This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which we get a Bond film that deals with both oil and nuclear weapons at the same time! Swoon! Also Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist and Hamish Macbeth is an unconvincing anarchist.
Alex: one of the things that people remember about this film is Denise Richards. Or maybe that’s just me. So let me get this bit out of the way first. I was already groaning in anticipation of rewatching her in this film. My thoughts were coloured by two things: the first time we see her, and the last time. The first time, she’s climbing out of a hazmat suit and the only way the camera could have fawned over her any more would have been to actually be touching her skin. It’s not quite a strip tease, but mostly because she’s still wearing clothes (a crop top and tiny shorts). Then the last scene… it might actually count as the worst line in Bond history, and let’s be honest that there’s some pretty… oh heck… stiff competition. Her name is Christmas Jones, and I’m pretty sure that’s her name solely in order to set up that last, appalling, joke: Bond saying “I thought Christmas only came once a year.”
So yeh, my expectations were pretty low, and when you take in to consideration my love of Michelle Yeoh just a fortnight prior… I was resigned at best. Turns out, though, that Richards is better than I remembered. Yes her opening scene has her wearing ridiculous clothes, but later she mostly gets to wear sensible clothes (except when Bond is using her to distract someone, which I am not best pleased by). She doesn’t have the greatest dialogue – not her fault – and sometimes her delivery is a bit painful. But she is by no means the worst Bond girl ever, and she’s allowed to be competent at her job, too. Bond says “What do I need to defuse a nuclear bomb?” and she says: “Me.” And then she does it, too, on a speeding rig inside an oil pipeline. So Richards, you were better than I remembered. Good work.
Since I’m already talking about the women: Sophie Marceau… meh. She’s ok. I think the character of Elektra (yay Greek spelling!) is a fascinatingly complex and intriguing one: daughter of a construction baron, kidnapped then escaped when not ransomed; takes on father’s business but insists that it’s because the oil was found by her mother’s family – so Azerbaijani, I think? – and that her father stole it from them. So we get notes of colonialism in different forms here, which is surprisingly deep. And it turns out that rather than having Stockholm Syndrome – since she’s working with the Big Bad – she turned him, to get revenge on her father. So she has great agency, even though the film insists that she must use her body in order to get it. But I wasn’t in love with Marceau’s performance, sadly (also I can’t help but have the line “I have heard about your…. woman” from Braveheart in mind, which is totally my problem not hers).
And M rocks, as always, and this time she’s in the field! And she manages to Magyver an alarm clock to rig a location beacon so Bond can find her! Brilliant. She’s also revealed to be a mother, which I am unconvinced was a necessary move.
So the plot: someone is sabotaging Elektra King’s pipeline, and because her father was M’s friend M sends Bond to investigate. It eventually turns out that Reynard the Anarchist is doing it – in collusion with Elektra, because the idea is actually to nuke Istanbul, making the three Russian pipelines impossible and therefore Elektra’s pipeline the only one that the West can access. So it’s partly about revenge (dad didn’t ransom me), partly about money, and for Reynard (
Hamish Macbeth Robert Carlyle) it’s both about love (of Elektra) and anarchy.
Well, I presume Reynard’s in it partly for the anarchy. He’s called an Anarchist by M et al, but to be honest you never see any real demonstration of his attachment to anarchy as an ideal. He’s also back to being that not-quite-normal Bond villain: he has a bullet in his brain that means he’s slowly losing all sensation, which apparently makes him super strong for some reason? Anyway I think he’s amongst the most boring of all Bond villains.
Far more interesting is Robbie Coltrane, another Scot playing a Russian, reprising his role as Valentin. How can you not love a character who greets Brosnan with “Bond James Bond!” Love it. His caviar factory gets sawn in half by a helicopter tree cutting saw, then he appears to die – but doesn’t – but then does, although not before helping Bond escape from Elektra. He’s a great cameo, almost replacing Felix Leiter I think.
The saddest part about this film is Bond’s scene with Q, wherein Q introduces him to his trainee – John Cleese – whom Bond dubs R. Bond asks, concerned, whether Q is really thinking about retiring; Q doesn’t reply. Desmond Llewellyn died at the end of the year this film was released (1999).
James: I disagree that Q doesn’t answer the retirement question … Bond shows his dismay that Q is considering retirement and then Q signs off with his famous “Now pay attention, 007,” and then offers some words of advice: Q: “I’ve always tried to teach you two things: First, never let them see you bleed;” Bond: “And second?” Q: “Always have an escape plan” — before he is lowered out of view. Foreshadowing! Back to the rest of the film then, the opening sequence is one of the best with a high speed boat chase on the Thames. Like Alex I expected Denise to be more cheesy that she turns out to be, the character is overdone but then many things about this Bond are. Bond is issued with the usual modern era set of interesting gadgets; a ski jacket which can turn into a protection cocoon, another BMW to destroy and a watch with a grappling hook built in. The twists and turns of the villains and not villains could have been very clever, but in the end Elektra has to explain it all or the film wouldn’t make sense. 2 Martinis.