Tomorrow Never Dies, the 17th James Bond movie and second starring Pierce Brosnan, happens to be the only Brosnan Bond movie that didn’t open at #1 at the box office. That’s not to say it didn’t do well – it earned $333 million worldwide (just short of Goldeneye’s $350 million). But it happened to open on the same day as Titanic.
It’s also a movie with a plot that in a weird way, feels more relevant today than when it released. Now I refuse to touch on the real world debate about fake vs. real news, but pretty much worldwide, trust in the mainstream media is at an all-time low. This has even affected me personally, having studied Journalism in college only to graduate at a time when there are more layoffs than new jobs. Personally I always preferred fiction writing anyway, and I enjoy my current welding job a lot more than I thought I would, but still. But why is the news debate relevant to this movie? Because the main villain, Elliot Carver, is a psychopathic media mogul who not only creates bad news that he reports before anyone else, but he’s trying to provoke World War 3 just to boost sales and ratings.
Save for the specific details about Bond’s investigations, the Chinese spy Colonel Wai Lin, and how the potential war is between England and China, that’s pretty much all there is to the plot. We’ll get into that later though. It’s also worth noting that this is the first Bond movie released after longtime producer Albert R. Broccoli’s death. There’s a tribute to Broccoli after the credits. As such, Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and her husband Michael G. Wilson take full producing credits on this one.
The story for Tomorrow Never Dies was completely original, as they’d already adapted all of Ian Fleming’s work by that point. The scriptwriting also finished very late due to disputes. Early versions of the story involved a villain who wanted to destroy Hong Kong, as a reaction to their rejoining with China. One of those writers, Donald E. Westlake, would later write a crime novel with that plot titled Forever and a Death, released just last year (well after his death in 2008). However, with the movie’s planned release date in 1997 coming up fast, they decided that the Hong Kong plot just wasn’t timely enough.
Bruce Feirstein, who also worked on Goldeneye, wrote the initial script. He based the media mogul story on his own experience working in journalism, describing it as to “write something that was grounded in a nightmare of reality.” Several scriptwriters came in for brainstorming rewrites, until they brought back Feirstein for the final polishing. Although some critics compared Carver to Rupert Murdoch, Feinstein actually based the character on Robert Maxwell. The press release M releases at the end of the movie about Carver’s death even mirrors the way that Maxwell actually died – “falling overboard on his yacht.”
Wilson stated at one point, “We didn’t have a script that was ready to shoot on the first day of filming.” Brosnan also said, “We had a script that was not functioning in several areas.” Jonathan Pryce, who played Elliot Carver, wasn’t satisfied with his role at the time, and neither was Teri Hatcher (Carver’s wife and a former love interest of Bond’s). This forced further rewrites.
Another fun fact – Teri Hatcher was three months pregnant at the time of filming. Although that didn’t seem to affect her performance or even appearance that much, Hatcher later regretted playing Paris Carver. “It’s such an artificial kind of character that you don’t get any special satisfaction from it.” Personally I think Paris Carver is a fine character – she serves her purpose in the movie. But I’d agree to the point that she mostly serves to add to the rivalry between Bond and Elliot, and to further demonstrate how much of a psychopath he is. Several other actresses were considered for the role, including Sela Ward, who was turned down because they wanted someone 10 years younger. Monica Bellucci was also screen tested for the role, but as Brosnan said in an interview, “the fools said no.” Bellucci would later play a role in 2015’s Spectre.
But despite his complaints about Elliot Carver, Pryce does a fantastic job. He’s over the top in all the right ways, without chewing the scenery too much. He’s very entertaining as the psychopathic villain, yet he’s believable in his portrayal of a celebrity. But perhaps the best bit of original casting for this movie is Michelle Yeoh as Chinese secret agent Wai Lin. She’s charismatic, she’s great in her fight scenes, and she gives a well-rounded performance that matches Brosnan’s on pretty much all fronts.
The most amusing story of a successful audition was Gotz Otto, who portrays Richard Stamper, Elliot’s lead henchmen. He was given twenty seconds to introduce himself. He stepped in and said, “I’m big, I’m bad, and I’m German.” Those 5 seconds were enough to land the role.
During filming, there were several disputes that almost led to several crew members resigning. One even said “all of the happiness and teamwork which is the hallmark of Bond has disappeared completely.” By the end of production, Feinstein and director Roger Spottiswoode were no longer on speaking terms. Although Brosnan claimed it was just creative argy-bargy. There was a brief feuding between Bond and Hatcher though, after Hatcher arrived late on set. But when Bond learned of Hatcher’s pregnancy, he promptly apologized.
Despite all the script problems and crew disputes, Tomorrow Never Dies turned out alright. It received mixed reviews at the time. Roger Ebert praised the movie with “Tomorrow Never Dies gets the job done, sometimes excitingly, often with style,” and said that the villain is “slightly more contemporary and plausible than usual.” On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times described it with a “stodgy, been-there feeling.”
Personally, I like this one. Back when I first watched it, it was my favourite Bond movie for years, and not just because it was the first James Bond movie I ever saw in full. It’s got a bit of everything you could possibly want in a Bond movie. With that said, what I found to be the best aspect of the movie in my early teens, I now realize is Tomorrow Never Dies’s greatest flaw. It’s too action heavy for its own good. This is the most action heavy movie in the franchise. There isn’t a stretch of 10 minutes anywhere in the movie without at least some sort of fight scene.
To the movie’s credit, the action is well-varied and often creative. There’s a fight taking place in a soundproof room, which you occasionally see through a window, hearing Elliot’s monologue as Bond beats the crap out of his thugs. There’s a motorcycle chase with Bond and Wai Lin’s hands cuffed together, forcing them to work together. It’s also the first time they work together, and as the chase goes on, they progress from arguing about who’s driving, to working as a team seamlessly.
There’s arguably the best car chase in the franchise. It’s a half chase, half shootout with a gadget car in a parking garage, complete with a wide variety of gadgets, plenty of humour that doesn’t feel like it’s distracting from the intensity of the scene, and a great ending. The movie’s climax is kind of epic, even if it feels like it’s a few minutes too long. The opening sequence is a very intense shootout where Bond steals back missing nuclear warheads, before a cruise missile strikes a global terrorist gathering. In doing so he spares Russia from a nuclear explosion. But all this action leaves very little room for story development, not that Tomorrow Never Dies has the deepest story anyway.
Another complaint I’ve got is how the movie handles Wai Lin. She’s supposed to be a highly skilled Chinese agent, yet she keeps getting herself in trouble. The first time you see her working as a spy, she opens up a door that immediately sets off an alarm, after Bond’s pretty much finished his objectives. During a brief and what feels like an unnecessary action scene underwater, Bond is the one who figures out how to escape a ship that’s about to sink into a deep trench, while she struggles hopelessly against a door that won’t open. During the big finale, she gets herself captured twice. Once would have been fine, but twice makes her a bit incompetent. Better yet, having each of them captured once and they each rescue each other would have made the finale feel bigger in my opinion. But nope, Wai Lin is captured twice, and Bond rescues her twice.
Now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 30
Other’s kills – 24
Total kill count – 54
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Roger Moore’s total kill count – 90
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
Pierce Brosnan’s running kill count – 77
All complaints aside, this is still a good movie. Don’t go into Tomorrow Never Dies expecting a masterpiece – it’s nowhere close. But you can expect to shut your brain off and just have fun. This movie’s got plenty of varied action, a lot of comedy, and several entertaining performances. Sometimes that’s all you need. Also, while the soundtrack is the weakest aspect of Goldeneye, here, the soundtrack is a strong suite.
Next up is The World Is Not Enough, and my opinion on that movie has changed over the years, perhaps more than any other Bond movie that I saw as a teenager. That’s followed by Brosnan’s 4th and final outing as Bond, which I don’t quite feel like naming yet. After that, we’ll conclude with Daniel Craig’s run as Bond up to this point, which we’re not entirely sure whether he’s done with or not yet.