Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) review – BlogalongaBond 18
Exclusive – Kinnemaniac has a soft spot for Tomorrow Never Dies. [And you didn’t even need to hack my phone to find out.]
Tomorrow Never Dies
(Roger Spottiswoode, 1997)
Poor old Rupert Murdoch. There he was, taking over the world one media division at a time, safe in the belief that nobody could ever stop him because James Bond wasn’t real… and then Steve Coogan and Hugh Grant, of all people, topple his empire by filing complaints.
The events of recent years prove that there’s no substitute for the corkscrew twists of real life. And yet Tomorrow Never Dies bowls along with the conviction that it’s enough to have a crazy guy who makes puns, steals missiles and tries to secure the exclusive broadcasting rights to China, just so he could mock their love of karate in prime-time. For the first time in history, here’s a Bond film that isn’t outlandish enough.
It’s easy to scoff. Tomorrow Never Dies was cobbled together in a hurry, its very title the result of a typo, but what that highlights is that even the ridiculousness of Bondage requires due care and attention. Bond writers can’t just accept the first idea that pops into their head – otherwise Oddjob would have thrown razor-tipped Frisbees and Blofeld’s base would have been located in a junkyard.
It doesn’t help that the “trick two superpowers into a war” plotline is yet another retread of the increasingly erroneously-named You Only Live Twice. Hell, even Doctor Who did that one in 1973. But it all seems a lot of effort for such small stakes. World domination should mean just that: domination, not simply the ability to flog more magazines. [And, by god, Elliott Carver’s ambitions look quaint today. Even in the 1990s, the era of The Net and Hackers, it seemed odd that Carver wasn’t gunning for the World Wide Web. Instead, the film ticks the ‘topical’ box by obsessing over deathly boring GPS, to the point where you start to wonder if somebody had a fetish for the damn thing. Digression ends.]
Script problems are apparent in the opening seconds, when Bond foils “a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border.” This isn’t me paraphrasing; that is actually what the on-screen caption says. My theory: the writer stuck a Post-It note to the script as a reminder to fine-tune things later, only to return from his coffee break to find the pages had been couriered to the set. Bugger. It wouldn’t be so much of a problem, except a few scenes later another caption announces we’re at “Carver Media Group Headquarters, Hamburg,” which doesn’t leave a lot of ambiguity about the identity of the villain, even if Carver wasn’t prone to purr “Delicious” every time something bad happens.
A rush-job, then – but there’s something liberating about the lack of faffing about and, to be honest, I prefer the breathlessness of Tomorrow Never Dies to many of the series’ plodathons. Unlike Goldeneye, where Bond was still in London watching computer screens nearly halfway through the film, 007 doesn’t stop moving here. It’s the shortest Bond film in years, and more or less dispenses with exposition to achieve a shark-like “if it stops, it dies” construction. Even the slow moments, notably Bond’s interrogation by Victor Schiavelli’s fabulous Dr Kaufman, are built to entertain, with Brosnan’s instinct to turn up, make a quip and head back to his trailer on well catered for.
And as for the action… Vic Armstrong, veteran stunt supervisor, is given the whole 2nd unit and devises some cracking set-pieces – a car chase in a car park controlled from the back seat by remote control; abseil by advertising banner; a bike chase where handcuffs force dual driving control. It’s a stuntman’s version of the old Orson Welles adage that a film set is the best train set a kid could have. And then there’s Michelle Yeoh, the first Bond girl you could imagine getting her own kick-ass franchise.
It only really falls apart during a last act where Bond’s stock response is to let fly with a machine gun, and it becomes obvious that the franchise, without talisman Cubby Broccoli at the helm for the first time, is essentially rudderless. For all its technical efficiency (the cinematography is by future There Will Be Blood Oscar-winner Robert Elswit), it’s an impersonal affair, no better or worse than any other mid-rank 90s action movie. I hate to play the jingoistic card, but it’s worth noting that this is the first Bond to be directed by an Hollywood man (albeit a Canadian) in Roger Spottiswoode. And Jonathan Pryce continues the Brosnan era’s penchant for casting British actors as baddies, which is what Hollywood did as a matter of course during that decade but wasn’t really a Bond thing. Where were all ze foreign masterminds during the 1990s?