Bond Reloaded – A look back at The World is Not Enough (1999)

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, Bond squares off with a manipulative businesswoman in The World is Not Enough.

Pierce Brosnan battles Sophie Marceau in The World is Not Enough

After the impressive double whammy of GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, Pierce Brosnan was riding high in the iconic tuxedo of James Bond. With a new director in the chair, in the shape of Michael Apted, and an ambitious script in the can, The World is Not Enough looked set to be a solid Bond film to bridge the gap between the 20th and 21st century for the franchise.

Brosnan was joined in this film by an impressive cast, including Sophie Marceau, who had wowed audiences in Braveheart a few years before, and Robert Carlyle, who had become a household name after Trainspotting and his BAFTA for The Full Monty. With Apted, the acclaimed director of the Up documentary series, on board, the recipe was complete.

Unfortunately, all of those elements failed to a coalesce into something special, leaving The World is Not Enough as the start of Brosnan’s decline in the Bond role. That decline would be sealed a few years later with something that turned out to be truly disastrous.


Bad news for Bond

The opening of The World is Not Enough is deeply impressive, with the longest pre-credits sequence of the franchise taking Bond from the office of a Swiss banker to a thrilling boat chase along the Thames. Bond is then dispatched to watch over Elektra King (Marceau), who has inherited from her murdered father an oil pipeline in the Caspian Sea. She had previously been kidnapped by the terrorist Renard (Carlyle) and M (Judi Dench) has intelligence that suggests he may be poised to attack her again.

Initially, The World is Not Enough builds an intriguing mystery around the apparently separate worlds of the crazed terrorist stealing a nuclear weapon and the savvy businesswoman who appears to be in his crosshairs. Marceau’s performance is deeply enigmatic and it’s never clear how exactly she feels towards Bond. Unfortunately, once the mask slips and Elektra’s villainous intentions are made clear, Marceau becomes deeply unconvincing. She doesn’t have the necessary darkness to sell the role.


Robert Carlyle starred as terrorist Renard in The World is Not Enough

“There’s no point living, if you can’t feel alive.”


Marceau, however, is practically perfect as a Bond villain in comparison to Robert Carlyle’s desperately bland Renard. Anyone who has been subjected to the exquisite psychopathy of Begbie in Trainspotting would think that Carlyle would make an ideal Bond villain. However, Renard is a deeply forgettable character, who feels like a spare part throughout the entire movie, especially once it is revealed that Elektra is pulling the strings. With that in mind, it’s a bizarre decision to kill Elektra first, in undramatic fashion, saving the grandstanding death for Renard – a glorified henchman.

The World is Not Enough is full of ideas that should have worked, but were executed in terribly ham-fisted fashion. The prime example of this is perhaps the involvement in the action of Judi Dench’s M, who is captured as a result of her personal attachment to Elektra. This attempt to bring M out from behind her desk, which would be done far more convincingly in Skyfall, falls flat on its face and never really bears fruit.

Equally, The World is Not Enough gets more than a little lost in its own plot, tying itself up in knots. Brosnan himself has since admitted that he himself had no idea what was going on and there’s a lot of contrivance at play. For instance, there’s absolutely no reason for Robbie Coltrane to return as Valentin Zukovsky, who is shoehorned in presumably as a result of strong reaction to his fun turn in GoldenEye.


Torture for everyone

The film is on surer ground with its action sequences, which are very ably put together by Apted. In particular, the opening boat chase is delightfully inventive and there’s an early skiing sequence that feels like vintage Bond. However, the action falls apart in distinctly unimpressive fashion during the third act once the focus lands on Renard. It’s at times like these that it’s impossible not to miss Ken Adam’s insane set design from the films of the 60s and 70s.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about The World is Not Enough without mentioning the absolute disaster that is Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones. Despite her incredible intelligence, her role in the film was to run around after Bond wearing a tank top and hot pants. It says a lot about how truly horrific the character was that her defining moment is an excruciatingly seedy one-liner that somehow makes the “attempting re-entry” line from Moonraker look progressive.


Pierce Brosnan as Bond in The World is Not Enough

“Revenge is not hard to fathom for a man who believes in nothing.”


Jones is an abysmal character and one who feels out of placed alongside Brosnan’s Bond, who previously sat in the tonal middle ground between Moore and Dalton. In The World is Not Enough, he has Denise Richards at his side dressed like a Moore-era Bond girl and is scripted to deliver the kind of hideous, Christmas cracker one-liners that his winkier predecessor would have given some deadpan gravitas.

It’s even sadder that The World is Not Enough is such a mediocre Bond film given that it represents the final appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q – in his 17th Bond film. Llewelyn was killed in a car accident soon after the premiere of The World is Not Enough, but the film very much felt like his swansong. John Cleese was introduced as a replacement and his final speech to Bond felt like a fond goodbye. Llewelyn’s irascible gadget man was a true icon of the 007 franchise, so it was sad to see him bow out in such a sub-par film.


The box office is not enough?

The film opened in November 1999 and rocketed to the top of the US box office in its first week. It eventually earned $361m worldwide – a record for the franchise at the time. Pierce Brosnan won the Empire Award for Best Actor, bizarrely, for the film and, more plausibly, Denise Richards became the first performer in Bond history to win a Razzie for her absolutely awful performance.

Roger Ebert was broadly positive about The World is Not Enough and called it a “splendid comic thriller”. He also praised the plot for linking its action sequences together with logic and had plenty of good things to say about Carlyle’s turn as Renard. It’s not often that I disagree with Ebert, but I honestly think he must have seen a different film.

In the years since its release, The World is Not Enough has earned a reputation as one of the worst films in the Bond franchise. Entertainment Weekly called it the worst of the franchise, whilst also criticising Richards as one of the worst Bond girls ever. Although reviews of the film on its initial release were mixed, the response since then has been decidedly negative as the film has dated in really quite horrible fashion.


Denise Richards starred as Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough

“You wanna put that in English for those of us who don’t speak Spy?”


Despite initial promise, The World is Not Enough is a Bond film that ultimately falls apart and marks the beginning of the decline that eventually led Pierce Brosnan to run for the emergency exit. It has problems throughout and suffers from one of the worst female characters in the history of the Bond franchise… which is really saying something.

Next time, nostalgia… and tonnes of CGI arrives in the Bond franchise with Die Another Day.


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.

You can read my look back at Tomorrow Never Dies here and find other Bond Reloaded articles here.

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