Super Serial aims to dissect series of pop art — be it a filmography, discography or run of comics — by looking at its individual components.
In my review of Octopussy, I noted that a James Bond film cannot be satisfying without compelling villains and Bond Girls — that even a pretty good mission plot will stall without these notable characteristics. Tomorrow Never Dies, the eighteenth official film of the series, isn’t exactly the opposite of that, but even with memorable characters, the film leaves me a little cold.
From first-time-Bond director Roger Spottiswoode (who will always be immortalized for directing classics like Turner & Hooch and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot), this isn’t a particularly bad entry in the series, but too many things don’t add up. It doesn’t quite have the serious tone of the Dalton films, GoldenEye and what I expect to come, but it’s also not entertainingly campy like the Roger Moore films — it’s stuck in between somewhere (“mediocrity”?). Even though it’s only Pierce Brosnan’s second film of the series, it already feels like everyone is just going through the motions. That doesn’t bode well for the next two Brosnan films, which I’ve heard are much worse.
[Bond, James Bond]
Pierce Brosnan returns a little less like Connery and a little “moore” like Roger. Throughout the entire movie, he seems little more than a receptacle made for painful deliver of unfunny one-liners. This, of course, is only part his blame, as each of his jokes are set up on a tee and seen from a mile away. He isn’t quite as actionless as Moore became, but there are plenty of action setpieces with obvious use of stunt doubles.
Tomorrow Never Dies features one of the more streamlined plots of the series — partially because it is one of the shortest movies. The past number of films started stretching into 130-140 minutes, with the extra time directly being plot. Here, though, after a particularly draggy post-credit scene, the film cruises by with a simple premise and fewer characters to clutter.
The main mission of the plot involves Bond stopping a media mogul from directly starting World War III. Unlike most other films, there isn’t as much of a specific threat, like a certain bomb going off or a certain satellite used as a weapon — instead, we only know what the villain is capable of and the lengths he’s willing to go. Like in many of the other films, though, it is a little ridiculous how early on Bond and MI6 know of the threat while not doing anything to really stop it. It’s only at the very end, just before the metaphorical bomb goes off, that Bond steps in to save the day. That is of course a necessity for an action film, but when the villain isn’t quite a formidable threat, it can be a bit silly.
This film also isn’t very concerned with location; it bucks the established trend of Bond travelling to new locales in each film. Toward the climax, Bond does end up in China (or was it Vietnam?) for a chase through very cliched streets, but a majority of the film takes place indoors or in nondescript spaces. I would assume this would make the film less interesting in some ways, but it actually cuts out a lot of the cheese factor that can happen with Bond on these site-seeing trips.
Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is among the weasliest of the Bond villains — an intellectual-philosopher type that seriously lacks any physical threat. More than any other villain, he is a representation of an idea — the fear of the media becoming too omnipresent and too powerful. In this case, not only will the media tell us what to think, but it will also cause the destruction it reports. Carver, incredibly insane, decides to start World War III to generate exclusive headlines, showing no concern for innocent lives. Unlike previous villains, he isn’t looking to kill everyone to start the world anew, or even necessarily for money, but more to be the best at his business. There is nothing scarier than a journalist without any ethics, right?
It shouldn’t be forgotten, though, that he is an entertaining character. As an overtly satiric take on media moguls, he gets to be overly absurd, a nice contrast to many of the ultra-serious baddies Bond encounters. Carver is portrayed through satire, which makes him stick out from the likes of Dr. No, Goldmember and Hugo Drax. He reminds me a lot of one my favorite cinema villains, Dick Jones from RoboCop — both are incredibly over-the-top and remarkably slimy but immensely fun to watch. To be good satire, the character has to be exaggerated while having just enough true-world recognizability, and the results work swimmingly.
In his introduction, we see the character strolling around his ridiculously high-tech media room (yes, one could call it a lair), interacting with a number of journalist lackeys on big LCD screens. The run-down of their work is pretty hilarious, but in a real-world context it would be incredibly scary — they talk about releasing software littered with bugs so consumers would have to constantly upgrade, and having the power to blackmail the president with secretly-taken photographs if he doesn’t sign a bill lowering cable rates (hey — that one doesn’t sound too bad!). Being a media mind, Carver plays like a living soundbite, with a number of memorable one-liners that shed light on his philosophy and the film’s satiric look at global media. A couple of zingers he gives: “There’s no news like bad news”; “words are the new weapons”; and “you’re just in time to help me finish writing the inaugural story, YOUR obituaries.”
[The Bond Girls]
Tomorrow Never Dies features two of the Bond Girl archetypes, but they are unique enough to stick out. First is Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher), the wife of Elliot Carver, who had long-ago affair with James. Paris is used throughout the film only as an object of sexual desire for Bond, and as the lover of the villain, she joins the many ranks of Bond Girls that are stuck in a situation they can’t control. While Carver is clearly insane, it isn’t quite as extraordinary that she would be with him, as she is only really seen as an object. Still, I see her coming across as quite cynical and sad — she keeps information from her husband that could threaten his life and her interactions with Bond feel like an escape from her regular life.
Keeping Bond’s true identity from her husband results in her death. This fulfills another trend we’ve seen time and again, with one Bond Girl (usually a love interest), being killed off mid-way through the film. Here, though, there is something incredibly unsatisfying about the situation. I feel this is partly because I liked her interactions with Bond — no one would consider Hatcher to be a great actress, but she had some genuine chemistry with Brosnan. It probably has more to do that we don’t see Paris killed on screen, or really have much indication that she has died, so any drama is zapped out. We realize her death at the same time as Bond, but he must be preoccupied with figuring out how to survive himself, so that’s what the viewer focuses on, as well. And the scene played directly after her death is broadly comical, so I don’t think that helps.
On the other hand, martial arts actress Michelle Yeoh plays Wai Lin, a Chinese spy and maybe the most kick-ass characters in the series. She is a stark contrast from Paris Carver, as an object of action — she is still sexy, but it’s in her athleticism that she attracts Bond. During the action scenes, she proves far more resourceful and quick-thinking than Bond, and though he is capable, he may not have made it out alive without her. It is pretty easy to realize how superior Yeoh is to most any other actor in the series — just take a look back at the martial arts sequences of The Man with the Golden Gun to see the stark contrast. The fight choreography isn’t at all extraordinary (all she really does it kick everyone in the same manner) and perhaps a keener martial arts eye wouldn’t be so impressed, but it was a step in the right direction.
Like all Bond films that came before it, Tomorrow Never Dies turns the rough action Bond Girl into another love interest in the end. Normally I am particularly distressed when this happens, and this is no exception. Still, I understand the attraction from Bond — who doesn’t love a kick-ass girl? The major problem is that it is far too forecasted, with Wai Lin telling Bond not to “get any ideas” in about every other line of her dialogue. We know it’s coming; you don’t have to be cute about it.
The most interesting gadget in Tomorrow Never Dies, a remote control that powers Bond’s rental BMW, accounts for the most ridiculous action setpiece in the film. Although the gadget looks pretty cool on the screen, it’s beyond absurd that Bond would be able to use the device to the effectiveness he does. Most of Bond’s gadgets are fairly practical — weird, yes, but a laser watch or lighter grenade are easy to use and useful in multiple situations. It’s not just that Bond expertly maneuvers a high-speed car through a parking garage, but the simplistic remote seems to be able to give him unlimited access to a number of overly-specific weapons and devices.
More on the car: it’s equipped with a security system far beyond our technical capacities. Not only is it electrically charged, but can withstand sledgehammers, gun fire, etc. as if a sci-fi force field has enveloped it. Perhaps more amusing, why doesn’t Bond use this security while he’s being chased — why not make the car impervious to bullets while he’s in the car? Seems like that would make his job too easy, so they just skip over that possibility.
If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I hate Sheryl Crow. “Tomorrow Never Dies,” though, is a pretty interesting song — but why does Sheryl Crow have to sing it? The title track is gloomy and darker than the run of pop songs we’ve gotten, which feels more appropriate for the tone of the film.
“It’s so deadly my dear
The power of wanting you near
Until that day,
Until the world falls away
Until you say there’ll be no more good-bye’s
I see it in your eyes,
Tomorrow never dies”
Even while I mostly dig the song, Sheryl Crow can’t seem to hit the correct notes during the chorus. I hate her so much.
- The pre-credits sequence features MI6 and the British government spying in on a Terrorist Arms Bazaar — I suppose it’s too classy to be called a flea market.
- During this scene, the military decides to fire missiles at the Bazaar, as many of the world’s most notorious terrorists are present (some sort of club). Turns out, though, that there are nuclear weapons on site which could blow up the world, so Bond has to save the day. Should they have been so surprised there were NUCLEAR WEAPONS at a TERRORIST SWAP MEET?
- Is there a more British-sounding name than Roger Spottiswoode? Trick question, he’s Canadian.
- This film features one of the coolest title sequences with really nice art direction. It made me hope that there were robots in the movie, though, so that was sad.
- Random Bond hook-up: why was the Danish woman offended by being called ‘little’? Is that a cultural thing?
- Nice work by the screenwriters slipping in a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” joke — so very timely.
- Ah, the days when GPS was a futuristic feature for an automobile.
- I feel sort of sad for men who are a foot taller than anyone else — is there any other job for them besides being a henchman?
- Instead of killing his associates on a whim, Carver fires them on a whim.
- A fun scene with Bond visiting Wai Lin’s Chinese set-up, filled with Chinese gadgets: a fan dart gun, dragon head flame thrower, etc. Too bad we didn’t get to meet the Chinese Q.
- It’s a little strange that a final crowd-rousing joke at the end is when M writes a headline for the death of Carver. Don’t you all realize that the government controlling the media is far scarier than a maniac controlling the media?
SERIAL, SUPER SERIAL will return in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more