WFTB Score: 12/20
The plot: When oil millionaire Robert King is killed within the walls of MI6, there are fears that the man who kidnapped his daughter Elektra – the notorious Renard – is out to get her again. James Bond is dispatched to shadow Elektra and investigate Renard’s plans, which involve the theft of nuclear material from under the pretty nose of nuclear physicist Christmas Jones. Can Bond rescue the world from disaster? Can he rescue Elektra? Does she even need rescuing? And will Bond achieve fusion with the sexy scientist?
Pierce Brosnan eases himself into James Bond’s suit for the third time with a mission to retrieve five million dollars of Robert King’s (David Calder) money. The job, carried out as a personal favour to King by his friend and Bond’s boss M (Judi Dench), spectacularly backfires when the money explodes inside MI6, but an exciting pursuit of a beautiful assassin down the Thames results in a dead end – and 007 ruining Q’s (Desmond Llewelyn) fishing boat. King’s murderer is presumed to be anarchic terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle), who previously kidnapped King’s daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau); Elektra, however, escaped from captivity without her father paying up and M believes Renard – left literally senseless by a previous assassination attempt – will try to get her again. M sends Bond to Azerbaijan to shadow Elektra, now owner of the company building a pipeline competing with three rival Russian ones, putting her in even more danger; and despite M’s advice that shadows are never ‘on top’, a relationship develops. Their romance is interrupted when Bond goes undercover in Kazakhstan to infiltrate Renard’s gang and prevent them from stealing a nuclear warhead, but the intervention of American nuclear expert Dr Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) lets Renard slip away. The bomb then turns up in King’s pipeline, forcing 007 and Dr Jones into a daring high-speed defusion attempt; unfortunately, the bomb is missing most of its plutonium, and Bond’s suspicions that Elektra is not as vulnerable as she seems are confirmed when M is mysteriously called to Elektra’s side.
This is but a brief summation of the plot, and whilst some of the film appears to have been built from the always-impressive action scenes and stunts outwards, the meat of The World is Not Enough is infinitely more satisfying than the farcical Tomorrow Never Dies. This is in part due to the more complex nature of the story being told (not to give too much away, but Elektra wants to make her pipeline invaluable), but mostly because several of the characters – Elektra specifically, but also Bond when he’s pretending to be a Russian scientist – are operating artfully, creating some fascinating dynamics and meaning that even 007, usually one step ahead, is occasionally deceived. Brosnan is entirely comfortable in the role and as M, Judi Dench gets some (admittedly low-impact) action scenes of her own, a great idea which makes M a more interesting character and makes better use of Dench’s talents. Desmond Llewelyn makes a poignant exit as Q, John Cleese signposting his intentions by making ‘R’ a clumsy variation on Basil Fawlty; and Robbie Coltrane makes a return as the shifty entrepreneur Zukovsky (this time with musician Goldie as a rubbish sidekick). Robert Carlyle brings his usual intensity to the role of Renard, and even if the whizzy 3D graphics that explain why he can’t feel anything (a bullet travelling slowly to the middle of his brain) are unnecessary, the motivations of a man who is, as he says, already dead are intriguing.
More than any other Bond film, though, The World is Not Enough stands or falls on the women. Sophie Marceau’s Elektra is a terrific invention, a gorgeous mixture of alluring sexuality, compromised ethics and heartless cruelty, given a full and turbulent back story that lends credibility to her actions. Though English is obviously not her first language, Marceau’s exotic appeal utterly vindicates her claim that she could get any man to do anything she wants; and by using Bond’s narcissism to her advantage, rather than falling in love and bailing him out at the last moment (as so many Bond ‘girls’ are wont to do), Elektra has an unusual position in the Bond canon since she outsmarts the spy. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Denise Richards’ nuclear physicist. In truth, Christmas Jones is both a lousy name and a lousy role, and it’s difficult to think of anyone who could really pull off a combination of intelligent, sexy and athletic; but Richards is certainly wrong for the part. She gets the sexy bit right – introduced by peeling off a radiation suit to reveal Lara Croft-style vest top and hot pants – but everything she does after this merely reveals her limitations. She delivers her lines barely knowing what they mean, and since she struggles to jog convincingly (look out for her trying to keep up in her early scenes) how are we meant to take her seriously as a nuclear scientist? Furthermore, though the gap between Brosnan and Richards isn’t ghastly at eighteen years, her prom queen looks make the inevitable coupling a bit embarrassing, especially since Richards has failed to exhibit any signs of attraction previously. She looks becoming underwater, however, which may have been a key decision in casting her.
The nineteenth Bond outing is a bit of a mixed bag, then, giving us a few very good characters and one rather poor one amongst the usual procession of explosions, gunplay, fighting, globe-trotting and positively awful jokes (the one-liners are as bad as ever). The World is Not Enough contains enough innovation amongst the familiar to make it one of the superior entries in the franchise: with a bit more thought into making less of an airhead out of their nuclear scientist, the film-makers could have had a classic on their hands.