The World is Not Enough (1999)
Directed by Michael Apted
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Desmond Llewelyn, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Ulrich Thomsen, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, Michael Kitchen, Colin Salmon, Serena Scott Thomas, John Seru, Claude-Oliver Rudolph.
1999 128 minutes
Rated: (for violence, mild profanity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 20, 1999.
While "The World is Not Enough" is only the third 007 film I've seen (the other two being 1995's "Goldeneye" and 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies"), the formula has already begun to wear awfully thin. For any James Bond fan, there is, no doubt, a sort of comfort in walking into the theater because you know there will be a flashy opening sequence, followed by the obligatory opening credits of silhouettes of slinky women while the title song (performed by a musician or band) plays on the soundtrack. You know there will be at least two or three fast-paced action scenes each hour, that there will be a good girl and a femme fatale, that Bond will sack a few babes, and will get his kicks out of using all sorts of contraptions and weapons. You know there will, of course, also be a maniacal villain who has his heart set on mass destruction, and that he will be defeated in the grand finale, where James Bond will live happily ever after (at least until the next film in the franchise, coming to a theater near you in the fall of 2001).
Directed by Michael Apted, who has a gift for swinging from studio efforts (this, 1994's "Nell") to documentaries (his long running "7 Up" series; "42 Up" is currently in limited release), "The World is Not Enough" is superior to the last two aforementioned Bond movies because, while still painfully generic in many ways, also has some less obligatory elements that surprised me. The film is relatively fast-paced and Apted sets up an action set-piece with impressive expertise and excitement. Meanwhile, the characters, performances, and dialogue range from delightful to downright horrid. In a nutshell, it's akin to cotton candy; you consume it with interest for its duration, but there is nothing that is particularly filling about it, and you're left either wanting more or nearly forgetting that you even ate it.
After the showstopping prologue that takes us from Bilbao, Spain, to across the waters of London, and finally, up in a hot-air balloon, things settle down as the actual story sets in. James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is assigned by M (Judi Dench, in a juicier role than her ridiculous, Oscar-winning, walk-on cameo in 1998's "Shakespeare in Love") to protect Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), a stunning, young woman whose recently deceased father owned an extravagant oil pipeline, and who is suspected of being hunted down by the crazed Renard (Robert Carlyle). You see, Elektra was once kidnapped by Renard and narrowly escaped, but since then he has been shot through the skull, causing him to grow more physically powerful by the day, even while he is dying little-by-little.
"The World is Not Enough" rarely strays far from its well-worn path of predictability, but there are a few virtues to mention. For one, Renard is unusually memorable and stirring for the villain role, and we even get to briefly see his softer side in a romantic scene. The success of the villain this time around, I think, owes itself less to the mediocre screenplay, written by three people(!), Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Bruce Feirstein, and more to the acting chops of Robert Carlyle, who is a character chameleon. Carlyle, adding a second dimension to, essentially, a one-dimensional role, can play a normal joe (1997's "The Full Monty"), a psychotic cannibal (1999's "Ravenous"), or a wacko intent on destroying the world at the role of a camera.
Faring best is the alluring, saucy Sophie Marceau, as Elektra King. Eluding a cool intelligence about her, Marceau is not only the most fascinating character in the film, but whenever she shares a scene with him, uncovers the turgid blandness of Pierce Brosnan. Having no one else to compare Brosnan with since he is the only Bond I've ever seen, he nonetheless is a giant bore of an actor who constantly sleepwalks through the same types of roles. Quite often while watching the film, I would almost forget all about the James Bond character, even though he was in almost every scene, because his costars rarely ever failed to upstage him.
That is, except for Denise Richards, vacuously spouting out inane lines that she couldn't sell to save her life, as Dr. Christmas Jones ("Don't even think of making any jokes; I've heard them all"), a brilliant scientist. Richards, the weakest link in last summer's highly underrated "Drop Dead Gorgeous," is given nothing to do here, but maybe that's for the best. The fact that director Apted wants us to believe she is an atomic scientist is laughable unto itself, although that is probably appropriate in the context of the 007 series. What isn't so forgivable is her casting altogether; Marceau makes such an astounding Bond girl that Richards' performance only flounders even more in comparison.
The final nail in the coffin of "The World is Not Enough" is its sheer calculation in the story department. The James Bond series is little more than a conveyer belt that continuously goes around and around, never changing its tried-and-true course. For some 007 fans, this may be enough, and it really is an improvement over the previous two. Thankfully, Apted spares us the Talking Villain cliche that was so prominently featured in "Tomorrow Never Dies," but that's about all he spares us. For casual viewers who are not interested in James Bond, skip "The World is Not Enough," which offers zilch in the originality arena, go see "Sleepy Hollow," instead, and thank me later. You're welcome, in advance.
©1999 by Dustin Putman