An outsider’s take on the James Bond saga: ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ (1997) (Movie review)

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ith “No Time to Die” coming out in November, I’m looking back at the eight modern-era James Bond films from the perspective of a newcomer, from July 11-26. Next up is the 18th Eon-produced film and second starring Pierce Brosnan, “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997):

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Director Roger Spottiswoode’s lone “Bond” is a nice step up from “GoldenEye” for two reasons: a villainous scheme with modern thematic resonance about the power of mass media, and a female sidekick who kicks as much butt as Bond himself.

It’s perhaps ridiculous to read commentary into a “Bond” film, but there is something to be said here about the importance of not consuming your news from one company.

TITLE/SONG

Tomorrow is the name of a newspaper run by the media-mogul villain, so the title could be a commentary on how bad news will always happen; no utopia awaits mankind. Sheryl Crow performs a sultry version of the opening song over a montage that evokes the coming digital age, and k.d. lang performs a more bombastic version over the end credits.

BOND GIRLS

Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh, three years before her international star rose with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) is a Chinese agent who works together with Bond. 007’s behavior around Lin is subtly but noticeably reserved compared to when he’s around most women – such as Paris (Teri Hatcher, a plot device as the villain’s wife). He’s even, dare I say, flustered around her at times. In short: Bond likes Lin as a whole person. I’d like to see them team up again in the next movie, but I know it’s not that kind of series.

VILLAINS

Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) aims for a worldwide media monopoly, partly by being the best at covering breaking news – because he creates the news — and partly by lining up a deal for exclusive broadcasting rights in newly globalized China. His latest scheme is the creation of a conflict between Britain and China that could lead to World War III, started by a missile from his stealth boat in the South China Sea. Pryce, looking sort of like Steve Jobs, gives a delicious performance; his exposition about his plans doubles as a portrayal of his craziness.

It’s perhaps ridiculous to read commentary into a “Bond” film, but there is something to be said here about the importance of not consuming your news from one company. That’s less of a concern now with the fact that the web is free from government regulation in a lot of the world. But in 1997, the internet was more primitive than it is now, and things could’ve tipped the other way in those early days.

It’s nice to see David Mamet regular Ricky Jay as henchman computer programmer Gupta, although he doesn’t have a lot to do.

BEST ACTION SCENE

Q gives a Bond a car that can be driven via a remote-control pad, but the film wisely doesn’t tip its hand in the demonstration segment. We see everything this super-car can do when Bond uses it against the bad guys in a parking garage, remotely driving it while hunched down in the backseat.

MOST RIDICULOUS MOMENT

Although I enjoy the theme of the danger of a consolidated media voice, it’s rather silly to see Carver flat-out tell his co-conspirators – the editors and producers of his various holdings – about the next big news story he’s going to create. What’s more, “TND’s” emphasis on quick, on-the-ball news coverage is a misjudgment about what sells. As we’ve seen in the new century, pundit-based coverage is more popular than raw factual coverage.

BEST GADGET

The car remote.

SEXUAL/GENDER POLITICS

We get another moment of flirtation between Bond and Moneypenny, but the latter is into it (“You’ll just have to decide how much pumping is needed”). Same with Bond’s sexual partner when he’s “brushing up on a little Danish.” As noted, Bond approaches Wai Lin differently: He doesn’t spew tons of innuendo at her en route to their inevitable kiss at the end; this is arguably a solid relationship based on common interests and experiences.

CRINGIEST ONE-LINER

Bond (after a henchman gets chewed up by a newspaper press): “They’ll print anything these days.”

Schedule of Bond reviews:

Saturday, July 11: “GoldenEye” (1995)

Sunday, July 12: “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997)

Wednesday, July 15: “The World is Not Enough” (1999)

Saturday, July 18: “Die Another Day” (2002)

Sunday, July 19: “Casino Royale” (2006)

Wednesday, July 22: “Quantum of Solace” (2008)

Saturday, July 25: “Skyfall” (2012)

Sunday, July 26: “Spectre” (2015)