Tomorrow Never Dies

Yeoh, Jimbo! (sorry.)

WHO IS JAMES BOND?  James Bond is, largely, the guy he was in Goldeneye — a little less haunted, but not kidding around, not parodying himself.  Borrowing from himself, absolutely, but not parodying.  Still good looking, masculine, knows his way around toys.  Popular with the ladies, but not known by sight all over the world.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT?  Elliot Carver, kind of a cross between William Randolph Hearst, Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner, with a dash of Steve Jobs thrown in as well (not to mention Faye Dunaway from Network) wants to start a war between the English and the Chinese so that he can cover it with his brand-new satellite-driven media empire.  Imagine, back in the innocent, wonder-filled days of 1997 it counted as the fanciful stuff of movie spy-thrillers that a media mogul would start a war just to profit from its coverage.  What Elliot Carver doesn’t seem to realize is that the technology existed, even in 1997, to do exactly what he’s doing totally legally and without building an extremely large “stealth boat” (whatever that is) to start his fake war.

In a poorly-developed subplot (which I actually had to look up to figure out) Carver has also made a deal with a renegade Chinese general  wherin Carver will help put the general in charge of China in exchange for broadcast rights to Chinese television.  Why Bond Villains feel they need to have secondary evil plots thrown in as an afterthought is beyond me.  Is it not enough to start a war so that your satellite network can profit from it?  Why scheme with a renegade general as well?  And who’s to say that the renegade general is going to keep his promises once he becomes the new leader of China?  Why the hell would you trust a renegade general?  Any general renegade enough to stage a coup in his own country isn’t going to give a damn about some media mogul in a flashy haircut.

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD?  Bond must track down a CIA high-tech whatsit that Second Villain Henry Gupta has bought from some terrorists.  M has figured out that Carver has used the whatsit to steer a British ship into Chinese waters, sparking an international incident (he has also sunk the boat with a giant underwater torpedo-drill).  Bond goes to Carver’s HQ in Hamburg, where Carver is celebrating the launching of his new satellite dealy.  He tries to get to Carver through his wife, whom he has had an apparently serious affair with in the past.  This plan backfires and Mrs. Carver winds up dead.  Bad guys come after Bond, who escapes Hamburg with the whatsit and flies to the South China Sea, where he tracks down the true location of the sunken British ship.  There he hooks up with Wai Lin (what, no obscene pun for the girl?), a Chinese spy.  They are captured by Carver’s men, taken to Carver in his HQ in I think Shanghai.  (Why do Bond Villains insist on having Bond brought to their headquarters so that they can explain their evil plan to him?  Can’t they do it by telephone?)

Where was I?  Oh yes.  So Bond and Wai Lin escape from Carver’s clutches, get their act together, and go blow up Carver’s stealth boat before it can launch a stolen missile at Beijing.

After the heavily-plotted Goldeneye, it’s actually kind of nice to see a Bond movie with a plot closer to something like Thunderball, with the emphasis on action set-pieces instead of complexity of motives or mystery.  In fact, come to think of it, there’s no mystery to Tomorrow Never Dies at all, and I must congratulate Mr. Bond for the re-dedication of his detective skills.  When this Bond enters a room, he’s actually looking for a specific thing, he’s not just walking around poking at things.

WOMEN: For what I think is the first time in a Bond movie, I actually believe that Bond had a somewhat meaningful relationship a woman.  His scenes with Mrs. Carver actually indicate that their affair ended in something resembling painful awkwardness.

Of course, no sooner does Mrs. Carver die but she is replaced by Wai Lin and forgotten.  And no sooner does Wai Lin prove herself to be a supremely capable equal to Bond does she get wrapped up in chains and tossed into the ocean for Bond to save.  It shouldn’t bother me at this point but it does.

That said, the fact that both Teri Hatcher and Michelle Yeoh make impressions as actual characters in a Bond movie (two women in one movie!), and two actual sort of unique presences in Bond narratives, has to count as some kind of miracle.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY?  Elliot Carver seems okay cool to me.  His plan makes sense for the most part and he doesn’t do anything gratuitously stupid or careless.  His Second Villain is Mameteer Supreme Ricky Jay (little does he know that the Americans have BritishMameteer Supreme Colin Stinton working for them).  His Third Villain (or Head Henchman) is a pale imitation of Donald Grant from From Russia With Love; they’ve tried to make up for this definciency by naming him Stamper.  His Fourth Villain (that’s got to be some kind of record) is Milos Forman regular Vincent Schiavelli as a forensics expert who specializes in staging accidental deaths.  That’s a great idea for a character but there’s no time spent with him, so he’s forced to sit down and explain to Bond who he is and Bond has to sit there and listen before he gets the chance to kill him.

He’s got a ridiculously oversized stealth boat (I still don’t know how that’s supposed to work) that is the size and shape of a Ken Adam set — honestly, who needs to build a gigantic stealth boat, with 100-foot ceilings and massive piles of high-tech stuff in it?  All it needs to do is launch a torpedo-drill and then later a missile.  And why oh why does Carver need to be on his stealth boat when he launches the missile?  I would think, if anything, in this day of satellite communication, Carver would prefer to be in Hamburg or Shanghai or wherever — he is, in fact, shown running his world-wide network from there earlier in the movie.

Major points are also deducted for bringing Bond to his headquarters, letting him escape after blowing shit up, then having him brought to his headquarters a second time, aboard his stealth boat.

I actually enjoy the torpedo-drill, which has the power to chew large holes through battleships, then continue to chew its way around the ship in any direction its owner likes.  If I ever had the need to chew my way through a battleship, Carver’s torpedo-drill will be at the top of my list of ways of accomplishing that task.

NOTES: Terrific opening sequence, I wish it had more to do with the rest of the movie.

The title sequence, to my eye, is the first to actually look expensive.  No laser-light shows projected on women’s bellies here — full-blown cg psychedelia.

The car chase is splendid, but I’m sorry, not even James Bond can make a BMW sedan look cool.

And I also have a question about Bond’s cars.  After he leads the bad guys through a hair-raising chase and inevitably crashes his car, he always just walks away from it.  Isn’t that tantamount to blowing his cover?  When the local police come to get the wrecked vehicle, aren’t they going to notice the rocket-launchers in the roof?

I object to Helpful Animal Jim Wade as a replacement for Felix Leiter, but at least he’s played by the same actor two movies in a row.

Why must all high-tech spy stuff be kept in eerily-lit, expensively-designed, glass-fronted, concealed cabinets?  Why not just a cubby-hole behind the radiator or something?

I haven’t read all the Bond novels, but Tomorrow Never Dies struck me as the first Bond movie to take as its source material only other Bond movies.  I lost track of all the different plot devices lifted from other Bond movies, but I’d lay even money that there is something lifted from every single movie in the series and given a high-gloss 90s polish — the capitalist trying to corner a market, the big boat starting a war between two countries, the gigantic chase through the poor Asian neighborhood, the investigation of the undersea wreck, the Scaramanga island, the bad guy futzing with the navigation systems of a country’s war machine, the renegade general staging a fake war to seize control of a country, the high-tech whatsit falling into the hands of a madman, the list goes on and on (which is another way of saying I can’t think of any more — but don’t let me stop you, dear reader).  The fact that none of this bothered me while I was watching it probably means that Tomorrow Never Dies is a pretty good movie.

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24 Responses to “Tomorrow Never Dies”
  1. gogogh says:

    The Bond movie theme song that should have been done by Pulp…oh well.

  2. teamwak says:

    I dunno. I never bought the media mogul as a bad guy, but I did like Vincent Schialelli as a German torture doctor. And Michelle Yeoh was a good addition too/

    • Todd says:

      I never bought the media mogul as a bad guy

      It is a tad arch, isn’t it? And yet compare him to the microchip mogul who just happens to be the result of Nazi experiments and he’s the portrait of plausibility.

      • teamwak says:

        Well, yes; when you put it like that 🙂 A media mogul arching is on the same level as Bill Gates arching James Bond (although I would possibly pay to see that!)

        Have you see Where Eagles Dare? One of my favourite childhood movies of all time (helping cement my hetro man-crush on Clint Eastwood). I still think it is one of the best not-James-Bond Bond movies. The use of gadgets is fantastic, with the dynaamite on a tripwire as a favourite. There are women of mystery, a cultured henchman, cross cross and double cross, and secret super villain not revealed until the end. Theres a car/bus chase, a cablecar fight, and Richard Burton living on his wits and quipping like crazy. All classic Bond, wrapped up in a Boys-Own WW2 adventure. Cant beat it!

        “Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Broadsword calling Danny Boy”

        • Todd says:

          Where Eagles Dare was a generational crossover male-bonding movie in my household. My dad liked it because it was Richard Burton and my older brother liked it because it was Clint Eastwood. Which I guess was the point of the casting to begin with. I haven’t seen it for a few years but I think I remember being impressed with it last time around.

  3. Isn’t this the movie where Yeoh & Brosnan take an impromptu shower while chained together?

  4. planettom says:

    I think ultimately Eliot Carver doesn’t really work as a villain, but you have to give him credit for having a teleconference with his minions, instead of the usual Bond villain gathering all his minions around a conference table (as AUSTIN POWERS has demolished).

    Also, at that teleconference, I like the part where one of his divisions, a software company, reports that they’ve released their new operating system, complete with the pre-planned bugs. Evil!

  5. Wai Lin? I hear she’s a real screamer.

  6. popebuck1 says:

    That said, the fact that both Teri Hatcher and Michelle Yeoh make impressions as actual characters in a Bond movie (two women in one movie!), and two actual sort of unique presences in Bond narratives, has to count as some kind of miracle.

    Well, I know For Your Eyes Only pulls off the same trick, with Carole Bouquet AND Lynn-Holly Johnson – and now that I think about it, even the “German” spy woman who turns out to be from Liverpool is given quite a lively personality and backstory considering she’s onscreen just five minutes before she’s killed. I’ll bet there are others in the series that accomplish this, too, but I’m too tired to look them up right now.

    • Todd says:

      As you know, I’m a huge fan of For Your Eyes Only and while I enjoy Carole Bouquet’s performance in that movie, Lynn-Holly Johnson seems shrill and cartoonish to me and I don’t believe for a second that either one is attracted to crinkly-skinned Roger Moore. Cassandra Harris as the Countess however, with her air of aging glamour and her compromised position I totally believe.

      (Harris, oddly enough, was married to Pierce Brosnan at the time of For Your Eyes Only. Wheels within wheels.

      • popebuck1 says:

        Hmm, do you think she was responsible for sabotaging the scripts of Octopussy and View to a Kill, to maneuver Brosnan into the Bond role?

        But of course! It’s so ingenious – why did none of us see it before?!

        • Todd says:

          Hmm, do you think she was responsible for sabotaging the scripts of Octopussy and View to a Kill, to maneuver Brosnan into the Bond role?

          Actually, she died tragically after completing For Your Eyes Only. Or at least that’s what she would have us believe.

  7. moroccomole says:

    If only they had included a scene of Carver sending an e-mail that read, “You provide the prose poems, I’ll provide the war.” Who wouldn’t want to see 007 vs. Citizen Kane?

  8. black13 says:

    The funny thing is that this was apparently the beginning of the end for Brosnan as Bond. He made it clear in pre-release interviews that TND was supposed to be for Bond viewers who thought that GoldenEye was too complicated.

    And afterwards, he kept harping on the low quality of the scripts. From what I gather, throughout his tenure he lobbied for scripts of the quality of Casino Royale, and didn’t get them.

    Instead, they continued to Moore his Bond movies.

    • Todd says:

      He made it clear in pre-release interviews that TND was supposed to be for Bond viewers who thought that GoldenEye was too complicated.

      Sounds like a winning strategy to me — deliver the most successful entry in the series history, then consider “Yes, but what if we made it really dumb?” Whereas most other sequels (Temple of Doom, Superman II, Empire Strikes Back, Chamber of Secrets) go darker and more complicated for their protagonists, Bond went the opposite way. As they tended to. Will the next Craig movie be a camp comedy?

  9. greyaenigma says:

    First of all, I’m pleased to report that this one is also in my boxed set. Secondly: what a fun supporting cast: Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Ricky Jay, Vincent Schiavelli! And Lois Lane!

    Thirdly, this is one of the definitive examples of the kick-ass heroine unnecessarily needing to be rescued — she’s Michelle Yeoh, for crying out loud. (Oddly, I ran across both this movie and Robin Hood while channel surfing in Mexico last week.)