The James Bond Rewatch: TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)

Brosnan’s back as Bond and it’s… not very good.

I recalled Brosnan’s tenure as Bond being a slow slide towards mediocrity but wasn’t prepared for the sharp dip in quality between GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, with Pierce Brosnan as James Bond (for the 2nd time)

The Theme Song: “Tomorrow Never Dies” performed by Cheryl Crow

Whatever faults the movie may have, you can’t blame the theme song. Sheryl Crow seems like a weird choice for a Bond songstress but “Tomorrow Never Dies” is actually a decent track. The opening credits have a technology-run-amok theme that dovetails nicely into the movie’s plot, and while the score seems a bit dated now with its overuse of 90s beats, this theme is nicely orchestrated.

The Plot

Tomorrow Never Dies‘ pre-credit sequence finds Bond at a Russian arms bazaar, trailing a wanted “techno-terrorist” (groan) played by Ricky Jay. The mission quickly gets FUBAR and Bond has to shoot his way out, escaping in a fighter jet. The resultant dog fight is cool but the lead-up again proves that Brosnan’s Bond is effectively bullet-proof as he takes on dozens of terrorists who can’t aim for shit. They should probably return their AK-47’s as they seem to be defective.

Carver:

Carver: “There’s no news like bad news”

The main plot has Bond chasing a GPS Encoder around the world as he butts heads with Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a media baron intent on sowing the seeds of chaos so his CNN-like news organization can report on it (and presumably make billions?). The best Bond movies manage to weave together their disparate parts together but Tomorrow Never Dies never does, despite taking many cues from Moore’s best entry – The Spy Who Loved Me (Bond teaming with a rival agent from a foreign country, a foe that operates from an elaborate sea base, a plan to invoke war between two superpowers, etc.).

James The Fighter

Pryce’s Carver is a Bond villain that’s over-the-top in the Blofeld or Stromberg mould – a man who never misses an opportunity to utter “delicious” as he formulates his next devious plan. He’s a little effete, a lot ridiculous, and not overly threatening, although he is a fun send-up of media moguls like Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch.

Bond takes a beating at the hands of Stamper

Bond takes a beating at the hands of Stamper

Luckily Carver has his towering assistant and personal bodyguard Mr. Stamper (Götz Otto) to do his dirty work for him. The 6’6″ Otto reportedly auditioned for the role by walking into the room and stating, “I’m big, I’m bad, and I’m German.” He gets a lot to do (including a good final fight with Bond) but isn’t overly weird enough to truly distinguish himself in the long line of Bond henchman.

The action itself is also fairly undistinguished, with Bond become increasingly impervious to bullets and the bad guys not posing much of a threat. Highlights include a car chase through a winding parking garage as Bond controls a BMW remotely, a motorbike getaway that pairs Bond with a questionable ally and a high-altitude-low-opening (HALO) stunt, but nothing really pops or leaves a lasting impression.

James The Lover

Michelle Yeoh is solid as Wai Lin, a Chinese spy who eventually teams with Bond to take down Carver. She’s obviously got great action chops, but her romance with Bond seems a little forced (something tells me that if their underwater kiss is to exchange oxygen wasn’t a life-or-death situation the characters wouldn’t have done it). I remember rumours that they were looking to spin off her character into her own series, but obviously that never came to pass.

Look out Teri Hatcher! That Bond is bad news

“Tell me James, do you still sleep with a gun under your pillow?”

The other love interest is Teri Hatcher as Paris Carver, Elliot’s wife and a former flame of Bond’s. Hatcher looks great in an evening gown but her character is another sacrificial lamb in the grand Bond tradition. She spills secrets in bed to James and pays the ultimate price as a spurned Carver has her killed. You’d think it’d provide some extra motivation to Bond, but he gets over in about 5 minutes. I guess he’s used to this sort of thing by now.

Iconic Moments

  • Q provides Bond with a remote controlled BMW that Bond of course promptly trashes. Q and M sadly only get a short scene each
  • Like Rodney Dangerfield, Q gets no respect

    Like Rodney Dangerfield, Q gets no respect

  • When MI6 catches Bond at a bad time (sleeping with a Danish girl) he quips, “I always enjoy learning a new tongue”, to which Moneypenny responds, “You always were a cunning linguist.” Har har.
  • Joe Don Baker returns as Wade, Bond’s CIA contact (and a Felix Leiter stand-in)
  • The movie’s best scene has noted character actor Vincent Schiavelli as Dr. Kaufman, a professional assassin skilled in the art of torture who’s just killed Paris and is about to do the same to Bond. Find out more about the late, great Schiavelli in the YouTube show No Small Parts
  • The motorbike chase finds Bond and Wai Lin handcuffed together, making for some inventive action and slapstick-y fun
  • Sign of the times: Carver is “starting a war for the ratings”, as the Bond series flounders a bit with the lack of real world conflicts to draw parallels to and inspiration from

The Verdict

Achingly 90s, with its techno-terrorists, fear-mongering about an increasingly connected world and a score that hasn’t aged well, Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t a worthy follow-up to the stellar GoldenEye. With a script that had to be re-written just prior to shooting, a leading lady who seemingly didn’t want to be there (Hatcher later said “It’s such an artificial kind of character to be playing that you don’t get any special satisfaction from it”) and a director unfamiliar with the Bond aesthetics, there’s plenty of possibilities why the movie didn’t work out. The most glaring reason – it’s just not very good.

Updated Rankings

  1. From Russia With Love
  2. Goldfinger
  3. Dr. No
  4. Goldeneye
  5. The Living Daylights
  6. The Spy Who Loved Me
  7. You Only Live Twice
  8. Live and Let Die
  9. For Your Eyes Only
  10. Thunderball
  11. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  12. Licence to Kill
  13. The Man with The Golden Gun
  14. A View to a Kill
  15. Tomorrow Never Dies
  16. Moonraker
  17. Octopussy
  18. Diamonds Are Forever

James Bond will return in The World Is Not Enough

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