When Michael Apted was announced as the director of the new Bond, fans of the franchise were pretty shaken - or at least stirred. This was, after all, the man who'd made Sigourney Weaver commune with apes in Gorillas In The Mist, shot Jodie Foster as feral girl Nell and, most of all, tracked the lives of British children in the 7-Up series.
The implication was that The World Is Not Enough would be an 007 adventure with a difference, with more character, more plot, more emotional depth. Apted himself has admitted that he was hired because "they wanted a better story between the action."
However, anyone hoping for a genre-busting Bond-with-a-difference may be disappointed. Don't forget that Apted also helmed Gorky Park, Thunderheart and Hugh Grant flop Extreme Measures, so it's not like he's never directed a man with a gun before. And the very actiony sequences are always dealt with by a second unit, anyway. The World Is Not Enough is still very much a Bond movie: people don't bleed when they're shot or stabbed, the Russian accents are as terrible as ever, and there are plenty of gadgets, girls, innuendos and stunts to keep the purists happy. To be honest, the franchise has been so successful since Pierce Brosnan donned the tux that the makers would have been foolish to try and force something drastically different down the audience's throats.
But this isn't to say that Brosnan's third superspy-ride is totally without its twists and tweaks. The man himself plays Bond as he should always have been played: as a highly-trained Government agent who uses women without a second thought and enjoys the more murderous aspects of his job.
Yet this time he's evidently struggling with a softer side; it's as if he wants to be less reptilian, yet he knows he can never lower his guard. When asked if he's ever lost anyone he loved, we see a tiny flicker of pain cross his face before he deftly changes the subject. Significantly, this is also the first time we see him seriously injured (during the spectacular opening sequence, when he dislocates his shoulder after a speedboat chase through London's Docklands), and his injury plagues him throughout the movie, providing him with an all-too-human physical weakness.
This is even more appropriate when you consider that Bond's latest nemesis suffers a far worse weakness: he's a dying terrorist with a bullet lodged in his brain. The casting of Robert Carlyle as anarchist-at-large Renard was perhaps the most exciting thing about this production. Carlyle is a great performer, and he's already proved his worth in the nasty hardman stakes as Trainspotting's Begbie. So to rope him in as a psycho who feels no pain seemed to guarantee the movie some bad-guy highlights.
Sadly, Renard is disappointing. What little screentime he has is mainly spent strutting around muttering in a faux-Slavic accent, or simply being slapped around by 007. Where you expect the bangs, you only get a whimper, and while this may have been a deliberate move, Renard isn't developed enough for his "dying man with nothing to lose" routine to become an effective character trait.
Far more impressive is Sophie Marceau's performance as Elektra King. For where Denise Richards' pneumatic nuclear scientist is merely the tagged-on token totty, Elektra is an engagingly complex creation who is so central to the plot that it's difficult to discuss her role without giving too much away. Suffice to say that you're more likely to enjoy this for Marceau's smouldering turn as the ambitious oil baroness than for Carlyle's diminutive villainy or John Cleese's bumbling Q-replacement.
The World Is Not Enough is, without a doubt, a solidly entertaining chapter in the Bond franchise's chequered history. But while Apted fiddles with the format, this is far from an overhaul of the blueprint, and so lacks the whiff of freshness long-time fans may have been sniffing for. And no, no one blows up the bleedin' Millennium Dome.
TWINE delivers exactly what you'd hope for in a Bond movie. But although it sprinkles in a fair amount of character-centred plot, it doesn't really go that far beyond the call of duty. Still, with plenty of the usual Bondage, you can't go far wrong.