Monday, September 07, 2015

The World Is Not Enough (1999) | Story

Plot Summary

Bond investigates the death of a British agent and discovers that the case is deeply personal for M.


The title of course is from Bond's family motto as revealed in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but the rest of the story is entirely new. And frankly, the plot draws no inspiration from its title, either. Bond mentions the motto once in the movie, but it's only in reference to itself, not anything that's actually happening in the film. Something Elektra says reminds him of it, but it's not applicable to their conversation and even her set-up for it is super forced.

It's worth mentioning that this is the first Bond film written by the team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade who would go on to at least touch all the Bond films since. Barbara Broccoli had liked their work on Plunkett & Macleane (also featuring Robert Carlysle, incidentally) and hired them for the job. Bruce Feirstein, who'd worked on the GoldenEye script and written most of Tomorrow Never Dies, did a final pass at Purvis and Wade's script, but most of the story is there in their first draft. The most significant change is putting M in personal danger for the ending.

How Is the Book Different?

I'm going to retire this section until we get to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

The thing that immediately came to mind is that this is a personal case for M that leads to something bigger. Fleming used that device in Moonraker. "For Your Eyes Only" was another Fleming story built around a case that was personal to M, but there wasn't a deeper, more sinister plot lurking underneath it.

But the most Fleming-like moment comes when Bond has captured Renard at the ICBM base in Kazakhstan. He confesses, "I usually hate killing an unarmed man. Cold-blooded murder is a filthy business." He acts like he's about to make an exception, but that attitude is straight from Fleming's version of the character.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

Fleming wasn't above using coincidence to further a plot (ahem, Goldfinger), but for the most part Bond has to work for his leads. In The World Is Not Enough he does a lot of detective work, but picks up a key clue by just happening to be in the right place at the right time. He's checking out the security office at Elektra's pipeline when Davidov, her head of security, shows up with a dead scientist in his trunk. Bond had a decent reason for being at the office, because he suspects that the murder of Elektra's father was an inside job, but being there just in time to catch Davidov doing something incriminating is a stretch.

Other than that though, the whole plot has a very Fleming feel. The World In Not Enough has a horrible reputation among Bond fans, but all things considered it's probably my favorite of Brosnan's four. I love GoldenEye, but I feel like it's commenting on everything, where World is just a straightforward adventure. I get why people have a hard time with Christmas Jones (though I think the issues with her are way overstated), but I don't get people's complaint about the plot. It makes you do some work to figure it out, but it makes sense and the bad guys' motivations are far more believable than many Bond villains.

Cold Open

World does have some problems though and one of them is the cold open that doesn't fit the traditional criteria for what the cold open is supposed to be doing.

It opens right in the middle of the plot with Bond's visiting a bank in Spain, but this isn't the issue for me. I love getting plopped into the middle of an existing story and playing catch up. That's why I opened Kill All Monsters the way I did. I love that World doesn't fill this opening conversation with tons of exposition. There's some money that Bond's trying to get back for someone named Robert King who used it to buy a report that was stolen from a dead British agent. Bond wants the name of the person who sold the report, figuring that'll lead him to the agent's killer. There are major details missing from that story, but it's enough to understand why Bond's there and what his goal is.

Unfortunately, the banker is murdered by his assistant before Bond can force him to reveal the name of the seller. In the shootout that follows, Bond is saved by a mysterious sniper, giving him time to escape out the window of the skyscraper on an improvised repelling line.

That was originally supposed to be the end of the teaser, but the filmmakers wisely noted that the shootout and repelling stunt weren't quite up to the level of excitement expected from a Bond opening. That's good, but instead of changing the set piece, their solution was just to keep the teaser going until after a more exciting part of the movie. That makes the teaser overlong and with chunks of interesting, but not very thrilling dialogue scattered throughout it.

Back at MI6, we get the rest of the story about Robert King and the money. He had used it to buy what he thought was info about terrorists who are disrupting his efforts to build a pipeline from Russia to the West. He didn't know where the information came from and once it was apparent that it had come from a murdered British agent, he'd contacted M to help get back the money and learn the identity of the thief/murderer.

Further complicating things, the money has been tampered with and as soon as King gets near it, the money explodes and kills King with several MI6 personnel. In the Thames outside of MI6 HQ, the banker's assistant is watching from a boat, presumably to confirm when the money explodes and report back to her boss. When Bond arrives at the scene and sees her through the giant hole in the building, she foolishly fires at him, letting him know that she's not just there to enjoy the river, which is totally what anyone would assume.

Bond borrows a speedboat from Q and gives chase and the teaser finally feels like it should. He pursues her to the O2 Dome (known as the Millennium Dome at the time) where she trades her boat in for a hot air balloon. Bond's able to catch the balloon and question her as MI6 helicopters surround her. But rather than reveal the name of her boss, she blows up the balloon and kills herself.

I like the way the opening plops me into the story and the boat chase is pretty awesome, but it's all way too long and doesn't feel like a teaser, so this doesn't crack the Top Ten.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
3. Moonraker
4. Thunderball
5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
6. A View to a Kill
7. Goldfinger
8. The Man with the Golden Gun
9. The Living Daylights
10. Licence to Kill

Movie Series Continuity

Other than the title, which was mentioned in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, there are a few things to note about movie continuity.

Chief of Staff Charles Robinson (Colin Salmon) returns after being introduced in Tomorrow Never Dies, but Bill Tanner is also there, still played by Michael Kitchen as he was in GoldenEye. In Tomorrow, I speculated that Robinson's replacing Tanner may have been connected to Tanner's attitude towards M in GoldenEye, but Tanner is obviously still around and part of MI6's top staff. World never reveals his job title, but it's looking like he may have been promoted - or at least laterally moved - out of the Chief of Staff position rather than just totally losing it to Robinson.

We finally get a mention of a successful mission by another Double-O agent. It was 009 who put the bullet in Renard's head and survived the encounter. Sadly, the World novelization reveals that the British agent whose death Bond is investigating is 0012. Sure, it's just the novelization, but a) I'm going to use something else from it later and have to take the good with the bad, and b) it's totally what most of the movies do. Still: yay, 009! Nicely done!

Finally, speaking of Double-Os, no one explicitly mentions it, but it only makes sense that the rest of the people receiving assignments in M's briefing after King's death are other Double-Os. Which means that the person sitting to Bond's right in the image above is in fact a female Double-O agent. And that's pretty cool.

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