My earliest memory of The World Is Not Enough was seeing the TV trailer years ago. That might have actually been my earliest direct exposure to the Bond franchise. It’s the 19th movie in the franchise, the third of Pierce Brosnan’s four appearances in the role, and it’s titled after a line in the Ian Fleming novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I’m not sure about the book, but according to this movie, “the world is not enough” is a Bond family motto.
Although The World Is Not Enough received mixed reviews, and we’ll get into why later, it topped Goldeneye’s worldwide gross with $362 million, on a $125 million budget. That makes it the most profitable Bond movie at the time. With a plot revolving around oil and terrorist attacks, it’s the kind of plot that most likely won’t feel dated for a while yet. Roger Ebert praised the movie, calling it a “splendid comic thriller, exciting and graceful, endlessly inventive.” On the other hand, Entertainment Weekly named it the worst film in the franchise, claiming its plot was “so convoluted even Pierce Brosnan has admitted to being mystified.” Again we’ll get into that deeper later, but I found the plot fairly easy to follow.
Before we get into the movie itself, I feel the need to talk about the last long-time Bond actor left in the series. Desmond Llewelyn, who portrayed Q in almost every Bond movie between From Russia With Love and The World Is Not Enough, with the sole exception of Live And Let Die (for perceived scheduling conflicts that never actually happened). That’s a total of 17 movies where he played the head of MI6’s research and development department. He also worked directly with the first five James Bond actors – the only actor or crew member to do so.
The World Is Not Enough features a touching Q scene alluding to his eventual retirement. After introducing Bond to his heir presumptive, R (played by John Cleese), Bond expresses his hope that Q isn’t retiring soon. It’s a moment where they both show their friendship and respect for each other, even if Bond tends to annoy Q a lot. Q also gives a heartfelt performance behind the line,
“I’ve always tried to teach you two things. The first, never let them see you bleed.”
Bond – “And the second?”
Although Llewelyn stated in an interview around the time of the premier that he didn’t intend on retiring the role “as long as the producers want me and the Almighty doesn’t”, he died in a car crash three weeks after the movie premiered. I guess the second half of that statement was unintentionally prophetic. I clearly remember a great tribute to Desmond Llewelyn at the start of the VHS copy of this movie, to the tune of “Nobody does it Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me. I can’t find a good quality copy of the video on the internet. The only copies I could find were either of someone recording the VHS version with a camera as it plays on a TV, or the clip on Veoh with the video and audio completely out of synch. So I apologize for the quality, but here’s the VHS recording version I found.
It’s worth noting that Roger Moore, who portrayed Bond in 6 movies along with Llewelyn as Q, spoke at Llewelyn’s funeral. Also amusingly enough, while Llewelyn convincingly played a technological expert in all of his appearances, he was totally lost in the world of technology. Both of his successors, John Cleese (only this movie and the next) and Ben Whishaw (who portrays Q in Skyfall and Spectre), share this trait. Other movies that Llewelyn appeared in include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), The Golden Lady (a Bond-ish thriller from 1978 starring a female lead) and Merlin (1992). He’s got a lot of uncredited appearances to his name as well.
Several directors were offered the next Bond movie after Tomorrow Never Dies, most notably Peter Jackson. Producer Barbara Broccoli enjoyed Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures and requested a screening of The Frighteners. When she didn’t enjoy that movie however, she lost interest in Jackson. Jackson later commented that, while he was a lifelong Bond film, he probably wouldn’t get another chance at a Bond movie after directing Lord Of the Rings, due to the franchises tendency to go for less famous directors. They eventually landed Michael Apted, most known for his documentary work and The Coal Miner’s Daughter at the time, and later the first three episodes of Rome (the TV series). At least on Wikipedia, there isn’t too much other information on the movie’s production, besides the numerous filming locations, including Scotland, Spain, London, Istanbul, slopes in the French Alps, a couple scenes shot in the Bahamas, and Azerbaijan.
The title song is the fifth theme song in the franchise written by Don Black, preceded by Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Gun and Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s performed by Garbage, and often ranks well in lists comparing the different Bond theme songs. In 2012, Grantland even ranked it number 2 in the franchise, only behind “Goldfinger”. It also appeared in the top 100 songs of 1999 on multiple lists. It’s certainly the song I found the most memorable of the Bond movies I only watched once as a teenager.
As for my own thoughts on the movie, they’ve actually changed a lot over the years. When I first saw it years ago (probably about a year after its release), I thought it was just ok. Compared to Tomorrow Never Dies, some of the action is more down to earth, with less sparks and debris flying around during the gunfights. However there are other aspects of the action that are a bit over the top, like the ski scene involving armoured snowmobiles with parachutes, and a caviar facility fight involving helicopters built to chop down trees en-masse. Both of these scenes involve plenty of explosions, and the latter also includes a lot of destruction, including Bond’s car being sawed in half. These scenes feel appropriate for the general tone of the Brosnan movies, but still. Here’s most of that helicopter scene by the way.
The second time I watched this movie, years later, I enjoyed it a lot more. I found the plot intriguing, with a great twist at the half-way point. This is also arguably Brosnan’s best performance as Bond, with some great charismatic moment, but also some genuine emotion put into a couple scenes, and a very cold expression as he kills one of the main villains near the end of the film, followed by hints of regret.
But in subsequent viewings, I’ve enjoyed it less – somewhere in-between the first and second time. Like I said earlier, I don’t find the plot to be convoluted at all. Sure, it’s complex, involving a terrorist attacking different oil pipelines, as well as the competition between the different pipelines. There’s also a hinted connection between M and the King family, which in turn gets M involved in the story much more than usual. This gives the already fantastic Judi Dench more time to show her acting range. But it all wraps together by the end, especially once you learn who the real villain is.
Most of the performances in this movie are great. Sophie Marceau as Elektra King shows a lot of confidence as the heiress of an oil company. She also shows venerability at times, showing traces of PTSD after her kidnapping incident. Robert Carlyle is convincing as Victor Zokas, a former KGB agent turned terrorist. As he was shot in the head after the kidnaping incident, he’s eventually going to die, but until then, the bullet lodged in his brain has rendered him impervious to pain. He gives a great performance as a determined terrorist, yet someone who doesn’t really value his life or truly enjoy things anymore. Someone who is highly motivated yet jaded at the same time. Robbie Coltrane as Valentin Zukovsky, also a former KGB agent, is very entertaining as a former rival of Bond’s who is trying to go legitimate. He also appeared in Goldeneye, but his role is much larger role in this movie.
The main exception to the good performances in this movie is Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones. She’s an American nuclear physicist who assists Bond for the second half of the movie, and she is by far the weakest aspect of the movie. She may look hot, but she simply cannot act. She’s about as convincing as a nuclear scientist as a 50 pound dumbbell is convincing as a doorknob. Every line she reads comes across as flat. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Richards’ performance alone is enough to say that this movie is merely good, and not great like it could have been.
I will offer one other criticism though – the movie feels like it slows down a lot in the second half. The final action scene in particular, while featuring a couple tense moments, feels slow and low key especially compared to the attack of the bladed helicopters that closely precedes it. Normally in an action movie of this sort, you’d hope for the opposite.
Like I said earlier, the action in this movie feels a bit more down to earth than the previous movies. During shootouts, Bond spends more time behind cover and not just running and gunning like he’s in a video game. And when the action is down to earth like this, it often feels intense. This is further enhanced by how Bond actually injures his shoulder in the 14 minute opening (the longest opening sequence in a Bond movie by the way). His injury clearly affects him through the rest of the movie. You even see a touch of that in the helicopter fight clip earlier in this post.
Now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 27
Other’s kills – 43
Total kill count – 70
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 – 104
Overall, I’d say The World Is Not Enough is a good movie. The plot still holds fairly well today, most of the performances are good, and the action is exciting more often than not. It’s mostly the uneven pacing and Denise Richards’ terrible performance that holds this movie back. With more even pacing and a better actress portraying the nuclear scientist, this could have potentially been Brosnan’s best Bond movie.
[insert sigh here], it’s time to name the next movie in this blogathon, and the last Brosnan Bond movie. Die Another Day is next, and you can tell by that intro that I’m not looking forward to seeing it again. After that, we’ll conclude with the Daniel Craig Bond movies, starting with Casino Royale and following that with Quantum Of Solace.