In his 19th screen outing The World is Not Enough
, Ian Fleming's super-spy is once again caught in the crosshairs of a self-created dilemma: as the longest-running feature-film franchise, James Bond is an annuity his producers want to protect, yet the series' consciously formulaic approach frustrates any real element of surprise beyond the rote application of plot twists or jump cuts to shake up the audience. This time out, credit 007's caretakers for making some visible attempts to invest their principal characters with darker motives--and blame them for squandering The World is Not Enough
's initial promise by the final reel. By now, Bond pictures are as elegantly formal as a Bach chorale, and this one opens on an unusually powerful note. A stunning pre-title sequence reaches beyond mere pyrotechnics to introduce key plot elements as the action leaps from Bilbao to London. Pierce Brosnan undercuts his usually suave persona with a darker, more brutal edge largely absent since Sean Connery departed. Equally tantalising are our initial glimpses of Bond's nemesis du jour, Renard (Robert Carlyle), and imminent love interest, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), both atypically complex characters cast with seemingly shrewd choices and directed by the capable Michael Apted. The story's focus on post-Soviet geopolitics likewise starts off on a savvy note, before being overtaken by increasingly Byzantine plot twists, hidden motives and reversals of loyalty superheated by relentless (if intermittently perfunctory) action sequences.
Bond's grimmer demeanour, while preferable to the smirk that eventually swallowed Roger Moore whole, proves wearying, unrelieved by any true wit. The underlying psychoses that propel Renard and Elektra eventually unravel into unconvincing melodrama, while Bond is supplied with a secondary love object, Denise Richards, who is even more improbable as a nuclear physicist. Ultimately, this world is not enough despite its better intentions. --Sam Sutherland, Amazon.com
On the DVD: There are three different documentaries on this disc, as well as a "Secrets of 007" featurette that cuts between specific stunt sequences, behind-the-scenes footage and storyboards to reveal how it was all done, and a short video tribute to Desmond Llewelyn ("Q"), who died not long after this movie was released. The first "making of" piece is presented by an annoyingly chirpy American woman and is aimed squarely at the MTV market (most fascinating is watching her interview with Denise Richards in which the two orthodontically enhanced ladies attempt to out-smile each other). "Bond Cocktail" gamely distils all the essential ingredients that make up the classic Bond movie formula--gadgets, girls, exotic locations and lots of action. Most interesting of all is "Bond Down River", a lengthy dissection of the opening boat chase sequence. Director Michael Apted provides the first commentary, and talks about the challenges of delivering all the requisite ingredients. The second commentary is less satisfactory, since second unit director Vic Armstrong, production designer Peter Lamont and composer David Arnold have little in common. There's also the Garbage song video, and the booklet has yet more behind-the-scenes info. The anamorphic CinemaScope picture and Dolby digital sound are as spectacular as ever. --Mark Walker