Actors and Allies
I mentioned yesterday that - especially in comparison to Tomorrow Never Dies - I like how believable and Fleming-like the villains of The World Is Not Enough are. Something else that World improves on from Tomorrow is Bond himself. World doesn't have the same issues with finding its tone. There's humor, but it lightens the story without undermining it. In general, Bond and the other characters are serious and driven.
GoldenEye did a great job of reconciling Fleming's Bond with the movie version. It acknowledged the darkness of Fleming's take and explained that Bond's light-hearted approach to his job is a way of masking that. The Bond of World fits that same template, even if it's not stated as explicitly or elegantly. There's a line where Bond tells Elektra that he survives by taking "pleasure in great beauty." That's a trite way of saying it, but I think he's being honest there. His enjoyment of women, food, and drink is a survival tactic. So I'm glad to see that idea brought forward into World.
One place where the tone gets goofier than I like though is Bond's major new ally in the series. At least, Q's replacement (Bond jokingly refers to him as R, but that's not official) was planned to be a major ally. I love John Cleese and would have welcomed him as the new Q if he'd played the character straight. Cleese's slapstick is always enjoyable; it just feels out of place here.
The script's not doing him any favors either. He's especially snide towards Bond; even more so than Q. In fact, Q actually comes to Bond's defense and pulls rank to put R in his place. This would be Desmond Llewelyn's last Bond film, probably even if he hadn't died in a car accident shortly after the movie's release. He hadn't officially retired from the role, but his character is certainly thinking about leaving MI6. And his attitude about Bond is uncharacteristically kind, as if he knows this is good-bye. In addition to defending Bond to R, Q sweetly holds on to Bond's arm through a lot of their scene together. And he offers Bond some final advice.
The advice is kind of confusing because Q prefaces it with, "I've always tried to teach you two things." Neither of which has Q ever tried to teach Bond in any movie ever. But if we imagine an offscreen relationship between the two men, Q's wisdom does seem like something that Bond's taken to heart: "Never let them see you bleed" and "Always have an escape plan." The first does sound like a principle that stiff-upper-lip Q has lived by himself. And the second, said ominously as Q disappears in a descending lift, sounds like something he's getting ready to employ. Like maybe he hasn't actually mentioned his retirement to anyone else, but is just planning on not showing up one day. It kind of makes it sound like Q has enemies somewhere (and why wouldn't he?) that he wants to disappear from.
Moneypenny is also acting rather uncharacteristically, at least in comparison to Samantha Bond's portrayal in the last couple of movies. There was no flirtation between her and Brosnan's Bond before, but this time when he says he brought her something, she asks if it was chocolate or an engagement ring. And when she finds out what it really is - a cigar tube - she observes that it's not very romantic. That threw me at first until I realized that there's nothing really flirty in her delivery. She's not mutually playing with him, she's teasing him. He wants it to become flirting, but she's detached from it and completely in control.
Moneypenny's resistance to Bond also informs her relationships with women who give in to him. She isn't fooled about why Dr. Warmflash (ugh) clears him for duty and shames her for it with some judgmental looks. Which, look, I'm all for a good shaming when it's deserved. Shaming gets a bad rap these days, but Warmflash (gross) deserves it for reasons I'll go into in the next post.
Robbie Coltrane is back to reprise his role as Valentin Zukovsky from GoldenEye. I like that character a lot and one of the coolest things about the Brosnan movies was their willingness to build new, recurring characters into the series. It's too bad what happens to Zukovsky in World, but I enjoyed him all the way through it.
I saved M to talk about last because she plays a bigger role in World than usual. The Brosnan movies developed her as a character in a way that had never been done with any previous M. And of course that continued into the Craig era. I love how from the very first second you see her in World, you know she's smitten with Robert King. It's all in Judi Dench and David Calder's performances. And as the movie progresses, we learn that she's every bit the bulldog she claimed to be in GoldenEye; capable of making ruthless decisions and worrying later about living with the consequences.
As a result of one of those decisions, her relationship with King's daughter, Elektra, is tragic and complicated. Dench and Sophie Marceau's performances totally sell that, but the script is working it too. When M assigns Bond to protect Elektra from whomever killed her father, M says, "Remember, shadows stay in front or behind; never on top." She knows how Bond is and she's absolutely not having it with Elektra.
And amazingly, Bond does his best to respect that. Not only does he not try to charm Elektra, he resists her advances until she makes it absolutely clear that she wants him and isn't going to give up. I love what that suggests about Bond's changing relationship with M. They've gone from mutually antagonistic in GoldenEye to professionals who deeply respect each other. For example, when Bond suspects Elektra of murdering her father, M despises the idea, but doesn't dismiss it. She can't make herself fully believe Bond, but she trusts his instincts enough to give him some leash to explore the idea. As she tells Elektra at one point, "He's the best we have. Though I'd never tell him."
"First things first," to Christmas when she says that she has to get some plutonium back "or someone's going to have my ass."
"I was wrong about you. I thought Christmas only comes once a year."
Q really went all out for his final movie. In addition to his personal speedboat (tricked out with rocket boost, a temporary dive function, torpedoes, and it also drives on land just fine) and a new BMW Z8 (with Stinger missiles and an improved remote control device on the key fob instead of in a phone), he also gives Bond some very cool, personal gadgets.
There's an explosive gun with a detonator built in to a pair of glasses, an inflatable escape pod built into a ski jacket, a lockpick hidden in a credit card, a grappling line watch, and of course, every 12-year-old boy's dream...
Top Ten Gadgets
1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. The Q Boat (The World Is Not Enough)
6. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
7. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
8. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
9. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
10. X-Ray Specs (The World Is Not Enough)