With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...
|'Brosnan himself remains one of the strongest on-screen Bonds, but finds himself increasingly surrounded by inferior material'.|
Despite the immense promise of Pierce Brosnan's first two outings as James Bond, the latter half of the actor's 007 tenure disappointingly fail to reach such heights again. Brosnan himself remains one of the strongest on-screen Bonds, but finds himself increasingly surrounded by inferior material that ultimately would lead to the franchise receiving a considerable reboot only a little over a decade after its triumphant return in the mid 1990s.
Something that is common to both Brosnan's closing pair films is a sense of unfulfilled potential. The World Is Not Enough offers a pleasing set-up, with Brosnan going three for three on adrenaline-fuelled pre-title scenes thanks to a thrilling escape from a Bilbao bank followed by an explosive speedboat chase on the Thames. Renard (Robert Carlyle), a terrorist who cannot feel pain thanks to the bullet in his brain that's slowly killing him, is set up initially as a classic Bond villain - looking and feeling very Blofeld-esque - but unfortunately never manages to live up to this potential. Carlyle is lumbered with some of the ropiest lines of dialogue heard in a Bond film for some time, reduced to spouting hackneyed variations on "I'm already dead" and "I feel nothing" for much of the film's second half.
Elsewhere, matters are decidedly mixed. Sophie Marceau as Elektra King is fine, if ultimately unmemorable; Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones meanwhile is bad to the point of distraction, providing as she does one of the worst Bond girl performances of the whole series. On a more positive note, the return of Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) is welcome, even if the character is played much more for laughs here than in GoldenEye. Judi Dench is given still further opportunities to shine, with her M pleasingly becoming an ever more prominent character as Brosnan's tenure wears on.
The action too is enjoyable throughout, despite feeling much less slick than in Brosnan's first two films. A helicopter fitted with circular saws used to trim trees receives an oddly prominent shot early on, for example, only so it can be used later on to attack Zukovsky's caviar factory. Following a mid-film twist involving a key character's allegiance, The World Is Not Enough's plot becomes more and more muddled to the point of feeling as though director Michael Apted is making it up as he goes along. Despite its flaws, however, the quasi-Moore-era feel of The World Is Not Enough manages to prop it up as an enjoyable if messy entry into the series.
Which brings us to Die Another Day, Brosnan's final appearance as 007 and the instalment which has since its release in 2002 been permanently plastered with the label of "worst Bond film". When you look at the film's position within the entire Bond chronology, it's perhaps easy to see why this undesirable accolade has been so readily awarded. As the first Bond film of the 21st Century, and released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Bond on the big screen, Die Another Day should have been a glorious celebration of the series' past that also allowed the secret agent to move forward into a new era. The finished film, it's fair to say, largely falls considerably wide of this mark.
Overlooking a bizarre first scene which sees Bond surf into North Korea, the first act of Die Another Day undoubtedly holds a great deal of promise. The relative weakest of his four pre-title sequences, the hovercraft chase across a minefield on offer here is undoubtedly entertaining, as well as culminating in a scenario not seen in the preceding nineteen films: Bond held captive. Not tied up in an easily escapable scenario involving marine wildlife, but locked away for over a year, almost broken through torture and seemingly left to die by MI6.
From this strong opening develops the start of an intriguing espionage tale involving Bond's pursuit of the double agent who set him up and facilitated his capture. There are the beginnings of several good ideas within Die Another Day's opening forty-five minutes - which is what makes it all the more frustrating to witness the cartoonish CGI-heavy shambles into which the film descends alarmingly quickly.
In truth, Die Another Day actually feels like two parts of different films awkwardly stuck together. One minute Bond is discussing conflict diamonds in Cuba, the next he's wreaking havoc during a swordfight with shady entrepreneur Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). The pseudo-comic-book feel only escalates further thanks to Bond's "invisible" car, Graves' elaborate ice palace in Iceland and a kite-surfing scene that makes the opening seem understated in comparison. By the final act, any invention seen early on in the plot has been thrown out in favour of recycling ideas from all three of Brosnan's previous films in more outlandish, less successful ways.
The problems extend to the new characters, with Graves feeling more like a parody of a Bond villain than a serious attempt at one. Diamond-scarred henchman Zao (Rick Yune) starts off well, playing into the series tradition of gimmicky villains, but soon becomes too overblown to take seriously. NSA agent Jinx (Halle Berry), meanwhile, is entirely redundant with Berry and Brosnan sharing zero chemistry, making her character even more pointless. The less said about Madonna's cameo as fencing instructor Verity the better.
Is Die Another Day the worst Bond film? True, the flaws here are considerable, but there is also a first act that offers some genuinely good ideas, even if those ideas are ultimately shelved for what feels like James Bond via Batman & Robin. To my mind, Die Another Day is more enjoyable than one or two other films earlier on in the series, but it's a question that will be subjective for every member of the audience to answer. There's no doubt, however, that Brosnan exited the franchise at his lowest point. His fourth outing as Bond looks and feels a world away from the highs of his first only seven years earlier, as well as being the film that ultimately set in motion the biggest shake-up of the franchise yet.
|The World Is Not Enough|
|Die Another Day|