Tomorrow Never Dies, and Neither Will My Love for This Movie

As of last night, I was going to write a review of Out of the Furnace (a very solid movie in my opinion) and go to a preview screening of 47 Ronin today. Instead, I drank a bit and decided to watch one of my few Black Friday purchases, a Blu-ray of Tomorrow Never Dies. Now I would say that this purchase was partly due to nostalgia; Tomorrow Never Dies was the first Bond movie (and one of the first movies at all) that I saw in theaters, with my dad no less. But I’ve watched the movie more than often enough in my time, not even including tonight, to feel that my passion for it is really justified and earned. I regret nothing, and in exchange I was fully reminded how much I love one of my all-time favorite Bond movies. My (spoiler-filled) reasons why after the jump:

For those who don’t remember, Tomorrow Never Dies follows 007 (Pierce Brosnan) as he investigates the cause of a clash between Britain and China, and discovers the machinations of media mogul Eliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce), who is attempting to engineer a war for the sake of broadcasting rights and ratings. Bond must ally with a Chinese intelligence agent (Michelle Yeoh) in order to prevent a potential World War. So, in other words, the usual Bondian ridiculousness… but with a stealth boat! And a Sheryl Crow song! Though as easy as it can be to snark at almost anything in the James Bond universe, that synopsis actually contains pretty much everything about the movie that I like so much.

It begins with 007 himself, and as much as I appreciate Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan has always been my Bond. And it’s occurred to me that, appropriate for the end of what we could call the Original Bond era, Brosnan was the perfect culmination of all the previous iterations of Bond before him. He had the wit of Moore, the emotional angst of Dalton, the stone killer nature of Connery and the male model looks of Lazenby. All of that is of course on display in TND, and it’s clear to see how this movie could cement a continuing love for Bond and his stories. And what I can appreciate now about Brosnan’s Bond movies is that they all delved into Bond’s history and age in a way none of the previous versions really had, and explored (on a very basic level) the repercussions of his long career as a secret agent. In this case, they present the aftermath of one of Bond’s love affairs in Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher), now the wife of the scheming villain, and remind the audience that even with the Bond girls that survive, they don’t really get the happiest of endings. There’s a sense of bitterness and regret in Bond’s interactions with Paris, and a little bit of daring too (it was the first depicted instance of Bond getting intimate with a married woman).

And on the subject of “Bond girls” the main one in this film is dynamite. Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin is terrific, and carries herself as if she’s the star of her own separate movie that happens to be crossing over with Bond’s. And that makes sense; Yeoh was already an established Hong Kong action star by the time she was cast in TND. To the film’s credit, they mostly avoid marginalizing Wai Lin as just an object for Bond to save. She is a consistently active (and badass) participant in the narrative; in fact for the first half of the movie she pops up only occasionally, clearly pursuing her own goals and only teaming up with Bond when it’s absolutely necessary. And when they do team up, Wai Lin demonstrates that she’s more than qualified, and contributes just as much to Carver’s defeat as Bond does. And yes, Bond does save her a couple of times, but in the end it is his movie, so what’re you going to do? She still feels like a full equal to Bond; it’s no wonder that they actually considered a Wai Lin spinoff (and honestly I don’t know why they didn’t collaborate with a Hong Kong studio to make that happen on a low budget). It’s a nice acknowledgement that there are some problems that Bond can’t handle alone, and that a woman can be just as badass as he can be.

More than anything though, what I love about TND is that it’s really a science fiction movie, in mentality more than anything else. The core of the movie is a psychotic media mogul trying to engineer world events for the sake of better news stories (and the resulting better ratings), and it’s probably no coincidence that the movie was made in 1997, during the rise of the 24-hour news cycle. To satirize and villainize this shift in a major action movie franchise is exciting as hell to me, and considering how partisan and narrative-driven cable news has become since TND’s release I am even more appreciative of how perceptive (if over-the-top) it ended up being. It was also the most gadget-heavy Bond movie in awhile, and moreso than most of the movies that followed it as well. The awesome remote-control BMW is great enough, much less the watch, the phone or Carver’s stealth boat. When you add in the unexpected-yet-believable conflict between Britain and China (one that only tangentially involves the US for once), it brings the movie into this exciting and impressive area where it feels both vaguely grounded in the world around it while also feeling like a classically over-the-top Bond movie. And that’s a balance that can be incredibly hard to strike.

Sure it’s not a great movie, nor is it an Important Feature Film. But Tomorrow Never Dies is an old favorite, and it’s always nice to revisit such movies from your youth and discover that they actually have plenty of merit for your picky older self that isn’t sure what he wants from movies anymore. Watching something as unabashedly fun (and surprisingly well-developed) as Tomorrow Never Dies is a nice reminder of what I loved about movies as a child and what I still love about movies now.

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