SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.
The final James Bond film of the twentieth century. And it’s a good’un. There are blemishes, which I’ll discuss below, but overall this is stylish, engaging and very entertaining. The plot is well underway by the time the movie begins, and the story sees 007 as detective. He has to use his brain to crack the case, put the clues together and work things out himself. It’s a deliberately twisty-turny story with one of the series’s best ever shock reveals, and seeing it develop across two hours is a joy. It’s also great to see M emotionally involved in the proceedings, while the action is first class (especially the epic chase on the River Thames: a rare London-based Bond sequence). Nine Millennium Domes out of 10.
Bond: Brosnan appears to do a Sean Connery impression in the opening scene (“my hidden ashshets [sic]”). He also gets the archest “Bond, James Bond” yet, pausing mid-sentence as he and Dr Christmas Jones speed up a hydraulic lift.
Villains: The outstanding Patrick Malahide plays a smarmy Swiss banker in the first scene. In the series’s biggest plot twist yet, the main villain is Elektra King, who for the film’s first hour is presented as a victim. It’s a daring thing to do and, writing-wise, is a triumph. Sadly, French beauty Sophie Marceau isn’t good enough for such a complex part: there’s no X factor in what should be a *killer* role for an actress. Elektra’s in league with her former captor, ex-KGB agent Renard, played by Robert Carlyle. He gets a unique entrance into the story: Bond, M and others talk about him, explaining how he feels no pain, while we see a large 3D projection of his head. There are also a couple of non-descript henchmen.
Girls: Credited only as ‘Cigar Girl’, the first Bond girl in the film is a slit-skirted assassin played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta. (“Would you like to check my figure?” she says, handing him a bank statement.) Bond goes for a medical and has the doctor, Molly Warmflash (Serena Scott Thomas), stripping off in no time. Valentin Zukovsky has a couple of dialogue-less molls sitting on his desk. The main Bond girl is Denise Richards as hot-panted and tight-vest-wearing nuclear physicist Dr Christmas Jones. She’s hopelessly – *hopelessly* – miscast but isn’t actually as awful as reputation has it. It’s just that it’s a B-movie performance.
Regulars: Moneypenny is again never far from an innuendo – and has a catty comment for love rival Dr Warmflash. It’s like GoldenEye’s feminist reboot never happened. M gets a meaty role and is personally involved in the story: a chance for Judi Dench to shine. A portrait of previous M Bernard Lee is visible at MI6’s Highland retreat. This is Desmond Llewelyn’s final film playing Q – presumably this was known at the time, as not only does he get a beautifully poignant final moment (“Always have an escape plan…”) but he’s been given an assistant. That assistant, jokingly referred to by Bond as R, is played by John Cleese. He’s mostly a klutz, and the scene is played for laughs, but there’s also an entertainingly dismissive attitude towards 007. For some reason, he talks in American: ‘beverage-cup holders’ and ‘zippers’ get mentioned. Tanner and Robinson appear in the same film for the first time, sharing lines in a briefing scene. GoldenEye’s likeable gangster Zukovsky returns and this time he has a henchman: gold-teethed traitor Mr Bullion, played by gold-teethed musician Goldie.
Action: Bond leaps out of a high window, knowing his fall will be tempered by the fact he’s holding onto a cord tied round a comatose bad guy. There’s Bond’s mad dash through MI6 HQ before a massive explosion (part achieved by fantastic model work of the real SIS building), then the *sensational* speedboat chase down the Thames. In a tremendously exciting sequence, we get stunts and gags galore – a 360-degree spin, Bond’s boat going underwater to avoid a low bridge (Brosnan adjusts his tie while holding his breath), a cameo from some then-current docusoap stars (the traffic wardens who get drenched), the boat smashing through a fish market and a restaurant, and finally an arch shot of the boat flying through the air with the Millennium Dome in the background. (In a wide shot looking east, you can see my flat.) Only then do we cut to the title sequence – 13 minutes into the movie. Later on, there’s some skiing action, Bond and Elektra being attacked by para-gliders, the gunfight in the missile silo, Bond and Christmas’s daring slide down the pipeline, Zukovsky’s beluga factory being trashed by chainsaws dangling from helicopters, and the submarine climax (gunfights, flooded compartments, sets at strange angles).
Comedy: John Cleese’s scene has a fair amount of slapstick (and some dry wit too). Bond gets plenty of punning one-liners. Some of the Azerbaijani extras at the pipeline are hilariously awful, unenthusiastically waving their arms in the air and looking bored. Bond has a pair of X-ray specs (pictured) that allow him to see through people’s clothes (to check if their armed): Brosnan has some great reactions as hot women walk past him. At one point, Christmas says, “But the world’s greatest terrorist running around with six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I have to get it back or somebody’s gonna have my ass.” After a beat, Bond says, “First things first.” 007’s super-gadget BWM gets sawn in half before he gets a chance to properly use it (a deliberate joke on the director’s part, seeing how much the car was shown off in Tomorrow Never Dies). The final line of the film is famously nauseating: “I thought Christmas only comes once a year,” purrs a post-coital Bond.
Music: David Arnold wrote the score again. It’s absolutely tremendous. Garbage’s title song is likewise excellent.
Personal connection: I first saw this at the UCI in Derby with Stuart Oultram. I still have the ticket stub, Pritt-sticked into my appointments diary. We saw the 17.45 showing on Thursday 23 December 1999. We sat in unassigned seats in screen five and paid £3.90 each (those were the days!).