Lost at sea.
Torpedoed by GoldenEye leaving little more to say credibly about this James Bond, but kept afloat by
creating great art screwing money out of us, here come the James Bond Wilderness Years, a.k.a. the ones that aren’t GoldenEye, a.k.a. did he do any others? Oh yes, I remember, aren’t they meant to be really dreadful?, a.k.a Them Other Brosnan Films What Got Washed Up.
Flotsam, jetsam, any old junk, grimly oily, bloatydead in the water and looking like they smell real bad, grim rubbery matter one’s Labrador – not a fussy eater - masticates and subsequently resplendently emits from a smorgasbord of damp orifices; directionless, noisy , violent but unarguably vivid, memorable and, in their own way, expressive art.
A musing. [N.B. Read not as “amusing” – wrong place. “Amusing” is telling one’s offspring that Hodgepile (guinea pig) has been eaten by the dog. “A musing” is contemplating how children can contain so much crying. A further musing is whether this will cause the ghastly sprogs horrendous trauma for years to come. “Amusing” is knowing it will]. My musing is whether Tomorrow Never Dies –the series’ most apparently superficial enterprise, an achievement given solid competition – would be missed were it not to exist; a secondary musing is whether art needs a purpose in order to “be”.
I’m not wasting time on the second one; a pretentious stumble through misunderstood theories. To experience that, watch the aggressively emetic The World is not Enough. However, the first thought may justify a brief (-ish; it’s me) ponder. Tomorrow Never Dies does seem to have a reputation of… actually, what is its reputation?
A perception, insofar as it gets “discussed”, is that it’s insufficiently substantial a follow-up to the mighty GoldenEye (oh, everyone curtsey, do) and nowhere near as polarising/justifiably derided as the two films that followed it. No strong emotions generated. A pity; it now seems the most coherent of the Brosnan Bonds. Without doubt, it’s the most consistent in tone. As a dog returns to its vomit, Tomorrow Never Dies merits another lukewarm chewing.
Unlike GoldenEye, it conducts itself without wobblingly tackling a question it cannot answer, other than on a pitifully superficial basis and then, one uneventful hour in, giving up. Unlike TWINE, it doesn’t contrive pointlessly and alienate, and bore, and annoy, and sicken, and turn one against every human being on Earth, and generally smell. Unlike DUD, it’s not mouth-dryingly dreadful at a sub-atomic level. Some masochists wanted a fifth one. Yikes. Still, Tomorrow Never Dies burbles along merrily, much blows up from the start, an honest approach rather than deceiving one into sitting through a turgid hour of sub-sixth form demonstration of “deep feems”, and its jokes are the funny side of stupid. Even if not apparently operating at beyond-petri-dish-depth, perhaps its success is that this is patently the right level for those participating to do so with trace elements of conviction. Everything’s a bit of a hoot, Mr Brosnan seems relaxed without being called upon to do more than wear clothes, and certainly not “act” (thankfully), and he copes save when called upon to struggle with a foreign tongue (a.k.a. Danish. And German. And English), and it’s still zippy, its longeurs hanging around no longeur than they need to. Even if it boils down yet again to a routine gunfight in a moist shed, it’s over mercifully quickly.
That’s negative praise, and Tomorrow Never Dies deserves better than winning (easily) by default of not being as terrible as the other Broffal. Slightly amazingly, there are moments of diverting novelty, some achievement for Bond Umpteen, and in not trying as disastrously/tediously as the films either side of it to SHOUT RUBBISH in their search for a “story” , Tomorrow Never Dies’ attempted subtleties are of greater interest even if, yet again, they don’t really work.
In ignoring Bond, he’s tedious, some notions germinate, even if guns booming prevent them truly blooming. In particular, Carver’s cuckolded jealousy is beyond the usual insipid rot of James Bond stealing a baddie’s bit o’ fluff and the villain going “Tsk!”, very boringly. That Bond wades in and wrecks Carver’s marriage – OK, it’s orders but it’s not as if Bond objects - does plump the dynamic between the two men a bit (well, a bit), giving potential for one of the better-written villains, one with a credible emotional grudge (more than 006’s grief for parents who must have died at least ten years before he was conceived).
Even if Mr Pryce’s adventurous portrayal erupts into pantomime, Carver is a novel slant. British villain, for a start. Trevelyan doesn’t count; no-one in Britain talks like that. Additionally, have we had a married bad guy before? Whilst his scheme would bring, at best, transitory glee, it’s fresh to have a villain driven by fear of humiliation. More so than with many villains, usually Bond’s “equal”, accordingly equally dull, here we had a chance to see how irritating Bond is if you’re not as super, especially when he keeps calling you by your first name in a really condescending manner. If one accepts such potential for this interpretation of Carver, much of what Bond does amounts to little more than indiscriminate picking on a weaker man. Boo. Not nice.
A chance to show the impact Bond has on a mentally frail chap is, however, blown. Not by Mr Pryce’s grinsomely cackledaft performance, Rupert Murdoch meets The Hooded Claw meets a badly coked-up Darth Sidious on a right old binge. If more muted, he would be sympathetic, risking the scales falling from the collective eye and exposing James Bond as a nasty, sneering bully in a flashy car and a shop-bought suit, who’ll nick yer missus. At a guess, they probably weren’t ready to risk showing that.
I know that’s where they had Daniel Craig in the first of Casino Royale’s many, many hours, but that was about a man in development, who grows out of it, adding layers rather than peeling them back to find rotten, hollow dregs. The Brosnan Bond is ostensibly the developed man, and all this amounts to is another example of the producers having a decent idea – Bond isn’t that nice and a bit of a git, knows this and might be tormented by it - but finding themselves lumbered trying to execute it with a locked-down leading character imprisoned by years of bland misuse– no he’s not, he’s smashing, he’s always been smashing, we want what we think James Bond is and you’re going to give it to us and we need him to sell us aspirational lifestyles and watches and tea-towels – a concept that cannot be used to ably demonstrate what they might want to say. They did not learn from this and instead tried to fight it, so it all gets much, much worse next time out. You can’t make the nasty bits look convincing without being brave enough to destroy the canker that has built up over so many years. With a hard-shelled, unyielding character, The James Bond We All Know And Love, and realising that such “development” will look ridiculous, the rescue plan is to make the villain so boo hiss cape-twirly that it distracts from exposing quite how futile the attempt was. In TWINE, badhats mopey and subdued and therefore less diverting, the hopelessness of what is being done with the character of Bond becomes more marked, becomes part of the plot, becomes a total impediment to logic and likeable entertainment.
That several ideas that struggle to breathe in the Brosnan films seem to be revived in the Craigs can’t be accidental (picking on politically-connected weakling Greene /picking on politically-connected weakling Carver, lots of TWINE turning up more engagingly in Skyfall etc). For Casino Royale onwards they had Bond where they needed him to be to get away with it, showing the character stuff as building Bond up, not breaking him down. Perhaps they now have an actor capable of delivering such things, but I’d suggest what’s going on in the Brosnan unfantatsic four was ultimately impossible.
Accordingly, it may not be entirely Mr Brosnan’s fault that the James Bond he was required to present us with is, simultaneously, all over the place and nowhere. DUD’s pitiable identity crisis is a metaphor for Bond himself during this misconceived period (a brilliantly bitter joke at the audience’s expense and a cruelly honest film much misunderstood? Or still a big bucket of bottoms?). Mr Brosnan waited to be Bond for so long and they gave him this Bond to be. Be careful what you wish for, I suppose.
The relationship between Paris and Bond, intermittently acted, is presumably meant to give us Bond reflecting on the consequences of his actions, be it the initial abandonment, their inevitable coming-together (fnarr) and her death; however, because he’s The James Bond We All Know And Love, it’s too much for the hardwired character to absorb. And – look! - now he has a remote controlled car to play with. Nothing is made of it, for nothing can be. He’s James Bond; he loves and leaves ‘em, a pity if it grieves ‘em, Mr Snore Snore Meh Meh. Immature CraigBond staring at a dead Solange – basically the same character, basically the same idea – guilt all over his daft head, a bloodied soul and notably not chewing bits out of her shoulder – substantially more emotional oomph, there. It works in Casino Royale because he is a fledgling; with the Brosnan Bond already the full turkey, it’s just unlikely. Quite where they go with Bond after the ostensible finished product on display in Skyfall is going to be interesting, although with three successful films exposing his flaws, that he is still tormented underneath it all is at least potentially credible.
Fortunately for Tomorrow Ne’er Dies, it’s precisely because of its surface distractions of fightin’ and exploderin’ and less punched-into-the-gob failed emotin’ than the other Brosnans, that make it much easier to enjoy. Its gentle pokes at greater meaning, even when the noisiness allows them through, are incidental without being critical incident necessary to propel whatever plot there is, which would have made them more significant to the success of the film, and more culpable in their failures when they don’t work. This is why it convinces more than GoldenEye and entertains much more than TWINE. On a level of letting it eat time as one fills one’s face, it strikes me that TND is the closest the Brosnans got to the aspirational idiom of Sixties Bond; slick, sharp, swift, bit cheeky, light of both heart and conscience, and that Bond’s last hurrah. Albeit dedicated to Mr Broccoli, it feels more like one with the cheerfully extravagant hand of Saltzman conducting it; no bad thing. DUD may have tried to recapture the series’ glorious youth with its shambolic referencing but those dragged it down to a particular Hell where it’s more than welcome to burn.
Tomorrow Never Dies still looks fresh, even if in showing (ahem) “techno-terrorism” (wh’evarrh), big spacey satellites and a British navy amounting to three ships, it could have become very dated very quickly. Only occasionally does its vintage show, in the baffling absence of any reference to the internet (odd, given the “plot”, and when GoldenEye’s “characters” kept screeching “modem!” and “spike!” (whatever that is) as if they’d discovered fire), a telephone the size of a shoe and the greatest/only memorable character from the Brosnage – Dr Kaufmann – handling a weird plastic rectangular thing that takes one several seconds to recognise as a video cassette. He might as well be holding up scrolls of hieroglyphics and jabbing at them with some flint.
Admittedly, the headless, virtually plotless rushing arind, such light relief from searching for a soul that isn’t there, isn’t something one wants every time. It would bore, in much the same way as one cannot crave every Bond to ask us to bear witness to two hundred million dollars being spent on Quantum of Solace’s even swifter, but considerably more-thought provoking and satisfying Fleming-esque, examination of how the world is rubbish and revenge is unsatisfactory and provides no succour except as a diversion for the psychopathic and corrupt (in all corners) to muck about to no beneficial end whatsoever, so they might as well destroy each other. Such enterprises do not a series make; but they may sustain it, especially given their excessively drawn-out and tonally muddled predecessors. Jiggering it up proves harmless in the long run. This is why there are 23 of them. Just as nine hours of Casino Royale 2 in 2008 would have been creative withdrawal and a misguided statement of intention, not so much losing opportunity as weirdly banishing it through choice, so to a lesser extent the redirection of the plodderyness and all-round puddingdough of GoldenEye, into brisk exercise and brassy, slick violence in this one, was solid thinking. The initial reaction to Tomorrow Never Dies – I well-remember thinking it – of “Is that it, then?” was naïve. What they show us here, as in 2008, is the breadth of the series in different styles, how much of an improvement in vision this is over the ladles of unambitious, complacent, reheated RodgeStodge in the 1980s and how one doesn’t need to go on for blimmin’ hours if you can tell your tale perfectly adequately in fewer.
Aspirationally, would you want to be the GoldenEye Bond – barbershop-photo-haired and hoarsely traumatised by the death of your Special Companion (what rumours?), and every five minutes yet another person calls you a redundant git? The TWINE Bond – a jawflooringly thick, mood-encrusted, easily-deceived and manipulated simpleton, trapped in the body of a right old idiot? The DUD Bond – um… an attempt, with double surfing and techno-row, to disguise portliness and creakery: some sort of Big Phat Jabba, then.
The Tomorrow Never Dies Bond – if you accept him as being James Bond and ignoring doomed-to-fail attempts at stapling a genuine emotion onto him - has a grand old time, wears a quite lovely caramel-coloured coat, nicks the villain’s wife, blows lots and lots and lots (and lots) up and patently gives not one damn. Totally clotheshorse, totally empty, totally Brosnan, and, yeah, totally brill. Blessed relief to be able to watch it when surrounded either side by films fatsacked down with much moping and pretend introspection and embarrassingly dead-behind-the-eyes “performances” several awards beyond the reach of those trying to carry them off, trying to engage one on another level and failing, badly. Shallow it may be, but at least it can be taken as consistently so, brazenly so, and for that I admire it. It can be embraced as thin and just getting on with it, rather than suffering the fate of its immediate three brethren in being toecurlingly exposed as anorexic very early on yet continuing for frickin’ hours in heartlessly, noisily, subjecting us to “meaning” and “character” and “well, at least he’s not singing, I suppose”, flapping about in washed-up deaththroes whilst the choking, soapy grime drowns them.
So yes: I would miss it, hugely; more than I would have ever expected to. This doesn’t mean that it’s objectively any good; just better than quite a few Bond films, and very easily the most enjoyable one since Moonraker. Before they rebooted and started making proper films, that’s a more than acceptable achievement with all the straightjackets that came with it.
I suggested above that the film doesn’t court opinion, but that’s not entirely true (i.e. not true at all, i.e. a lie). Having taken a break from spewing this piece of rubbish (a house to move, a mother-in-law to bury, a guinea-pig to feed to a dog), I did have a sashay back through the views expressed about Tomorrow Never Dies on this vair website, such as could be found and such of those found that could be found to be literate. Something that came across in all three posts was that the humour was cruder, especially the badinage between M and Second XI Hockey Captain Moneypenny. Perhaps. This business about “pumping” is stunningly unsubtle, but then “Pussy Galore” isn’t the pinnacle of deft wit – whatever his strengths, Fleming’s humour remains in the teenage dormitory (he’s not an amusing writer, is he? Perhaps we don’t need him to be) – and none of “Holly Goodhead”, “Chew Mee” nor the entire script of Diamonds are Forever are cunning, linguistically.
The potency of the observation may lie in the novelty that most of the filth emanates not, as one has come to expect/dread, from Bond listlessly sexpesting his way around the planet and leering at anything with a pulse – BrosBond doesn’t give much quip here, probably out of breath, poor old sod – but pretty much every other speaking character is zinging off barbed one-liners like there’s no tomorrow (which there must be, because it Never Dies, science fact). M, especially, seems to have toned down from Utter Heartless Frownface Cowbitch Good Legs last time out to Nice Eyes Guttermouthed Cheeky Headmistress Ooh Miss Just Said “Balls” To Another Teacher , She Did. True, on the face of it, it’s not much like Bernard Lee – and certainly not like Lickle Bobby Brown and his Eyebrows of Disgruntlement – to indulge in blatant smut, but that would be to ignore the subtext of Lee’s M sucking on that deep shag-filled pipe of his as he gave Bond yet another dressing-down. Shooting from the quip, some of it’s super, some of it isn’t – Dr Kaufmann, oh yes; Carver jigging abite kung-fu like, oh no – but at least this time they have tried to surround Bond with diverting characters / disguise the fact he’s not interesting by giving great flippin’ wodges of the fun bits over to others.
Nowhere is the erosion of focus away from Bond more evident than in the pre-credits sequence, James Bond’s running about being incidental to the reactions of others to James Bond’s running about. The smart joke of this sequence – the MoD squad, M and her posse of bitchy jokesmiths are watching a James Bond film and, like us, wondering what’s going on, which one’s James Bond, why it’s so noisy and when it’s going to end. It’s a funny idea, although it does little to diminish Bond as an invulnerable ubermensch – White Knight, dear God – that everyone’s in lurrrrve with; competing with this sort of thing, the ostensible emotional frailty labelled “interesting peeled-back layers” just cannot, cannot work. Again, fecund opportunity for an assessment of how Bond’s behaviour affects these folks – is this the first time we have had a M witnessing and thereby contemplating what s/he has actually unleashed on the world with 007? – and again, even if it doesn’t come through (vs. M’s angry reaction to Bond’s assault on the embassy in Casino Royale betraying her culpability) its failure to take hold doesn’t disrupt the purely visceral enjoyment of watching Bond blow up a machine gun truck in a very, very beautiful blue/orange way.
The ostensible grey area in having M witness all the violence is only a dabble, of course – after all, these are Bad Peepels at this Terrorist Arms Bazaar (you can tell it was 1997; what’s on sale here you can get on eBay) who deserve to die, rather than innocents being injured by an immature agent on the rampage. I suppose you couldn’t have The Bond We All Know And Love go ape in an embassy; it would look most curious, as curious as not having the Americans involved in this Khyber Pass operation, but then I suppose terrsm hadn’t been invented by 1997, so fair enough.
So, up to the 007th minute, we’ve had Colin Salmon performing much the role I have to adopt when watching a Bond film with my mother – telling a grumpy old boot what’s going on as simply as possibly whilst still trying to keep up with it myself – and also stumbling into the consciousness as a potential Bond himself. A good-looking, well-spoken British actor, looks crisp in a suit. He must have been too tall, or something. Pretty much everyone else on show seems to have been drafted in from Sunday teatime British sitcoms, which doesn’t do much to make any of them particularly credible, and leaves one waiting for the preposterously accented policeman from ‘Allo ‘Allo to turn up; my mistake, there he is, stealing a ‘plane. Gordon Ramsay sets off a missile, then can’t destroy it, and everyone struggles to be heard over the ridiculous music. Although in several places during the rest of the film, what Young Mr Arnold brung us is most splendid and evocative and fun, here every single bloody moment – even the most mundane - is ramped up into something hilariously accentuated as Oh No! Perhaps that should be Tomorr-oh no!
0.06.00 – 0.07.00 Tomorrow Never Dies
Tomorr-oh no! Bond’s finger is on the trigger. Let’s hope he fires the right missiles otherwise this could “make Chernobyl look like picnic”. With Three Mile Island Dressing.
Tomorr-oh no! That truck blows up absolutely beautifully! Blue! Orange! All told, it’s a more colourful and visually arresting film than GoldenEye and the camera moves around in a tremendously fluid manner, especially in this pre-titles bit. Super.
Tomorr-oh no! Bond’s been spotted!
Tomorr-oh no! The co-pilot is waking up! Not surprising really; the music’s going bonkers.
Tomorr-oh no! Bond obliterates a Jeep, slightly brutally! Hmm.
Tomorr-oh no! Here comes the missile!
Tomorr-oh no! That’s a really weird-looking un-flat runway, isn’t it? I’m sure I read that it’s thousand of feet up in the Alps somewhere. Ryanair probably call it “Paris”.
Tomorr-oh no! There’s been no dialogue for a bit! Good.
Tomorr-oh no! Here comes the other ‘plane!
Tomorr-oh no! The pilot looks a bit like Bond so he’s not that easy to distinguish!
Tomorr-oh no! The other ‘plane is blocking the runway!
Tomorr-oh no! Bond sees it, sighs, and this makes his eyes go in slightly different directions! It’s most amusing.
Tomorr-oh no! Rather lovely crane shot over the back of the red-tipped ‘place! This is more of a Tomorr-oh yes!
Tomorr-oh no! Only thirty seconds to impact! Hmmm… quite a long thirty seconds…
Tomorr-oh no! Oh Judi / Will you be rude-ee / With me / Ju-Dee? …anyway, she’s looking all a-tense and Colin’s so horrified at what he’s watching /waking up to his tokenism that it’s made his headset fall off. The man to Colin’s right is so excited he’s fallen asleep and, on the balcony, a blue-shirted type is saluting. Bring on the MoD budget cuts, frankly.
Tomorr-oh no! Here comes the missile! Still!
Tomorr-oh no! Bond pulls a determined face, like he’s trying to work out a colossal trump!
Tomorr-oh no! The plane blows off! Unless it was Bond. Unfortunate editing juxtaposition that, at least to the childish mind (hi).
Tomorr-oh no! Here comes the ‘plane! Is it a model? Pretty good one if so. If it’s real, it does rather remind one that this is a Bond film and they do this sort of stuff for real. Bless them for it.
Tomorr-oh no! Bond is all (Remington) steel-ey eyed and appears to have overcome his gastric discomfort! Must have just been a touch of inderjaggers.
Tomorr-oh no! The co-pilot has woken up! Looking around in blank-eyed confusion. He could get a job at the MoD.
Tomorr-oh no! Bond looks a bit cross!
Tomorr-oh no! Yellow ‘plane hurtles up, red ‘plane cruises down!
Tomorr-oh no! Here comes the missile! Um, still.
Tomorr-oh no! Here (still) comes the red ‘plane! How long is this weirdo-runway?
Tomorr-oh no! Bond is looking really quite narked now!
Tomorr-oh no! Tug yer joystick! That’s what all this exploderating has been about, after all.
Tomorr-oh no! It’s take off!
Tomorr-oh no! The music’s gone mental! Bond’s ‘plane rises from the ground and…
Tomorr-oh no! The missile’s (finally) arrived, after its leisure tour of pleasant snow-capped valleys! Oddly, Bond’s ‘plane still appears to be on the ground, meaning an additional Tomorr-oh no! He rather unwisely appears to have landed it, just as…
Tomorr-oh no! The missile explodes!
An exemplar of the series’ propensity to go amusingly OTT, cleverly executed, the 007th minute of Tomorrow Never Dies might not add much that’s particularly new, apart perhaps from sustained decibels. Thankfully, not all of it continues at this tempo – it would exhaust – and there are several notable highlights following on, namely:-
A crow shrieks.
The Carver Media group logo appears in the inevitable blue/orange thang (what is it with that?).
Oxford (lovely, lovely Oxford) gets to be the first British city outside London to be shown in a Bond film – science fact. Good call.
Pierce Brosnan gives German a try. It’s gratuitously violent.
An old man wears a horrendous scarlet jacket.
The more Kandi-Lou elements of The Family of Man are indulged with stuff like “station-break”.
A lovely bemuscled blond psychopathic German lad sets the fight against national gender stereotypes back several decades; an equally lovely Chinese female super-agent compensates for this and very nearly almost gets close to working.
Dr Kaufmann steals the show, not that this was very difficult. Shame he had to die; would have been a far more welcome returning character than the execrable Jack Wade and the fatuous Zukovsky.
Bond flings a boringly-shaped car at pedestrians.
Several bits get filmed in slow-motion, presumably to make the enterprise the length of a feature film and not just the sort of rushed adverts for watches and motorbikes that would appear in the aforementioned station-break.
There’s a smashing bit when Bond and Wai-Lin kiss underwater in a blue/orangey way as things blow up above them.
It all ends with a cracking Robert Maxwell joke and an insanely camp end song and we are invited to put aside the nagging thought that we have been subjected to a film about how wicked a media company is in manipulating what we see (buy BMWs), produced not by some yurt-based anti-establishment anarchist collective as you might therefore think (buy watches), but by a media company hurling product placement at us in a, gosh, yes, totally non-manipulative way (buy stock in MGM, please, we’re about to go bust yet again, look how we have salted the exhausted mine with gold dust, please buy it? Oh dear, too late).
Because it doesn’t try so, so hard to be something it cannot become, it’s substantially the most rewarding Brosnan Bond as a piece of simple entertainment. (Mostly) amusing without being laughable, energetically and engagingly filmed, time has been kind. Give the people what they underappreciate. The best Brosnan film on its own merits, in comparison it leaves the others distinctly undelicious. In retrospect, Bond’s teasing of Carver about a capacity to produce tortuously bad entertainment may have been… well, it may have been a little unwise.
James Bond will return in the 007th minute of The World is not Enough. Jacques Stewart is in a puddle on the floor, waiting for you to return. And mop it up. And stop the dog drinking it.