After watching this film the first time in the cinema, I thought it would be a cold day in hell before I watched it again. It was so bad. I remember having an argument with the friends I saw it with on the way home.
“That was a great film,” they said.
“Are you kidding me? An invisible car? And Madonna?” Not-yet-Husband and I shouted in reply.
But this second viewing revealed that the film was not as bad as I recalled, although there were indeed some truly terrible moments.
And the terrible starts with the theme tune. Which is by Madonna. Not a great song. I’ll leave it there. But the opening credits are great – ice women and fire women and scorpions, interspersed with scenes of 007 being tortured. Because after a tremendous opening scene of surfing into North Korea (actually filmed in Maui, Hawa’ii), Bond is caught by the North Koreans and tortured for 14 months before eventually being exchanged back to the British, who see him as a compromised agent and remove his licence to kill. It’s a grim and downbeat start to the film.
We tick through several more exotic locations in this film, including Hong Kong (the scene where a rough looking Bond walks into the swanky hotel is priceless), Cuba (filmed in Spain) and Iceland (actual Iceland being itself this time and not somewhere else).
The villain in the film is Gustav Graves, self made billionaire who discovered diamonds in Iceland (hint: he didn’t, he’s illegally trading conflict diamonds) and who is showing off his new (thing) Icarus, a huge reflecting satellite that he’s suggesting to use to grow crops 24 hours a day by lighting up the dark side of the earth. (The climate crisis credentials of this film are truly terrible – try not to cry out at the scene of the Icarus light beam cutting through the glacier.)
But Gustav Graves is not who you think he is; and Icarus is not a scientific gift to the world. It’s a weapon that comes straight out of Diamonds are Forever (I guess Tiffany Case never found a way to get those diamonds down) and as for his villainous plot, well, there’s a reason those North Korean Generals showed up to the Icarus launch in Iceland.
Halle Berry does her best with the character of NSA agent, Jinx Johnson, despite her character being written so two-dimensional. Like Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies, she’s following her own agenda and getting on with the job while Bond fumbles about in the dark and makes stupid wise cracks. Although she’s introduced in an unnecessary way where they re-enact the scene from Doctor No where Ursula Andress emerges from the water in her bikini. But Jinx is a very different character to Honey Ryder. Jinx knows people are looking at her and she doesn’t care.
In comparison, Graves’ publicist Miranda Frost (a clue in the name there) is singularly unimpressed by James Bond. “He’ll light the fuse on any explosive situation, and be a danger to himself and others.”
Things I didn’t like about the film
- Madonna’s theme tune
- Madonna turning up randomly as the fencing instructor (why? why? why?)
- The invisible car
- The Maori guy on Gustav Graves’ staff called Mr Kil. I’m all for a bit of ethnic diversity and with New Zealand director Lee Tamahori you could expect some Maori representation but to do it like that – “I am Mr Kil”? No, no, no!
- The random scenes in slow motion. This isn’t The Matrix, this is James Bond.
- The guy with the diamonds embedded in his face after an explosion. Why didn’t he get them removed? Why didn’t his skin push them out as it was healing?
- The aforementioned scene with the ice shelf and Graves’ flippant response about global warming
- John Cleese as Q. John Cleese lacks the kindly intellectual boffin uncle quality of Desmond Llewellyn; he just comes across as a grumpy old man, the kind of uncle you’d avoid at family get-togethers. Although it was a nice touch to see Bond find the jet pack from You Only Live Twice in Q’s laboratory. (“Does thing still work?”)
This was Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as Bond, and it was interesting to read that he doesn’t rate his own performance and won’t watch the films:
“I have no desire to watch myself as James Bond. ‘Cause it’s just never good enough. It’s a horrible feeling. […] I felt I was caught in a time warp between Roger and Sean. […] The violence was never real, the brute force of the man was never palpable. It was quite tame, and the characterisation didn’t have a follow-through of reality…”
Film epilogue: You know what, I’m so bored by this film that I can’t even come up with a future life for Jinx. She lives, she dies. I don’t really care. I’m just drawing a big sigh of relief that we’re moving onto the Daniel Craig films at last.