Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tomorrow Never Dies

Let's talk about Karl Stromberg, the villain from The Spy Who Loved Me.  His plot, which Bond eventually foils, involves intentionally starting World War 3 so that he can begin civilization anew from his underwater base.  Insane?  You bet.  But it comes by its insanity honestly; Stromberg is really into what's under the sea, and he doesn't particularly like people, and he just doesn't feel like fucking around any more.

Elliot Carver, the villain played by Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies, also has a plan to trigger World War 3, or at least the opening stages of it (it turns out that his plan involves installing an ally at the top of the Chinese government who, it is exposited, will put the lid on the actual nuclear holocaust of the entire planet by diplomatic means).  But Carver, a transparently-Murdochian media mogul, doesn't want to do anything as grandiose as restart civilization in his own image from the bottom of the sea (Carver, it should be noted, also has a penchant for underwater basery).  All he wants is exclusive broadcast rights in China.

None of this is really kept from the audience - from the very beginning, we know Carver is behind the film's mayhem, and by the time he has fully explained the scope of his plan, there wasn't anything in it that came as a surprise.  I know I use the word "stupid" a lot in these reviews, granting that the Bond series dips deeply in the well of stupidity a lot, often on purpose.  But this plot, I feel like I can safely say, takes the series to a level of stupidity that it has heretofore failed to achieve.  Carver risks global nuclear catastrophe, his own personal reputation, and his life, all for the purposes of (slightly) increasing his market share.  Everything in the film flows from this decision, to make this extremely late-90's plot the driving force of the movie, and so everything else here has to work to dig the film out of its deep hole (spoiler alert - it doesn't make it.)  Bullet points follow.

The theme song to this film may actually be decent but I can't tell, because Sheryl Crow sings it with marbles in her mouth.  I don't know who decided that Crow fit the Bond series but they were 100% wrong.

The first time we meet Carver he is talking to a gigantic wall of monitors and he is, naturally, discussing a wide variety of evil plans to the giant faces on the screens.  The only thing missing from the scene would be for the camera to pan out to reveal that he was strangling an orphan while he talked.

Pryce is an okay character actor who should not have been allowed within 100 miles of a Bond villain.  His performance is really atrocious, aiming for "delightfully megalomaniacal" but landing much closer to "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest".  This...I don't know what the fuck this was:

Moneypenny has to deliver a "cunning linguist" gag and M gets to tell Bond to "pump (Teri Hatcher's character) for information."  I remember when GoldenEye came out there was a lot of talk about M's one big scene where she calls Bond a misogynist dinosaur, so the filmmakers were certainly aware that they were making a series about a sexist relic, and yet they still do shit like this.  It's not even so much the sexism that bothers me as it is the unbelievable lameness of the puns.

Let me paint you a picture.  James Bond, relaxing in his swanky hotel room after a long day of seduction and spying.  His tuxedo is partially unbuttoned but still looking very dashing, and on the table next to him are a bottle and a gun.  He waits, eagerly, for whatever mischief Carver is planning to send his way tonight.  Periodically, he pours a shot from the bottle and downs it in a single gulp, the weariness in his soul slowly dissipating from the warm caress of the alcohol.  The label on the bottle is red.  It reads "Smirnoff".  These movies started to become very expensive in the Brosnan era so the producers lined up as many sponsors as they could, but the idea that Bond is drinking some mass-market swill like Smirnoff Red Label straight has Ian Fleming's body spinning like a top.

Hatcher plays a complete cipher of a character who exists to slap Bond once, sleep with him, and die.  Her performance lives up to this billing precisely.  She does look sexy from the back in just her underwear, though, so there's that.

When Bond finds Hatcher's corpse in his hotel room, on the TV in the room is playing a tape of a news report about both her and Bond's death, to be broadcast later that day (because her assassin is sitting there waiting for Bond, and that's the sort of game Carver likes to play).  Keeping in mind, again, that this is the sort of ridiculous thing that happens in these movies, just imagine the logistics of that.  Gathering together a whole news crew, writing a script for a pair of deaths that haven't happened yet, getting it in the hand of your assassin to play as one last "fuck you" to Bond.  The number of people who could theoretically piece together that Carver knew of both deaths before they happened is enormous, and all so he could deliver a meaningless threat to a guy who he was going to kill anyway.

The assassin is played by character actor all-star Vincent Schiavelli in the mold of a classic Bond villain; he brags about his marksmanship and has a Dr. Strangelove accent.  It's a funny scene from his perspective - Schiavelli is playing it for high comedy and it works.  Brosnan, unfortunately, is giving him nothing to work with as a straight man.  Where the scene calls for a light, playful touch, Brosnan is all anger and sharp edges. This is Brosnan's performance in a nutshell - usually good enough from scene to scene, but tonally incoherent.  He seems to want to play Bond in the rougher mode of Daniel Craig or even Timothy Dalton, but the scripts are all Roger Moore quippery.

The worst thing about the overall suckiness of this movie is that it overshadows what I will put up as my dark horse favorite for best Bond girl of all time, Michelle Yeoh's Wai Lin.  She is capable, she is sexy, she does her own goddamned stunt work.  She is, in a nutshell, 8 different degrees of awesome, and while the movie doesn't get any smarter once she finally becomes a full-time part of the plot at about the 2/3 mark, it certainly becomes a hell of a lot more fun.  None of her stunts quite use her to her full capabilities (her first stunt comes the closest, where she and Bond take a handcuffed motorcycle ride through the streets of Saigon, and she has to switch positions with him a couple of times mid-ride) but she does get to kick and punch a whole bunch of dudes and it is delightful.  I love Wai Lin.  I wish she was in a movie that wasn't awful.

Bond bones two women, some random Danish blonde and Hatcher's character whose name I haven't mentioned yet but really who cares? (it's Paris).

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