Tomorrow Never Dies (Roger Spottiswoode, 1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

Enjoyable enough. That might be damning it with faint praise – but while there are some significant flaws, Tomorrow Never Dies is still an entertaining roller-coater ride. But like a roller coaster, there are downs as well as ups. First off, it looks wonderful. The title sequence (designed by Danny Klienman) is one of the best ever; there are plenty of interesting locations and cleverly designed sets; and the film has a beautiful anamorphic cinematography, full of smart compositions and dramatic lens flares. However, the story has virtually no intrigue: we’re told almost everything right off the bat and, as viewers, are always ahead of Bond in the storytelling. As I say, it entertains for two hours and there’s plenty of fun, but it doesn’t really add up to much. (Incidentally, there are *loads* of famous faces in small, military roles: Julian Rhind-Tutt, Gerard Butler and Christopher Bowen on board HMS Devonshire; Colin Stinton and Al Matthews at the USAF base; and Michael Byrne, Pip Torrens, Hugh Bonneville, Jason Watkins and Brendan Coyle on HMS Bedford.) Seven cunning linguists out of 10.

Bond: Brosnan gets the whole spectrum in one film – comedy, action, romance and genuine grief. He’s top draw at all of them. For the third time in the series, we see Bond in his naval uniform.

Villains: Jonathan Pryce plays media mogul Elliot Carver. It’s a truly dreadful performance: pantomimic and irritating. The whole character is a ham-fisted satire on Rupert Murdoch, so awful it makes me wince, but Pryce’s decision not to take it seriously really doesn’t help. He has a couple of lieutenants: tall, tough, cruel Mr Stamper, who is vaguely reminiscent of From Russia With Love’s Red Grant; and techno-expert Gupta (played by magician Ricky Jay).

Girls: Bond beds a Danish-language teacher. Carver has a PA with super-model looks. Our female lead is Wai Lin, a Chinese agent played by Asian action star Michelle Yeoh. When we first meet her, she’s posing as a journalist, but we soon get to see her being all spy. She’s badass and fun, but the lack of any depth to her character means it’s all a bit flippant. We’re also entering a run of movies where they always cast an already famous American star as a Bond girl – here it’s the second best Lois Lane, Teri Hatcher. She’s not in the film much but is very good and it’s a well-written part (her death packs a punch). Just because it’ll amuse Laura Morgan, I’ll quote one of her deliciously arch lines: “Tell me, James, do you still sleep with a gun under your pillow?”

Regulars: MI6 has a new regular character: Charles Robinson (Colin Salmon), who was created because Michael Kitchen was unavailable to play Tanner again. M gets lots of scowling to do in a war room. GoldenEye’s Jack Wade gets a brief return appearance. Julian Fellowes plays the Minster of Defence (presumably meant to be a new one, not Sir Fredrick Gray from the Moore/Dalton movies). Moneypenny has gone innuendo-crazy, which is a shame after her witty rebranding in the last film. Q gets a couple of scenes at Hamburg Airport, where he’s brought Bond his new super car.

Action: The pre-titles teaser sees Bond single-handedly storm an illegal arms market and steal a jump jet in order to get its nuclear bombs to safety. He gets chased and we have a decent aerial dogfight. The sinking of HMS Devonshire is expertly staged. Bond’s brawl with Carver’s goons in a recording studio is wittily shown through the control-room glass, so the sounds of the punch-up can’t be heard. Bond and Wai Lin independently break into Carver’s secret lab at the same time – when they’re rumbled, he has to flee a hail of bullets while she calmly uses a Q-style gadget to walk down a wall. The scene of Bond driving his BWM by remote control while sat in the back seat is tremendous (and its incidental music – an action cue called Backseat Driver – is simply stunning). Bond ‘halo jumps’ into the South China Sea, then explores the sunken Devonshire. Wai Lin’s down there too: they get trapped with little air. Later, they jump off a tall building, halting their fall by holding onto a gigantic banner – then, handcuffed together, they bicker over how to sit on and operate a motorbike. They next get chased past various Oriental stereotypes and jump *over* a low-hovering helicopter. Wai Lin beats up half a dozen guys in a variety of martial-arts ways. The final act is an action-heavy half-hour on board Carver’s stealth boat.

Comedy: Sitcom legend Geoffrey Palmer has a small but enjoyable role as an admiral who butts heads with M (“With all due respect, M, I think you don’t have the balls for this job.” “Perhaps. But the advantage is, I don’t have to think with them all the time.”). Brosnan is clearly having a blast acting with Desmond Llewelyn in the single Q scene. The fabulous Vincent Schiavelli plays off-kilter assassin Dr Kaufman in a hilariously twisted scene with Bond (“I could shoot you from Stuttgart and still create the proper effect!”). Upon seeing Carver’s skyscraper in Saigon, which is adorned by a massive portrait of the mogul, Bond quips, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’d developed an edifice complex.” There’s good jokes mined from Bond’s unfamiliarity with Wai Lin’s gadgets and Chinese keyboard.

Music: David Arnold has taken over – there had to be a change after the mess of the GoldenEye incidental music. And his work is absolutely fantastic. Arnold’s score is fresh, vibrant, exciting and thoroughly modern – aware of the series’s heritage but not afraid to spice it up. Techno elements and electro beats drive many cues, but the very best is one of the most traditional-sounding: White Knight, which scores the movie’s opening eight minutes, is a masterpiece of action-movie music. The title song is by Sheryl Crow and is terrific. It was a late replacement for a track Arnold had co-written with David McAlmont and Don Black. Sung by kd lang, it now runs over the end credits.

Personal connection: I first saw this at an Odeon in Leicester, where I was at university, in December 1997. My NUS card got me in for £3.

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