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20 years ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ – A reflection

Some Bond films are just like Marmite, if you will permit me this comparison. Love it or hate it, there is not much in-between. ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is no exception as many have criticised the film for various reasons while others hold it in high regard.

Jonathan Pryce as Elliot Carver

If parts of the plot somewhat remind you of a previous Bond film, you’re not at all mistaken. The villains plan to start a conflict between two significant world powers almost seemed like the plot of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977) had been recycled. Media mogul Elliot Carver (played by Jonathan Pryce) is hardly a Bond villain to remember – at least not when compared to the impressive line-up of larger than life villains such as Auric Goldfinger, Hugo Drax or the omnipresent Ernst Stavro Blofeld. There is however a similarity between Carver and the aforementioned: While he could have set his plan in motion without provoking a conflict of such magnitude, he instead chose to risk a conflict which could have brought grave global consequences simply because he had the power to do it. The lunacy trump card.

Apart from the films villain, some great characters have found their way into Bonds eighteenth screen adventure. Vincent Schiavelli (1948 – 2005) is brilliant in his small scene playing assassin Dr. Kaufmann who has some great lines. Equally effective is henchman Stamper, played by German actor Götz Otto. The level of brutality emanating from his character was clearly a challenge for 007 in the finale of the film and it worked well in my opinion. Rest assured, in real life Otto is a charming and humorous character.

No Bond film would be complete without the girls. In some way, Michelle Yeoh launched the independent Bond Girl who was equal to Bond. Yeohs background in martial arts certainly helped to get that point across – she brilliantly fought her way out of a tricky situation and although Bond jumps in with one baddie still alive and threatening her with a gun, she remarks that she “could have taken care of him”. Being equal to a legendary secret agent does have its downside however: the relationship between womanizer Bond and Wai-Lin is ridiculously superficial.

Teri Hatcher makes a nice counterpart to Wai-Lin as her character Paris Carver is more about glamour and style rather than roundhouse kicking action. While slapping Bond does not exactly count as fighting, Paris seems dismissive towards Bond at first only to be awkwardly seduced later in his hotel suite. The love scene between Brosnan and Hatcher seems somewhat awkward, not just because Bond seems to have developed a soft spot for biting womens shoulders.

Teri Hatcher and Pierce Brosnan

Undeniably, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is nothing less than an action-packed, high energy fun ride. From the magnificent opening sequence to the BMW car park chase, the Saigon motorcycle chase all the way to the explosive finale onboard the stealth ship – in terms of well-crafted action sequences, the film delivers without doubt. According to film critics however, the plot got a bit lost among the impressive array of fire, bullets and explosions.

If you grew up with the Pierce Brosnan Bond films as I have, you might be appreciating the action-packed adventures a bit more. That’s at least the outcome of many conversations I had with fellow Bond Fans who had their initial contact with Bond through ‘GoldenEye’ in 1995. For me personally, watching a Bond film was always about the entertainment factor. In the cinema, I never wasted a second thinking about whether the plot was actually consistent or the characters well written. I wanted two hours of escapism and that’s what I got. Everything else came later.

I think, analysing films too much takes away a whole lot of the fun when watching it again. You look at certain things differently and excessive criticism blocks your access to the essential idea of films in general: to entertain. True, there are inconsistencies in pretty much every Bond film and yes there are weak villains, plot outlines and scripts. But unless you’re not a die-hard Bond fan, you will tolerate most of them and even chuckle at some. 

Pierce Brosnan on location in Hamburg

‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ was certainly envisaged as a lighter Bond film after ‘GoldenEye’ which was not to everyone’s liking. Even Pierce Brosnan himself once remarked that he would like to make Bond a bit darker and get to the bottom of how James Bond is as a man. Well, it happened with the Daniel Craig Bond films and after exploring Bond’s past over the course of four films it has become a real bother for some fans of the franchise. They crave a Bond like they had in the 1990’s – more light fun, less private stuff. So it can’t have all been wrong.

However you may look at it, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ was a stylish Bond film that pushed all the right buttons for a large audience and even after 20 years, it is still a Bond film I can watch and enjoy in its entirety without complaining about this and that.

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