MI6 trawls the archives to see how critics received Pierce Brosnan's second 007 in "Tomorrow Never Dies"...

Time Tunnel: Review Rewind

11th December 2010

Variety - 14th December 1997
There is plenty of bang-bang but very little kiss-kiss in "Tomorrow Never Dies," a solid but somewhat by-the-numbers entry in the James Bond cycle. An imaginatively conceived media-magnate villain and an unusually active female partner for the hero help distinguish this 18th installment in the 35-year-old series, which was thoroughly reinvigorated two years ago by "Goldeneye," a series-best $350 million grosser worldwide. Latest effort, which heavily favors straight-ahead action above all else, may not quite match that exalted figure, but it will perform handsomely, with Asian territories benefiting from the winning co-starring turn by Malaysian-Hong Kong favorite Michelle Yeoh.

After a six-year hiatus in the longest-running franchise in film history, "Goldeneye" reaped the rewards of a thorough series retrofitting, from a new Bond in Pierce Brosnan to a rejuvenation in most of the key artistic and crew positions. For his part, Brosnan now looks so at ease in the role that it seems like second nature to him, but elsewhere the excitement and satisfaction is rather more intermittent, with too much running time devoted to good guys and bad guys spraying machine gun fire at one another.

Suggestively, pre-credit action sequence doesn't measure up to the outrageous one last time out, as Bond narrowly makes a getaway from a terrorist arms bazaar by flying out in a commandeered Russian plane. However, scenarist Bruce Feirstein, who co-wrote "Goldeneye," has done his best work here in cooking up a delicious and easy-to-hate villain for the post-Cold War '90s, a megalomaniacal communications tycoon, Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), whose network of satellites enables him to reach nearly every corner of the globe and whose strategy for domination involves manipulating world crises that will be reported exclusively on his network.

 

Carver's first major foray into the manufacture of international conflict sees his high-tech stealth battleship sink a British naval vessel in the South China Sea in a way that pins the blame on the Chinese. With tensions rising between East and West, the Brits send Bond to Hamburg to infiltrate a huge party Carver is throwing, and it just so happens that Bond is an old playmate of Carver's wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher). Before embarrassing Carver by disrupting the bash, Bond also makes the acquaintance of a striking Chinese woman, Wai Lin (Yeoh), whose journalistic credentials are as transparent as Bond's as a banker.

Realizing at once the threat Bond represents, both professionally and personally, Carver dispatches his goon squad, led by blond super-Aryan Stamper (Gotz Otto), to erase him, but it is Paris who pays the price for a brief old-times'-sake assignation. Vincent Schiavelli amusingly makes the most of his one big scene as a German torture specialist who just misses his chance to apply his expertise to 007, and a car chase in a parking garage is given an added dimension in that a besieged Bond is able to drive his car by remote control, courtesy of one of Q's special new gadgets.

Action then shifts to Southeast Asia, where, just by coincidence, Bond runs into Wai Lin while both are scuba diving in the sunken remains of the British naval ship. Quickly captured by Stamper, Bond and Wai Lin, who --- surprise, surprise, is a Chinese agent --- are put in intimate proximity "39 Steps"-style, courtesy of handcuffs, and taken to Saigon, where they manage to escape, making their way across roofs and narrow shantytown streets by motorcycle in a nifty action set piece.

Proposing close collaboration in more ways than one, Bond is rebuffed, but the two secret agents reunite in a climactic effort to prevent World War III by locating Carver's stealth ship, from which a cruise missile is about to be launched toward Beijing, and thwarting the billionaire's bid to establish his new world order (which would include exclusive broadcast rights in the elusive Chinese market for the next century).

Action finale recalls any number of earlier Bond pics in its giant industrial hardware setting, innumerable explosions and dozens of fatalities, and director Roger Spottiswoode brings little that's new to the carnage in the way of special flair or unusual nuances. Filmmakers have steered almost exclusively toward action at the expense of sex, humor or the sort of jet-set and gaming-room glamour often highlighted in the series. Aside from the brief tryst with Paris, Bond's only other amorous adventure is at the outset, with a blonde who is teaching him Danish in the sack, prompting one of the film's few good one-liners from Moneypenny, who remarks, "You always were a cunning linguist, James."

Casting works well across the boards, with Pryce nimbly conveying the media giant's cutthroat ambition, and the hunky superman Otto embodying unalloyed menace as his No. 1 enforcer. Yeoh proves a worthy equal partner to Bond, displaying snappy martial arts moves and not for a moment falling into the compliant-bimbo mode so common to the series.

The BMW was fun last time out, but the product placements are becoming rather too numerous and prominent at this juncture. Tech credits are consistent with the strong series standards.

The New York Times - 19th December 1997
No need to feel badly if the right watch, drink, cell phone, etc., don't turn you into James Bond. They don't really do it for Pierce Brosnan in ''Tomorrow Never Dies,'' either. Despite Mr. Brosnan's best efforts to be lethally debonair, the Bond franchise has sacrificed most of what made this character unique in the first place, turning the world's suavest spy into one more pitchman and fashion plate. This latest film is such a generic action event that it could be any old summer blockbuster, except that its hero is chronically overdressed.

This is not to say that ''Tomorrow Never Dies'' won't be an international success like ''Goldeneye,'' which wasn't much better. But it should fare best in corners of the world where nobody knows how little the title means, or how accurately it reflects the rest of the film's shallowness. Closer than ever to cartoon superhero status, Bond is seen battling ridiculous odds, dodging computer-generated explosions, delivering lame bon mots and boasting pitifully about his sexual prowess. All that gives this an up-to-date sensibility is the audience's awareness that M (Judi Dench) and Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) could sue him for sexual harassment on the basis of his small talk.

This film does have a lively villain in Jonathan Pryce, as a media mogul who dreams of everything from manufacturing his own war to marketing software with bugs (so that customers will have to upgrade for years). Mr. Pryce reigns mischievously over an empire that Bond must infiltrate, and he also has a wife (Teri Hatcher) who is one of Bond's approximately one million ex-flames. Ms. Hatcher, like Mr. Brosnan, speaks in a perfect monotone, and so does Michelle Yeoh, the Hong Kong action star who is meant to kick some life into the series.

 

The film's other attempts to show Bond in a romantic light are so hopeless that it's a lucky thing his partnership with Ms. Yeoh's character, the svelte and athletic Wai Lin, stays confined to toylike weaponry and flat double-entendres.

''And now a word from our sponsor,'' muttered the critic beside me, as the camera offered a good look at James Bond's vodka bottle midway through the so-called story. (The humor-free screenplay is by Bruce Feirstein, author of ''Real Men Don't Eat Quiche'' as well as ''Goldeneye.'' The workmanlike director is Roger Spottiswoode.) Indeed, despite Bond's mission to defeat the evil mogul, product plugs are the film's most serious business, especially since the audience may be bored enough to start looking at labels.

The film's two best supporting turns come from Vincent Schiavelli, who has a cheerfully outrageous scene as a torture expert, and from a nice, smart BMW that works on remote control. Hiding in the back seat, Bond pilots the car through a tire-screeching chase. Don't try this at home.

Chicago Sun-Times - 19th December 1997
James Bond has battled evil commies and megalomaniac madmen; perhaps it was only a matter of time until he faced off against a media baron -- the only sort of figure in today's world that actually does seek global domination. His enemy in "Tomorrow Never Dies'' wants to start a war in order to create headlines for the launch of his latest news channel. Just imagine what Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner would like to do to each other and imagine either one of them doing it to the Chinese, and you'll get the idea.

Bond, played confidently and with a minimum of fuss by Pierce Brosnan, stumbles into the middle of the plot, masterminded by Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), who owns newspapers, TV stations and a gigantic Stealth warship that's invisible to radar.

Carver's plan is ingenious: He'll use his satellites to draw a British warship off course, sink it with the Stealth ship, steal its nuclear warheads, and fire one at China, which will think it is under attack from the West.

The only flaw in this plan, as far as I can see, is the likely nuclear destruction of most of Carver's biggest markets.

Bond films traditionally open with an elaborate scene built of stunts and special effects, and "Tomorrow Never Dies'' doesn't break with custom: We see British military officials monitoring a "Terrorist Arms Bazaar on the Russian Border'' (which border? who cares?). A hothead British general gives an order that leads to the likely detonation of nuclear weapons. Then Bond appears, steals the plane containing the warheads, uses its missiles to destroy all of his enemies, and takes off in it before ...

 

But I dare not reveal too much. The plot has a lot of fun with the Carver character, played by Pryce in a platinum crew-cut. He likes to write headlines and design front pages in advance of big news events, and then make them happen, although more than once he's premature in reporting the death of Bond. His wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher), happens to be a former lover of 007, and M (Judi Dench), head of British secret service, makes a few tart suggestions about how Bond might make use of the connection.

The other Bond woman this time is a departure from many of 007's former teammates. She's Wai Lin, an agent for the "Chinese External Security Force,'' and she's played by Michelle Yeoh as a karate expert with formidable fighting and intelligence skills. Yeoh, of course, is a star in her own right, having toplined many Asian martial arts movies, and her presence in the movie is so effective that she'd be a natural to add to the other regulars, like M, Q and Miss Moneypenny.

In its 35th year, the long-running Bond series has settled into a dependable formula, based on gimmicks, high-tech toys, chases, elaborate stunts, and the battle to foil the madman's evil schemes. The toys this time are a couple of BMW products: A motorcycle, used during an incredible chase scene over rooftops, and a car, which is remote-controlled by a hand-held device with a touch pad. In one ingenious chase scene, Bond crouches in the back seat of the car while guiding it with the remote control.

All Bond movies include at least one Fruit Cart Scene, in which market stalls are overturned in a chase, and this one sets some kind of a record by having the carts destroyed by the blades of a helicopter that's chasing Bond and Wai Lin. There is also the obligatory Talking Killer scene, in which the madman explains his plans when he should simply be killing Bond as quickly as possible ('Caesar had his legions, Napoleon had his armies, and I have my divisions--TV, newspapers ...').

Is Pierce Brosnan better or worse as Bond than Connery, Lazenby, Moore and Dalton? This is one of those questions (like why doesn't tomorrow ever die?) that can be debated but never answered. Basically, you have Connery, and then you have all of the rest. I enjoyed Brosnan in the role, although this time I noticed fewer Bondian moments in which the trademarks of the series are relished.

Yes, we have the usual double entendres and product placements (I find product placement distracting in most movies, but sort of anticipate them as part of the Bond formula). There's a high gloss and some nice payoffs, but not quite as much humor as usual; Bond seems to be straying from his tongue-in-cheek origins into the realm of conventional techno-thrillers.

Still, "Tomorrow Never Dies" gets the job done, sometimes excitingly, often with style. The villain, slightly more contemporary and plausible than usual, brings some subtler-than-usual satire into the film, and I liked the chemistry between Bond and Wai Lin (all the more convincing because the plot doesn't force it). The look of the film is authoritative; the scenes involving warships and airplanes seem sleek and plausible. There's gorgeous photography as a junk sails in a sea filled with peaks, and astonishing action choreography in the rooftop motorcycle chase.

On the basis of this installment, the longest-running movies series seems fit for the 21st century.

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