It's been a while since I wrote one of these but they have typically gone down well on these forums so I thought I'd share some of my recent thought on MR in essay form.
Here's some of my past efforts if people want to check it out:
'Tomorrow Never Dies' must be the most satisfying encounter for Bond purists wishing for little deviation or invention in the series' output. The film proudly rolls out all the routine tropes that audiences have grown accustomed to over the series' then 35 year history. In fact if you look closely you can practically see the filmmakers slowly ticking off the many requisite elements. Inevitably we greeted with the typical array of gadgets, exotic locations, violence, girls, villains, etc. Unfortunately the film never quite veers too far from the established formula to really distinguish it from other Bond escapades, as well as most other generic 90's action fare.
It's somewhat disappointing that after the creative risks taken on 'GoldenEye' that the follow-up makes no real attempt to play with the classic elements in a subversive or interesting way. Instead the typical Bond format is practically copy-&-pasted into 'Tomorrow Never Dies', with mid-90's paranoia replacing Cold War hijinks.
TND is a very paint-by-numbers affair, with the story rarely making much attempt to surprise, instead many of the big beats and reveals are rather blandly signposted very early on. This isn't to say the film isn't a pacy and mostly entertaining ride, but it's clear that the whole enterprise was creatively bereft and the film is tired and practically wheezing under its cultural baggage. Unfortunately what we are left with is nothing more than a decidedly below-average Bond film. Even if it is a mostly solid entry into the most venerable film series in history.
It's apparent that 18 films down the line that whatever edge 007 once had has been sanded off. It's unfortunate that such a pedestrian and uninspired film had to follow 'Goldeneye' and part of the new era of Bond. Everything about 'Tomorrow Never Dies' feels shallow - even the nonsensical title of the film seems like something that has been focussed-grouped into existence.
The film was rushed into being after new MGM exec Kirk Kerkorian needed a flagship film out by December 1997 to coincide with the public stock offering of the company. Funnily enough there was also rumours of the production ushering in seven writers to sit around a table to fix the nonexistent script. The writing was clearly on the wall for a while for the 18th Bond film, so it's unsurprising that 'Tomorrow Never Dies' feels very much like a corporate venture that has been made entirely by committee with no real distinct point of view.
Despite the transparent and cynical framework upon which the film has been constructed, it's hard to deny that TND isn't a solidly executed distraction. The action is often engaging, the acting is surprisingly strong and some of the ideas explored aren't as empty-headed as many would anticipate.
The most successful element of the film comes with the inclusion of the Elliot Carver character. The entire decision to design the character in the mould of a Rupert Murdoch-esque figure is inspired and a pertinent reminder to the real villains of the day.
It's a savvy move to allow the film to tackle such a figure and in turn gives 'Tomorrow Never Dies' a rather satirical bent. The undue influence that particular media barons can exert and the influence they are able to impose upon the masses is frightening. Often these figures have their own private business empires and in turn can manipulate the news agenda to sync with their own interests. This is never more clear today with figures like Murdoch hushing up and practically ignoring certain concerns in a bid to protect their own ventures. For example, it may be no surprise to learn that Mr. Murdoch has stakes in oil and shale oil companies, whilst he uses his vast media empire to deny the severity of man-made global warming.
It makes worrying amounts of sense for a figure such as this to use their own media empire to distract and distort information especially considering the international sway they possess. There are hints that Carver is equally as connected with references made to his close personal ties to the British PM. Often many elected political figures benefit heavily after allying themselves with the likes of Mr. Murdoch.
The character is deliciously compelling and played to the absolute hilt by Jonathan Pryce. Bruce Feirstein's rather plodding draft sparks to life whenever Carver appears and Pryce isn't afraid to get hammy with the material (at points almost distractingly so). In particular I loved the conceit of Carver instigating global events prior to them occurring in order to get the 'exclusives'. It's such a mischievous and flamboyant idea and the perfect encapsulation of modern Bond villainy. There's enough of a hint of evil albeit with a trace of irony and wit in play. Even as the value of print media has diminished since the release of 'Tomorrow Never Dies' there is still a certain relevancy to the plot to consider especially in a post-Leveson world.
Surprisingly, there are two great roles for the Bond girls this time out. Unsurprisingly, there full potential is never quite tapped into.
Apparently, the Paris Carver character was incorporated into the film at the behest of Pierce Brosnan, who wished to unravel the character of Bond by presenting him with someone he had genuine feelings for. Paris is a figure from 007's past and someone he possibly found himself slowly falling for. However, Bond ran away opposed to pursue his romantic inclinations towards her and possibly become attached.
In some senses this was likely due to Bond refusing himself to grow close to one woman as he understands that he can't guarantee them a normal or safe life - something Paris ultimately learns rather gruesomely. However, it's likely that a natural womaniser and chauvinist like Bond would run a mile when provoked with the possibility of settling down. He's a misogynist after all with a large sexual appetite; someone solely interested in empty and meaningless relationships. The threat of something more meaningful was likely the reason Bond walked away. It's curious that when 007 is forced to reencounter Paris that he is seemingly full of lust and jealousy - possibly even regretful for his decision not to act on his initial impulses.
Teri Hatcher threatens at certain moments to be rather wooden but in the end delivers a solid performance. In fact, the scenes she shares with Brosnan are by far the best in the film. Unfortunately, the script sees Paris as nothing more than a cipher to move the plot forward and she serves little function beyond the first act.
This of course leaves the door open for Michelle Yeoh to steal the show. Yeoh is the bright-spot of this film and after being underutilized early on, her later arrival gives the film the spark it was previously lacking. Whenever her character is on-screen the film suddenly perks up and your attention is reignited. Her character is fully capable and complete equal to Bond - something the franchise had long threatened to deliver. What makes it more fun is the evident sexual tension between her and 007, which is complemented with a pleasant one-upmanship.
This all comes together perfectly in the motorcycle chase, which is a brilliantly devised sequence that compels our two leads together. It's the most nifty and engaging action sequence of the film and marvellously played by Brosnan and Yeoh.
The pair share fantastic chemistry together and its clear that they bring out the best in each other. It's something of a shame that the Wai Lin character sits out so much of the first hour of the film as 'Tomorrow Never Dies' works most effectively when she is paired with Bond. In fact it's a slight sin that Wai Lin didn't get her mooted spin-off or the chance to appear in a future Brosnan film.
Brosnan is very handsome and does a fine job with the rather unfortunate material he is given. It's clear to me that his Bond is always the most suave and urbane interpretation of the character. (I also feel compelled to mention how terrific his hair is). Brosnan's great skill is in his ability to be humorous whilst still being able to work well during the more sombre moments. The Bond character is a tricky one to crack and Brosnan is capable of playing the part straight but also delivering the more ironic aspects of the character with a sly-knowing wink.
However, there is something slightly unctuous and glib about his portrayal at times. This means that on occasions he appears nothing more than smug and a tad unlikable. Additionally, Pierce doesn't seem all that competent during the hand-to-hand combat scenes, instead he seems a little too comfortable in the moments requiring him to pose and pout.
The action in 'Tomorrow Never Dies' is mostly quite impressive but never quite feels spectacular enough when compared to the competing standards of the time. Instead it's all very solidly executed but there is nothing in the film to truly distinguish itself. The movie is opened and closed with large bullet melees that seems to lack any coherent rhythm. There sadly isn't much story going on here beyond the chaos and carnage of the numerous bullets being sprayed across the screen along with large scale explosions.
However, I must also give props to the decision to show Bond slightly defeated and bloody during the final battle sequence. It's always nice to see this supposedly unflappable character tested physically.
The most compelling action beats are of course the car chase, HALO jump/wreckage sequence and bike chase. The car chase is a nice spin on the old tricked-out Aston Martin DB5, even if the brand-synergy on display in TND can make you a little nauseous (It's a BMW controlled by a Sony Ericsson! Yikes.)
The production values are of the high standards you've come to expect from 007. Robert Elswit's photography is strong especially those opening shots of Carver plotting the sinking of the Devonshire. Additionally, Elswit makes good use of screens and reflective surfaces. The photography attempts to make the most out of the banal Hambug location but the more lush Vietnam portion of the film is more visually exciting. Allan Cameron's sets are also mighty impressive and have a great neon glow. In regards to the music it must be remembered how terrific David Arnold's score is, even the overuse of the Bond theme isn't entirely unwelcome.
However, the real hero of the whole affair is Daniel Kleinman whose title sequence is truly enthralling. The sequence cracks through the screen and takes us on a stylised trip down a fiber-optic cable. Finally, the X-Ray images are stunningly rendered over Sheryl Crowe's smokey and seductive tune (I think the song is criminally underrated and is far superior to the K.D Lang option over the end titles).
In terms of supporting performances, Desmond Llewelyn is on show-stealing form and Vincent Schiavelli serves up a memorable cameo. Samantha Bond finally gets to give Moneypenny a great line and Judi Dench is mostly wasted.
'Tomorrow Never Dies' undeniably feels like a movie made under pressure. As a result the filmmakers went with the most obvious and risk-averse decisions in play. Subsequently, we are left with a solid if uninspired and forgettably average entry.