Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Defintive Bond Marathon: The World is Not Enough (1999)

(Directed by Michael Apted)
007’s (Pierce Brosnan) latest crusade to protect the world was one of his most challenging yet, putting Her Majesty’s most accomplished secret agent to the test not only physically, but emotionally as well. The astounding series of events began in Bilbao, Spain, where 007 was dispatched to recover a large sum of money belonging to well known oil tycoon Sir Robert King. Unbeknownst to anyone at MI6, least of all Bond, the sum of cash had been tampered with in a highly sophisticated way so that when Sir King was reunited with his money, the package denoted, thus killing the respected business man.

The attack on Sir King convinced M (Judi Dench), an old friend of the late entrepreneur, to offer his daughter, Elektra (Sophie Marceau), protection from the suspected perpetrator of the murder of her father, the mysterious and vicious terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle), a man still walking and breathing despite their being a bullet lodged comfortably in his head. A trip to Azeirbajan to safeguard the heiress to one of the world’s largest oil companies provided insightful clues with regards to the whereabouts of Renard and his team of operatives. It was by infiltrating a nuclear test site that 007’s path crisscrossed with that of a beautiful and rather opinionated physicist, Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards), who would act as a strong ally for Bond as the race after Renard continued before the latter could obtain nuclear weapons and while the risk against Elektra’s life worsened. Things took a dramatic turn when a secret ally of Renard revealed their identity...

By the time The World is Not Enough was released, fans of the series and observant movie goers had come to understand the trend occurring in Bond films. Starting with Licence to Kill in 1989, each successive Bond adventure, while certainly graced with many of the series’ staples such as high-octane action, phenomenal stunts, pithy one liners and sex, was also qualified with a plot that took aim at Bond’s inner self. Revenge for the death of an ally, facing an old friend now turned foe, running into a woman he previously loved...all these story elements were deliberate attempts on the part of the filmmakers to add layers of depth to the character of 007. Sometimes it works, other times not. What is attempted in TWINE goes the extra mile however, making the film one of the more haunting entries ever seen in the franchise, something I don’t think can be said very often when discussing these films.

For starters, TWINE has one of the better scripts in the franchise. It may be far from perfect and have plot points function in too convenient a fashion at moments, but on the whole it ventures into some compelling territory that enriches the proceedings, especially when it comes to Bond’s involvement with the sexy and seductive Elektra. I don’t think that when the latter reveals herself to be Renard’s accomplice anyone watching the film is thinking ‘Oh my god, I never would have guessed.’ It might not have been completely obvious, but all the hints were still there. Nonetheless, the Elektra story creates a sense of emotional tension as her relationship with Bond tugs at the latter’s innermost being, only to betray him in the most egregious fashion later on. The performance by Sophie Marceau is quite good as the actress pulls off the perfect balance of a woman who is independent minded and successful, yet feels comfortable in the arms of a man and, most importantly, ‘needs protecting.’ To top it off, Marceau is absolutely stunning, showing a remarkable grace, maturity, and womanhood. What works so well in this plot point is that Elektra comes across as the exact type of woman Bond could fall in love with. From her sex appeal, her personality and seductive nature, everything is there to ensnare 007. 30 years prior, Bond fell in love with a very similar woman in OHMSS. Tracy required protecting (albeit of a different kind: she was suicidal) and behaved recklessly. She also demonstrating incredible strength of character and was quite the peach. Every time I watch TWINE I am reminded of the love angle in OHMSS and, just maybe, that 007 might be thinking about it as well. I don’t think it is much of a coincidence that the screenwriters inserted that small dialogue exchange where Elektra, after her own father’s death, asks Bond if he has ever lost a loved one. Additionally, just before his unfortunate torture session begins at the hands of the woman who seduced him, Bond encapsulates the psychology of Elektra’s and Renard’s behaviour by muttering ‘The world is not enough,’ which, if one remembers correctly, is the phrase which graces the Bond family crest as discovered in OHMSS. As such, there are many reverberations between the past and the present in TWINE, but instead of them feelings like cheap attempts at formulating nostalgia out of fans, these reverberations are complimentary to the story of Bond and Elektra. Brosnan and Marceau themselves share some terrific scenes together, especially in the moments when Elektra is inching closer and closer to fully seducing 007 while the latter tries his best to fight off whatever emotions and attractiveness that are getting to him. Kudos to both performers. If Sophie Marceau’s character are a better name, then everything would be aces, but that is another discussion altogether.

Some criticize the film for having M involved so intimately with the plot. True enough, if not played well, it can feel like a cheap trick on the part of the screenwriters, as if they are running out of ideas and thus decided to throw the boss in the midst of the action. I would agree that M’s role in the entire scheme is not completely necessary, but it is dealt with nicely enough for the story and even as a something of a commentary. It is revealed early in the film that Elektra was once a kidnap victim of Renard’s, and instead of playing nicely with the terrorist in order to secure the girl’s faith, M took certain risks which put Elektra’s in jeopardy. This comes back to haunt M when meeting Elektra for the first time in years, but it also reveals some fallibility in M, someone who for the entirety of the series has been viewed primarily as an infallible entity. This time M gets a heart, but in a twisted way since she admits to having maybe made a mistake. In the grander scheme of things this subplot probably does not add too much to the film, but I liked that touch very much.

Which brings us to the character who, by the end credits, loses the most while everyone else gains: Renard, played by the always dependable Robert Carlyle. I think the performance on display is perfectly fine, with Carlyle balancing a sense of calm collectivism with fiery determination in his quest to blow stuff up with a nuclear device while Elektra redraws the map of her late father’s empire to satisfy her own goals. The two introductions the character receives are excellent, the first being inside and MI6 headquarters where Bond, M and others discuss the bizarre nature of the villain while studying a large, three dimensional holographic image of him. Right away it is made clear how evil, reckless and strange he is, what with a bullet lodged in an area of his brain that has cut off the possibility of any physical sensations. The second introduction comes when he finally physically appears on screen to scold one of his operators by handing him a piping hot rock, a rock that Renard of course could pick up and hold without a care in the world. Unfortunately, those are among the better scenes involving the character in the entire film. For all the huff and puff about Renard being impervious to pain and his dastardly terrifying ways, not much of that comes into play throughout the story, least of all the ordeal about his immunity. He most certainly plays second fiddle to Elektra. The notion that Elektra is a victim of Stockholm syndrome is great and really makes her treachery even more compelling, but she remains the heavier focus among the two.

I have not mentioned Denise Richards at all thus far and, to be honest, I do not feel compelled to reiterate what I have been saying since the start of this marathon. I don’t know why, but the American Bond girls are just awful. Does that have to do with the writers suddenly not knowing how to make an American sexy and attractive? Is it the casting? Maybe a little of both, but suffice to say that Dr. Christmas Jones offers nothing of interest in the film, not even the jokes about her name. Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist? I don’t think so.

The action, which was hit or miss in TND, swings a real home run this time. The pre-title sequence has not one but two action scenes and both are pretty good (I love Brosnan’s performance in the scene with the Swiss banker. He is very much a hard edged 00 agent in that moment). The second of the two pre-title action sequences even supports the notion of the movie’s story hitting Bond personally, as a shocking attack on MI6 headquarters in London occurs, followed by a breathtaking chase along the river Thames. Bond gets to ski for the first time since For Your Eyes Only, and we are witness to one of the more unique chase sequences we have seen in some time, with helicopters equipped with vertically long, mechanized tree saws trying to cut down Bond and Dr. Jones. It’s really weird but I love that scene. I think that if there is one section that lets viewers down it would have to be the climax, much like in the preceding film. Bond is once again in a sub and once again nothing is visually interesting nor film especially well. In fact, the final fight between Renard and Bond has never looked very cohesive to me on screen. The geography of that scene is wonky, leading to moments when I still don’t know where the characters are at times after all these years.

TWINE offers a  better than average story, especially for a Bond film. The chemistry between Pierce Brosnan and Sophie Marceau is stellar and is it interesting to witness such a vulnerable side to Bond emerge. I sometimes think that if Elektra had not been the film’s villainess Bond would have liked to marry her. That might just be me talking crazy talk but I sense that there is a strong connection between the two in the early scenes, which makes her betrayal all the more powerful. It also leads to one of the best lines in the series when Elektra taunts Bond by saying that he could never shoot her because he would miss her too much. 007 suddenly pulls the trigger and, once Elektra crashes dead to the floor, he utters: ‘I never miss.’



The Taxi Driver said...

You know, I've always thought the best action movie directors were ones who don't usually direct action movies because they have a better sense of pacing, character, being able to see what's going on etc. And Michael Apted proved that with this one. Too bad Marc Forester disproved it with Quantem of Solace, easily the worst Bond movie I've seen.

edgarchaput said...

@Mike: Sorry for the late reply.

I don't think I agree entirely with your line of thinking. There are the times when it works, as is the case with TWINE, but not always. Terence Young essentially directed thrillers and action film and his Bonds are among the best in the franchise.

It also depends on what you want in an action movie, especially a Bond film. For QOS, I don't think the action per say is well captured on film, but I like the overall tone of the picture, something Forster did bring to the picture. But that will be for a later date, when I post that review.