Short Take: A solid action flick with one memorably atrocious performance, The World is Not Enough is actually a cut above blockbusters of today, even if it’s not all that interesting on its own.
The third entry in the Brosnan Bond’s settles into a serviceable, if somewhat corporate, action thriller that nicely erases the bad taste of Tomorrow Never Dies if not completely surpassing GoldeneEye. With some exciting villains, the filmmakers thankfully abandoned the “world annihilation” thread while also creating a sadistic man with an actual pragmatic reasoning for his insanity. Additionally, the femme fatale slithers through the screen with a layered complexity unseen in all the Bond movies I’ve watched (except in shades in Quantum of Solace).
After a Swiss banker is murdered, James Bond is sent to protect his daughter, Elektra King, against a crazed man whose lost all his senses named, Renard. After surviving a surprise ambush, James and Elektra go to Russia to inquire about who is attempting to kill her. Once there, Bond meets a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones and narrowly misses Renard. Renard steals a bomb and removes a GPS locator chip so that Bond can’t track him. When it’s revealed that Elektra is actually Renard’s lover and was working with him when he father was murder, Bond must stop both of them from detonating the bomb. After surviving an intense torture, Bond escapes the reactor with Christmas and safely detonates the bomb underwater.
Where the first two Brosnan Bond movies are a mash-up of basic Hollywood action tropes and cartoonish self-parody, The World is Not Enough refreshingly takes itself quite seriously. It’s not that I think these movies have to be rigid, just that it’s a relief to watch a Bond film that chooses precisely what it is an sticks to it throughout. The film works on a number of typical action levels, including the occasionally fun set pieces. The opening 14-minute chase that culminates in a hot air balloon stunt contains all the convoluted adventure that excited me about Casino Royale’s death-defying moments. Later, a snow shootout somehow grounds Bond into a relatable daredevil. Also, I always enjoy when there’s an allusion to Bond avoiding his past. We get one little line here, “Have you ever lost a loved one?” Bond doesn’t answer. Just that smidgen of hesitance from Bond is enough for this iteration to carry more psychological weight than the last two.
The issue of weakly-motivated villains plagued the first two Brosnan films. In this installment, the villains are given tragic lives, with complex inner feelings. These are humans, one whose a victim of torture and one whose lost all of his senses, who want to avenge the inexplicable wrong the world has inflicted on them. Nevermind that Renard, who apparently has a bullet sliding through the judgment portions of his brain, acts nothing like the kind of schizophrenic killer we might expect. He’s interesting because he hasn’t lost his thirst for revenge even amidst insanity. Elektra King, with her exotic features and innocent face, stands as one of the better Bond Girl-turned-Femme Fatales I’ve seen yet. She’s well cast as an “Is she or isn’t she” foil for Bond’s unparalleled perception. That Bond suspects her but then relinquishes his skepticism of her makes sense and gives credence to Sophie Marceau’s layers. Michael Apted, the best director not named Sam Mendes to helm a Bond flick, clearly took to sculpting textures into his villains.
Unfortunately, where Apted succeeded with the bad guys, he failed in epic fashion with the Bond girl. I guess when great directors misfire, they make that epic too. I’m sure it’s been written countless times, but the horror of Denise Richards’ performance can’t be overstated. I know that Bond movies aren’t the beacon of Old Vic acting chops (Teri Hatcher was pretty paltry in Tomorrow Never Dies), but Richards’ is the kind of bad that only comes along once in a blue moon. As though there’s a talent to this form of bad. And to boot, she’s not a knucklehead or a misogynist manifestation of a “bimbo,” she’s a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones (what in the world were they thinking?). It’s so bad it’s actually quite enjoyable. Perhaps the most memorable thing about The World is Not Enough, in fact. One of the most famously atrocious performances in the history of mainstream cinema, Richards’ presence makes for cringe-worthy engagement in an otherwise emotionally arm’s-length film. Of course, this is an off-handed compliment, but really Richards’ scenes are the stuff campy movie dreams are made of. The writing does the performer no favors by giving her line after line of prosperous “science-speak,” forcing the viewer to be reminded of the unintentional farce.
A mediocre, though greatly underrated, entry in the Bond franchise, The World is Not Enough has elements that make for an exciting ride. Ultimately, the film plays it too safe and winds up being quite forgettable. Instead of creating interesting counterparts to its unique villains, the film chooses a commercially driven denouement that allows its main characters to move like cardboard representations of what often undermines action movies of this kind. Brosnan again appears as the work-a-day Bond, going through his duties with a sense of routine. Marcaeu’s Elektra King sparkles with intrigue while Denise Richards wins every scene she’s in with shockingly putrid acting. The World is Not Enough “coulda had class,” but alas, it’s too limp to be anything special. [B-]