Lofty ambitions and bold ideas are brought back down to earth by listless performances and a failure to commit fully to the bold ideas at the heart of The World is Not Enough.
Let’s just go to the elephant in the room right away and discuss Denise Richards’ character Christmas Jones. She is…not good. Having said that though, one of the more surprising things is how little she is actually in the movie or doing anything of note. She doesn’t make her first appearance until roughly the halfway point of things and after that first interaction largely just tags along with little to nothing to do. She is a throwback to the Stacy Stuttons of the Bond series, a character with a big job title who doesn’t actually use it and who is largely cast to be the damsel in distress at the end.
On the whole though, while Christmas Jones is a bad character, it is hardly exclusively down to Denise Richards. Indeed her performance, while mostly flat, feels like it is more so because of terrible writing and poor direction. The entire character just feels like an afterthought and one who was added in late to the game.
What makes this more disappointing is how brilliant the other major female character of the film is, with Elektra King an instantly iconic character within the series. The idea of slowly but subtly revealing the big bad of the movie to be the woman Bond falls for is an ingenious twist on the classic Bond girl trope and one so rife with great directions to go in. This is strengthened by the fantastic chemistry between Pierce and Sophie Marceau. Every scene they have together just crackles and sparks with their on-screen dynamic.
Thus we get to what is both the greatest element of The World is Not Enough and also ultimately its undoing: a failure to fully commit to its many great ideas. For Elektra King isn’t allowed to be the main love interest of James, instead Christmas is forced on us, tasked with doing nothing, so James can make an awful pun joke at the film’s end and have a happily ever after ending. The decision does James, Elektra, and yes Christmas dirty and knocks so much wind out of the sails of the film.
Further hurting the film is the rushed nature of Bond and Elektra’s storyline, partially caused by the fact that there is an entire other woman who is being forced into the story late in the game. I want more time between Bond and Elektra, more scenes of them falling for each other and forging a connection but a lot of that is thrown aside for the scenes of Bond and Christmas together in the film’s second half.
Another disappointing example of the film not fully committing is with the character of M, with Judi Dench easily being given the most to do of any prior M in a Bond film here. The angle of her and Elektra’s father’s past friendship and M’s advice regarding Elektra’s kidnapping is such a great opportunity to let a world class actress in Judi Dench just shine. The film goes in that direction teasing out interesting angles and plot threads and then in the big moment where Elektra reveals her plan and captures M…the movie just sorta fizzles out for her. The rest of the movie for M is her just spent in a cell. No other adventures or impact to make.
In some ways The World is Not Enough feels like an interesting half step between the classic M archetype of giving James the mission brief in the office and then sending him on his way and the more courageous and exciting work they’d give Dench in the Craig era. But because it doesn’t go all the way with it, it just ends up feeling like a wasted opportunity.
And that’s honestly the best way to describe The World is Not Enough, a wasted opportunity. The film starts off with a fantastic boat chase pre-title sequence and there is another great action scene where Bond and Renard meet for the first time but on the whole it lacks much momentum and energy to it. This isn’t helped by the fact that the action and dramatic scenes almost feel like separate movies at times. There is a tonal unevenness to The World is Not Enough that constantly upsets things.
It’s unfortunate too because Pierce Brosnan is still at his A game here delivering yet another great performance as James Bond, but he is just saddled with easily the worst writing and script during his time as Bond. So many awful one-liners and cringy jokes trying to fit into every other sentence plague this dialogue and film. The film is honestly closer to the Roger Moore era films in a lot of ways and unquestionably represents the most serious drop in quality since Timothy Dalton took over with The Living Daylights.
Elsewhere Renard is a great classic style villain who is given little to do and has such a disappointing death scene. The movie’s climax aboard the submarine is truly poorly explained and the rules of what is happening are never properly laid out. An almost sluggish pace takes hold of things at times and yet even still there are moments of greatness here, a standout movie if they just went all the way on it.
That back and forth nature leads to great highs and eye-rolling lows in The World is Not Enough but even still it stands still over most of the Roger Moore era lowlights.
Obviously the pre-title sequence chase on the River Thames and the great mine fight between Bond and Renard’s men. Outside of that though, my two favorite parts of the movie are again the recurring moments between Bond and Elektra, particular shoutout to Elektra’s death scene and the way it is played out. Otherwise the scene from the movie I think of quite often is just how well done Desmond Llwelyn’s farewell as Q is. Lovely stuff.
Elektra is great but unable to fully live up to her potential due to Christmas Jones coming in as the “Bond Girl” in the later half of the film. Even so, she is a fantastic and a great shakeup of the Bond template and a welcome breath of fresh air.
Renard is also great as the co-main villain I guess, with a brilliantly perfect Bond backstory of being shot in the head and feeling no pain. They don’t really ever use that fact in any of his fights which is a let down but even still he’s a step up from the prior film. On the whole the baddies are great if not quite up to their full potential. 8/10
God bless Desmon Llewlyn who’s 36 year, 17 film run with the series comes to a close here. Though The World is Not Enough was not meant to be his final film in the series, his tragic passing just weeks after it premiered changed things. As it is though, The World is Not Enough manages to still work as a beautiful farewell to his Q.
Introducing John Cleese as his replacement, featuring great Q Lab gadgets in the background, and delivering the final punchline with Cleese in the snow jacket. Inarguably though the highlight is his and James’ final conversation together and Q reminding 007 the two things he’s always tried to teach him.
Llewlyn’s perfect delivery and reaction as he says “always have an escape plan” as the lift goes down with the camera staying on his face is perfectly matched with the more somber musical score they have accompanying it.
A fantastic and beautiful farewell to a 007 legend. Easily an emotional 10/10.
The World is Not Enough doesn’t soar to the highs of the prior four Bond films before it, but neither does it sink down to the depths of some of the Roger Moore era stinkers. It is a Bond movie trying to have the best of both worlds. The tongue in cheek and sillier elements of Moore mixed with the more grounded and emotionally mature storytelling found in the Dalton and earlier Brosnan films.
It doesn’t really do either one perfectly. Certainly the jokes and quippy one liners fall largely flat here. Yet, while not perfect the more emotional sides of the film work far better. Whether it be the Bond and Elektra relationship, M getting her moments to shine, Valentin coming back to make a last stand, or the emotional high of Q’s farewell there is a changing of the guard and transitory feel to this film at times. Helped along with hindsight by the knowledge this is the next to last of the Bond series before they would hard reboot everything with Casino Royale.
As it is, The World is Not Enough is an uneven but nostalgic ride. A last gasp really of the classic era of Bond mixing with the more modern. The series’ last roots and connections to its start would be gone after this. Perhaps that’s for the better, perhaps not. What I do know is that it was a perfectly Bond way to end things. 6.5/10