CAST: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Judi Dench, Joe Don Baker, Ricky Jay, Götz Otto, Desmond Llewelyn, Vincent Schiavelli, Colin Salmon, Samantha Bond, Nina Young, Daphne Deckers, Julian Fellowes, Cecille Thomsen, Gerard Butler, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Hugh Bonneville, Geoffrey Palmer
RUNNING TIME: 119 mins
BASICALLY…: James Bond (Brosnan) must stop a power-hungry media mogul (Pryce) from igniting a war between China and the UK in order to boost ratings…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With No Time To Die being pushed back all the way to November, the world needs its fix of Ian Fleming’s ace secret agent to tide them over until then. That’s why, every week until it finally comes out, we’re going to be taking a look at each previous movie in the series to see if, and how, they hold up today.
This week, we have an interesting entry because it’s one that wasn’t exactly met with unanimous praise upon its debut – in 1997 to date, it still retains a mediocre 57% score on Rotten Tomatoes – but might actually be more relevant and timely in 2020, more than twenty years after the fact. We’ll discuss why exactly time has been a loyal friend to Tomorrow Never Dies, but for now we’ll say that this is a fun and fast-paced entry that meets the usual criteria for a Bond film without overstaying its welcome.
Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond is tasked with investigating powerful media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) after one of his satellites is revealed to have been part of an aggressive attack on both British and Chinese forces. Bond discovers that Carver is planning to ignite a war between the two countries, with him and his media empire gaining exclusive access to all of it, and along with Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) he must stop the mad genius from carrying out his nefarious plans.
If you haven’t already guessed, Tomorrow Never Dies leans heavily on themes such as media manipulation and fear-mongering from an almost exclusively biased source; a very relevant topic today, but not so much in 1997. Back then, conservative media empires like Fox News were in their infancy, nowhere near the giant power players they are today, so understandably the concept of power-hungry news tycoons filling the role of a traditional James Bond villain, complete with world-altering plans involving long-range missiles and armies of henchmen, might not have seemed like a plausible option for audiences twenty-something years ago. Today, on the other hand, Fox News has become an incredibly weaponised tool for right-wing conservatives to spread propaganda to its loyal fanbase, and its numerous power players such as CEO Rupert Murdoch are seen as diabolical enablers of dangerous and irresponsible reporting – kind of like, if you will, a Bond villain in the age of fake news. In that regard, Tomorrow Never Dies feels like it was somewhat ahead of its time by pointing out the dangers of an unreliable media source, with Jonathan Pryce playing a very Murdoch-like caricature that’s been corrupted by his obscene dominance over newspapers, TV, news and magazines, and more importantly what ideals he wants to put out there into the minds of people willing enough to believe every word he says. It makes this one of the few past Bonds to have vastly improved over time, because the themes and messages are a lot more powerful and relevant in today’s society than they ever were in the mid-to-late 90s.
Parallels to modern-day news corporations aside, the film is an entertaining ride, with plenty of fun action scenes that find a reasonable balance between being silly and impressive. A motorcycle chase through Saigon which sees Bond and Michelle Yeoh’s Wain Lin inconveniently handcuffed together is great to watch, not just because of the fast-paced urgency that director Roger Spottiswoode brings to the movie but also due to cinematographer Robert Elswit’s precise capturing which ensures we don’t miss a frame, no matter how quick the editing seems to be. Brosnan, as ever, is a strong presence as this much more action-movie hero version of James Bond than we’re used to (Brosnan’s take seems to be taking most of the good elements from both Timothy Dalton and Roger Moore while also injecting a bit of John McClane into the mix), while Pryce is clearly having a lot of fun as the Murdoch-esque chief villain. The more eagle-eyed viewers will also spot early appearances from then-unknown actors Gerard Butler and Hugh Bonneville, who have minor speaking parts in separate parts of the movie (which probably rules out an appearance by either of them in any future Bond movies, but then again if Joe Don Baker can play a Bond villain in one film and then show up not once but twice – including in this movie – as a completely different character not long afterwards, then maybe there’s hope for the two of them after all).
Parts of it don’t always work, such as a remote-controlled car which certainly borders on Moore-era silliness (though it does make for a wildly entertaining sequence in a car park, even if Bond is essentially playing on his phone for most of it like it’s a handheld games console), but the entertainment factor is high enough for you to forgive those dumber moments in favour of a thrilling Bond movie that’s as action-packed as ever, as well as some timely themes which play far better today than they may have done back then. It’s a worthwhile entry if you, like the rest of the world, are a little concerned about the amount of power that certain news conglomerates can have on the unsuspecting public.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Tomorrow Never Dies is another entertaining action-filled outing for Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond, with fun action sequences that are very well-executed and a blast to watch, and its timely themes on the dangers of media manipulation and fear-mongering through the airwaves, complete with a Rupert Murdoch-esque central villain, play far better today than in 1997.