Thursday, November 15, 2012
Somewhat darker and more serious in tone than the other Brosnan films, this one is unique in having two strong villains and a Bond girl who does not appear until somewhat late in the film.
Synopsis: Elektra and her lover, Renard, attempt to blow up Istanbul and destroy the main Russian oil pipeline, which will increase the value of Elektra's own oil, which is in a pipeline that goes around Istanbul. With the help of a sexy, brainy, nuclear scientist, Bond foils the plot. Meanwhile, M is abducted, giving the character the first real field experience in the series.
The Villain: There are two. The first, most obvious one is Renard, played by the always-entertaining Robert Carlyle. Renard is a Russian terrorist, who, in a previous assassination attempt by Mi6, was wounded, and the bullet in his brain destroyed his senses, leaving him immune to pain. He's a classic psychotic megalomaniac sort of villain, in a much more obvious and violent way than, say, Elliot Carver in the previous Bond outing. His lover is a former kidnapping victim, Elektra King, whose British father used her as bait to snag Renard. She apparently succumbed to some form of Stockholm syndrome and became Renard's lover, colluding with him to kill her father in the assassination attempt that opens the film and makes it obvious to Mi6 there's a plot afoot that Bond must investigate. Elektra is played by the beautiful Sophie Marceau, and although Bond falls for her earlier in the film, I found her to be somewhat cold and distant - more like a lovely statue than a living, breathing woman. However, it's a nice twist when her villainy becomes obvious.
The Henchman: We've got a whole handful of 'em in this one, but the role of the henchman is somewhat diminished because of the dual villains. The main one is Elektra's bodyguard Gabor, played by former Australian and British Gladiator John Seru, who is shot by Bond. Slightly more interesting, and more intimidating-looking in his own way, is Davidov, played by Dutchman Ulrich Thomsen, Elektra's head of security. He's also shot by Bond. The "Cigar Girl" assassin (who dies nicely in a hot air balloon) who gets things started off is one of Renard's henchgirls (Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta). Bond's Russian buddy Zukovsky has a henchman named Bullion, played by British DJ Goldie, who has an important role to play when he blows up Elektra's command center.
The Bond Girl: While this appears, at first, to be Elektra, the real bond girl turns out to be Denis Richards as Christmas Jones (a fine entry in a nice long list of ridiculous Bond-girl names). She is an American nuclear scientist who, at first, blows Bond's cover on purpose, and later works with him. She is played - rather surprisingly capably - by Denise Richards, who I have little use for outside of her role in Starship Troopers, mostly due to her staggering bad sense in once wedding uber-idiot Charlie Sheen. There is, however, no denying that she is a looker, and has a flashy, light-up-the-room sort of smile. But seriously. Charlie Sheen?
The Sidekick: Once again, as with many later-period Bond films, the sidekick role is ably filled by the Bond girl. But Bond's Russian buddy and former KGB rival Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) returns in this one, only to die saving Bond by shooting Elektra with his cane gun. Thus a very compelling sort of anti-Felix Leiter character dies, perhaps much too soon. I think Zukovsky had more to offer the franchise.
Gadgets: We get quite a few for a later-period Bond movie. There are, of course, Bond's x-ray specs, which he uses, among other things, to see through clothing and bemusedly note ladies carrying handguns in their underwear at a casino. There is also a modified Walther P99 that has a "flash" stun Bond uses to great effect, an inflatable jacket, a transmitting lapel pin, Zukovsky's cane gun, Elektra's torture chair, and more. The best is briefly glimpsed in the obligatory Q scene: a flamethrowing, machinegunning set of bagpipes.
Music: The theme song was performed by the rock band Garbage and penned by John Barry's successor David Arnold with Don Black (who co-wrote Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With the Golden Gun, and Tomorrow Never Dies. I'm not saying it's a bad song. It's probably a very good song. But I can't remember the melody right now, and I can even remember the very, very shitty one from the next film, so I'm not sure what that says about it. Garbage also contributes some rock music to some action sequences.
The Director: Believe it or not Peter Jackson was offered the opportunity to direct this one, because producer Barbara Broccoli was a big fan of his Heavenly Creatures. After she'd made the offer, she screened Jackson's The Frighteners, with Michael J. Fox, and disliked it so intentionally she withdrew the offer, which Jackson has since stated was a big disappointment. Michael Apted, who directed Coal Miner's Daughter and the excellent, underrated Gorky Park, ended up getting the job. He was a big fan of Judi Dench and thus gave M a much larger role in this film than the character has had in any other.
Fun Facts: I don't know how fun this is, but as mentioned up top, this was the final film to feature Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Llewelyn added a real touch of both class and comedy to the Bond movies, and I for one really miss him in subsequent films. Llewelyn didn't die of old age, as one might suspect (he'd been in almost every Bond movie since From Russia With Love) but in a car accident just a few weeks after the film's premiere. Ironically, though he was not officially retiring (he'd planned to go out with the last Brosnan film), in this one he's training his replacement, played by John Cleese (a great, if short-lived, casting choice).
Favorite Lines: Only two really stick out for me. The first is when Q introduces Bond to John Cleese's character. Bond says, "If you're Q, does that make him R?" Cleese replies, "Ah, yes, the legendary 007 wit. Or at least half of it." The other has to be one of the best and cheesiest sexual innuendos in the history of the franchise, when, at the end of the movie, Bond and Christmas Jones are in bed together, and Bond says, "I thought Christmas only came once a year."
Other Stuff: The title of the film is referenced in the much earlier On Her Majesty's Secret Service, when it is revealed as the Bond family motto. It was, in fact, the family motto of the descendants of the historical Sir Thomas Bond (who deserves a whole article someday), who were known to Ian Fleming. As something of an Alexander the Great buff, I was pleased to see Wikipedia knows the real origin of this phrase, "Orbis non-sufficit," which was Alexander's epitaph.
Next up, the final Pierce Brosnan film, Die Another Day, which has the distinction of having my least-favorite theme song in the franchise.