Sunday, March 24, 2013

"50 Years of Bond" Retrospective - #18: Tomorrow Never Dies

All the way to 1997, GoldenEye was just the success that EON was hoping for. The film had shattered box office records, word of mouth was strong, the video game was doing gangbusters at the stores, and it had sent Pierce Brosnan’s career soaring. Brosnan had been contracted to do three more films after GoldenEye, and one of the movies that came afterward was Tomorrow Never Dies. This became the very first film in which original 007 pioneer Albert Broccoli did not work on, having passed away over a year and a half before the film’s release, and his friend and partner Harry Saltzman had died almost two years earlier. In the case of Tomorrow Never Dies… It was something of a mixed result. Opinions were split down the middle, and everyone agreed that it just wasn’t GoldenEye good. While I certainly can say it’s not as good as GoldenEye, what’s good in this movie is still REALLY good.

Bond’s newest mission takes place with him investigating the case of Elliot Carver, a media mogul who is seeking to finish his empire by gaining broadcasting rights in China. To do this, Carver plans to cause confusion and conflict between the UK and Chinese governments, which could start World War III in the process. Along the way, Bond will meet up with two important people; A spy from the Chinese government who serves as an actual match for Bond, and his former lover, who is now married to Carver.

Presentation-wise, Tomorrow Never Dies almost matches its predecessor. It goes darker, it ups the ante, and it gives itself some more ambition. The thing that really kills it, for me, is that in trying to go so big, it sometimes backfires. There’s a thought provoking analysis of how the media saturates the mindset of the public, a very meaningful topic ahead of its time, but I don’t think it’s quite to satisfaction.

Again, what is good in this movie is really, really good. It has some memorable gadgets, including Bond’s freaking awesome new BMW which fills in for his signature Aston Martin. It has some of the best action, and while the ones that mostly use CGi are kinda tacky, the sequences which use more practical on set effects are infinitely better, including a motorcycle chase worthy of Spielberg. The title song performed by Sheryl Crow is not very good, but the orchestral score is the best since The Spy Who Loved Me. David Arnold was a well known action composer from films such as Independence Day, and he came to the series as a recommendation from Bond music alum John Barry. What he did with this score not only paid the right homage to Barry’s old trademarks, he brought it fully into the nineties with style, flair, and original themes that rivaled some of the best themes in the Bond saga. Naturally, the studio was pleased with his work, and asked him to come back for the next four Bond films, which we’ll get to later.

Brosnan, again, gets to have a lot of fun with Bond. He had this presence in GoldenEye that hinted at the intensity of Dalton’s Bond, and this movie confirmed it, with some genuine emotional insight. Michelle Yeoh is the definition of what a great Bond girl should be. She’s not just a damsel in distress, but instead, is entirely capable of handling herself, and those martial arts sequences are just radical. Jonathan Pryce plays the villain, delightfully so, as he provides the energy and slight satirical bite to make this villain work.

When the studio released Tomorrow Never Dies, it didn’t recreate the same success that GoldenEye had done. Aside from the mixed reviews, it just didn’t make as big an impact in ticket sales. It was still successful, but it was eclipsed in popularity due to having opened the same exact day as James Cameron’s Titanic, becoming Brosnan’s only Bond film not to open at number one. Popularity aside, Tomorrow Never Dies still had enough to set itself apart and make it worth a watch.

**** / *****

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