Pierce Brosnan’s first outing at Bond produced what many consider to be one of the best Bond films. While Goldeneye is one of the better Bond films, I would contend that its follow-up, Tomorrow Never Dies improves upon the framework of Goldeneye, creating an even better Bond film. A stronger story, better action set-pieces and more compelling Bond girl help alleviate the problems of Goldeneye while retaining a lot of what made that film good.
In terms of story, Tomorrow Never Dies is a better version of The Spy Who Loved Me story. After a British vessel is sunk in Chinese waters, James Bond is sent to investigate the shady news corporation called Tomorrow that reported on the incident before either government even knew about the incident. During this investigation, Bond crosses paths with Chinese spy Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) who is also investigating Tomorrow.
The strength of the story is similar to Goldeneye in that it ties a culturally relevant threat to the doomsday scenario Bond faces. The power of media conglomeration and its ability to influence public opinion, and, in this case, write the news, is a relevant fear in the modern era, one that is still relevant today.
Where the story doesn’t work is that the whole baddie plan seems a bit flawed in a couple of ways. First, they don’t see the potential problem of launching a news story so early that it raises suspicion. Surely they could have done it around the time the governments would be giving a press conference. Also, it’s not completely clear how the plan will directly benefit them, making the motivation convoluted.
In contrast, Tomorrow Never Dies is able to employ a more defined Bond. This time, it pulls on the fact that Bond is a character with history, establishing the earlier section of the film. It also allows Bond to go to a dark and brutal place. It pulls a bit from Licence to Kill, making for a Bond who’s a bit emotionally vulnerable and more human.
However, the film insists on holding into the archaic and corny one-liners. While the film seems to get most of them out of its system in the first hour, it never allows for the self-awareness like the great moment in Goldeneye where M (Judi Dench) serves as a device to recognize how archaic and misogynistic Bond can be.
Another way the film improves on Goldeneye is in the action set-pieces. It removes the reliance on bad special effects for some strong, if still occasionally a bit too over-the-top, action vignettes. What distinguishes them among Bond action scenes is that it often sets up the space and context of the locale before launching the set-piece, giving the audience a better idea of the space and context the action.
Even the most out there action sequence involves a lot of cool creativity. Bond and Lin are hand-cuffed together and fleeing from a helicopter on a motorcycle. It goes from this clever interplay where they two must figure out how to work together in overcoming the handcuff obstacle to a cool rooftop chase scene that is a precursor to the Tangier rooftop chase in The Bourne Ultimatum.
The interplay between Bond and Wai Lin is one of the film’s great strengths. She remains one of the stronger characters in the film, in part because she does a good job of handling herself and being, in some ways, an equal to Bond, but also because she’s somewhat adamant in her independence, which makes the scene where they have to work together a moment for her to grow as a character and allow the two to unite to take on their common goal.
It’s not quite progressive enough to turn the tables on Bond, he still has to be the hero and rescue the girl before all is said and done, but it’s a moment that shows that the Bond franchise has grown more mature, sophisticated and complex in the past thirty years. Occasionally, it’s more complex than it needs to be, particularly in depicting the baddies, but Tomorrow Never Dies is a strong breakaway from some of the nagging inhibitions of Goldeneye.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing