There's only one Bond movie. Simply pick any of 007's 17 outings and tick off the plot chunks. (1) The unrelated, pre-title sequence mission - Bond, a beautiful shag and a ballsy, death-defying chase. (2) The power- crazed megalomaniac, his henchman, assorted goons and the beautiful mistress. (3) Another big chase. (4) The female sidekick. (5) Yet another big chase, before the evildoer's secret hideout is revealed and his mistress falls for Bond. (6) Mistress then dies (poignantly, of course), the hideout is destroyed in a series of explosions (men fall over railings), and the bad guy is cornered and stopped. (7) Bond and the female sidekick kiss. The credits roll.
The 18th Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, is no different. There's an audacious, stunt-packed opener in The Khyber Pass, as Brosnan dallies with beauty Cecilie Thomsen and causes fiery havoc with a stolen jet. Jonathan Pryce is this year's world-threatening villain; Teri Hatcher is the glam, pouty-lipped eye-candy; while spectacular, explosive, bullet-riddled set-pieces take place in a subterranean HQ and around the submerged wreck of the British frigate. Following a worldwide gross of $350 million for GoldenEye, the Bond producers knew they'd have to deliver an even more action-packed, thrilling adventure to top, audience expectation. Tomorrow Never Dies is the answer to that challenge. A simple case of bigger, better, more.
And it works. Self-consciously post-communist and politically modern (China replaces Russia as home of the bad guys), TND feels comfortably familiar. Sheryl Crowe belts out the all-important theme (although kd lang's raunchy end title effort is better), Judi Dench returns as M, Desmond Llewelyn soldiers on as Q ("Don't damage it 007") and Joe Don Baker gets another brief walk-on as CIA dependable Jack Wade. Like GoldenEye, the script fuses Bond's high-tech '90s lifestyle with his old '60s morals: the gadgets (like the weapon-packed BMW with a remote-control option) are a little more plausible, but the lines ("Make sure you pump her for information 007") hark back to the heady, uncontrollable days of old.
Of course, as with any Bond escapade the plot is pure hokum, a handy excuse for a string of progressively flashy, effect-fuelled stunt sequences. And in keeping with the bigger, better, more ethic, director Spottiswoode has pulled out all the stops. After the incredible opener, place your disbelief on a high shelf out of reach and enjoy the ride. Bond escapes certain death in his remote-controlled car, fights an immense underwater melée (harpoons, knives, sharks, etc), rides a motorbike in, through and over downtown Bangkok, before saving civilisation from Armageddon in a fire-strewn assault on a seemingly impregnable stealth boat. There's nothing remotely inventive about any of the set-pieces, but they're big, bold and brash enough to propel the film along at a rip-roaring pace.
Yet, unlike the last movie, there's a darker edge to Brosnan's superspy here, almost an echo of Connery's one-tough-bastard approach to the role. He's more at ease this time round, as is Michelle Yeoh as his martial arts sidekick Wai Lin, a sexy, independent, effective woman, who unashamedly steals every scene she's in. Dench, Llewelyn and Baker fill out their supporting roles well enough, but Teri Hatcher's much-vaunted glam role (or wham-bam role) simply requires the Superman actress to slink, smoulder and let her sparkly dress fall to the floor at a handy moment.
The only weak link is Pryce's villain. Remember the days when a Bond nemesis was an eccentric, megalomaniac nutcase, plotting to rule the world, building bases deep within hollowed-out volcanoes? Not Carver. He wants to kickstart World War Three to boost the TV ratings for his media empire. As a result, he comes across as comical, glib, and rarely threatening. It's a role that never allows the actor to make the jump from all-powerful media mogul to more traditional, scruple-bypassed nasty.
All in all, Bond 18 is an impressive, entertainingly uproarious spy thriller, with a pinch of Goldfinger charm, an oasis of impossible stunts, gorgeous women and throw-away one-liners. Great stuff.
Brisker, darker and snappier than GoldenEye, the novelty of Brosnan as 007 is now gone, and TND is forced to stand on its own as pure, thrilling, action-packed entertainment. It succeeds, although it is let down by its weak villain. But there are enough stunts, quips and high-tech thrills to keep you from caring.