Piers Brosnan's Bond decade
The James Bond franchise had a 6-year layoff before it released Goldeneye in 1995. There were two other Bond movies in the 90’s, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. The films reflected the changing times in the world and in film making. In the 90’s Pierce Brosnan was James Bond, Judi Dench was M and Moneypenny was played by Bond, Samantha Bond. The screen credits dropped the “Miss” honorific for Moneypenny. Judy Dench’s M had a more hands-on approach to Bond’s missions. Bond and M were more serious at pointing out each other’s perceived shortcomings than in previous Bond films. This article contains spoilers.
James Bond franchise in the Pierce Brosnan era
This is the first James Bond movie that opens in the past. Secret Agents 006 (Sean Bean) and 007 are on a mission in the Soviet Union. James Bond sees Colonel Ourumov (Gottfried John) shoot 006 dead. This mission shows rather than tells the backstory. After the title sequence James Bond is driving with Caroline (Serena Gordon), who is supposed to give a report on his mental fitness. Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) drives next to them in a Ferrari. They have a friendly road race, which Onatopp wins. The audience doesn’t know it but they have seen the movie’s main villains. Bond seduces Caroline and she gives him a good mental fitness report.
There is a baccarat scene where Bond gets the better of Onatopp. Onatopp’s special weapon is her thighs. She and General Ourumov make off with a prototype helicopter that is resistant to electromagnetic pulse (EMP). They go to a satellite tracking facility at Severnaya and kill almost everyone there. Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming) is a computer genius who loves hacking and views less gifted computer people as “slug heads”. He survives because he is in on the plot. Natalia Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) is a computer expert who works on the guidance system. She survives by a combination of luck and wits. For Onatopp killing is a pleasure. She makes a pun when she thinks she killed Natalia.[i] General Ourumov and Onatopp have control of the armed satellite “Goldeneye”. Goldeneye causes an EMP that causes two Su-29s to crash, one destroys the station. Natalia makes her way out of the station and to safety by a combination of luck and tenacity.
James Bond and M show they have little regard for each other. M tells Bond she is up for the task and expects Bond not to let personal feelings get in the way of his mission. Bond’s CIA contact is Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker). Wade’s car is a Moskvich, a subcompact. Wade remarked it was ugly but it gets you there. This is reminiscent of the 1969 Volkswagen phrase “It’s ugly but it gets you there.”[ii] Natalia carries out her own investigation. Bond has another encounter with Onatopp. She attempts to use her lethal thighs but Bonds gets the better of her and her henchman. The fight is more violent than previous Bond vs woman fights. Onatopp takes Bond to meet the head of the conspiracy. It’s former Secret Agent 006 aka Janus aka Alec Trevelyan. Trevelyan tranquilizes Bond. Bond wakes up to Natalia’s screaming and banging. They are in a helicopter that is set to destroy itself with its own missiles. Bond ejects Natalia and himself before the explosion. After cases of out of the frying pan, into the fire, Bond and Natalia are locked in an armored train that’s set to explode. Natalia gets right to work on a computer she intends to hack into Boris Grishenko’s computer and find out where the conspirators are going. She explains to Bond then yells at him to find a way out. Natalia’s knowledge of Boris proved a disadvantage in finding a password. She was looking for a foul word when the password is “chair”.[iii]
Bond and Natalia head to Cuba via the Caribbean. Jack Wade gives Bond a small plane. Natalia and Bond go looking for the satellite station and a surface to air missile finds them. They crash land and moments later Onatopp rappels from a helicopter. In the fight Onatopp has the advantage over Bond. Natalia intervenes which distracts Onatopp enough for Bond to kill her in a Rube Goldberg type method.[iv]
Inside the complex 007 does the muscle end of the operation and Natalia does the technical end. There is the outwardly civil confrontation between Trevelyan and a captive Bond. When a captive Natalia sees Boris, she attacks him. She beats Boris until two guards pull her off him. Natalia only has access to the guidance system. That is enough for Natalia. She sets Goldeneye to enter the atmosphere and resets the password. Boris can’t figure out her password. A well-timed explosion and Bond and Natalia are free.
Bond gives Natalia a handgun and asks her if she knows how to use it. Natalia answers by demonstrating she knows how to handle the weapon. There are many women in the complex until it starts exploding. Then they are nowhere around. There is the final fight between Trevelyan and Bond. Natalia forces a helicopter pilot at gunpoint to rescue Bond.
[i] Onatopp machineguns an air duct. She reports to General Ourumov; “It’s clean. I had to ventilate someone.”
[ii] Wade embellished the phrase with foul language. The VW commercial used the Lunar Module in its ads.
[iii] The riddle was something you sit on but can’t take with you. Often in movies computer experts use simple passwords. The common technical error is the passwords are all in English.
[iv] Bond hooked Onatopp to a tether then he shot down the helicopter with a machinegun. The helicopter crashed, pulling the tether. The tether pulls Onatopp into a tree squeezing the life out of her.
Rube Goldberg Machine
A complicated machine made to perform a simple task.
Tomorrow Never Dies
This movie made film history by being the first movie to have its operating budget covered by product placement campaigns.[i] Tomorrow Never Dies opens with an action scene witnessed live by M, and many others, in a high-tech situation room. This is a first for a Bond movie.
A few other firsts revolved around the character Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher). Paris is married to the villain Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). This is the first Bond movie where the villain is married. Paris is one of Bond’s ex-girlfriends. Another first in a Bond movie. Bond, and in one case Q, mentioned in previous movies, with little credibility, going to bed with a woman was required for a mission. In Tomorrow Never Dies M explicitly tells Bond he is expected to take Paris to bed if it helps the mission. In previous movies there are references to jealous husbands. This is the first movie where Bond goes to bed with a married woman.
Elliot Carver is a media tycoon. He is able to scoop other media outlets because he manufactures news. He has a stealth ship and a mercenary crew. The stealth ship sinks the HMS Devonshire, leaving no survivors. Carver intends to start a conflict between China and Britain. The UK sends in 007 to investigate. China sends Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) to investigate. Wai Lin quickly shows how she can out maneuver Bond.
Michelle Yeoh’s full contact stunt fighting style and Jackie Chan’s stunt team raised the fighting scenes to a new level. There is an intense chase scene with a motorcycle which has as its climax jumping between two buildings and over a hovering helicopter. Wai Lin resisted partnering with Bond on the mission but eventually relents and they work together to foil Elliot Carver’s plot and prevent a war between China and the UK.
In 1997 the British lease for Hong Kong ran out and control reverted to China. The turnover went off without a hitch. Tomorrow Never Dies grossed over $333 million worldwide.[ii]
[i] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120347/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv, last accessed 2/23/21.
[ii] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120347/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1, last accessed 3/2/21.
Closing out the century
The World Is Not Enough, released in 1999, had an operating budget of $135 million.[i] The movie’s back story is an heiress, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), was kidnapped. The kidnapper, Renard (Robert Carlyle), sent part of Elektra’s ear to prove he had her and was serious. Her father paid the ransom but was killed. Elektra managed to escape. An MI6 agent shot Renard in the head but was killed in the process. The bullet is working its way through Renard’s brain. It will eventually kill him. Renard will function almost normally until he dies. His senses are slowly being shut down. At present he can’t feel any pain. This makes him a formidable adversary in a fight.
The movie opens with 007 in a room with a Swiss banker, Lachaise (Partick Malahide), a couple of body guards, and a Cigar Girl (Maria Grazia Cucinotta). Lachaise believes he has the advantage over Bond. Bond soon turns tables on Lachaise. Cigar Girl kills Lachaise before he can give 007 a name. Cigar Girl makes her escape.
Cigar Girl carries out another assassination inside MI6 Headquarters. In the subsequent boat chase down the Thames River 007 catches up with Cigar Girl on a balloon. Cigar Girl chooses to blow herself up rather than face possible consequences from Renard.
Bond’s search takes him to Azerbaijan. There he meets Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards). Her body language didn’t seem to match her curt personality. The character is intelligent, athletic, and has depth. Denise Richards considered it different from previous Bond Women. There were other Bond Women that had those characteristics. Audiences found Denise Richards’ portrayal of these characteristics unconvincing. Her performance got a first for a Bond movie. It was the dubious honor of receiving a Razzie.[ii] Movie critic Roger Ebert liked Richards’ performance. He viewed her as a snarky Gen-X woman.[iii]
Elektra King is the first woman supervillain in a Bond movie. Previous villainesses were henchmen.[iv] Elektra engineered her kidnapping. Renard loved Elektra so much he couldn’t bring himself to mutilate her. Elektra cut off her own earlobe. Elektra’s current plot is to destroy a pipeline network giving her complete control of the oil flow in the region. The nuclear explosion would kill thousands. She captures M. Elektra makes the classic evil woman blunder of believing a good guy she made love to couldn’t kill her. Elektra is unarmed when Bond shoots her dead. As of 2015 this is the only time Bond killed a woman who was not an immediate threat to him.
Despite heavy competition from Sleepy Hollow, The World is Not Enough set another box office record for a Bond film at almost $362 million.[v]
[i] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0143145/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1, last accessed 3/2/21.
[ii] The Razzie was for Worst Supporting Actress, Denise Richards. International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0143145/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv, last accessed 3/2/21.
[iii] The Razzie was for Worst Supporting Actress, Denise Richards. International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0143145/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv, last accessed 3/2/21.
[iv] Some point to Rosa Klebb, From Russia With Love. Rosa Klebb was answerable to the unnamed Ernst Starvos Blofeld. It was clear if she failed her mission Blofeld would kill her as he killed Kronsteen.
[v] The Numbers, Box Office History for James Bond Movies, https://www.the-numbers.com/movies/franchise/James-Bond#tab=summary, last accessed 3/3/21. The World is Not Enough grossed $361,730,660.
When the Good Guy Killed A Present or Former Lover
It Conquered the World
Battlestar Galactica (Daybreak)
Highlander (Pharaoh's Daughter)
Battlestar Galactica (Exodus)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (The Vengeance Factor)
Star Trek (Mantrap)
I, The Jury
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 04, 2021:
Thank you all for reading and commenting:
Keith Abt: Pierce Brosnan is a popular Bond. Many wanted him as Bond thanks to "Remington Steele".
Pamela Oglesby: Glad you liked the review. There are so many movies in the franchise. While some are played often on TV others not so often.
Misbah: Glad you found it interesting and enjoyable.
Chitangada Sharan: Glad you enjoyed the article. The big screen has definite advantages with Bond films.
FlourishAnyway: By the '80s much of the standard Bond fare seemed retro. The aging Roger Moore didn't help the situation.
Keith Abt from The Garden State on March 04, 2021:
Brosnan is my 2nd favorite Bond, right behind Connery.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 04, 2021:
This is a good article about the Bond franchise. You have provided a great deal of information, Robert. I haven't seen all of the movies, so I appreciate your excellent review.
Misbah from The Planet Earth on March 03, 2021:
The article is very interesting
I liked reading it
Thanks for sharing
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 03, 2021:
Great article about the James Bond franchise of the 90's. I enjoyed reading it.
I have watched most of Pierce Brosnan on Television. But for the earlier ones, we used to enjoy them in the theatres.
Thank you for sharing this excellent information.
FlourishAnyway from USA on March 03, 2021:
With the level of detail in this you truly prove that you are a devotee of the Bond franchise. I liked Pierce Brosnan as Bond although I never watched much Bond. They lost me with the sexism in the 80s.