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Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Ricky Jay, Gotz Otto

Written By: Bruce Feirstein Directed By: Roger Spottiswoode

The Short Version

Well, that honeymoon ended fast.

A highly plausible villain with a plausible plan does not a great Bond film make.

Especially when the guy playing the hero doesn’t seem so excited anymore.

There’s still some decent adventure to be enjoyed, but…

Tomorrow Never Dies is not the movie it could or should have been... though it’s not bad.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SWISS.

Lots of holes, as though there are pieces missing.


Pairs Well With...

ANY OLD GERMAN BEER.

Whatever’s on sale at the local depot.  It’ll probably be good enough.

“There’s no news like bad news.”


In 1995, Pierce Brosnan helped to bring cinema’s longest-running franchise out of limbo by making Goldeneye the most successful James Bond film ever made up to that time.  The movie was loved by both critics and fans, and everyone was sure that with Brosnan carrying the Walther for the foreseeable future, things would only get better.

Whoops.

Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t a bad movie, per se; indeed, it has a whole lot of things going for it.  It’s got the action, it’s got the gadgets, and it’s got the adventure.  It never gets boring.  Indeed, were this, say, a Van Damme vehicle playing by average action flick standards, director Roger Spottiswoode might easily have come up aces using nearly identical material.  But that’s the thing about Bond movies: they’ve got stuff like “history” and “expectations” against which they are inevitably judged, and once the 007 factor gets tossed into the math, the numbers don’t look as hot anymore.  Still not bad, but definitely not great, and leaning more heavily toward “okay” than “good.”

What does that mean, exactly?  Since our villain of the hour is a news man, let’s have a look at things in good news/bad news format.


Good News.  With Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond movie production resumed its most comfortable release pattern: once every two years.  After the uncertainty that had been created by the six-plus year break between Licence To Kill and Goldeneye, the importance of this cannot be overemphasized.

Bad News.  The results have something of a half-baked feel to them.  The script wasn’t even finished before shooting started (scenes were delivered to the actors each morning), which caused the man originally cast as the villain – Anthony Hopkins – to walk off the set after three days.  After that, other unhappy actors are said to have taken advantage and demanded rewrites of their own characters.  The story is so simple that the movie can start to seem drawn out whenever things aren’t blowing up.  (Bond has the answer handed to him almost immediately; the work he needs to do is relatively light.)  Character moments feel forced at best, and some conversations are just plain awkward.  As a straight up actioner, it’s sufficient and never hits the level of watch-checking, but by 007 standards, this script needed at least one if not two more passes.

Good News.  Pierce Brosnan is back!  Hooray for stability!

Bad News.  He doesn’t phone it in, but outside of a few brief moments, he doesn’t look happy, either.  He’d later say that even long after the last shot had been filmed, he still didn’t know what the movie was about (given the utter simplicity of the story, I’ll have to hope it’s because of the never-finished-until-go-time script), and that frustration is on his face.  Still way better than Lazenby, but the happy comfort Brosnan displayed in his first go as 007 is long gone.

Good News.  Action!  Outstanding action sequences at regular intervals!  Start with James Bond stealing a nuke-armed jet from a terrorist arms bazaar, move on to a car chase through a garage featuring 007 using his phone as a remote control for his BMW, and hey, how about a bike vs. helicopter showdown?  All of this and more (chop socky!), Tomorrow Never Dies delivers to its audiences, and every one of these sequences is well filmed and great fun.

Bad News.  There’s more to a great Bond flick than great action sequences, and one quickly starts to realize that these are covering a lot of other sins.  Note all of the other bad news.

Good News.  It may not be the first plot Eon came up with, but the greedy news mogul storyline is one of the most plausible in the series.  (It’s even really happened before, after a fashion.)  And though he may not have been the first man chosen for the villain’s role, Jonathan Pryce does a fine job with what he’s given, and his character even has a nifty evil henchman to fight on his behalf.

Bad News.  As noted above, the story is straight-line simple, and a plausible plot doesn’t mix happily with the over the top nature of much of the action.  (It’s a consistency thing.)  Pryce is good, but even with a dastardly scheme to bluster about, he gives off slightly less “Bond villain” vibe than the average housecat.  The potentially cool henchman, Stamper, fizzles out early, and while Vincent Schiavelli has a nice cameo as Stamper’s mentor, Dr. Kaufman, that cameo is reduced to low comedy.  As for the techno henchman, Gupta… who ever thought that casting Ricky Jay was a good idea?

Good News.  Bond’s still a player, and Tomorrow Never Dies lets him play.  Teri Hatcher sexes it up in the role of a Bond girl perfectly willing to slap 007’s and hold her own (she later said she didn’t enjoy the part, but to her credit, you can’t tell by watching).  Innuendos are made.  And in other female casting news, Michelle Yeoh is fantastic as James Bond’s opposite number from China, the kung fu fighting Wai Lin.

Bad News.  A few naughty one-liners are good for a Bond flick, even mandatory, but this script doesn’t know when to stop.  Even worse, someone thought it made sense for M – the same M who called 007 a “misogynist dinosaur” in the last film – to get in on the act.  There’s an art to being naughty, and this flaky script doesn’t get it.  Worse still, someone decided that after showing credible restraint and letting Wai Lin develop as a real action partner for Bond, the fact that she’s female meant the she eventually had to succumb to his charms, even though it makes absolutely no sense for this character or in this story.  Being a woman in a Bond movie doesn’t have to mean being a Bond girl, folks, and it really shouldn’t have here.

Good News.  David Arnold’s score is excellent; indeed, he proves to be a logical successor to the crown once worn by John Barry.  The end credits theme by k.d. lang is outstanding, and the soundtrack even gives fans the bonus of a great remix on the classic James Bond theme courtesy of Moby.

Bad News.  Over the objections of David Arnold, who liked k.d. lang’s song as the film’s main theme and who indeed built his score around it, the studio insisted on an inferior half-caterwaul from Sheryl Crow.  Surely, it’s nicely orchestrated, but damn… watch out for that high note.


And so it goes.  As a straight up action flick, Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t bad; indeed, if one goes in with brain in neutral, it’s serviceably fun.  But as James Bond movie, it feels unfinished, and the drama behind the camera shows through in front of it.  For Pierce Brosnan, the honeymoon is definitely over, and for everyone else, something just isn’t right. 

Bottom line, Tomorrow Never Dies is worth the look just because, but it’s not exactly a destination flick, and that’s worrisome for James Bond movie.  For my own part, it falls firmly into the category of “Yeah, I kinda like it, but…”

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, January, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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