Ahead of the release of SPECTRE this month, the Bond Reloaded series takes a look back at each film in the iconic James Bond franchise. This time, an evil media mogul tries to start World War Three in Tomorrow Never Dies.
After an assured debut in the still excellent GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan had established himself as a James Bond for the 1990s, trying to adjust to a world in which the Cold War was over. His difficult second film in the role was Tomorrow Never Dies, which cast Jonathan Pryce as an arrogant, obsessive media mogul who drew obvious comparisons to Rupert Murdoch.
The success of GoldenEye left the Eon team with a mountain to climb to replicate its enviable reception from fans and critics. Things were made worse by the absence of Bond head honcho Albert R Broccoli, who had passed away in 1996. Tomorrow Never Dies had something of a turbulent production too, with an incomplete script at the start of shooting.
Despite all of that, though, Tomorrow Never Dies emerged as a thrilling Bond movie, with Brosnan really relaxing into the role having stamped his footprints firmly on Fleming’s superspy.
Bad news for Bond
Tomorrow Never Dies gets going in thrilling fashion, with an incredible pre-credits story in which Bond must fly two nuclear warheads out of a terrorist base, before a navy missile strike takes the compound out. It’s a tremendous action sequence that sets the bar high for the set pieces that will follow later in the film.
From there, we are introduced to newspaper owner Elliot Carver (Pryce), who is manipulating Britain and China into war in order to cause a regime change in the latter, who currently refuse to carry his news network. After failing to get crucial information from Carver’s wife Paris (Teri Hatcher), Bond runs into Chinese spy Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) and they join forces to bring down Carver and avert war.
“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.”
The true strength of Tomorrow Never Dies is in Pryce’s exceptionally camp performance as the most over-the-top media mogul in cinema history. Writer Bruce Feirstein, despite the Murdoch comparisons, based Carver on former Mirror owner Robert Maxwell. Pryce’s performance is verbose and eloquent, combined with a touch of real darkness and cold detachment. With Brosnan on considerably quippier form than GoldenEye, Pryce feels like the Christopher Lee to his Roger Moore.
Equally impressive are the action sequences in Tomorrow Never Dies, with new director Roger Spottiswoode helming the explosions and chases with real verve. The thrilling highlight is a sequence in which Bond crouches on the back seat of his new car, operating it via remote control in dramatic fashion. It was a nice twist on the standard Bond chase scene and gave Brosnan a way to add a cheekiness to his take on the character.
Brosnan himself is assured here, bringing the kind of swagger to Bond that Sean Connery made his trademark. Whilst GoldenEye cast Bond almost as a man over-compensating for a world in which rampant masculinity was no longer flavour of the month, Tomorrow Never Dies sees him returning to his old tricks in a battle of wits against an old-fashioned foe.
East meets West
After the relative monogamy of some of the other Bond films of that time, Tomorrow Never Dies sees 007 romancing multiple women once again. Firstly, it’s Teri Hatcher in a rather thankless role as Carver’s wife, Paris, who has something of a past with Bond. It’s savvy of the script to acknowledge that Bond’s romantic conquests continue to live once he has put on his trousers and left, particularly as the character was starting to become something slightly more real.
Hatcher’s character is dramatically offed in Goldfinger fashion, midway through the film, leaving Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin to take on the position of the film’s main Bond girl. Lin is a considerably more kickass female character than the franchise usually creates, more than a physical match for Bond and never relying on him to rescue her from trouble. It’s not until the end of the film that the demands of convention force her into a romantic clinch with Brosnan.
“And they say communists don’t know how to have fun.”
Of course, Judi Dench’s M functions as the third Bond girl – a feminist voice in a world dominated by men. She is more present throughout the narrative than many of the other M’s over the years, injecting her trademark icy wit whenever the narrative demands it. Her performance is the perfect mix of authoritarian power and feminine sensitivity, creating the ideal controlling force for Bond’s unrestrained machismo.
If Tomorrow Never Dies has a weakness, it’s in its slightly messy finale as the attack on Carver’s stealth boat base unfolds in rather episodic fashion. The boat itself is an impressive set, reminiscent of Stromberg’s undersea lair in The Spy Who Loved Me. However, the action unfolds as a cavalcade of small set pieces that fail to really mesh together.
An eye for success?
Despite a rather strong box office performance in December 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies was the only one of the Brosnan Bond films not to enter the American box office chart at number one as a result of James Cameron’s Titanic juggernaut. Ultimately, the film soared to a worldwide gross of $330m, failing to match the unprecedented success of GoldenEye two years earlier. In terms of awards, Sheryl Crow’s title track was nominated for a Golden Globe.
Reviews were kind to Tomorrow Never Dies, although also acknowledged its flaws. Roger Ebert delivered a positive review of the film, saying that Tomorrow Never Dies “gets the job done” with style and praising the villain for being “contemporary and plausible” in the age of media domination. James Berardinelli, meanwhile, praised Brosnan for matching the suave persona of Connery and called the film the best Bond in many years.
There were a handful of considerably more negative reviews, including in the LA Times, who focused their review on how derivative Tomorrow Never Dies feels in terms of its adherence to the Bond formula. Their reviewer, Kenneth Turan, stated that the “combined inertia” of the entire franchise weighed heavily on the film and described the romantic scenes as “so old-fashioned in the romantic area it just about wheezes”.
“I used to look in the papers every day for your obituary.”
It’s not the most memorable of the Bond movies, or even the best of Pierce Brosnan’s run, but Tomorrow Never Dies is a very strong Bond movie and one that creates one of the best villains in the history of the franchise in Carver. Add in to that a few of the most remarkable stunts Bond has ever pulled off and you have the recipe for a stellar spy thriller.
Next time, Sophie Marceau plays a villainous, manipulative woman in The World is Not Enough.
What do you think of The World is Not Enough? How does Brosnan compare to his predecessors in the role? Let me know in the comments section.