Friday, December 12, 2014

Tomorrow Never Dies

  James Bond in the 90's never gets old. Well... maybe that's an exaggeration. It feels hopelessly dated this time around. Especially since the bad guy is a media mogul who's entire plot revolves around using his media empire to reach everyone in the world. Something which we take for granted these days with something called the internet. To put it in perspective for you, Tomorrow Never Dies came out in 1997. Google was founded in 1998. The villain's own ambitions would've been squashed in a matter of years with the impending advent of the internet's golden age.  Thus the plot of the movie seems sort of silly. The villain, Elliot Carver (Johnathan Pryce) plans to start a world war just so that he can have exclusive media coverage of it. In this day and age, I should be able to take that more seriously. Unfortunately, I can't. Nevertheless, that's just about one of the only unfortunate things about this entry into the 007 franchise.

  It's hard to say they 'dialed it back' a bit after GoldenEye, but I do believe they did. If only just. There's a scene early on in the movie, which has Bond mingling among socialites, and introducing himself as a banker. This, if anything, is classic Bond. Not that long after, there's a scene where he's recovering from a beating, taking vodka shots and attaching a silencer to his Walther PPK. It's a sullen moment, and has the sort of pervading quietness that GoldenEye was lacking. Brosnan's Bond is at times vulnerable and always complex. He needed more moments like this. More disquieting silences and bloodied tuxedos. I'm fine with him being less of a spy and more of a soldier, so long as he's not a superman. They nailed this feeling quite well in the Daniel Craig movies.

  The movie never gets so in-touch with this side of Bond again. The rest of the movie has him rocketing through the scenes and shooting everything that so much as looks at him cross. The opening is no exception to the franchise tradition of having an explosive and exciting introduction to the movie. Bond has to hijack a fighter jet amid chaos in order to save it's nuclear missiles from being prematurely detonated. Sounds simple enough? Much to the viewer's delight, it never is with 007. The creative opening sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Aside from some very very painfully standard fight scenes that seem cut and pasted from any other action movie of the time, where the hero punches, and the bad guy punches, and then the hero punches, and then the bad guy punches... and so on... and so forth... -aside from all that nonsense, the action scenes are incredibly creative.

  There's one ridiculously neat scene where Bond has to remotely drive his car, using a gadget phone,  through shootout... while crouched in the backseat. It's such a clever scene and definitely one of the highlights of the movie. What makes it even better is a a quick moment that shows Bond laughing, enjoying the moment. The concept is nothing short of show-stopping (in the best way possible..) Bond clearly is having fun with this. It's not something we see very often from him. We all know he appreciates a timely little gadget, but to say he ever gets caught up in the excitement of the moment like this? Never. It was a great little shot, followed up with him having to clear his throat, calm down, and collect himself as he eventually walks away from the scene. It's a nicely self-aware moment, and is the kind of witty humor that feels at home with 007. More please.

  The inventive action scenes don't end there, but I shan't spoil them for you. Tomorrow Never Dies is a sleek, gadget-filled action movie chock full of women and flamboyant characters.  However, speaking of supporting characters, Michelle Yeoh plays Bond girl, Wai Lin, a Chinese secret agent who ends up working with Bond to take down Carver. She's fantastic in the part. They seem to derail the fights a bit to showcase her martial arts. This was a big trend in the 90's. Especially with movies like Lethal Weapon 4 and such. It's not as distracting here, but the fact they kept overlaying this dorky vocal noises every time she did something was super annoying. Aside from that, she's a great partner for Bond. Capable and independent. She's a delight in the movie and a terrific onscreen presence. Her charisma occasionally even exceeding that of Bond's.

  She has a much bigger part than Teri Hatcher does. Despite the fact that on the posters and whatnot, they seem to have equal billing. Hatcher plays Carver's wife. A terrible sad and trapped woman who seemed fated to die since she shows up on the screen. I'd have to go back and check, but the villain's main squeeze seems to always die, and early on too. She seems much like the girl in gold from Goldfinger, yet her departure is nothing so iconic. She was killed by an interestingly chatty assassin, nicknamed 'the doctor'. He's only in the movie for a few minutes, but his moment with Bond is one of the best in the movie. Rather than a fight, him and Bond get a couple minutes of witty discourse. It's darkly comic, and you'd almost feel bad for chuckling at some of it... but it's so well done you can't help it. As is the movie itself so well done you can't help but like it.

  That's not to say it's one of the greats, it is content to continue the trend of Bond movies that seem to be little else but action movies. The climax is excessive and long. For once all the gunplay feels tired and overly stylized. I enjoyed it on a superficial level, as one enjoys a lesser Bond outing, but this climax almost felt helmed by John Woo. It's saving grace is Brosnan's stone cold gaze and his calm under pressure. He makes a great action hero. Although unfortunately, he never really got the room to be an even greater spy. He has all the potential, but the movies weren't tapping into it. Some may agree with that to an even larger extent, some may wholeheartedly disagree, but regardless I feel that the slam-bang action formula doesn't really fit the character. As I said in my review of GoldenEye, fantastical action scenes were and are undoubtedly a staple of the franchise... but they shouldn't overtake the movie.

  There should be a calm and deliberate pacing to an ideal Bond movie. Something which both GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies do not seem to have. Nevertheless, they do justice to the action genre and both movies are a rousing good time if you don't expect too much. Things blow up well and there's a witty one-liner around every corner. If that's what you like from 007, you won't be disappointed with Tomorrow Never Dies, even if it's only standard Bond fare.

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