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BlogalongaBond: Tomorrow Never Dies
With the success of Goldeneye, it was apparent that James Bond had successfully entered the post-Cold War world intact and as popular as ever. The question soon became to many people the same question asked by fans for over three decades: could the powers that be do it again? The answer would come in 1997 after problems finding a studio to shot the film at, the switching of directors, the loss of a major location, and the re-writing of key sequences right up until and during production. Perhaps the question we should ask about Tomorrow Never Dies is how does the film itself stand up?

In terms of acting, the film could not be much better though. Pierce Brosnan’s performance in this film is actually better than the performance he gave in Goldeneye. Brosnan seems to be more assured of what he is doing in many scenes and he is more into the Bond character’s mindset as shown in many scenes in particular the scene in the hotel room when he kills Kaufman and in the scenes at Carver’s building in Saigon. Brosnan also handles the humor better with some excellent delivery of the many one liners throughout the film, lending to some of the better one liners in recent memory. There is little at fault in Brosnan’s performance as he does well in the action scenes, one liner delivery, and the emotional scenes with Paris Carver. There is only one flaw in his performance: the final battle sequence on the stealth boat. Here Brosnan goes from the Bond seen in the rest of the film to a Terminator-like action hero. But this is the only flaw in an otherwise top notch Bond performance.
The Bond girl of the film, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin, is another great character. This character is truly every bit the agent Bond is and more than once she manages to outdo Bond in the action sequences. The fight scene in Saigon is a perfect example of the Wai Lin character: tough, resourceful, and probably the one Bond girl who doesn’t have to hang onto 007’s arm. The character is a truly original one and though the character may be a bit too tough for a Bond girl, it is otherwise a perfect example of what a modern Bond girl should be. Michele Yeoh’s performance in the film is another highpoint in the film as she manages to practically steal the scenes she is in. Wai Lin is the prototype Bond girl for the modern era.

In the form of Jonathon Pryce’s Elliot Carver we get something we haven’t seen in a while: a truly well written and performed megalomaniac villain. While most roles of this type fall into every cliché in the book, the role of Carver manages to avoid falling into the clichés. Carver is, next to License To Kill’s Franz Sanchez, perhaps the most realistic villain of the series. Carver could easily exist in the modern world of 24 hour news that seems to have more influence in influencing governments then the actual events do. Carver is also a very intelligent character who is far from stupid. He is a strangely funny and for the most part likeable character during his scenes in public and behind the scenes he is what many of us fear to be true of those in power: evil enough to make events go their way for their own dark agenda. This is what makes the character and Pryce’s performance all the more interesting. Pryce pulls the character off without a hitch and manages to give off a virtually flawless performance in the film as he is so convincing one might to begin wondering if media moguls are really like this in real life.

The rest of the cast is one of the better supporting casts of the Bond series. Teri Hatcher is splendid in her small but pivotal role of Paris Carver, the old flame who comes back into Bond’s mission and his life. Though the character is ultimately a sacrificial lamb of the film, her demise is made all the more meaningful due to her relationship with Bond in the few scenes she is in. Two more of the film’s characters, villains Henry Gupta and Dr Kaufman, are two more great supporting characters. In the case of Kaufman, we get a very good henchman who is one of the more convincing of the Bond henchmen and one feels as though Bond has done his job when he kills him after his brief but surprisingly well done scene. Gupta is a terrific techno terrorist who, while being little more than a minor supporting character, is still worth seeing whenever we can. Judi Dench returns to the role of M and her performance is one of the film’s biggest surprises. One might go in expecting the same M from Goldeneye, but they come out with a different impression. This M has apparently been impressed by Bond enough in Goldeneye that she is more towards the M of old who, while disapproving of Bond’s style, knows that only Bond can get the job done and this is quite refreshing. The scenes with Q and Moneypenny return for some of the best scenes of between the characters and Bond in years. In particular, the phone conversation between Bond and Moneypenny and the Q’s introduction of the BMW in Hamburg stand out as highlights in the film. The brief appearance of Professor Inga Bergstrom by Cecilie Thomsen is also a highpoint of the film as she is one of the most attractive women to appear in the Bond films. All in all, the supporting cast is terrific.

That is, minus two characters: Jack Wade and Stamper. Both characters are written and performed with good intentions in mind. In both cases, the characters fall into the realm of the cliché. The jack Wade appearance is reminiscent of the bad Felix Leiter from Diamonds Are Forever with his bad jokes and his out of place appearance. The character of Stamper, on the other hand, seems to be yet another Red Grant clone. While the major previous Red Grant clone, Necros form The Living Daylights came off as original, in this film he doesn’t. He is just another in the long line of mindless henchmen who carries out his bosses orders without any thought whatsoever for the consequences. This is a low point in the film.

The action sequence sin the film are a problem. During the first hour or so of the film, they are so of the most original and thrilling pieces of action one is likely to see in any movie. The teaser sequence manages do something that is rare among action sequences: it manages to be both suspenseful and exciting at the same time. The way it handles the missile launching, the race to the fighter plane with the bombs and the dogfight that follows is a perfect example of how a Bond teaser should be and surprisingly manages to outdo the teaser sequence from Goldeneye. The scene where the stealth ship sinks the British warship is a well-staged and suspenseful sequence. The same can be said of the fight scenes at the Carver HQ in Hamburg. But the film’s best action sequence is the car chase in the Hamburg parking garage that features the novel idea of a remotely operated full sized car with all the gadgets a Bond fan can ask for, along with some terrific music from David Arnold and the Propellerheads, this car chase is easily the best sequence of the like to appear in a Bond film. But the rest of the action sequences in film after the suspenseful dive on the warship fall flat, minus the Wai Lin fight sequence. Also the idea of the plot being a bunch of action sequences with a storyline in between them hurts the film and brings down the level of the considerably.

There is also the issue of the storyline. While the film relies heavily on the very real notion of media having too much influence to the point of causing events, it fails to portray this in a realistic way. The idea of Carver building a stealth boat, sinking a British warship, shooting down a Chinese fighter plane, nuking the Chinese and causing the sinking of British fleet for only exclusive rights to air in China is all but laughably ludicrous, It also has the unfortunate effect of causing the over reliance on action to seem worse than probably is. This is a shame since the film’s other elements cannot cause the scale to balance out between them and causes the film’s quality to drop.

Perhaps though, the film’s biggest highlight is its score. John Barry had originally been slated to return but when he couldn’t due to reasons better documented elsewhere, David Arnold stepped in. Arnold’s memorable work on the films Stargate and Independence Day should have been a message to fans that this was going to be a score to remember and it more than succeeded in that respect. In fact, it is the best Bond score since Barry’s work on the Living Daylights ten years before. Arnold manages to bring some classic Bond score elements into the film and at times it’s hard to believe that Barry didn’t compose of the music. The music accompanying the teaser sequence is reminiscent of some of the classic Barry action music of the early Bond films and the music manages to play incredibly well into the scenes were suspense is most needed. But while the score contains some classic Barry overtones, it has a refreshingly modern feel to it. Arnold’s occasional use of electronics in several areas (particularly in the Hamburg car chase) is more than welcome and actually raises the level of some of the scenes in the film. Arnold’s score never fails to keep pace with the film and it remains the best non-Barry Bond film score to date.

So where does that leave Tomorrow Never Dies then as a Bond film? On the plus side it features a strong cast for the most part, some fantastic action pieces and a top notch score Yet the films over reliance on an over the top storyline, action sequences, and two week major supporting characters, hurts the film considerably. The film feels as though it had some greatness in its grasp but has ended up becoming an enjoyable, yet average Bond film.