With Brosnan firmly established in the public’s mind as Bond and the franchise now one of the undisputed cinema heavyweights, things were looking good for 007 as the new millennium approached. Taking its title from Bond’s family motto – “The World Is Not Enough” – as revealed in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, new scriptwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, aided by Bruce Feirstein concocted a story of betrayal and revenge unlike anything Bond movies had shown before. A more serious, realistic attitude was brought to bear, with Bond’s death-defying stunts taking their toll and the past actions of the major players having consequences on the here and now.
When oil magnate Sir Robert King is assassinated inside MI6 headquarters, Bond is assigned to protect King’s daughter Elektra from the suspected assassin Renard. But Bond’s efforts to protect Elektra from herself and her enemies lead him to uncover a plot to use stolen nuclear devices to destroy Europe’s pipeline network and monopolise the distribution of oil.
The pre-credits sequence for “The World Is Not Enough” is a positively indulgent 14 minutes long but in this ‘mini-movie’ we get spoilt with a nifty mini adventure for Bond in Bilbao followed by some exposition at MI6 HQ culminating in a spectacular boat chase down the Thames. There really is a lot to love about this opening. It never feels padded or slow and as well as the action, it contains all the clues and portents you could need to unravel the conspiracy ahead. The audacity of the villain’s attack on MI6 is matched by the ambition of the chase scene which follows, and the fact Bond’s adversary is the glamorous yet deadly ‘Cigar Girl’ (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) gives it an interesting spin, especially when Bond’s promises to protect her are dismissed out of hand. All in all, it’s a chase that doesn’t end well for Bond: he doesn’t get the girl and he sustains an injury that’s going to take a bit more than a visit to Shrublands to sort out.
Once again on scoring duties, David Arnold outdoes himself here and his theme song – co-written with Don Black – is one of the best. Performed by Garbage, it matches the mood and tone of the film wonderfully and provides the perfect accompaniment for Daniel Kleinman’s best title sequence yet. The movie is carefully paced and rather than a break-kneck rush to the next set piece, there are ample opportunities for the characters to breathe and grow. Michael Apted’s direction brings a maturity to proceedings, allowing the mystery to unfold gradually as Bond begins to piece together the connections between Elektra and her erstwhile kidnapper Renard. There’s a marvellous action sequence set in the mountains of Azerbaijan (it’s unexpectedly great to see Bond back on skis again) where Bond and Elektra are pursued by a mysterious snowmobile hit squad who turn one of Bond’s old tricks against him by packing paragliders along with their weaponry. There’s even a welcome return for Robbie Coltrane’s Russian mobster Valentin Zukovsky (more welcome than Jack Wade’s reprise in “Tomorrow Never Dies” at least) as he uses his Baku casino as cover for some shady dealings with Elektra.
Everything in “The World Is Not Enough” is going great: Brosnan is bossing it as Bond, there’s action and intrigue, a fearsome villain with a completely improbable quirk and a morally ambiguous paramour for Bond – not a Bond girl at all, but categorically a Bond woman. But when the film gets to Christmas, it all just falls apart.
Undeniably easy on the eye, Denise Richards is simply all wrong for the part and, in fact, the whole movie. She’s agonizingly out of place in this slick, serious thriller and it’s not just down to her stilted, wooden delivery. Dr Christmas Jones – cinema’s least convincing thermonuclear scientist – dresses for her incredibly important and dangerous job like a teenage cosplayer going to her first ComiCon as Lara Croft. She has zero chemistry with Brosnan and in a film where we’ve already spent an hour or so with Bond romancing the sensuous, strong-willed and commanding Sophie Marceau, Richards never feels anything other than a little girl, pestering her older sister’s boyfriend. Simply outclassed and out of her depth, she flounders in the role with all the grace and dexterity of Susan Backlinie in the opening scenes of “Jaws”. It’s the perfect storm of bad writing and terrible performance that make Christmas a strong contender for worst Bond girl of all time, eclipsing even Tanya Roberts in “A View To A Kill”.
After her introduction, the film never really recovers and some of the gloss starts to come off of what has gone before. The action sequence in Zukovsky’s caviar factory is a bit of a muddled misfire and only serves to underline how poor the BMW roadsters were as Bond cars (thankfully this would be the last time they would appear) and the plot about detonating a nuclear reactor in the Bosphorus never really gains any traction, always feeling subservient to the (admittedly very good) character driven conflict between Elektra, M and Bond.
Renard’s ‘super power’ of not being able to feel pain doesn’t really stand up to much scrutiny. Sure, it sounds super cool and superficially like it would give you tremendous endurance and stamina. But the inability to feel pain (or, as it’s implied pleasure) doesn’t prevent any physical damage. Holding burning rocks may not hurt, but it will still damage muscle tissue and just because you can’t feel the agony of broken legs doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy full mobility. The more you think about it, the easier Renard should have been to defeat because his inability to feel would be a critical disadvantage in almost any circumstance. As it is, the film hand waves all that away and the result is a final fight between Renard and Bond in the submarine’s reactor room which tends towards the dully repetitive and goes on for a bit too long.
There are still moments of great drama in the finale, such as Bond’s final confrontation with Elektra (has Bond ever done anything more cold blooded?) and it’s fun to see M get a bit more action. There’s an unintentionally chilling aspect to Desmond Llewellyn’s final appearance as Q as well, a macabre prescience to his character’s farewell to Bond acting as a fitting and appropriate sign-off from the series’ longest serving stalwart. So many aspects of “The World Is Not Enough” are on point that it’s a constant source of frustration that the miscast Denise Richards ruins a great movie. It’s not all her fault though. Once Christmas enters the fray, the script can’t resist punning it up. But any scriptwriter who ends a movie with James Bond making a cum joke needs to take a long hard look at themselves.