It’s pretty clear Pierce Brosnan should have begun his Bond run years earlier, not to take anything away from Timothy Dalton. In fact, Dalton laid the groundwork for the reboot with Daniel Craig.
Starting with Goldeneye, the Bond franchise tried to change up the formula. Instead of SPECTRE or some supervillain., we deal with the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. In Tomorrow Never Dies, we get a villain who is all too commonplace today: The billionaire media mogul.
Media titan Elliott Carver wants the broadcast rights in China, the one nation his satellite network doesn’t reach. To do it, he’s planning to start a war between Britain and China. Hey, he’s got billions. He can steal a control for GPS satellites and build his own stealth ship to pit one navy against the other.
Except Carver has tipped is hand. M sends in Bond to check out Carver’s network. Not only does he run into an old girlfriend, known these days as Mrs. Carver, but Carver uncovers Bond’s identity. Between Bond and a Chinese agent named Wai Linn (Yeoh), they uncover the real plot. The Chinese, who claimed the British violated their territory, actually sank a ship in Vietnamese waters. Bond goes after it, but he and Wai Linn are captured by Carver. Once they escape, the mission becomes stopping World War III, or rather Carver’s attempt to create the biggest news story of the century.
Yeoh is the real jewel in this movie. It’s her first major Western role, and her Wai Linn is every bit Bond’s equal. More importantly, she does not fall into the tired “Oh, James!” trope. Jonathan Pryce clearly enjoys his role as Elliot Carver, purring “Delicious!” every time something goes his way. Carver is over the top, but Pryce plays it for everything it’s worth.
Gotz Otto and Ricky Jay play some of the more interesting, yet real world, henchmen. Otto is Stamper, the cold, punk rock brains and muscle for Carver, the one all his men follow without question. There’s nothing unusual about him except that he’s a psychopath and seems to like it. Jay plays Gupta, a weary ex-hippie hacker who moves through the film with sort of bored indifference. He’s getting paid, and that’s all that counts for him.
This is Judi Dench’s second time out as M, and she spends more time giving the British brass a slice of humble pie than Bond. Moneypenny, played by Samantha Bond, is every bit Bond’s flirty foil. Joe Don Baker is back for his second and final turn as Wade. And I really miss Felix Leiter whenever he’s on screen. The one really sour note is the excessive Bond quips. They come off more like Austin Powers than James Bond.
Tomorrow Never Dies is not the best Bond film, but it’s stronger than The World Is Not Enough and more believable than Die Another Day. It’s a respectable entry in the middle of the pact.