Tomorrow Never Dies is oddly a movie that may have become more relevant as it aged, featuring a villain that’s the head of a media empire manipulating politics by using misinformation and grabby headlines, plus a heavy focus on China as a force of good to get that sweet Chinese cinema money. Sounds far more 2017 than 1997! Key point though: is it any good? Let’s find out!
Media mogul Elliot Carver wants his news empire to reach every country on the globe, but the Chinese government will not allow him to broadcast there. Carver doesn’t take no for an answer and plans to use his media empire to fuel flames of war between the Western world and China. Thankfully, James Bond given the case and travels to China to stop him, eventually with the help of Chinese secret agent Wai Lin…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
“A remote control car? I assume all my cars from now on will be like this, right?” “No.” “Oh. Okay then”.
The main thing that sticks out in my mind about Tomorrow Never Dies, besides being the first Bond film I saw in the cinema, is the action set pieces, or more specifically, two of them. The first sees Bond escape a hotel with a large multi-story car park mostly via remote controlling his car around using a fancy new-fangled slim mobile phone, but one with a large screen on it! It isn’t a touch screen though, so they only got the prediction half right… Seriously though, watching this in 2020 was really weird, because I remember sitting in the cinema and thinking what a cool futuristic idea that was… The chase includes lots of stunts, missiles being fired, other car gadgets being deployed and ends with the car flying off the rooftops and crashing into a shop window. It’s still a very exciting sequence.
The second one is when James is handcuffed to Chinese agent Wai Lin and the two decide to escape on a motorbike anyway, which includes a whole lot of switching positions and a thrilling showdown with a helicopter whose pilot is insistent on chopping them up with the machine’s rotor blades. Its all well shot and exciting, like any action set piece should be. The finale on Carver’s large ship is fine too, but that feels a little more generic “Villain base explodes” than anything else of note.
Speaking of Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver, he does a good job of being a really straight forward evil villain. 100% ego and literally no layers to his character whatsoever, which really should be a negative, but hell, it works for the message they were trying to convey. “I don’t believe what I read in the news” triumphantly states Bond… if only that message actually got through to people two decades later… ANYWAY, enough horrors of the modern age, it’s very satisfying seeing Carver get diced by his own large drilling machine, and that means he played a good baddie, even if it wasn’t a nuanced performance (and to be fair, which Bond villains have been nuanced?)
Hello Mr. Subtly!
While no performance blew me away, plenty of them were fine. Brosnan still does a good jokey suave Bond, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin is perfectly fine as an attractive Bond girl and a bad ass Chinese agent, complete with her own branch’s line of gadgets, and characters like Judi Dench’s M and Desmond Llewelyn’s Q are still great in their roles. I also really like the short-lived German assassin Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli) and his understudy and basic Bond henchman foe Stamper (Gotz Otto) They have the threatening side of things down which is good because of our actual villain not being the action type.
I’m not sure where to put the pre-credits sequence, which sees Bond in an underworld arms market and having to shoot his way to a jet plane with nukes on it and fly it away before a cruise missile hits the area. It’s so over-the-top that it feels like it goes too far, but I can’t’ say it’s not an exciting way to fade into a good set of Bond opening titles…
James Bond being a covert spy.
I guess there is just this overriding sense of by-the-numbers feel about the film that I can’t really explain. It’s quite different to what came before it, well, as much as a Bond film can be, but I think after GoldenEye this feels like it doesn’t have the kind of personal thread running through it. As much as Elliot Carver was fun in his one-dimensional-ness, it does take away from the film. Tomorrow Never Dies is like a bunch of action scenes were written and a basic plot was created to tie them all together. It’s not bad by any means, but it does feel a tad generic.
Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher), the long-suffering wife of Elliot, is a rather dull character, and very similar to Lupe Lamora from Licence to Kill, a.k.a. two films ago. She’s killed for being close to / shagging Bond about halfway through the film, which is obviously different, more Goldfinger-like I guess, but she’s very plain and it feels like she was created to put on the poster just in case people don’t fancy Asian women.
Former headline villain Joe Don Baker is back as CIA agent Jack Wade, and while the character can be funny sometimes, I’m not sorry this was final appearance.
Ah, the old tied up in chains and escaping magic trick, except only real death awaits! Hooray!
Tomorrow Never Dies is a good effort, with some really well shot action set pieces and a decent cast of characters. That being said it does fall more towards the average thanks to a thin plot and an entertaining but extremely plain villain. Not bad, not great, just… fine. And a fun night out at the cinema when you’re 12!