Review: Tomorrow Never Dies

Welcome to my review of Tomorrow Never Dies, the eighteenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, Goldeneye, here. Spoilers follow.

Tomorrow Never Dies
(dir. Roger Spottiswoode, 1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies trailerTomorrow Never Dies has an interesting plot. The central villain, Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), is not trying to destroy the world or rob a bank. He’s not taking revenge for past injustices or carting drugs across borders. Not that he’s against any of these things—far from it. He just wants exclusive media rights when the story breaks.

I’ve had a morbid curiosity on the lengths that the media will go to when looking for news. Back when I used to write for, now sadly defunct, I wrote an article that broke down the UK papers in a simple guide as to their slants and intended audiences, and four years working for a clippings agency back when I first moved to London gave me some insight as to just how much bullshit can make the front page. Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies is the ultimate media baron, however, because he takes the news cycle a step further: in the absence of a good news story, he creates his own.

It’s an interesting concept, but it’s sadly squandered in this film. That’s not to say Tomorrow Never Dies is bad because it’s not, but after the relaunch of the 007 franchise in Goldeneye this is a return to a campier Bond. It’s no Moonraker, but the action and settings are strongly reminiscent of the late Sean Connery era coupled with the gadgets of Roger Moore.

Pryce, for his part, relishes the part of Carver, playing him as a hugely hammy Rupert Murdoch figure with a chip on his shoulder. He’s every bit the classic Bond villain, and as such he’s a strong counterpoint to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, who has moved still further away from the seriousness of Timothy Dalton.

Carver has a stealth boat—bear with me here, because I’ll return to this—that he uses to start a war between the UK and China, which most people would think would be a tad one-sided. Bond is sent in to investigate Carver, with explicit instructions to start with Carver’s wife, Paris, played by Teri Hatcher. I don’t know why, but I never liked Hatcher particularly. Considering how many women Bond has slept with on screen alone at this point, I don’t understand why he pines so much for Paris. I just don’t get it. Thankfully, Carver has her killed fairly quickly.

Anyway, Bond teams up with a Chinese agent called Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), who is legitimately awesome and who has her very own set of Bond-style gadgets despite apparently working out of a bicycle repair house with no Government support whatsoever. They uncover Carver’s plan, which is largely centred around securing exclusive media rights in China for the next hundred years, and then go and blow up Carver’s boat.

The action in the film is all pretty solid: the opening scene (set in at a random ‘arms bazaar on the Russian border’) is fun and action-packed and we get to see Judi Dench’s wonderful take on M doing what she does best and snarking at anyone in range. However, most of the action is ruined by a desire by the filmmakers to go a little too far over the top.

Take the motorcycle chase through Shanghai. Bond and Wai Lin are handcuffed together while on the bike, so there’s plenty of shifting seats and tension between the characters. They’re being chased by a helicopter, which despite being full of men with guns insists on bringing its rotors down to street level to chop our heroes to bits. Why? Why would anyone do that?

Or look at the now-compulsory gadget car chase. Bond’s BMW (Bond’s most boring car so far, by the way) can be remote controlled, which leads to a quite fun sequence where even Bond is clearly enjoying himself. But the powers of the car make no sense. Why can rifle fire tear the windscreen to pieces, but a sledgehammer blow just rebounds without so much as a scratch? Why did Q put the wirecutter in the BMW logo at just that height?

And now, the stealth boat.

On the surface, the stealth boat is not a bad idea, but it’s handled ridiculously. Yes, I get that its invisible to radar, but it sits literally metres away from British ships, is overflown by Chinese MIGs, and yet no one spots the giant oddly-shaped black blob firing missiles at them. This whole film could have been severely shortened if the captain of the Devonshire had just ordered someone to look out of a window. I know ships have windows. Some of them are called ‘portholes’. And jet planes definitely have windows, because otherwise the pilots have a much more difficult job.

Tomorrow Never Dies is a fun film that wants to return to the roots of the Bond franchise. Monty Norman’s Bond theme is played at every opportunity, the villains are crazy and Bond wisecracks like a man cracking wise. It just feels a bit paint-by-numbers compared to some of the more classic films.

Title song: I really like Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies, which was picked for the film following a competition featuring the likes of Crow, Pulp, Marc Almond and Saint Etienne. Also, while it’s never heard in the film itself, Moby did an excellent remix of the Bond theme.

Greatest moment: Bond stopping the explosion of a nuclear missile by stealing the plane it’s attached to is mightily fun, and serves as a fantastic opening to the film.

Worst moment: Teri Hatcher.

Best gadget: Bond’s makeshift bomb, constructed with a grenade and a jam jar (where did he get that on a stealth ship?) at the end of the film is a nice little surprise.

Best quote:
James Bond: It won’t look like a suicide if you shoot me from over there.
Dr. Kaufman:
I am a professor of forensic medicine. Believe me, Mr. Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Most obvious product placement: Apparently, Avis car rentals are now an important part of the UK Government procurement chain. Also, BMW, but only in that their 750i is a bit naff. Bond looks like a city accountant driving it around.

Verdict: Not the greatest Bond film, but far from the worst. Tomorrow Never Dies is a return to the tone of older films, but in doing so it misses some of what makes the better films what they are.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
  2. From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
  3. Goldeneye (dir. Martin Campbell, 1995)
  4. The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977)
  5. Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
  6. Licence To Kill (dir. John Glen, 1989)
  7. The Living Daylights (dir. John Glen, 1987)
  8. Live And Let Die (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
  9. Tomorrow Never Dies (dir. Roger Spottiswoode, 1997)
  10. For Your Eyes Only (dir. John Glen, 1981)
  11. Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
  12. You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
  13. The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1974)
  14. Octopussy (dir. John Glen, 1983)
  15. Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
  16. A View To A Kill (dir. John Glen, 1985)
  17. Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
  18. Moonraker (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

Tune in next time to see Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist for the greatest remove from reality yet in a Bond movie: The World Is Not Enough.