Welcome to my nuclear family (1999)
July 30, 2012 1 Comment
When the assassination of Sir Robert King (David Calder) raises concerns about the safety of his daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau), who was previously held hostage for ransom by an ex-KGB agent called Bernard (Robert Carlyle), family acquaintance M (Judi Dench) dispatches her best man to protect the heiress. Arriving in Azerbaijan, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is able to save her from an anonymous hit squad who attack during a tour of the King pipeline. Seeking answers from Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), Bond encounters nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) at a Russian base in Kazakhstan. Unable to stop Bernard from stealing a half-quantity of weapons-grade plutonium, they fake their own deaths in order to investigate the terrorist’s plot. Meanwhile, M is kidnapped as Bernard’s true motivations are eventually revealed.
If I’m being completely honest, I’ve never really been that interested in the James Bond series. I’d hoped that watching all twenty-two films over twenty-two months in the run up to Skyfall‘s release would change that, but — a few exceptions aside — I’ve struggled to embrace the franchise in any meaningful way.
It’s a good thing, then, that I’ve never really thought of The World Is Not Enough as a James Bond film. It is, obviously, but for some reason it caught my imagination in a way that no other film in the series has managed. It’s just a good film. A good film that happens to be about a British secret agent saving the world from Robert Carlyle, and for the first time in nineteen months I was actually looking forward to my usual assignment.
As much a film of the 90s as it is a product of Ian Fleming’s immortal imagination, the movie aims for balls-out ridiculousness without ever resorting to the camp incredulity of Moore-era 007. Brosnan is a great Bond, all sharp glances and even sharper suits, while Denise Richards gamely milks the same expression that served her so well in Starship Troopers two years previously. While neither are considered very highly by series purists (or, in the case of Richards, anyone with so much as a cub scout badge in science), they serve this particular outing down to the ground.
The villains are just as serviceable as the heroes, with Carlyle sinking his teeth into a suitably Russian accent and Sophie Marceau delivering a surprisingly conflicted performance as Elektra King. Both are deservedly treated to a proper send-off, while Robbie Coltrane reprises his role as ham-tongued Mafia boss Valentin Zukovsky to great effect. I recently interviewed Coltrane for Brave, and he revealed that the casino scenes were in fact filmed at an RAF officers mess. Thanks in no small part to set decorator Simon Wakefield, you’d honestly never know.
While the performances are great throughout (and it’s always nice to have a beefed up role for Judi Dench’s impeccable M), it’s the action set-pieces that make The World Is Not Enough a true joy to watch. With a plot that is intricate rather than convoluted, there is plenty of time for spectacle in between the usual exposition. The film opens with a breathtaking boat chase through London’s waterways (and thoroughfares) as Bond adjusts his tie, upside-down and underwater, culminating in possibly the best use of the Millennium Dome since it was completed in 1999. And that’s just the pre-titles sequence.
Without ever threatening to jump the proverbial double-taking pigeon in an empty cello case, The World Is Not Enough still manages to pack a dizzying number of stunts and thrills into its running time. The contractual ski chase is executed with urgency and style as Bond tries to lure a hit squad of paragliding snowmobiles away from Elektra King, while Bond and Dr. Christmas Jones survive two impressive explosions as they are forced to overcome their own problems – not least a fleet of flying chainsaws. In fact, the only drastic issue I have with the film is its underutilisation of Colin Salmon, and that’s a criticism it shares with every other movie he’s ever appeared in.
It all culminates in what is essentially one of the most novel finales in the whole series. Without a single laughable henchman to off, secret underground lair to detect or satellite to disarm, 007 instead fights his bastard-of-the-week mano a mano, in a battle that manages to impress despite its relative lack of scale. While the set’s no-where near as cavernous as those in earlier instalments, the intimacy of it results in a far more engaging conflict. It’s a pulse-pounding conclusion to an awesome film, one which could have ended the series on a true — if unearned — high had the franchise not returned to die another day.