Published on October 27th, 2015 | by Brad0
Tomorrow Never Dies: Bond vs Fox News
After the monster success of Goldeneye, production was fast-tracked on the eighteenth 007 adventure, Tomorrow Never Dies. Pierce Brosnan returns as James Bond, this time tasked with preventing a media baron from bringing about a nuclear war between the British and Chinese. 1990s Hollywood jobsman Roger Spottiswoode (Turner & Hooch, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!) was brought in to direct.
Sadly, Tomorrow Never Dies was the first Bond film produced after the passing of legendary series producer and the driving force behind the series’ very existence, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. His mantle has been capably carried on by his daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson Michael G. Wilson, but without Cubby we wouldn’t have had this remarkable franchise, so to him we salute.
The British Navy vessel HMS Devonshire is sunk 11 miles of the coast of China, despite the on-board GPS placing them many miles out in international waters. The bodies of the crew are washed up on the shores of Vietnam, riddled with the type of ammunition used by the Chinese Air Force. As the British and Chinese prepare for war, unbeknownst to all events are being manipulated by the hand of media mogul Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce), manufacturing and covering a war to take over the world of news. 007, along with Chinese Secret Service agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), must stop Carver before the British and Chinese annihilate each other.
Title Sequence and Bond Theme
The film opens, though, at an arms bazaar in Siberia. With Bond filming, a number of the worlds’ most dangerous terrorists are buying and selling weapons of mass destruction. The British admiralty is satisfied enough with what they see to launch a cruise missile at the gathering, with the approval of the Russians. Bond, however, has spotted a jet plane armed with nuclear torpedoes, with enough destructive power to “make Chernobyl look like a picnic”. It’s too late to abort the missile, so in a gripping race against a particularly destructive clock, Bond fights his way to the jet and gets the missiles to safety before the bazaar is destroyed. The jet engine flares into the screen, leading into the opening titles;
Yeah, for some reason in the late 90s Sheryl Crow was a thing. To be honest, her Tomorrow Never Dies theme isn’t all that bad. It’s unfortunate to be between two stone-cold classics in Tina Turner’s Goldeneye and Garbage’s The World is Not Enough, but it’s a perfectly serviceable theme in its own right (and, given what we’re getting for Spectre, it could be worse!) I particularly like the credits sequence, though. The classic era had a style of their own, but I think the visuals on the opening credits took a real upturn in the Brosnan era. I think the rise of music videos probably played a big part in that, as the production is just so much sleeker. They haven’t always had the quality of song to match, mind you.
The Villain and their Plan
As mentioned, Bond’s chief antagonist in Tomorrow Never Dies is Elliott Carver, head of multimedia news network The Carver Group. Evocative of Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell, Carver’s plan to create war between the British and Chinese in order to grant him total domination of the world’s press is the most delightfully outlandish a Bond villain has been since Hugo Drax planned to kill most of the population whilst hiding in space with a group of underwear models. Jonathan Pryce – perhaps best known these days as The High Sparrow in Game of Thrones – is utterly magnificent in the role, dominating every second of his screen-time. He’s comfortably the best Bond villain since Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga, if not further back even than that.
On the undercard are Stamper (Götz Otto), a muscle-bound German giant perhaps best known these days for looking pensive next to the crying woman during Adolph Hitler’s various pop-culture rants in the parodies of Der Untergang, Henry Gupta (Ricky Jay), a slobby cyber-terrorist responsible for manipulating the GPS to send the HMS Devonshire off course to start the conflict, and a particularly entertaining cameo from Vincent Schiavelli as Dr Kaufman, an international assassin and recreational torturer who manages to leave a greater impression in one scene than many villains make in an entire film.
A more exotic affair than Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies sees 007 battling terrorists in the frozen wastes of Siberia, infiltrating Carver’s headquarters in metropolitan Hamburg, excavating the wrecked ship at the bottom of the South China sea, making a thrilling escape on a motorcycle through the streets and rooftops of Saigon before waging final battle aboard Carver’s stealth ship between the British and Chinese Navies. The motorcycle chase through the markets, alleys, bathhouses and rooftops of Saigon is worth particular note, as it’s a pretty damn spectacular action sequence, with Thailand doubling perfectly well for Vietnam.
An unfortunate motif of Pierce Brosnan’s first three Bond films was that he was always saddled with an arse-ugly BMW, and Tomorrow Never Dies features the worst offender – the 750iL. Fortunately they do make up for all that ugly with the punch it packs, with its rockets, circular saw, flash grenades, re-inflatable tyres and spike dispenser all used in Bond’s escape from a gang of thugs in a multi-storey car park. The car was remote-controlled from Bond’s phone, first demonstrated in a typically enjoyable scene with Q. Pierce Brosnan and Desmond Llewellyn were always great together, with Bond’s ribbing of Q and Q’s chiding of Bond always feeling more affectionate than it necessarily had with prior actors in the role.
The Most Inappropriate/Politically Correct Moment
Michelle Yeoh is a wonderful actress and a much more mature, capable Bond woman than we’re used to seeing. That said, the moment where she cries “Hi-ya!” before shooting a computer console with a machine gun is just unforgivable.
Carver mocking Wai Lin with some faux-kung-fu moves and a particularly racist Chinese impression is pretty funny within context, but these days the weird thing is a couple of “before they were famous” spots. Amongst the doomed crew of the HMS Devonshire are a pre-fame Julian Rhind-Tutt and Gerard Butler. Butler even returns for an appearance later on as a floating corpse when 007 is investigating the wreckage, which seems particularly odd 18 years later, knowing the success he went on to.
Tomorrow Never Dies is one of the more quotable Bond films generally, with more or less every scene having at least one or two memorable lines. My favourite, though, comes quite early on, in the situation room whilst Bond is at the arms bazaar in Siberia. Admiral Roebuck (Geoffrey Palmer) chides M (Judi Dench) that “I don’t think you have the balls for this job”, to which M responds, gloriously, “Perhaps. But the advantage is, I don’t always have to think with them.”
How Good is it Really?
Extremely. Tomorrow Never Dies has always been one of my favourite films in the Bond franchise, and it holds up fantastically well. Pierce Brosnan is more confident in the role this time, and in the best shape he ever was. In Michelle Yeoh and Teri Hatcher we got two much more complex, interesting love interests for 007, and in Jonathan Pryce we got one of the series’ very best villains. The action’s great, the plot rattles along at a fair whack, it’s eminently quotable, a hell of a lot of fun, and probably one of the top five Bond films to date. Well, well worth your time.