government. He’s in one scene, and he’s barely in it. It’s very weird that a central player in this conspiracy is hardly in the movie, talked about far more than he’s actually in it.
Instead, we get Carver. Now, I like Carver in concept, and Jonathan Price is kind of wonderful in the role, but the character is mostly a vehicle for exposition. He spends most of the movie explaining things, in particular his scheme. Despite the different plot and presence of a quality actor, Carver falls flat. His wife is the same.
Paris Carver, played by Teri Hatcher, is one of those characters in these later Bond movies that talk about having a long history with Bond, but we’ve never seen them before. It’s a weird thing to thrust on an audience when dealing with a character with such a long history as Bond. Couldn’t they have named Paris Melina (the girl from For Your Eyes Only)? It wouldn’t have improved the character or Hatcher’s performance, but it would have provided us a franchise-based grounding with the character. Anyway, besides that weird callback to a past we’ve never seen, Paris is a dead end. The implied history doesn’t get enough screentime, the two actors don’t have enough chemistry, and the reunion is played too seriously. It’s obvious that the movie wants us to feel some level of emotion when Bond and Paris hook up again. The performances tell us, the music tells us, the close ups tell us. But we’d just met the woman a few minutes before and they never really made a strong connection.
Once she’s gone, though, the movie (outside of Carver’s endless explanations) picks up. The action in the movie in general is actually quite good. I really enjoy the chase through the parking garage with the remote control car. It even looks like Brosnan is having fun. But it’s the introduction of Michelle Yeoh that makes the latter half of the movie pop.
Michelle Yeoh is a legitimate action star in her own right. She can kick with the best of ‘em, and her style of action acts as a nice contrast with Bond’s which is more gun focused. She’s working the same mystery from the Chinese side (in what needs to be one of the earliest forms of Hollywood treating the modern Chinese government with kid gloves in a major spectacle motion picture), and they team up. They actually do have a rapport, but it’s not romantic. It’s professional, and the movie largely lets it play that way. That’s probably because the team up happens so late in the film and there’s just so much plot to work through that there’s no time for bedding, until the very end. I swear, if there was ever a Bond girl that shouldn’t have kissed Bond, it was Michelle Yeoh. They don’t have the relationship for it, but this is a Bond film that has the iconography but doesn’t seem to quite understand it. Sometimes, you need to go against the grain. Just because there’s a good looking woman it doesn’t mean she needs to fall for Bond.
So, yeah, it’s a mixed bag of a film. The iconography is there, but it largely doesn’t know what to do with it. The Bond girls are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The plot is clever, but poorly told. The action is rather universally good. It’s a real let down from Goldeneye.