Following the assassination of oil tycoon Sir Robert King (David Calder) at MI6 headquarters, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) races to apprehend the mystery woman (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) responsible. After a breakneck speedboat chase the assassin takes her own life, but Bond learns she was working for Victor Zorkas (Robert Carlyle), a fanatical terrorist also known as Reynard the Fox. Sir Robert was a close friend of M’s (Judi Dench), so she assigns 007 as bodyguard to his daughter Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), who survived being kidnapped and tortured by Reynard years ago. Being Bond, he takes the assignment literally and swiftly hops between the sheets with the gorgeous heiress. After foiling an assassination attempt, Bond follows a trail that leads to nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) and Russian mobster Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), and discovers Elektra isn’t all she appears. A discovery that has deadly consequences for M.
Pierce Brosnan’s third outing as 007 ties with Goldeneye (1995) as his best. Indeed, for sheer pulse-pounding excitement it is arguably the most spectacular Bond since The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Following Bond’s daredevil escape from a high-rise flat and Sir Robert’s explosive fate, we segue into an exhilarating jet-boat chase across the Thames that climaxes when a hot air balloon blows up beside the Millennium Dome. This fourteen minute sequence (the longest pre-title segment in Bond film history) is thrillingly realised by veteran stunt co-ordinator/2nd unit director Vic Armstrong, but highlights a problem that plagues all the Brosnan Bonds. Their Big Action Set-piece always takes place in the middle (remember Goldeneye’s amazing tank chase through St. Petersburg?), leaving the ending something of a damp squib. Bond’s tussle with Reynard inside a submarine may be another anti-climax, but only because the preceding set-pieces (the escape from an exploding mine, a race through an oil pipeline trying to diffuse a bomb, a helicopter armed with a lethal buzzsaw) thrill so consistently.
The title comes from the Latin: Orbis non sufficit, revealed as Bond’s family motto in the novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The reference proves apt since screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Fierstein steer Bond, and M, into personal waters unexplored since the 1969 cult classic. Pierce Brosnan delivers his most compelling characterisation, alternately ruthless, compassionate, charismatic, wryly humorous, and shockingly brutal. Critics commonly chastise Brosnan for trying to be all things to all people (the dynamic ruthlessness of Sean Connery, the self-parody of Roger Moore, the intensity of Timothy Dalton), but it’s a difficult juggling act and he pulled it off in a manner that had audiences hailing him as the finest Bond since Connery. The supporting cast mostly rise to the challenge, with Judi Dench being the obvious standout, although Samantha Bond as Moneypenny and Maria Grazia Cucinotta as the sexy assassin “Cigar Girl” (named Giulietta da Vinci in the novelization) make the most of their moments in the sun.
Biggest disappointment has to be Robert Carlyle who, while suitably intense and sparks brilliantly off Pierce Brosnan, is saddled with a dull, dour villain. Attempts to make Reynard a pitiable figure merely result in him seeming morose and directionless, clearly playing second fiddle to the fascinating Elektra King. Sophie Marceau proved an inspired choice and makes Elektra a damaged, devious woman who briefly gets under Bond’s skin. Those who praised the Bond/Vesper Lynde relationship in Casino Royale (2006) forget that, while it was there in Ian Fleming’s novel, cinematically it happened here first. Once unmasked as a wrong-un, Marceau brings a playful, kittenish quality as in the climax where Elektra flees Bond whilst giggling like a naughty schoolgirl, or when she straddles his lap while strangling him in a torture device - a delicious bit of pulp sadist erotica. Of course, the fact that Sophie Marceau is one of the world’s most beautiful women, with legs that go on for miles, doesn’t hurt either. As for the much maligned Denise Richards, recently voted worst Bond girl ever (although while there is breath in my body, I’ll argue for Grace Jones), she isn’t bad at all. Dr. Christmas Jones is an adequate sidekick and it’s a mark of how different transatlantic perspectives are that Americans thought Richards playing a nuclear physicist was laughable, while British audiences understood it was a deliberate joke.
The World is Not Enough has more taxing problems than Richards’ opinion-dividing character. How many times has Bond been chased by assassins on skis? Why bring Robbie Coltrane back as Zukovsky and swipe him aside in such a perfunctory manner? The less said about drum and base pioneer Goldie’s turn as a Russian mobster the better. Garbage’s mournful theme song remains a love it or loathe it experience and David Arnold’s attempts to ape John Barry are starting to sound samey. Yet the film remains a slick, expansive, often exhilarating experience that delighted many back in 1999.