The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production of each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
In this week’s The 007 Collective, I open the dossier on Pierce Brosnan’s third and penultimate outing as Bond, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.
Mission Title: The World is Not Enough
James Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Release Date: November 19, 1999
Source Material: Original story
Tagline: Danger. Suspense. Excitement. There must be when he’s around.
After MI6 is unwittingly roped into global terrorist Renard’s daring assassination of billionaire oil industrialist Robert King, a distraught M orders James Bond to protect King’s daughter Electra from becoming the next victim on the assassin’s list. But as Bond grows closer to Electra, he begins to suspect that there are larger players invested in Renard’s plot to set off a nuclear warhead in the waters of Istanbul.
The third time’s the charm. Or so goes the saying. The third film as always been a pivotal one for every actor who has played Bond (save for George Lazenby that is). For better or worse, it’s the entry that has dictated the future of that actor’s tenure as 007. For Sean Connery, that pivotal number three was Goldfinger—the Bond film to end all Bond films. Goldfinger didn’t just make Connery an icon, it wrote the template for every Bond film that would follow it. Although he’d never match its critical and commercial success, the goodwill he earned cemented his legacy as the quintessential Bond. For Roger Moore, The Spy Who Loved Me was a lifeline; an entry that saved his career after the mixed and disastrous responses to Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun respectively. The lifeline proved so strong that he’d go on to star in four more movies. For Timothy Dalton, the third film was supposed to be his breakout role. But alas, after the financial problems of MGM, that breakout never came to be.
While we’re still a couple of years away from understanding the importance of Skyfall in Daniel Craig’s legacy, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that The World is not Enough marked the beginning of the end for Pierce Brosnan. With only two films under his belt, Brosnan had already made his mark on the franchise—at least where I was concerned. With acclaimed director Michael Apted in the director’s chair, this third film was supposed to be his Goldfinger. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson seemed to have had this idea in mind too, budgeting The World is not Enough at $135 million, making it the highest budgeted Bond film to date.
On paper, The World is Not Enough had all the makings of a classic Bond: It featured three of the most elaborate action set-pieces of the franchise (the opening boat chase on the Thames is a classic Bond-ian mix of exhilarating thrills and style); its villains were carefully manufactured to be memorable (an ex-KGB assassin who can feel no pain!); and its oil crisis-centered plot was ripped straight from the headlines. Additionally, in Electra King, it didn’t just give the series its first primary female antagonist, but thanks to french actress Sophie Marceau’s multi-faceted performance, one of its most emotionally and psychologically complex villains. More of a tragic figure than straight-up evil megalomaniac, Electra uses Bond’s weakness for women to disguise her arrogance, deceit and ruthlessness. Moreover, The World is Not Enough was the first Bond film to give M (Judi Dench) a larger part to play in the plot.
Yet with all of these positive aspects, why doesn’t The World is Not Enough transcend mediocrity? While the easy answer may be Dr. Christmas Jones—and she’s definitely a distraction—the casting of Denise Richards as a brilliant nuclear physicist with a penchant for hot pants isn’t the film’s primary flaw. No, the biggest problem with The World is Not Enough is that it’s hampered by a schizophrenic and convoluted script that doesn’t know whether it wants to be a raw and gritty adventure or a cheesy camp fest. It wants to be a movie for anyone and everyone but ends up being a movie that satisfies no one.
As a result, even the film’s stellar cast of actors—from Judi Dench to Robbie Coltrane to poor Denise Richards (pulling the shortest straw) to Robert Carlyle (wasted) to even Pierce Brosnan. The Irish-born actor, who was fantastic in his first two outings as 007, looks tired and surprisingly bored here. He starts off strong but as the film progressed, it feels as if his life-force was being slowly sucked out of him. Perhaps it was his frustration with the ridiculous quips he had to utter every other minute in the movie (this movie owns the record for the most quips in a Bond movie). Or maybe it was his confusion with the direction of the languid plot. Whatever it was, it’s his weakest work as the character.
In a way, Brosnan’s performance is emblematic of the movie itself. It starts off strong but eventually gets bogged by its over-the-top action sequences and needlessly complicated plot, before sputtering and crumbling under the weight of its excessiveness. While it’s far superior to the film that followed it and has its share of memorable moments (Electra, the cold open), The World is Not Enough signaled that the franchise was headed back into the direction when Roger Moore donned the tux: self-parody.
Clocking at little over 14 minutes, the cold-open of The World is Not Enough still stands as the longest of the franchise to date. It opens with Bond meeting a Swiss banker at an apartment in Bilbao, Spain to negotiate the release of Swiss funds belonging to industrialist Sir Robert King. After narrowly escaping an assassin named Cigar Girl (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), Bond makes a daring escape from the third floor window using nothing but a tiny belt rope and the weight of an unconscious goon to make a safe landing. The events then move to London where Bond finds himself in hot pursuit of Cigar Girl (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) across the river Thames in Q’s still incomplete gadget-heavy Q Boat speedboat after an assassination at MI6. As Bond struggles to catch up with Cigar Girl, he’s forced to make a series of daring maneuvers, including an outstanding 360 degree mid-air spin, a cool underwater dive, and a humorous detour across the dockyards via a crowded fish market and restaurant. Eventually, Bond catches up with Cigar Girl at the Millennium Dome but she kills herself before he’s able to apprehend her, leaving him frustrated and with a significant arm injury. Magnificently shot and masterfully cut, the speed boat sequence stands out not only as one of the series’ best cold opens but also as one of its best action sequences period. It’s a shame that it takes place so early in the film because none of the action scenes that follow it come remotely close to topping its sheer bravura.
Fun fact: In the original cut of the film, the cold-open was supposed to end right after Bond exited the building in Spain but preview audiences found it too anti-climactic. I’m inclined to agree. Because of this, the big chase sequence that was initially supposed to follow the credits was bumped up.
Title Designer: Daniel Kleinmann
Title Song: “The World is Not Enough” by Garbage
Famous Quote: “The world is not enough but it’s such a perfect place to start, my love.”
Garbage’s rendition of the title song, co-written by film composer David Arnold and Don Black, may not be one of the series most memorable tunes but for the 90s, it’s perfectly adept. With its air of intrigue, Shirley Manson’s deceptively sexy vocals and David Arnold’s seamless arrangement of the Bond theme into the song, “The World is Not Enough” could easily be mistaken for a classic Shirley Bassey tune. More impressive is Daniel Kleinmann’s slick title sequence which, with its greens, yellows and red hues, takes its thematic inspiration from the film’s oil-centered plot, and turns it into something sinister and creepy.
The Big Bad: Billionaire oil industrialist and heiress Electra King (Sophie Marceau) whose vulnerable exterior is simply a veneer for her vengeful and ruthless scheme. Electra uses Bond’s weakness for women to trap him and misdirect MI6 from her plot to control the world’s oil supply. Electra is easily the most complex villain of the Brosnan era as her villainy is a by-product of her tragic past in which she was kidnapped by Renard and forced to switch sides after her father abandoned her on the advice of MI6 rather than paying the ransom.
Henchman: Anarchist and ex-KGB agent Victor Zokas (Robert Carlyle) who goes by the moniker Renard. Promoted as the film’s primary antagonist, Renard turns out to be a mere diversion from Electra. After a failed assassination attempt causes a bullet to be lodged in his brain, Renard loses all sense of pain, growing stronger and stronger until his eventual death. Unfortunately, the filmmakers never make good use of the character’s quirk which is especially disappointing since Carlyle is a superb actor.
Organization: King Enterprises
World Domination Plan: Electra and Renard plan on setting off a nuclear warhead in the waters of Istanbul, which would then destroy the pipelines of all her competitors in Europe and Asia, leaving her pipeline as the only link between the East and the West. Total market domination.
Primary: Billionaire old heiress Electra King (Sophie Marceau). For the first time in Bond history, the Bond Girl and the Big Bad are one and the same: Electra King. In her earlier scenes with Bond, we’re made to think that Bond might actually fall in love with the Bond girl for the first time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But alas, it’s just a ruse.
Others: Nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) who lives up to her reputation as probably the worst Bond girl in franchise history. It’s not all Richards’ fault (I’m not bad, I’m just written that way) but her wooden line readings don’t really help her case. Although the series took a leap forward in its characterization of Electra, it took 20 steps back with Jones whose porn star posturing, Lara Croft-inspired outfit and utter confusion of what was happening around her caused feminists around the world to burn effigies of its filmmakers. Not really but that would have been something.
Dr. Molly Warmflash (Serena Scott Thomas). Unfortunately, her name is the only thing noteworthy about her character.
M (Judi Dench)
Due to her soaring popularity in the late 90s, thanks to her roles in Mrs. Brown and especially Shakespeare in Love, which won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar earlier that year, Judi Dench was able to negotiate a much larger role for M in the film’s plot. It’s M’s guilt over her mishandling of Renard’s kidnapping of Electra that allows Electra to manipulate her and thereby set the plot in motion.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn)
The World is Not Enough was the last Bond film to feature the incomparable Desmond Llewyln who had appeared 17 times in the series as Q. Although Q alludes to his retirement in the film, Llewyln had noted that he had no plans of retiring from the part. Alas, his tragic death in a car accident a month after the film’s opening meant that this was to be his swan song.
Valentin (Robbie Coltrane)
A former enemy of Bond, the sly Russian mobster became Bond’s ally in Goldeneye and continued to aid him here as the owner of a casino and caviar factory, even though he unwittingly plays a part in Electra’s scheme to assassinate 007.
Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond)
“The story of our relationship, Miss Moneypenny. Close but not cigar.” A cameo.
The Q Boat whose features include a jet engine that allows it travel at 350mph, machine guns, torpedoes, a capacity to dive. It’s like the Batmobile on water.
Walter P99 gun that doubles as a grenade
The BMW Z8 whose features include ground to air missiles, machine guns and the ability to be driven using a remote controller.
Ski jacket that inflates into a bubble that protects its wearer and those around him from attack (or in the case of this movie, an avalanche).
X-ray vision sunglasses which Bond uses to survey those who are carrying weapons at Valentin’s casino. Also used by 007 to satisfy his perverted impulses.
Credit card key lock picker
ODDS & ENDS
[As Electra is torturing James Bond on her Turkish torturing device]
Elektra King: I could have given you the world.
James Bond: The world is not enough.
Elektra King: Foolish sentiment.
James Bond: Family motto.
Most Memorable Moment:
Easily, the exhilarating boat chase on the Thames during the film’s cold open. A close second would be Electra torturing Bond using an ancient Turkish torture device.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
Really, it could be any scene with Dr. Christmas Jones but the film’s last lines take the cake.
[after sleeping together]
James Bond: I was wrong about you.
Dr. Christmas Jones: Yeah, how so?
James Bond: I thought Christmas only comes once a year.
[Upon being surprisingly held up at gunpoint by Bond at his caviar factory]
Valentin: Can’t you say a hello, like a normal person?
Most Heartfelt Moment:
There aren’t many heartfelt moments in the Bond franchise but The World is Not Enough has one of the best of the very few of them. When 007 asks Q whether he’s retiring, the older man gives him the following advice:
Q: I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.
James Bond: And the second?
Q: Always have an escape plan.
Upon which Q descends slowly unto a opening in the floor, thus ending a nearly 40 year legacy with the franchise.
Most Shocking/Outrageous Moment:
Bond’s final scene with Electra. As the film reaches its climax, Bond chases Electra up the staircase of the headquarters of her operation. When he finally corners her in the bedroom at the top of the building, he points his gun to her, gives her a two-way radio and demands that she call Renard off. She looks at him, sardonically stating, “You wouldn’t kill me. You’d miss me.” When she refuses to do Bond’s bidding, he shockingly executes her, coldly replying, “I never miss.” It’s a shocking moment but one that the film absolutely needed.
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
In a movie that almost buries itself in ridiculous quips and puns, very few lines stand out. The best of these occur when Bond insists on accompanying Electra on M’s orders.
Elektra King: You don’t take “no” for an answer, do you?
James Bond: No
Elektra King: I hope you know how to ski, then.
James Bond: I came prepared for a cold reception.
Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
Obviously this one!
[after sleeping together]
James Bond: I was wrong about you.
Dr. Christmas Jones: Yeah, how so?
James Bond: I thought Christmas only comes once a year.
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
Once again, it has to be the boat chase at the beginning of the film. One of the series’ highlights.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 3 (Electra King, Dr. Christmas Jones and Doctor Molly Warmflash)
Number of people Bond kills: 20
Bond’s Best Kill: Bond coldly executing Electra with a shot to to the face, and then dead-panning, “I never miss.”
Locations visited (In order of appearance): Bilbao, London, Baku, Kazakhstan, Istanbul (talk about a drab bunch of places to visit)
Misogyny Meter: 6/10
High for a Brosnan Bond movie in the 90s. The majority of the points are due to the characterization of Dr. Christmas Jones: from her Lara Croft outfit to her porn star posturing to her general daftness. The fact that she’s a nuclear physicist is only incidental as it doesn’t benefit the plot in any way. The film’s characterization of the MI6 doctor (Dr. Molly Warmflash) who gives Bond passing grades after he sleeps with her also adds to the tally, so does the scene in which Bond keeps abusing the x-ray vision glasses given to him by Q. It isn’t as high as it could be because of the presence of Electra King and M, both strong woman who are independent of Bond, even though they both eventually need his help to rescue them from danger.
Homophobia Meter: 0/10
Racism Rating: 0/10
Box Office: $126.9 million ($203 million, adjusted for inflation); the 11th highest grossing entry of the franchise.
007 Chronological Listing: 19/24
Director: Michael Apted
Screenwriter: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Bruce Feirstein
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Judi Dench, Denise Richards
Producer: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
Running time: 128 minutes
Companies: MGM, Eon Productions
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexuality and innuendo
The 007 Collective will return in:
DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective: