Monday, September 17, 2012

Christmas Has Officially Ruined Our Bonding Experience



THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

The Bond Film Retrospective

The World Is Not Enough has been trashed for among many things having Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist, a muddled and excessively complicated script, Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist, some dull action sequences, Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist, an overwrought theme song, and Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist.

Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist is, shockingly enough, the LEAST of The World Is Not Enough's problems. 

We've had outlandish plots, villains, Bond Girls, and songs before, but have we ever had them all in ONE FILM and worse, that it bungles just about everything that could make said flaws at least entertaining in a fun and goofy way?

We start with basically two opening sequences rolled into one: 007 James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) has recovered the money taken from Sir Robert King (David Calder) which an MI6 agent has been killed over.  At MI6 headquarters, Sir Robert's cash bombs...literally.  A chase through the River Thames to catch the killer (Maria Grazia Cucinotta, billed as the Cigar Girl) ends with her blowing herself up above the Millennium Dome.

With MI6 attacked and Sir Robert dead, we go to their Scottish headquarters.  Sir Robert's fortune, especially his vast oil company, now goes to his daughter, Elektra (Sophie Marceau).  Elektra has a tragic past: she had been kidnapped and held for ransom but had managed to escape.

If this reminds one of the Patty Hearst case, believe me, you are at least five steps ahead of the story of The World Is Not Enough.

In any case, M (Judi Dench), a friend to the King family, had earlier advised Sir Robert NOT to pay the ransom but now thinks that Elektra might make a good way to smoke out her abductor, the infamous terrorist Victor Zokas, aka Renard "The Anarchist" (Robert Carlyle).  An MI6 agent (I presume the one mentioned earlier as being killed, but TWINE--seriously, the initials spell out 'twine'?) had shot him in the head, but not managed to kill him.  It did, however, make Renard impervious to pain. 

With that, Bond flies to the exotic locale of...Azerbaijan, a place filled with rather ugly oil fields.  Elektra, who apparently is part Azerbaijani on her mother's side (despite the British father, French accent, and total lack of swarthy Azerbaijani features) is now the next target of Renard, her former kidnapper who has killed the other people involved as revenge for her escape.

Yep, it's getting that convoluted, but wait...there's more.

Elektra and Bond share a night of passion, but no time for romance, for he suspects her security detail is part of the plot.  Of course, we already know that after the attack on Elektra and Bond in the Caucasus because King security chief Davidov (Ulrich Thompson) MEETS with Renard.  Renard kills Dr. Arkov (Jeff Nuttal), the man whom Davidov is now instructed to impersonate to help with something at a nuclear disarmament site.

Bond now manages to pretend to be Davidov who is suppose to be Dr. Arkov and is taken to the site, where we meet Dr. Christmas Jones (the aforementioned Richards).  She is helping disarm spent nuclear weapons, but Renard and his crew are there to steal weapon materials.  Bond can't kill Renard but Dr. Jones (does anyone else have Short Round shouting in his/her head) almost instantly knows that Bond ISN'T Dr. Arkov.  No matter: Renard manages to steal the plutonium and nearly kills off Bond and Dr. Jones.

Something Renard says makes Bond realize that Renard is in cahoots with Elektra King.  She apparently is now a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, but no one believes Bond (not M, who comes to Azerbaijan at Elektra's request) and apparently not Elektra herself.  However, we soon discover that Elektra is blowing up her own pipelines on order of Renard. 

Bond and Dr. Jones manage to diffuse the bomb hurling down the pipeline, but alas, Elektra takes M hostage herself as revenge for leaving her imprisoned and advising Sir Robert to not pay the ransom.  Now it's off to Istanbul, where King and Renard plan to blow up the city.

The reasons are a bit murky: it's either to help profit Elektra's pipeline or as orders of a mad Renard.  Bond, with a little help from Dr. Jones and Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) from GoldenEye, they find the villains.  Bond offs Elektra, rescues M, and with the help of Dr. Jones, defeats Renard.  We end TWINE with Bond enjoying a Merry Christmas.

Hey, if Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, and Bruce Feirstein's screenplay (from a story by Purvis and Wade) can have frightful puns, why can't I?


There are so many things wrong with TWINE that to put the blame all on Roberts is unfair (though she is a big part of the problem as well).  The chief problem with the story is that it doesn't make sense.  It never decided on WHO was the villain and WHO was the henchman, let alone what their motivations were.

Elektra sometimes appeared to be totally in Renard's power (sleeping with your former abductor would qualify as Stockholm Syndrome).  HOWEVER, sometimes she appeared totally in control of her own actions (such as when she lashes out at M for advising her father to withhold the ransom money).  This, along with a perfectly rational plan to destroy Istanbul to enrich herself, makes it appear that she is in full command of the situation and her senses.

So you have a story where sometimes Renard is working for Elektra, and where sometimes Elektra is working for Renard (whose own motives about blowing up Istanbul are opaque to say the least).  You never really sense that they are working in tandem because if that were the case, what would be the point of Davidov working with Renard to get at Elektra?

It just doesn't make any sense on any level.  TWINE should have settled on King being victim or perpetrator, one or the other.  Instead, it jumps between the two, never deciding what King or Renard was in terms of the story.  Who was working for whom?  Who was villain, who was henchman? 

Not that Marceau's performance helped settle matters.  She did the job she was asked: sometimes victim, sometimes villain, but once we know her evil intentions (which frankly should have been easy to figure out once we got the 'young girl kidnapped but escaped' story....at least I figured it out quickly) she should have committed to that.  This I think is more director Michael Apted's fault and less Marceau, but even when she was suppose to be the victim she wasn't convincing.

I think that on the whole she isn't a memorable Bond Girl or Bond Villain because of the direction and script she was given, and the chance to have the first female Bond Villain was wasted.

Not that Denise Richards did anyone any favors as Dr. Christmas Jones.   She has been derided as being one of the worst Bond Girls and that she was completely unbelievable as a nuclear scientist.  I was not immediately convinced that she couldn't do the job of playing a brilliant scientist.

It took me a couple of minutes to accept that she was a disastrous choice. 

I accepted that fact when she is caught in the firefight between Renard/his men and Bond.  This is suppose to be a brilliant scientist, but apparently she is so brilliant SHE DIDN'T HAVE ENOUGH SENSE TO MOVE ONCE THE BULLETS STARTED FIRING.  Bond literally had to pull her out of the line of fire, while Richards (with a blank wide-eyed stare) just stood there as bullets started zipping all around her.  I started laughing at how stupid Christmas Jones was.  She was just standing there as Renard starts shooting, not moving (or screaming) until Bond pulls her out of the way.

Now, let me tackle the name of our Bond Girl.  Christmas Jones.  In the way of the world this isn't the silliest or most provocative Bond Girl name.  We've had Xenia Onatopp, Plenty O'Toole, Tiffany Case, Octopussy, Dr. Goodhead, and the Citizen Kane of Bond Girl names, Miss Pussy Galore.   TWINE made two terrible mistakes with the name Christmas Jones.   

The first in in Jones' defensiveness when it came to it.  All the other Bond Girls with silly names just went along with it.  As far as they were concerned there was nothing odd or silly or provocative to being called Goodhead or Pussy or Onatopp.  By drawing attention to the silliness of being named Christmas (I've heard all the jokes, Dr. Jones comments at first introducing herself to Bond),  we are all but told we're going to hear bad jokes at her expense.  All she had to do was say that she was born on December 24 or 25 and leave it at that. 

Even in such lousy Bond films as Moonraker (which I confess to enjoying) no one ever made any overt comments about the female being named "Goodhead".  The suggestion was there, but it was never touched. 

The second bad decision with being Christmas Jones is that we DO touch on it, with some absolutely groan-inducing.  Granted, at least they were saved until the end, but if they are going to be used, it should be done naturally, not forced the way they are in The World Is Not Enough.

These are the last few lines of the film:

Bond: I always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey.

Groan.

Jones: So isn't it time you unwrapped your present?

GROAN.

Bond (while in a love scene with Jones): I thought Christmas comes once a year.

GROAN.

I can only imagine the audiences who paid to see it hooting and hollering at these abysmal lines.  I actually felt embarrassed for Brosnan and even Richards having to speak such horrible dialogue, even if in Richards' case, it was delivered badly.

Moving on, the worst of the lot has to be Carlyle.  That he is a good actor I don't doubt.  That he was laughable as Renard I don't doubt either.  This is a Bartha role if ever there was one.  There was nothing for Carlyle to work with.  We're told over and over that Renard is now impervious to pain, but we never actually see anyone trying to disprove it.  Apparently, he also is eventually going to die because of that bullet to the head, but it never is part of the story.  It's irrelevant in how TWINE goes.  He doesn't even die because of said bullet...he dies when Bond launches something at him. 

Therefore, why introduce a plot point when it never comes up? 

I'd like to move on to the title theme of The World Is Not Enough.  Garbage.  That's the name of the band that performed The World Is Not Enough.  We've had bad puns with Christmas, let's have some with Garbage. 

The song lives up to that name.  In terms of the David Arnold and Don Lewis song, the melody isn't that bad.  It hearkens to the more lush Shirley Bassey-style numbers that became the Gold Standard for Bond Themes.  However, the lyrics become rather inane right from the get-go (I know how to hurt/I know how to heal/I know what to show and what to conceal).  About the only good part of Shirley Manson's delivery is when she belts out "THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH", but everything else is rather weak in its attempt to be big, brassy, and bombastic. 

It's as if Manson wanted to be Bassey but ended up channelling Lulu trying to be Bassey. 

Lest I forget, I can't leave out Coltrane's return as the ex-KGB agent now running a casino in Baku among his other capitalist investments.  A few bad decisions on the part of TWINE.  First, he goes from helping to hurting to helping Bond--make up your mind.  Second, his character is like most things, irrelevant to the story.  His part could easily have been taken by another character.  Third, he has his own henchman: Bullion, or Bull (played by graffiti artist Goldie in what must have been a joke) who appears to be working for Elektra/Renard.  It is all becoming quite convoluted, needlessly so.  Finally, the decision to kill him off was a bad decision. 

Other things wrong were the various action scenes, all which were quite dull save for the opening Thames chase (the fact that Cucinotta was killed off rather quickly robbed us of a potentially good Bond henchwoman) as well as the introduction of John Cleese as Q's (Desmond Llewellyn) new assistant. 

Cleese is a true comedic genius (sorry, Dane Cook and Aziz Ansari), but here he's a distraction, as if John Fawlty found he'd wandered into MI6.  I didn't find it funny or clever but out of character (even for something as trivial as a Bond Film).



I cant remember if I've ever mentioned Llewellyn's Q in a Bond film review, but here he merits it.  The World Is Not Enough was his last Bond film before his death at 85.  He was at times a comic foil to his 007s (Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan) and Llewelyn's role, while always small, was welcomed because of his charm and seemingly brilliant-yet-clueless manner about things.  Q could build all sorts of outlandish gadgets but completely unaware of puns he made or that not everyone was as interested in the construction of gadgets as he was.

I wonder if the introduction of Cleese (billed as R) was a way to bring in a new gadget-master, and this should have been addressed years earlier as Llewellyn is all but tottering around the stage.  Still, knowing that he died in a car accident after TWINE makes his scene all the more poignant, as if he is seeding control of his iconic role.   

The World Is Not Enough is confused, disjointed, and both predictable and nonsensical.  Worse, it's just no fun.  What I thought of when watching Elektra and/or Renard's hare-brained scheme was that they just don't put the effort into maniacal schemes as they used to do.  The World Is Not Enough, and one can truly say this was the worst Christmas ever.

1914-1999
Next James Bond Film: Die Another Day

DECISION: D-    

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