Bondathon #18: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Posted: April 8, 2016 in Movie Review
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Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench

What would we ever do without television and the Internet? So hooked into the Information Age are we that society would likely shut itself down if we couldn’t grab the latest headline at the click of a mouse. But there’s another problem. Owing also to the rise of reality television, there’s a percentage of the population that is a bit more willing to trust anything they see or hear without stopping to question its authenticity. That’s more than a bit dangerous because it gives those with clever, heartless souls a license to prey upon gullibility with potentially cataclysmic consequences. Why bring such a serious subject up at the beginning of a review for a James Bond film? It roughly describes the requisite world domination plot which the 18th film in the series revolves around.

Media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), who is launching his own satellite television network, has acquired a stolen United States military-issue GPS encoder which he secretly plans to use to provoke World War III between the British and Chinese governments. The end result of this destructive conflict would, according to Carver’s plan, result in a new regime in China of his preference which would grant him exclusive broadcasting rights. Kicking the insidious plot off, Carver creates a situation whereby the British vessel HMS Devonshire is led astray and sunk in Chinese waters, and the Chinese fighter jets sent to intercept the ship are themselves shot down. Carver’s newspaper can then blame the deaths of the Devonshire’s crew members on China. It must be true, because his newspaper printed it!

MI6 isn’t buying it, and M (Judi Dench) sends James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to investigate. Bond is more than a little apprehensive about following orders to make contact with Carver’s wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher), with whom Bond once had a relationship but ended it when he sensed that they were getting ‘too close.’ But, once in Hamburg, seduce Paris he does. Carver senses that there is more to Bond than he is willing to tell, and tries to have him killed. Bond not only survives the attack by three of Carver’s men, but he also sabotages the initial broadcast of the Carver Media Group Network and steals back the encoder. Upset by this and the knowledge of his wife’s history with his new enemy, Carver has Paris killed, meaning for Bond to meet the same fate and have it look like a suicide. But an angered Bond overpowers Paris’s killer, Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli), twisting Kaufman’s arm and causing the man to shoot himself in the face!

It turns out the encoder had been tampered with (surprise, surprise), and that the Devonshire was actually off the coast of Vietnam when it went down. When Bond dives down to investigate the wreckage, he is unexpectedly met by fellow spy Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), whom the Chinese have sent on the same exact mission. They discover a missile has been removed from the ship before being captured, handcuffed together and brought to CMGN Tower in Ho Chi Minh City. After managing to escape and unlocked from the handcuffs, Wain Lin is reluctant to work with Bond, electing to leave him to his own devices. Yeah, that’ll last about five minutes.

The stolen missile is, of course, Carver’s backup plan to tear down the Chinese government and rebuild it in his image. He wants to install General Chang (isn’t he a ‘Star Trek’ Klingon?) as China’s new leader, and use Chang to simultaneously make himself the instigator of an international war and its eventual savior.. and since ‘history is written by the victors,’ he’ll be the one to control the headlines, as well. To make this work, Carver has a stealth ship from which to fire the missile at Beijing. Despite Wai Lin getting herself captured, Bond still manages to set off an explosion which alerts the British Royal Navy to the location of Carver’s ship. Bond kills all the major players including Carver, saves Wai Lin from drowning, and the two escape just as the British Navy fires at and destroys Carver’s ship.

If you follow today’s news media closely enough… and if your views lean in a certain direction… the plot to “Tomorrow Never Dies” might lead you to think that Elliot Carver is meant as a representation of Fox News’s Rupert Murdoch. The fact that Fox News had been launched only one year prior to the release of this film helps that theory. But the truth is that it was British media mogul/politician Robert Maxwell on whom the character was based. “Tomorrow Never Dies” also was the first James Bond film which was not based on any material relating to either author Ian Fleming or one of his James Bond stories. The title was inspired by the Beatles’ song “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The film’s title was supposed to have been “Tomorrow Never Lies” (which I think would have been better) but a typo in the memo sent to MGM changed all that.

Does the plot involving Bond working with a female spy from a communist country to prevent a megalomaniac from starting World War III sound familiar? It should, especially if you’ve seen “The Spy Who Loved Me” recently enough. I actually liked this storyline better this time around. Other than Bond’s remote-controlled BMW, the movie takes itself seriously. There’s no battle between armies of redshirts during the climax to bog the film down. The main henchman isn’t a Wile E. Coyote stand-in. Best of all, the Bond girl is fun to watch. Too much fun, actually. Wai Lin needed to have her own martial arts spin-off film, in my opinion. But, of course, we did get Michelle Yeoh starring alongside Chow Yun Fat and Zhang Ziyi in the epic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” so there’s that.

The downside to this being better than “The Spy Who Loved Me” is that it’s still just a ho-hum Bond film. Not bad, but not great. Just middle-of-the-road and inoffensive. It feels like it was rushed into production in an effort to equal or top what they did with “GoldenEye.” It feels like Teri Hatcher’s casting was based on her popularity from the “Lois & Clark” Superman TV series. Ditto for singer Sheryl Crow’s popularity resulting in her “Tomorrow Never Dies” song getting the opening credits treatment over k.d. lang’s superior “Surrender,” on which the film’s soundtrack is based and which plays during the end credits. This was one of only two James Bond films which, prior to beginning this marathon, I was absolutely certain I had never seen before. I mention this so as to emphasize that I’m not actively trying to tear this movie down, as it’s hardly the worst that the series or Pierce Brosnan as Bond could do. But if anyone actually believed that “Tomorrow Never Dies” was going to live up to the promise of “GoldenEye,” then the hype machine trolled you.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Nice set-up intro ,esp. I love Michelle Yeoh, so that part would be easy to watch, at least.

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