Thursday, 19 November 2015

007 - Tomorrow Never Dies

After three films dealing with a vulnerable, somewhat human Bond, Tomorrow Never Dies reverts to type with an arrogant, self-impressed iteration that skews uncomfortably close to whatever Roger Moore was selling. Tomorrow is a victory lap, the trepidation that ensured GoldenEye's fresh take is tidied away to make room for a haughty Bond powered by test audience suggestions. GoldenEye brushed off its BMW's concealed missiles because, really, who cares? That film was too busy trying to establish some sort of relationship between its two leads. Tomorrow revels in the added value alterations, mindlessly ticking off every little thing Q branch has promised. Similarly, Bond is now a complete expert in every aspect of life, able to drive his radio controlled product placement with pinpoint accuracy despite a cruddy looking touch interface.

Timothy Dalton's Bond floundered because two film's worth of filmmakers couldn't work out what to do with him. His grave, internal acting was eternally at odds with the stunt spectaculars he found himself in. Pierce Brosnan has the opposite problem, they're trying to do everything with him. Barbara Broccoli and pals insist he juggle the violence of Connery with the louche sexuality of Lazenby and the flippancy of Moore. It's too much. A tonal assault that only really settles down when director Roger Spottiswoode starts indulging his fully-automatic John Woo fantasies for the finale. Brosnan then is a post-modern mutant, an amalgamation rather than a character; 35 years of baggage hurling itself at the screen every single second. 007's identity crisis allows Michelle Yeoh's Colonel Wai Lin to breeze in and steal the film. 

Although barely anything of a character, Yeoh invests her performance with a sense of trepidation that registers as an understandably human concern. It's not that she's uncomfortable around the invulnerable Bond, it's that she's aware that he's an assassin and, given the circumstances in which they meet, he might want to kill her. Wai Lin subordinates Bond in a way Xenia never quite managed. She's so quiet and efficient that Bond regresses into a children's entertainer, cracking jokes and fiddling with gadgets whenever she's around. The audience isn't trusted to find two spies uneasily sharing space engrossing so 007 effectively becomes Wai Lin's comic relief. A shame the same courtesy isn't extended to Yeoh's martial arts set-ups - impacts are numbed by a cutting practice that obscures collision and a blunt foley mix that has more in common with sitcom giggle prompts than bone-crunching violence. 

The further away we get from Tomorrow Never Dies, the stranger it looks. Prescient even. Jonathan Pryce's media villain Elliot Carver is a slightly more unhinged version of Rupert Murdoch, a megalomaniac who has traded celebrity phone-taps for nuclear-capable stealth boats. Carver is vile. Like all the Bond villains who seek to trap the secret agent in their social circle, he's never seen without a throng of well-compensated suck-ups. His wife, played by Teri Hatcher, is wise to the narcissism and is therefore off flirting with younger, fitter men. In light of the scurrilous rumours that surround Murdoch's most recent marriage, it's tempting to organise Tomorrow Never Dies as a kind of New Labour fantasy detailing Tony Blair's explosive extra-marital seduction of Wendi Deng. Cool Britannia working its magic to canonise Britpop Blair in a million-dollar shag narrative that finally allows the Prime Minister to openly, and contemptuously, stick it to the Dirty Digger by feeding him to a terrifying chainsaw rocket. If the Bond series are the dreams of Britain then Tomorrow Never Dies imagines a truly fantastical time and place in which the political elite don't have to bow and scrape around unscrupulous newspaper magnates.

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