Tomorrow Never Dies
Screenplay : Bruce Feirstein
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Jonathan Pryce (Elliot Carver), Michelle Yeoh (Wai Lin), Teri Hatcher (Paris Carver), Joe Don Baker (Jack Wade), Götz Otto (Stamper), Ricky Jay (Henry Gupta), Judi Dench (M), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny)
Well, it's finally happened. The mass media have become so despised that they were turned into the latest supervillain in the 18th installment of the James Bond series, "Tomorrow Never Dies."
Whatever happened to insurgent political evils? They're as passe as the Cold War. Slimy South American drug lords? That was back when Timothy Dalton was still holding the Walter PB-K. For today's evil, you don't have to look beyond the nearest magazine, newspaper, or television broadcast. It's right there in your living room.
Reprising his role as Special Agent 007 for the second time, Pierce Brosnan finds himself up against a Rupert Murdoch-style meglomaniacal media lord named Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce). Taking William Randolph Hearst's declaration of "You shoot the pictures and I'll supply the war" to the farthest extremes, Carver concocts an appropriately diabolical plan of using his global satellite network to trick the Chinese and the British into thinking each is attacking the other. Thus, he plans to start World War III which, to him, is nothing more than the ultimate media event. Plus, he gets exclusive broadcast rights in China to boot.
The entire premise of "Tomorrow Never Dies" would have been laughed out of the studio board room twenty years ago. The notion that Bond, the ultimate savior of Western ideology and capitalist democracy (which, of course, includes a free press), ends up teaming with a Communist Chinese double agent, Wai Lin (Asian superstar Michele Yeoh), to take on a media empire sounds positively absurd. After all, what could be more capitalistic than building a commercial empire?
What we sometimes forget is the sheer amount of power and influence wielded by these mass media corporations. When you stop and think of all the movie studios, television networks, radio stations, and print publications owned by Disney alone, it starts to get a little creepy. The rest of the world has been complaining about the domination of Western media influence for years, and it was only a matter of time before that perceived evil began to seep into our own culture. Of course, the mass media aren't evil in and of themselves, but they are certainly a potential weapon if they fall into the wrong hands.
Which is one of the standard aspects of the patented James Bond Formula. After 17 films, James Bond movies have been perfected and honed into a simple, straightforward formula, and screenwriter Bruce Feirstein ("GoldenEye") fills in all the appropriate blanks without too much imagination. We have plenty of globe-hopping espionage, evil bad guys, bed-hopping, elaborate chase sequences, and fantastic gadgets including a souped-up BMW and a cellular phone with amenities AT&T simply can't offer. Director Roger Spottiswoode may have seemed like an odd choice to helm the film (after all, he was the one in charge when Sylvester Stallone almost ended his career for good with "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot"), but he displays a sure hand in the action sequences, and even develops a plausible relationship between Bond and Wai Lin.
Yeoh is a fantastic addition to the film, although her presence seems to affect Spottiswoode's direction on a number of occasions, where he makes ill-fated attempts at playing John Woo. Dramatic slow-motion does not suit the style of a Bond film, and luckily he only makes the half-hearted attempts a few times. Brosnan continues to prove that he is more than worthy to don the tuxedo as Bond, although I wish the script had given him more to do. Pryce chews the scenery effectively as the evil media baron, and he even comes complete with an Aryan henchman (Götz Otto) to do all his dirty work.
But, despite the positives the movie has to offer, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed while watching it. It seems to me that Bond films used to rely more on style and wit rather than generic violence and explosions. Bond used to be able to slip out of sticky situations with the sly cunning of a fox; to a certain extent, he still does, but now he finishes the job with a sub-machine gun in hand, gunning down enemy soldiers by the dozens. The Schwarzenegger bug has significantly affected "Tomorrow Never Dies," and it shows in the film's lack of subtlety and humor. Sure, Brosnan throws out a few good one-liners, but his entire character is more superman than super-spy. Somehow, the whole art of intrigue has been lost in a giant fireball.
©1998 James Kendrick