Thursday, September 20, 2012

BOND-A-THON: The World is Not Enough

Really, there was no reason for ‘The World is Not Enough’ not to have been awesome: a reasonably timely plot about oil pipelines and terrorism, a couple of tip-top set pieces, the return of Robbie Coltrane as Russian mobster Valentin Zukovsky from ‘GoldenEye’ (providing some much required comic relief after the po-faced shenanigans of ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’), a gorgeous and talented actress (Sophie Marceau) raising the Bond girl stakes, and Robert Carlyle on villain duties. And if was ever an indicator that Bond might not prevail, it was in putting him up against fucking Begbie!

And yet ‘TWiNE’ isn’t awesome. ‘TWiNE’ in fact describes a plunging arc from promising to tedious to several increasingly stygian levels of awful, culminating in a pun that you can see coming from the moment the actual Bond girl, Dr Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) is introduced. You see, the filmmakers were jerking your chain with Sophie Marceau and it’s Denise Richards in a tank top, a pair of shorts and a petulant expression – kind of like an extremely poor man’s Lara Croft – who gets to run around with 007 and save the world. Dr Christmas Jones is a nuclear physicist, by the way. Played by Denise Richards. Forgive me if I’m labouring the point, but they fucking cast Denise Richards as a nuclear fucking physicist called Dr Christmas fucking Jones.

Oh, yeah. And they gave Michael Apted the directing gig. Apart from ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ and some good character-based TV work, much of Apted’s output has been curiously pedestrian and there is nothing on his CV to mark him out as an action director.

Anyone watching the film for the first time, however, would think from the opening sequence that they were in for a treat. At nearly quarter of an hour, it’s the longest pre-credits sequence in the franchise and rather than being its own for-the-sake-of-it mini-movie it sets the stage for the story proper. In its depiction of an incendiary device triggered inside the MI6 headquarters, it establishes a theme of attack from within that recurs through the film. And it culminates in a speedboat chase along the Thames. Which, as it progresses, treads a thin line between cool and stupid, but that was always the appeal of the Bondian pre-credits sequence. ‘TWiNE’ strikes the right balance and, as Garbage’s theme song – not as memorable as Tina Turner’s ‘GoldenEye’ but a vast improvement on Sheryl Crow’s ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ – kicks in, there’s no doubt that you’ve just sat through a kick-ass, supremely entertaining opener.

Enjoy it, cherish it, feel good about it. Because – apart from a bit of business where helicopters with massive chainsaw blades slung underneath them cut through the buildings and gangways of a harbour – it’s the only solid action scene Apted delivers. And it’s the first and last time ‘TWiNE’ is entertaining.

The bizarre thing is, the film desperately wants to be entertaining. The script kicks out what must be per capita the most puns in any Bond movie. Quizzed by nuclear physicist Jones on the nature of his relationship with another woman: “We’re strictly plutonic.” Asked by a voluptuous accountant if he’d like to check her figures: “I’m sure they’re perfectly rounded.” On a Q branch prototype that disguises a flamethrower as a set of bagpipes: “I suppose we all have to pay the piper some time” (Q goes a pun too far by replying “oh, pipe down, 007”). Whilst sliding on a pair of sunglasses while some upgraded gadgets are being demonstrated: “New specs, Q?” Things hit rock bottom when Bond offs a crooked head of security and takes his place on what turns out to be a mission to appropriate a warhead. “Where’s the other guy?” someone challenges him. Bond’s reply: “He was buried with work.” As a one-liner, it’s neither elegant or funny. It’s not apposite, since the dead guy isn’t shown being interred. And Brosnan’s delivery is horribly forced. In its own small way, it’s incredibly emblematic of ‘The Word is Not Enough’.

The plot, which doesn’t so much unravel as twist itself into a series of ugly knots, doesn’t help matters. SPOILER ALERT. Bond recovers a large quantity of cash being laundered by Swiss banker Lachaise (Patrick Malahide); the moolah is returned to rightful owner, industrialist Robert King (David Calder) – a pal of M (Judi Dench). It’s booby-trapped, however, and the resulting explosion kills King. Bond pursues the assassin and is injured. At King’s funeral, Bond meets King’s daughter Elektra (Marceau), who vows to continue his work in building an oil pipeline across Azerbaijan. Bond looks into Elektra’s background and discovers she was the victim of a kidnapping plot by international terrorist Renard (Carlyle) but escaped his clutches. M, it turns out, had advised King to withhold paying the ransom while she investigated. Bond realises that, converted from American dollars to pounds sterling, the laundered money he recovered (i.e. the booby-trap he inadvertently delivered) corresponds to the ransom amount. He takes it as a message and concludes that Renard was behind the attack on King. M despatches him to act as personal bodyguard to Elektra. By circuitous means, Bond realises that she was the instrument of her own father’s death and has faked various attacks against herself and her company, including an aerial attack by paragliders and the destruction of a length of her own pipeline. Bond suspects Stockholm Syndrome and fears that she’s in league with Renard. He’s proved correct, except that it’s Elektra who’s controlling Renard, not vice versa. A bullet lodged in his brain, the wound inoperable and the shell slowly moving through the medulla oblongata, Renard is essentially a dead man, and happily throwing away the last slivers of his life in carrying out Elektra’s plan: to destroy Istanbul (the point at which the three pipelines in competition to Elektra’s converge) and thus facilitate Elektra’s supremacy as supplier of oil to the west. The means of Istanbul’s removal from the map: plutonium from a stolen warhead introduced into the reactor of a hijacked nuclear submarine. As a sort of bonus, Elektra also plans M’s death as vengeance for not rescuing her from Renard (which seems something of a redundant point given that she’s turned him into her own personal Euro-psycho-puppet).

I’ve described the insane what-the-fuckery of the plot in such detail in order to make my point. Which is this. Imagine you’re Elektra. Let the whole M thing go – why, after all, start fucking around with MI6 when you’re pulling a whole bunch of seriously illegal shit that you’d rather not bring to attention of an intelligence agency – and your motivation is basically: I want to get rid of the rival pipelines. As I see it, your options are: (a) buy out the competition; (b) pay some mercenaries to blow up the other pipelines just as yours is reaching completion; or (c) – the, ahem, logical choice according to writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein – seduce a psychotic terrorist who might drop dead at any moment to help you steal a plutonium warhead, acquire a submarine with nuclear reactor capacity, set your operation back several months by blowing up a length of your own pipeline, risk death by a stray bullet while some hired guns pretend to kill you, work out your issues with daddy by blowing the poor sod to kingdom come and keep the whole nefarious plot on course while MI6’s finest are all over you.

Am I the only person who sees options (a) and (b) as doable but expensive, while option (c) is basically stupid, riddled with the potential for failure, and financially ruinous. I mean, seriously, how the fuck much does it cost to bankroll the theft of a warhead and a nuclear motherfucking submarine? (SPOILERS END.)

Granted, suspension of disbelief goes hand in hand with the Bond aesthetic. Hey, I’m a guy who’s down with a fully kitted-out secret base in a volcano, for Pete’s sake! But the plot of ‘The World is Not Enough’ (and the illogic behind it) goes beyond suspension of disbelief. In a world of corporationism, where hostile takeovers are entirely legal, where financial chicanery, bribes and corruption are an accepted part of the way business is done, the idea that you’d have to destroy Istanbul in order to get an unfair advantage over the competition is not only ludicrous, but a concept that would have your average CEO – a cohort of bought-and-paid-for politicians in his pocket and the dirtiest lawyers in the business on speed-dial – pissing his pants at the waste of time and effort in achieving a fairly simple outcome.

I’ve struggled with ‘TWiNE’ writing this review: excepting the speedboat chase, I can find little or no reason not to rank it firmly alongside previous franchise low points ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, ‘Moonraker’ and ‘A View to a Kill’. Actually, being fair, I can find two reasons: (i) it’s the final Bond movie to give us the marvellously wintry interplay between Bond and Q (at least as played by Desmond Llewellyn; the character returns in ‘Skyfall’ in the person of Ben Wishaw); and (ii) I know that’s it’s followed by ‘Die Another Day’ and the sins of ‘The World is Not Enough’ suddenly take on a forgivable hue in the knowledge of what’s to come.


Bryce Wilson said...

Thanks for giving this film the kick in the taint it deserves. For me this is my personal pick for worst of the series. Partially because the pre credit sequence makes everything hurt so much worse by comparison and partially because it is the only Bond film to actually fucking bore me.

Matthew Kitsell said...

I'm with you guys all the way on this one. It's my pick for worst Bond too just because it's so unforgivably boring. The climax in the submerged submarine is simply life-draining to watch and there is for me a sense of smug complacency about the whole film that makes it impossible to like. This situation would worsen in the dreadful, dreary "Die another day", though even that film has at least one or two bright(ish) moments in the first hour that put it a slight notch above this one.

Blogger said...

Did you know you can create short links with AdFly and make cash for every click on your short links.