"Tomorrow Never Dies" has gotten something of a lukewarm reputation over the years. I think there are two reasons for that. The first is that, quite frankly, after "GoldenEye" the chances of it being a step down is significant on the basis of "GoldenEye" kicking out the freaking jams all over the place. And the Bond series had at that point had three fantastic films in a row with Dalton's powerhouse pairing of "The Living Daylights" and "License to Kill" coming before it. The streak had to end sometime I guess.
Still looks damn good while doing it, though.
The second reason is that was the start of the downward trajectory that the Brosnan series unfortunately took. Now, don't get me wrong: "Tomorrow Never Dies" is not a bad film. In fact I find it to be a damn solid Bond flick, and it's a lot of fun. But facts are facts, and despite "Tomorrow Never Dies" being a respectable Mt. McKinley, "GoldenEye" is still K2. You can't argue with numbers, and the Brosnan movies did consistently go downhill, starting with "Tomorrow Never Dies." But that first step down was not a huge one. It was more like a slip before taking a header off a pier.
The film finds Bond investigating a news mogul named Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a Steve Jobs meets Rupert Murdoch type who wants to start a war between Britain and China for the sole purpose of having exclusive broadcasting rights, a concept I'm sure made more sense back in 1997, before the Internet was as it is now. Using his own satellites to screw with navigation and his own stealth ship to attack, he orchestrates the sinking of a British frigate while making it look like the work of the Chinese, then steals a missile from ship to launch into Beijing when the British fleet arrives to provoke a retaliation, and officially kick off a war.
Holy crap! The car actually gets to DO stuff in this movie!
Having only 48 hours before the British fleet arrives in the China Sea, Bond gets to work, going to Germany and then to China as he follows the clues to expose Carver and prevent the conflict. Along the way he teams up with Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese spy whom I suppose functions as the Bond girl this time out, although she's a bit too competent to easily fit into that category. Together they track down Carver and his stealth ship, infiltrating it in a climax that is oddly similar to the end of "The Spy Who Loved Me" only on a much smaller scale.
I found this to be a fun, fun movie despite its faults. Brosnan is, as always, charming as all holy hell in this. In "GoldenEye" he was more stone-faced, playing it fantastically but still a little safe, most likely because it was his first outing as Bond and he wanted to be taken seriously. In "Tomorrow Never Dies" however, he seems a bit more comfortable in the role and brings a contagious sense of glee with him. Both he and the character are having a blast, and when he smirks while messing with Q or gives a laugh at the awesomeness of his car's gadgets or delivers a one-liner like it's the most profound thing anybody has ever said in the history of the world, it's impossible to not give a mental high-five to the dude.
This little two second reaction shot is seriously one of my favorite Bond moments ever. It's so fun to see him having fun.
I mentioned previously that I thought Natalya from "GoldenEye" was the best Bond girl ever, and I stand by that still, but Michelle Yeoh also deserves special mention as she is one of the only ones capable of handling herself in a fight. But not only that, she is one of the only characters who could probably straight up kick 007's ass. He wouldn't stand a chance. And yeah, Grace Jones was tough, but she didn't have close to the moves that Michelle has. There's a couple of sequences with her that are ripped straight out of a martial arts movie, and the sight of a powerful woman like Michelle flipping around and smacking punks with her kung-fu is such a shock that it almost seems like we've put in the wrong DVD. In a series where the most a girl is likely to do in an action scene is to scream "JAMES!" over and over until he saves her, seeing that was borderline cathartic.
Ah! Megaman grew a hand! And became kind of hot! D:>
The supporting cast is also a lot of fun. Götz Otto is a decently despicable hulking henchman in the most classic Bond tradition. Joe Don Baker makes a return as Jack Wade, injecting a little comedic foil that's actually pretty funny. Vincent Schiavelli (you know, the subway ghost from "Ghost") is hysterical in a small part as a German torturer and provides some of the best lines in the movie. And it also has the second best bit of repartee between Bond and Q that they ever had, as Desmond Llewelyn goes down a checklist asking which kinds of insurance Bond will be needing for his car. It's all fantastic.
All of this goes on in front of a backdrop of constant action that doesn't slow down. From a motorcycle chase though Chinese city streets, to Bond remote controlling his car from the backseat and shooting rockets everywhere, to a HALO jump, to Michelle Yeoh kung-fuing people and Brosnan stealing jets and sneaking through numerous buildings before tearing them the hell up with gunfire, "Tomorrow Never Dies" is the farthest thing from dull you can imagine. Is it ridiculous sometimes? Of course it is. It's Bond. But unlike some other Bond films that made the mistake of talking too damn much, it's never boring. And the plentiful action is well filmed and exciting, with a sense of fun that allows it to be over-the-top without becoming goofy. Honestly it's one of the most efficient entries in the entire series as far as all that goes.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?
The film one-ups "GoldenEye" in one respect, actually. The music is back to its original style from the experimental, out of place, synth-heavy soundtrack from earlier. The music here is much more classic Bond, full of swagger and sleaze and bombast. So much is added to the film because of the music that it really can't be understated. I also would feel remiss not to mention the opening theme, which is hands down one of my favorite songs from the franchise. It's...just perfect. I can't sum it up better than that.
If there was fault to be found in "Tomorrow Never Dies," it's probably that Elliot Carver isn't a very good villain. His plan is nefarious, and he is sufficiently insane, but like Julian Glover, Michael Lonsdale and Curd Jürgens, they just don't do enough to make me afraid of them specifically. They're just some dude who surrounds themselves with henchmen. I like a Bond villain to be like Alec Trevelyan, Scaramanga or Silva, meaning that they themselves pose a physical threat to Bond. Otherwise the ending fight is never as satisfying as it could be. Although Carver does get one of the most gruesome death scenes I've seen a Bond villain get, perhaps not in terms of how graphic it is, but in the idea. At least it was probably quicker than what Benico Del Toro got in "License To Kill."
Probably about as messy, though.
Besides the admitted problem of having a relatively weak villain, I really don't think "Tomorrow Never Dies" deserves the "meh" reputation it has. Not at all. It had been a very long time since I'd last seen it, but watching it again I can safely say that it's a damn good movie, particularly when compared to some of the other schlock I've had to sit through in this series. And more than nearly any of the rest of them, it puts me in a good mood. I had a smile on my face nearly the whole time, and when you have a smile on your face while watching Bond, it's difficult to think of a better time at the movies.
Oh my god this trailer makes me want to watch it again.
THE BOTTOM LINE - "Tomorrow Never Dies" is a fun movie. Everyone on screen is having a great time, the action is flying at you non-stop, and it's got some wonderfully fun moments. It's a fine example of 90's action done right. While it's not as good as its predecessor, it's still a solid flick. I had a blast.
WILL RETURN IN
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH