The Bond: Pierce Brosnan again, with a shorter haircut and a better sense of humor.
The Release: After plans to film in Vietnam fell through, it’s a wonder Tomorrow Never Dies hit its release date of December 12, 1997 in the UK and a week later in the US. Filming took place from April to September and despite the rushed schedule, the film grossed $125 million domestically and $333 million worldwide.
The Girl: While Bond’s first scene finds him entangled with a hot blonde, the film basically follows the now well-established 2-Girl structure. The first is Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher fresh off Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). She may be married to the villain, but she’s got a romantic history with Bond. Hatcher and Brosnan achieve a surprising amount of chemistry and sense of history for their limited screentime and she especially makes Paris easy to like. You admire her when she forces Bond to admit he pulled away years before because he had genuine feelings for her and when, after they sleep together, Bond begs her to let him protect her, you want her to agree.
The second girl is Wai Lin, played by Michelle Yeoh. She was was already an action star in China, but this is her breakout role for Western audiences so she gets ample opportunity to show off her martial arts training. Though plenty of Bond girls have been spies, Wai Lin is the closest Bond has come to contending with an equal. She’s in step with him all the way through his investigation into the villain, often showing up at the same place at the same time. There are even moments when she out-spies him, using her feminine wiles to ingratiate herself with the villain or quietly repelling down a wall while Bond draws gunfire. She even steals Bond’s “I work alone” line.
However, they do end up working together once they’re caught and the scene were they escape is one of the film’s best. Despite being handcuffed together, Bond and Wai Lin kick, punch and shoot their way out of captivity, fighting like they were trained for this exact scenario. That’s even truer in the following scene, where–Bond’s left hand still cuffed to her right–they have to escape on a motorcycle. At first, Bond tries to drive while Wai Lin sits sidesaddle on the back, but she soon readjusts to sit astride the bike and takes one of its handles. It’s a great (if obvious) metaphor for the struggle for control in their relationship that only gets heightened when, in order to get a better shot at the men pursuing them, Wai Lin crawls into Bond’s lap and wraps her legs around his waist. The only weak moment in terms of the sexual politics between them is the ending when Wai Lin gets damsel-in-distressed. But baby steps.
The Villain: At the time, Carver was seen as a parody of Fox owner Rupert Murdoch or 20th century newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, but watching it now, the character is almost frighteningly similar to deceased Apple mastermind Steve Jobs. Like Jobs, Carver has an affinity for black clothes and sleek glasses. The banner on his building in Bangkok is an almost exact copy of the iconic black and white Jobs bust. He also does most of his work via a giant tablet/keyboard that may as well be a primitive iPad. Apple may never have been about controlling the entire news market, but its dominance in providing the means by which people consume all forms of media feels eerily similar to what happens here. In terms of performance, Pryce is just on the edge of too much. He gives Carver a touch of megalomania that feels classically Bondian, but he’s actually go a stronger possibility of taking over the world in a way all those nut jobs with stolen nuclear devices never really could have.
The Gadgets: Bond’s cellphone is, hands down, the best gadget in the movie. Not only is it a fingerprint scanner, taser and skeleton key, it also allows him to remotely operate his BMW. Whether he can actually use it to make calls is unclear.
The Song: TND has two original songs. The main theme is “Tomorrow Never Dies” by Sheryl Crowe. Her vocals have a sort of grungy, whiney sound and the song as a whole is slightly low-energy. The second song is “Surrender” by K.D. Lang. Her vocal performance is somewhere between a belt and the sexy crooning of a lounge singer. She’s complemented by a killer horns section and a great drum rhythm. There are some odd electronic flourishes here and there, but it’s overall a better song and should have played over the opening credits instead of the end credits.
The Book: This is the first Bond film that has nothing to do with Ian Fleming or the source material. Regardless, the title is perfect. It’s complete nonsense and sounds like either a line Bond would use to seduce a girl or a fake Bond title a person would come up with late in a drinking game.
The Movie: GoldenEye is widely considered Brosnan’s best Bond (it has an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes while the rest don’t break 60%), but I’m going to bat for TND. It doesn’t necessarily have a groundbreaking plot or a particularly unique take on the character, but it’s a hell of an action movie.
Right from the beginning, we’re thrown into big explosions as Bond infiltrates “a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border” and steals a fighter jet carrying nuclear missiles. This is the kind of sequence that ends a Bond movie, not starts one. And it’s got a great ending: Bond uses the plane’s ejector seat to both get rid of the man garroting him AND take down the enemy plane directly above him.
The action is, admittedly, sort of silly throughout, peaking with the remote-controlled car scene. As Bond navigates the car through a parking structure, a proto-GPS female voice warns him about the dangers of fast driving even as bullets fly all around him. It’s deliberately absurd, but it works because it’s fun. The coup de grâce, however, is the moment where Bond (after jumping out) drives the car off the top of the structure and it smashes through the window of an Avis office upon landing. Q, disguised as an Avis agent earlier, had warned him to return the car in perfect condition and Bond can’t help but laugh.
Those scenes–combined with the aforementioned motorcycle chase and a few others–keep the movie moving at a swift pace that makes it seem not nearly as long as its two-hour runtime. In fact, the action moves things along so fast that it’s easy to miss how little substance there is to the story. Carver is just another insane person with a flare for theatrics who wants to take over the world. Still, Bond isn’t about story, it’s about escapism and fun and this is one of the better films at providing that.