Bond, James Bond - Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies

As part of our look back at the films of James Bond, ahead of the SPECTRE release, Stuart Mulrain remembers Tomorrow Never Dies...

“Grow up, 007!”

New Years Eve 1997. A young (compared to now) 18-year old Bond fan ignores all of the exciting New Year party invites he didn’t get in favour of heading to the cinema to see his first Bond film on the big screen. What kind of Bond fan waits until he is 18 to make his first trip to the cinema to see a Bond film, I hear you ask? It’s a valid question and the sad truth is that I’m of the generation that didn’t see a Bond film released in the cinema between the age of 10 and 16. Although a big fan of the Bond films as a child, I’d pretty much forgotten about Bond during these wilderness years; in favour of comic books and girls.

It wasn’t until I saw Licence To Kill on TV in 1996 that my passion for Bond was reignited and soon turned into an obsession. Having just missed out on GoldenEye in the cinema (I bought it as soon as it was released on video along with all the other Bond films) I awaited the release of Tomorrow Never Dies with baited breath. I was so excited about the film that I remember being really angry because the film my friend had chosen to see at the cinema had the Tomorrow trailer before it and mine didn’t (this was before the days of just going home and quickly watching it online).

For Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton, their second outings are largely considered to be better than their first while Roger Moore and Daniel Craig’s second outings failed to match the potential of their debuts. For many Pierce Brosnan’s high point as Bond was GoldenEye, with his other three efforts failing to match up to it. To those people I say you are wrong. The best of the Brosnan’s is Tomorrow Never Dies. That’s not to say that his others aren’t good (well, maybe not so much with Die Another Day) because they are, and Brosnan is consistently good through all four, but Tomorrow is clearly his best.

For starters it feels like a vintage Bond film. There is something comforting and familiar in seeing Bond in his Naval uniform, having the bad guys targeting the Navy as part of their master plan or including a humorous scene in which some henchmen try to break into Bond’s car. The shorter running time means that the plot moves along at a brisk pace without sacrificing all of the regular elements we’ve come to know and love from a Bond film. It also features more famous faces in small roles than you can shake a stick at, including Julian Fellows, Hugh Bonneville, Brendan Coyle (the Downton 3 if you will), Julian Rhind-Tutt, (one time Bond hopeful) Gerard Butler and Mullett from A Touch Of Frost!

It also has the great Geoffrey Palmer, whose scenes with Judi Dench have some of the best dialogue in the entire series (Admiral: “With all due respect M, I think you don’t have the balls for this job!” M: “Perhaps. But the advantage is I don’t have to think with them all the time!”). It’s like As Time Goes By written by Aaron Sorkin and you almost find yourself wishing the whole film was just the two of them whilst Bond’s stuff goes on off-screen somewhere. How great would it have been if they’d brought him back as M’s husband for Casino Royale? Now you’re thinking about it, it just feels right doesn’t it?

The opening scene (again involving Bond in a plane) is one of the film’s stand-out set pieces and is expertly directed, building the tension perfectly. It’s strange that it sets up to introduce Bond slowly (like anybody watching the film would be surprised that White Knight is Bond) as if they are introducing a new actor to the part. But then this is a new-look Brosnan. Gone is the big hair and unshaved look of GoldenEye and in comes a smooth looking British superspy who could cut you with the sharpness of his style.

Brosnan owns the role in this film, incorporating the best of his predecessors with a comfort and ease that is a joy to watch. He also brings a boyish charm to the film that adds to his appeal. He clearly loves playing Bond and, with the comfort of GoldenEye’s success to spur him on, isn’t afraid to let us know that he is loving being Bond. As he went on as Bond his performance became more tongue in cheek and he explored playing anti-Bond versions of Bond in films outside of the franchise (The Thomas Crown Affair and The Tailor Of Panama, in particular).

On the villain front we have Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver. At the time of the film going into production, The Daily Express reported that former Bond George Lazenby was under consideration for the part (probably one of those stories that stems from unfounded speculation), before it was offered to Anthony Hopkins. Depending on which reports you read, Hopkins either turned the offer down or walked during the early stages of shooting. Either way, Pryce seems to have been the perfect man for the job, playing Carver as a spoilt child who is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants.

When it comes down to it though, Carver is simply the man behind the curtain. He has the bravado of being a threat and the money and power to back it up, but he is not a physical threat and isn’t intended to be. The physical threat comes from Gotz Otto’s Stamper. Stamper plays as a male version of Famke Janseen's Onatopp, taking pleasure in his kills (this is expanded upon in the tie-in novel) and carrying them out with a cold and ruthless edge. We’ve seen this type of henchmen many times before and there is very little that separates him from his predecessors, but he functions perfectly well within this film.

Teri Hatcher as Carver’s wife Paris is the weaker of the two Bond girls on offer. Paris is the kind of Bond girl that is there to serve the purpose of moving the plot along, giving Bond a way to get close to the villain and then the motivation to drive him on. Hatcher later stated that she wished she’d not taken the part, stating that she only did so for her then husband to be able to tell people he was married to a Bond girl. Hatcher is a reasonably fine TV actress (and one of the best Lois Lane’s to date) but on the big screen she comes across as nothing more than a TV actress. When you think that the part could’ve been played by Monica Bellucci, you have to wonder why the producers went with Hatcher instead.

Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin is a more successful Bond girl of the strong, independent variety and for a good chunk of the film it’s conceivable that she could be an equal to Bond. Unfortunately, as is the case with all Bond girls she eventually needs to be saved by Bond. There was talk after the film came out of Wai Lin being given her own film to star in (potentially leading to her own franchise) but this never came to be. I’d say its testament to how good a Bond girl she is that the prospect of her own film was even mooted, but there was the same speculation surrounding Halle Berry’s Jinx and hers was a Bond girl of face-bleedingly bad proportions!

Samantha Bond looks great and is at her finest in this film, easily giving Lois Maxwell a run for her money as the best Moneypenny to date. It’s not just in her relationship with Bond that she shines, but more so in her relationship with Judi Dench’s (excellent as always) M. It’s only when you watch Desmond Llewelyn as Q that you realise what a huge hole he left in the series. Llewelyn brought a class to playing Q that thus far hasn’t been matched (John Cleese tried his take on it and, as much as I love him, failed miserably). Although he only has a small scene here, he brings that much needed Q magic and plays very well with Brosnan.

Joe Don Baker makes his second and last appearance as Wade. Wade is a marmite character and, unlike Felix Leiter, you can’t see him working with constant recasting of the role from film to film. It’s nice to add some consistency to the casting of Bond’s world outside of the holy trinity (M, Q and Moneypenny) and it would’ve been interesting to see how the character would’ve developed had he returned in future films but, as he is largely the same in this as he was in GoldenEye, there probably wouldn’t have been much development that could be done. And he at least has a great last line with “He didn’t even say goodbye!”

Although this was the second Bond film for many of the people involved, it also marked a lot of firsts. For one it feels like a first for a new Bond with a lot of reinvention from GoldenEye. This is the first Bond film to go into production after the death of Cubby Broccoli, the first to feature the Walther P99 as Bond’s gun of choice (for three films anyway), the first to feature the excellent Colin Salmon and most importantly the first to feature a score by David Arnold. Arnold was recommended for the job by John Barry himself (partly on the strength of his Shaken & Stirred album) and he is arguably the best at scoring Bond outside of Barry himself.

Sheryl Crow’s title song works nicely with the film and stands up reasonably well on its own. Based on the relationship within the film between Bond and Paris Carver (using some of Paris’ dialogue as song lyrics) it makes for an interesting take on a Bond theme. It’s unfortunate then that there is a better theme in K.D. Lang’s Surrender, which was relegated to closing credits duties when Crow was chosen for the opening. Lang’s song fits better with the score and is used for several cues in the score during the film.

Roger Spottiswoode handles the films direction well and seems to get a genuine chemistry between the entire cast. Although there are a lot of great set pieces in the film, it’s in the smaller moments that he excels; the true stand-out being the two scenes that take place in Bond’s hotel room. The first whilst he sits alone drinking, waiting to see who Carver will send for him, and the second after he discovers Paris dead on his bed. Hatcher’s acting is the weak link in the film yet she does have the good fortune to be in both the scenes and as her character is dead in the second she doesn’t really bring it down in any way.

Admittedly Tomorrow Never Dies will always be special to me as it was my first cinema Bond, but I think it was a Bond film that is a bit ahead of its time and is definitely right for a reappraisal from many people who dismissed it first time around. And even if you still feel that it doesn’t quite live up to GoldenEye in your mind (you’d still be wrong by the way) there was far worse still to come for whilst tomorrow may never die, it can still die another day...

Image - IMDb.

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