'The World Is Not Enough' @ 20
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Looking back at how the last 007 film of the 20th century stands up 20 years later...
Some men want to rule the world.
Some women ask for the world.
Some believe the world is theirs for the taking.
But for one man…the world is not enough.
The third outing for 5th James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan carried a heavy expectation for a number of reasons. Not only was it the last 007 film of the 20th century, but it was also the mighty third of the actor’s run. Sir Sean Connery had it with 1964s ‘Goldfinger’ and the late great Sir Roger Moore had it with 1977s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’; a third Bond film that is often celebrated as their best with memorable characters, action, gadgets and groan-inducing puns. Even Daniel Craig’s third outing in 2012’s ‘Skyfall’ is argued as his defining film.
But back before a series reboot was even a twinkle in the eye of producers Barbara Broccoli or Michael G Wilson, it was Pierce Brosnan who was leading the generations of James Bond fans into the year 2000 and new era for everyone.
‘The World It Not Enough’ – the translation of Bond’s Latin family motto “orbis non sufficit” (first uttered in 1969s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ ) – blasted onto cinema screens in America on the 8th of November 1999, but hit the UK shores weeks later on the 26th. With Millennium Bug fever reaching breaking point and the fear of a Terminator-style uprising where machines would fight back against humankind, banks would collapse and airplanes would drop out of the sky when the clock ticked over to 00:01 on January 1st 2000, this wasn’t a concern for James Bond.
Director Michael Apted and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Bruce Feirstein stayed well away from expectations to battle a cyber genius or corrupt technological corporation. Instead they had 007 tackle an international terrorist out to corner the world’s oil and fuel market by triggering a nuclear meltdown.
An international cast helped fill out the on-screen talent. Scottish actor Robert Carlyle played the terrorist Viktor “Renard” Zokas with his villainous fob being a bullet lodged in his brain, rendering him impervious to pain, and fellow Scot Robbie Coltrane returned to reprise his 1995 role in ‘GoldenEye’ of Valentine Zukovsky. French actress Sophie Marceau played Elektra King, the beautiful oil heiress targeted by the baddies, and American actress Denise Richards surprised us all with a turn as nuclear physicist Dr Christmas Jones – a role where she was noticed more for physique and, sadly, lack of acting range in an attempt to convey a convincing nuclear physicist.
A stellar home team of British talent returned to back up Brosnan in his role as Bond. Dame Judi Dench was back as M, Samantha Bond as Miss Moneypenny, Michael Kitchen and Colin Salmon back serving under M as Bill Tanner and Charles Robinson, and the inimitable Desmond Llewelyn as Major Boothroyd, or just simply Q, in his seventeenth appearance as the much loved character SINCE 1962. However it would be a bittersweet and emotional final role for Llewelyn, as he was killed in a car crash just three weeks after the film was released in the UK while on his way back home from a book signing of his biography ‘Q: The Biography Of Desmond Llewelyn’.
There had been no word of his retirement from the role, but it was with almost haunting hindsight that in the film the character of Q appears to be grooming an understudy to take on the quartermaster role in the guise of British comedy legend John Cleese, who would take on the role of a new Q for 2002s ‘Die Another Day’.
David Arnold, following critical and fan praise after his work on 1997s ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, returned for the score which continued to blend classic orchestral tones of the James Bond theme with rousing modern action themes and instrumentals, cementing his place as the man behind the music all the way through to ‘Casino Royale’ in 2006.
The film presented a story free from great complexity or convoluted plots – it was basic in terms of idea and narrative, but on reflection is seen as one of the easiest Brosnan era films to watch in terms of entertainment and action. The reception was a successful $362m (before the days of social media analysis that such an amount was deemed a flop and one had to gross $1b to be a hit) and it would be Brosnan’s second highest grossing Bond film. Both Brosnan and Apted took a number of risks with ‘The World Is Not Enough’ to make the story fresh and daring. The crew introduced a number of firsts for the series that made the film stand out as something different from the two that had come before and really hit home these exciting changes during marketing and press coverage.
It would feature the longest pre-title sequence in the series to date clocking in at over 14 minutes, and that pre-title mini-movie would feature an explosive attack on MI6 and a rip-roaring boat chase over, under and beside the River Thames which had never been executed before on screen. Bond would also show a darker, more vulnerable side. Not the extent of Timothy Dalton, but Brosnan would retain that charm and handsome demeanour whilst showing Bond struggle with a serious injury, a conflict between head and heart and a darker shade to his otherwise cool, calm and collected persona. We were also promised a larger role for Judi Dench’s M who was going to get out into the field and face danger unlike never before. These factors alone were something to be excited about, and coupled with a gadget laden BMW car, stunning action filmed across the snow-capped mountains of Azerbaijan, the dangerous Caspian Sea and a claustrophobic battle inside a sinking nuclear submarine, nobody was letting anyone pause for breath.
‘The World Is Not Enough’ didn’t push for frills. It just tried to retain bombastic action and a simple story of the world’s greatest secret agent facing danger too close to home in stopping a terrorist destroy the free world. Sadly, it wouldn’t live to standards as a mighty “third outing”. There were elements too enjoyable to truly pick apart and a rousing theme tune by Garbage, but there was a general sense of mediocrity characters and plot with nobody really jumping from the screen. All the good points would sadly soon by lost by the huge shadow cast by the series changing ‘Die Another Day’.
However, a dozen media platforms such as books, toys and video games followed the release, It was a solid and successful outing for a winning 90s Bond formula and 20th century 007 as a whole. Brosnan was peaking at the top of his game which still stands strong in his run 20 years later.