The World is Not Enough
The problem with Pierce Brosnan as 007 is that he's still the great stone face. A handsome stone face, but a stone face nevertheless. He's a model in spy's clothing, rather than a spy in model's clothing, as Sean Connery was. Nevertheless, thanks to a simpler plot line (one twist only), good direction of the action sequences, and the presence of Judi Dench as M (only she could get away with delivering a line that begins "We shall pursue them to the farthest ends of the earth...." with a straight face [and would somebody tell me why some ends are farther than others?]), the film actually works.
For one thing, the mandatory opening cross/double-cross/triple- cross sequence is the best in thirty years. The film starts in a bank office in Bilbao, with the new Guggenheim visible through the window, though that's all we ever see of it. Bang bang bang bang and Bond is deposited, carrying $3 million, via curtain valence to the street ten stories below (don't ask), leading to another double cross back at MI6 headquarters in London, leading to -- well, I won't give it away, though with this film series it's the action of the moment rather than any foolish old-fashioned elements like plot or character that matter.
You'll be happy to know that Bond beds three women in this film, with one double-entendre for each occasion. The two that matter are Sophie Marceau, as Elektra King, the daughter of the British oil baron who's blown up early on, but loyally soldiers on to complete her father's oil pipeline from Baku to Istanbul. Marceau is sophisticated and sexy, and gives as good as she gets, so to speak. The other is Denise Richards, as apparently the world's youngest Ph.D in nuclear science, rivaling only Cameron Diaz's orthopedic surgeon in "There's Something About Mary." Richards' name here is Christmas Jones, and if you remember that Christmas comes but once a year you'll be ready for the film's last line.
The laundry list of locations is up to the usual Bond standard, moving to Scotland, Baku in Azerbaijan --where Bond and Elektra manage to find a good deal of above-timberline skiing, though if you looked at a map you'd find it's in a flat desert area bordering the Caspian Sea, but no matter. Ski chases seem to be de rigeur in the series. From there we fly to Kazakhstan, then to Istanbul, and even get involved with a nuclear submarine in the harbor.
The primary villain is Robert Carlyle, as Renard (the fox, for the fairy-tale impaired), and the twist is that sometime before the movie begins he's been shot in the head, the bullet can't be removed, it's working its way through his brain, and will kill him. But before it does he's going to do a lot of bad things, particularly because it's already destroyed his sense of touch, and the others are going fast. He wears a cheap Russian accent that doesn't hold very well, but he's a good enough actor that we can actually feel sympathy for him.
Even John Cleese has a moment in the sun here, but overall the script is more mechanical than witty. You feel that every line is just a setup to move us to the next location or stunt. Michael Apted directs -- his first action film after thirty years of human-interest stories -- and he and his director of photography Adrian Biddle have shot the action very well. Apted isn't afraid of vertical shots (straight down, straight up), and they pay off for him here. The pacing is fine, though too many sequences end with a fireball explosion. The film runs just over two hours, and is only about five minutes too long. That's a near-record for the latter-day Bond movies.