To a point, The World Is Not Enough is admirable, and there’s a kernel of a great movie underneath the miscalculated end result. I say admirable because, in concept, the film attempted to do something really interesting with the character for the first time in many years. The idea here is that James Bond (Pierce Brosnan, in his worst, most overwrought turn) once again falls for an intelligent, capable, but wounded woman – there are attempts to evoke On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in this regard, not least of which a romantic ski sequence with 007 and Elektra King, the aforementioned woman played by Sophie Marceau. More intriguing still was the concept of turning this romance sour, and presenting audiences with the first example of Bond falling for a woman who not only doesn’t fall for him, but plays him like a drum. Even the plot that circles the core relationship, revolving around attempts on King’s life due to her status as an oil magnate, is strong in theory. And indeed, therein lies World’s biggest problem – it is a very strong film in theory only.
The result of these strong concepts stands as a soap opera of sorts, and at the very least a miscalculated melodrama. Sure, Bond has been known to display a weakness for beautiful women, but the film asks us to believe that he’s fallen hard for Elektra after the aforementioned ski sequence accompanied by David Arnold’s sweeping score. The scenes between Bond and Elektra are played straight, and are terribly self-serious, consistently undercut by a screenplay that lacks the sophistication these scenes need – The World Is Not Enough is an identity-crisis of a movie, a dramatically ambitious concept presented as campy, uninspired escapism. It’s worth mentioning here that despite the thin script, the movie benefits from Marceau’s presence in every scene she’s in – she navigates the soap opera elements best she can, and delivers a performance that effectively displays the various layers of her character. She’s the one intriguing concept that, occasionally, is realized. The villains are the strength here (Robert Carlyle brings a pulpy menace to the terrorist Renard).
Unfortunately, most everything else is a mess, with the screenplay turning most of the characters (notably Bond himself) into inept caricatures spouting one-liners (the number of poor decisions 007 makes in regards to the plot, as well as his obliviousness to Elektra’s true nature, cuts the character off at the knees). One scene self-serious and melodramatic, the next aping comedy elements from the Roger Moore era, albeit with far less class, and far less wit from the writing team, who seem to assume that “wit” is interchangeable with “crass.”
To make matters worse, the film buries its story beneath uninspired action set pieces that don’t push the plot forward, but grind it to a halt, despite a well-executed pre-titles sequence (the series’ longest at 15-minutes). One lengthy action sequence, at a caviar factory, is recognized via dialogue as completely superfluous (Bond straightens his tie and asks, “Now, where were we?”). Add in a ridiculous subplot that boots Judi Dench’s M all over the world for conversations that could have been had over the phone (this is carried over in the poorly written Quantum of Solace as well) and Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist and you’ve got what stands as one big miscalculation, which I think is perhaps represented best by the fact that The World Is Not Enough reaches its climax with 20-minutes of bland and banal obligatory action still to come. There are some fun, exciting moments (it isn’t all bad), but all in all this is all ambition without execution.