PG-13 for James Bond style violence and sexuality. It's hard to exactly define what "James Bond style violence" usually means. In this case, there's a character who tortures people and is good at making murders look like suicides. Also, there's the mass execution of British sailors. The sexuality in Tomorrow Never Dies is similar to that of GoldenEye, except a lot more cheek is seen on screen. Yeah, PG-13 is just about right for this one.
DIRECTOR: Roger Spottiswoode
I said that I probably wouldn't be writing today. I had a colonoscopy and thought that I would be down for the day. But it's about 5:30 pm and I feel great, despite not sleeping at all. Also, remember when I said that I probably wouldn't have a chance to finish this movie. Apparently, the last twenty minutes of the film fit nicely into the second dose of the horrendous prep that goes into colonoscopies. I would also like to point out that I'm writing on my wife's Mac. I've pretty much only written my blogs on PCs. If I make a silly mistake, please excuse me. Everything looks just slightly off when I write. Regardless, I'm kind of impressed by how well it is going so far.
If you asked me in 1997 what my favorite movie was, I would hands down say Tomorrow Never Dies. This is not something I'm proud of today. I've regularly and vocally held the belief that I would not get along with younger versions of myself. As a 38-year-old man, I'm ashamed to say that I would roll my eyes audibly to my younger self. In my blog on GoldenEye, I discussed how that film got me into my Bond obsession. So, from that perspective, Tomorrow Never Dies would have been the first movie that was honestly and truly mine. It was the movie that I was going to start obsessing over when it came to the trailers coming out. And it starred Pierce Brosnan, my favorite Bond at the time. (I had a real problem with something called "objectivity.") Now, I know that I'm probably alone in saying how much I enjoy Tomorrow Never Dies. For all my love of the film in 1997, I can safely say that it was the movie I remembered the least of. When I watched GoldenEye, I was quoting every line as it went by. But Tomorrow Never Dies only had moments that really sparked my memory. I think I used a line from Elliot Carver for a senior quote or something.
Tomorrow Never Dies raises a lot of questions for me in 2020. I simply accepted it as a really good Bond movie at the time. And I now know what really appealed to me about the film. Tomorrow Never Dies, for all of the faults I'll be discussing in this blog, nails one thing absolutely perfectly: the action. When I watched The Phantom Menace for the first time, I enjoyed it as well, despite the fact that movie is pretty awful. Both films had that same element in common. Despite having some really difficult script and plotting issues, with Tomorrow Never Dies blatantly ignoring continuity details, both movies kind of do a great job on the "rad factor." I should write about all movies in terms of "rad factor", but I think one day the irony would be lost on me and then movies would just be about how much radness they had. I remember thinking that The Phantom Menace was so cool because Darth Maul looked awesome and those lightsaber scenes were very cool. The same thing is kind of true for Tomorrow Never Dies. For as forgettable as the plot is, the remote control car scene in the garage absolutely shreds. Bond stealing a jet with a nuclear missile is a great pre-credits tease. Also, Wai Lin and Bond in the streets of Beijing on the back of a motorcycle while handcuffs is a great set piece. If Bond is a stunt spectacular, Tomorrow Never Dies absolutely kills it.
But if we have learned anything about blockbuster action films, a film should not just be a stunt spectacular. Perhaps it is a little unfair to judge Tomorrow Never Dies through the lens of contemporary cinematic history, but we have been spoiled by the idea that movies can have these epic set pieces and still have heart. As much as I want this Bond movie to have the emotional depth I imbued on it when I was 14, it is a pretty vapid plot. I quickly Wikipedia'd some things about this movie because I honestly was wondering about the central villain, Elliot Carver, played by Jonathan Pryce. There seems to be this aggressive message by having the villain be a news mogul. So I decided to cross-reference the birth of Fox News with the release of the film. That was probably a no-go, considering that Fox News came out the same year as Tomorrow Never Dies. I'm not the first person to think this, considering that the Wikipedia article mentioned that the writer didn't base it after Rupert Murdoch. He based it upon a British media mogul.
I don't know if public opinion vacillates or if it is media ethics. Maybe it's because I'm so fed up with the state of America right now, but I'm very pro-media, anti-the-president. I keep thinking of all those great stories like All the President's Men where we have these heroic journalists. Then I thought that maybe the people behind James Bond might have been staunchly conservative. I mean, it's not an insane notion to believe that this action heavy womanizer might have conservative politics. The results of all this thinking leaves me with three options: 1) apply the themes to Fox News and just attribute where Fox News in today's zeitgeist as the evolution of yellow journalism, 2) guess that the politics behind this film were political, but with politics I don't necessarily subscribe to, or 3) treat it as a really forgettable bad guy who holds little influence over the greater Bond mythos, like Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. Unfortunately, my brain settled on the last option.
It's because Tomorrow Never Dies has so little impact on the rest of Bond mythology. Maybe it is because Carver, as a villain, thinks so small. Yeah, he's starting World War III. I know that this is pretty huge, but there's absolutely nothing grandiose about the plan personally. He's a rich guy who wants to get more rich and more famous. He's willing to throw the world into war because he wants even better ratings. I know that I've been pretty vocally anti-Trump in that, but I don't want Donald Trump's mentality to be the same reasoning as my Bond villain's. The push for rating seems so vapid. I know that I'm not the only one who thinks this way either. I read in that Wikipedia entry that there were a lot of script changes throughout the film, annoying Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher. And Pierce Brosnan is giving this movie his all. Like, he's fully invested. I stressed in GoldenEye that Brosnan might have been the perfect Bond if it wasn't for the quality of the scripts. I'll go as far as to say that most of the performances in the movie are actually pretty great, even from Pryce who didn't care for the script. So there's this level of professionalism coming from all fronts and the story is just not holding it up.
I'm also slightly miffed about the laziness on the part of Roger Spottiswoode in this film. I'm sorry, Mr. Spottiswoode. As I tend to say in a daily blog that occasionally complains about movies, I know that I couldn't do any better and there were plenty of moments that just screamed "problem solving." But there's a handful of moments that I thought were rad in 1997 that just didn't make a lick of sense now. In the pre-credits sequence, Bond taxis down the runway while being followed by another MIG. Bond gathers enough speed on the way back to take off just before the missile hits the arms bazaar. Bond flies through fire and barely escapes. But the MIG still ends up following him. Part of me thinks, "Maybe it's a different guy", but where did that guy come from? Similarly, Bond is being beat up by a bunch of guys in a recording studio, which happens to be right by the power junction. Okay, that's cool and can be chalked up to Hollywood logic. Nifty, until Bond and the bad guy come flying through the glass. There's this running gag that the guy in the studio isn't paying attention because he can't hear anything. But then the glass breaks because two guys are fighting against it? I mean, the movie went out of its way to stress that certain glass isn't mean to break when it came to the BMW. Let's keep grousing about little things. When Bond and Wai Lin are on the bike and they're being blocked by the helicopter, they have to launch their bike over the helicopter. It was really nice of the helicopter to lower for no reason. Also, where did Stamper come from with Wai Lin during the finale. Stamper is coming with a conscious Wai Lin, chaining her up and leaving her to dangle and Bond doesn't notice that they are right behind him?
Similarly, considering how cinematic Martin Campbell made his outing in the previous film, Tomorrow Never Dies often just looks like another action movie that comes out of the '90s. It's a safe film through a lot of it. Like, there are so many moments that are about being satisfying, but not challenging. I loved the Avis joke at the end of the garage sequence. But did Bond just murder the employees of an Avis rental service? It's just like Superman and the train in a Sears. But I will tell you what really shreds in Tomorrow Never Dies besides the action: David Arnold came on to do the score. Arnold's score is this awesome mix of really classic Monty Norman style Bond music and a techno vibe that screamed the '90s. But everything really feels orchestrated and bombastic in his score. I know that he might over-rely on the Bond theme itself, but the way he makes the music swell really sells Brosnan as Bond fabulously.
Oddly enough, I enjoyed this movie. For the first time, I came to terms with the notion that this movie wasn't as good as I made it out to be for years. It's actually a really forgettable Bond film. But for all of its faults, it's still a pretty enjoyable film. I also had the same attitude for The World is Not Enough when that came out. But even then I acknowledged that Denise Richards as Christmas Jones was a poor decision. (Again, my apologies to Ms. Richards.) It's only once I got to Die Another Day that I acknowledge that the Brosnan Bond era would be dead. But I still have one watchable Bond movie before I hit that one, so I will enjoy what I have while I have it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.