Light Bondage: “The World is Not Enough”

Bond, James Bond. For fifty years that has been the cinematic calling card of one of films most enduring heroes. Sure, Bond was born in books, but it was through film that he became a household name and one of the movies’ most enduring legends. He is a character so archetypal that he is bigger than the half dozen men who have played him across nearly two dozen films, and that kind of longevity is both unheard of and a little bit magical.

Light Bondage is my attempt to rewatch the series and try to recapture some of what made these movies worthwhile. I might not always succeed (I’m looking at you, Roger Moore!) but in this biweekly series of articles we’re going to take a ride through the time capsule of the last half century with the world’s most famous spy/action star.

The World is Not Enough (1999)

Here we go: the first bad Brosnan film. I suppose getting two good ones under your belt is good enough, but it remains semi-tragic that this was a bad film, because … I mean, look, a complex, back and forth movie with an unclear villain (for once thank god) directed by Michael Apted? I should be totally on board. Alas, I’m going to be honest, this might be (along with Phantom Menace) the first movie I remember not liking that much after having seen it in a theater as a kid.

The plot starts out with a mystery, always the sign of potential good. Bond gets back some money that was taken from a rich industrialist, but the job seems a bit like a set up. Taking the money back, Bond discovers too late it’s a chemical bomb that blows up part of MI6 and said industrialist. The man was a close friend of M’s and Bond considers himself a failure, so goes into the oil organization left to his surviving heir Elektra King.

Elektra had been kidnapped before for a similar amount of money, and so Bond is suspicious that the same Russian terrorist is behind it. Renard, this terrorist, was supposedly executed by an MI6 agent but survived with a bullet in his brain slowly killing him. In the meantime, he no longer feels pain and is super strong because of it or whatever, and he’s planning revenge against Elektra. So Bond sets off to not only protect Elektra, but to figure out what the plan might be.

The problem with the movie, then, isn’t really in the setup, which actually works fairly well for the first third or so. The problem comes when Bond gets closer to the truth. You see, Renard wants to steal weapons-grade nuclear material from the Russians and use it to blow up a pipeline, which is part of a larger plan to divert the flow of oil through Europe, and that will change the politics of the entire continent and … oh, screw it, it’s over-elaborate corporate sabotage on a nuclear level, but it’s so boring.

This boat chase is by far the best part of the movie, but … first five minutes.

What matters is that to stop him Bond ends up tailing the bad guys to a Russian nuclear facility where American scientists are busy dismantling the bombs. There he meets nuclear physicist Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards. Yeah, you heard that right. Denise Richards, playing a scientist.

Now, this already seems like SyFy feature casting, with the pretty girl as the brainy scientist given the proclivity of spouting all the jargon that needs to be done. Which is fine, it’s a trope, and I don’t think that beautiful women can’t be scientists. They totally can. But the script, seemingly insecure about that fact, spends forever setting up that she’s supposedly tough, and doesn’t take shit, and knows what she’s talking about, and nobody better make fun of her name. It does everything short of outright announce ‘HEY GUYS WE MADE THE MODEL THE SCIENTIST ISN’T THAT FORWARD THINKING AND CRAZY?’

Never mind that she spends most of the movie looking like this:

FOR SCIENCE

So apparently James Bond and Lara Croft team up? If only. I’d actually care about that movie, despite how dumb it would be. But instead she just drags the whole movie down with a thankless, awful role that nobody likes and offends by its obvious play at the double standard. No thanks, TWINE, we’re better than that.

Anyway, the bad guys take the nuclear material and are going to plug it into a submarine to make it melt down or whatever, and then everybody fights and the day is saved. The problem is that none of it really matters. The mysteries set up by the first third of the movie get so bogged down by pointless twists and turns to try to squeeze in another action sequence or another character you might remember from prior movies that you simply stop caring. Stuff happens. Stuff happening is the death of an action movie and a spy movie. Together it just makes the whole thing feel rote. It’s bad enough that the movie seems to recognize this, and takes a moment right before the end of the movie to get everyone talking for an entire scene about what we’ve seen and putting it all together because no human being could be expected to give a single shit about it all. Not because it’s complex, just because it’s meaningless.

Not to spoil Die Another Day, but this I feel is the worst of the Brosnan movies. Not because it’s the most bad, because Die Another Day is garbage, but because it seems to have wasted a lot of narrative potential on a story that was just too flaccid. And as we should know by now, Bond can be many people and many things, but he can never not rise to the occasion.

The Theme Song/Opening Title:
Okay, I’m going to admit it: for whatever reason, this is one of my favorite Bond theme songs. I don’t even know if it’s good or not, it just got jammed in my head more than a decade ago and is maybe the song I find myself humming most as it relates to Bond. Sung by Garbage, it’s certainly fits in with the theme of opening songs, managing to be cool and evocative at the same time.

It probably doesn’t hurt that it has one of the better openings. I actually really like these CG-heavy, abstracted takes on the traditional Bond opening. Especially since this one seems totally obsessed with psychedelia contrasted with oil. It’s like someone gave the opening to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to the 70s and let them go nuts. ( This is, by the way, probably the only way that movie would be worth a damn, but I digress. )

Most Ridiculous Gadget:
Let’s talk about Q. For a whole mess of Bond movies now, Q has been the reliable stalwart father figure. Desmond Llewelyn has been Q since the 60s, and has always stolen the small role he had with incredible charm and wit, managing to be the only person who regularly outclevered Bond. Over the years, he went from peer to mentor to a playfully combative father role for 007, but he never stopped being great.

Sadly, The World is Not Enough was Llewelyn’s last turn as Q, handing over the reigns (at least in this movie) to John Cleese shortly before his death. His final scene is genuinely a heartfelt sendoff, giving him the grace of a classy exit and a bunch of jabs at the replacement that could never really hope to fill his exploding rocket shoes. The best gadget Bond ever had was his trusty gadgetman, and Llewelyn was more a fixture in these movies than anyone.

Bond Girl Award for Most Thankless Role:
Because I’ve already gone on at length about Denise Richards and her role in this movie, let’s instead talk about Elektra King, played by Sophie Marceau. She is, in many ways, one of the better Bond villains, with the ability to get under his skin and her crazy plan to rule the world. In many ways, the heavy is just doing what she wanted, even if he gets the big fight at the end. She seems fully cognizant of how easily she’s marginalized as the grieving daughter, or romantic interest, and exploits it as fully as any character in this entire series has so far.

Villainesses > villains, especially in Bond’s macho world.

In the meantime, Elektra gets to be beautiful and charismatic, without having some crazy villain affectation like every other Bond villain seems to need these days. Plus, she’s smart enough to even put M and MI6 in jeopardy, gleefully mocking Judi Dench to her face and taunting Bond up until the minute he pulls the trigger. There is a full, serious lack of female villains in the Bond movies, and this is the prime example of why there should be more of them.

Best Bondickery:
You know, I’m going to admit that this subcategory hasn’t worked out as well as I had hoped. To be perfectly honest, once we arrived at ‘modern’ Bond most of the worst offenses of the character seem to have dropped by the wayside. I’m not scrapping it, though! I’m sure there’ll be some that crop up in future movies. In the meantime, we soldier on, and dig deep for the worst these movies have to offer.

No, no, not Denise Richards. We already did that. But in actuality, yes Denise Richards, because I’m going to be completely honest here, this movie has the worst pun in the history of movies. Her character is called Christmas Jones, right? Which we already pointed out is stupid, and she knows its stupid, and the movie seems to have basically gotten its jokes out of the way and moved on, right? Well, right at the end, when Bond saves the day and absconds with the girl, we get him uttering the awful line “I thought Christmas only came once a year.”

Yep. He made an orgasm pun. A really really bad one. The kind of pun that could strip paint and put kittens in the hospital. If that doesn’t count as dickish behavior, I don’t know what does.

JAMES BOND will return in DIE ANOTHER DAY

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
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One Response to Light Bondage: “The World is Not Enough”

  1. justin says:

    while i will not at all argure with the fact that miss richards was a HORRIFIC choice for a bond girl and this character in particualr, the problem you had with her first outfit waaasss kinda bullshit, consider she is working in Kazakhstan….. the DESERT, witch is HOT, she would where light clothing ok.
    and this role regardless of what you think of her name, would have worked fine with a better actress

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