Brosnan is back in Bond 18 Tomorrow Never Dies, a much better follow-up to the awful Goldeneye. This time he fights a megalomaniac media mogul Elliot Carver, devilishly played by Jonathan Pryce. The plot involves Bond's bid to thwart Carver's attempt to trigger a war between the UK and China by provoking each side through manipulation of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites with the help of his army of private mercenaries and an Indian software wizard Henry Gupta. The payoff to Carver: exclusive media coverage rights from China, the one prize that has so far eluded him in his quest for world domination in media coverage.
The film's spectacular (and mandatory) pre-title action sequences involve Bond's escape from a Russian border area that serves as a conduit for illegal arms sale, before it is totally destroyed. After the title sequences, which for the first time in the Bond franchise history, do not seem to have been designed by the great Maurice Binder, we are introduced to Carver's wife, Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher) at Elliot Carver's lavish party to unveil his global media network. Paris also happens to be Bond's ex-flame who still has enough feelings for him to put her life in jeopardy. Enter Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin at the same event, a Chinese secret agent posing as an aspiring reporter. Paris' character does provide an opportunity for some tender moments of love but with her short shrift, the film shifts into maximum overdrive. In continuing the recent trend of mind-numbing action and violence in the Bond films, we are dragged through various stunts, chases and killings that have degraded the Bond films to the level of routine action fare and Bond himself to a one-man death machine. Throughout this process, Bond seldom uses his intelligence to get out of tight situations and instead relies on his new issue Walther and some gadgets fitted into his new BMW by the ever-charming Q (Desmond Llewelyn). We are continuously made to wonder if Bond transformed himself from a suave, witty and intelligent spy to a sharp shooting fist fighter.
Fortunately, the body count is not as much as in Goldeneye as thanks to Zorro, the director of brutal and sadistic violence scenes Martin Campbell (No Escape) has left the Bond series. First-time Bond director Roger Spottiswoode (whose only remarkable film to date is the average Shoot to Kill) does not display much understanding of what a Bond film should be and instead seems to be content working off the mediocre and hackneyed script that Bruce Feirstein (Goldeneye) gave him after umpteen rewrites. Acting, cinematography and editing are adequate but production design leaves a lot to be desired. Everything looks too modern and cold and the opulence and majesty that marked the earlier Bond entries (thanks to Ken Adam and Peter Lamont) is gone. Even the colors in the film look faded out and something seems to be lacking in the negative processing. If Lamont is good enough to be chosen by someone of the stature of James Cameron for his epic Titanic (which also opened today!), why was he not retained for this movie? Samantha Bond is back as the bitter and caustic M and once again does some lip service to political correctness that marks this decade. Product placement is not too loud and obvious as I feared. Bond's globe trotting is kept to a minimum - Germany, the U.K. and Thailand. Location scouting seems to have been done by some really lazy people as save for some aerial shots of the sea, there is nothing worth mentioning.
I deliberately saved the best for last, a topic most film critics don't even comment on - the film's score. After Goldeneye's success, UA tried to bring back the great John Barry to score this film but negotiations failed, reportedly due to UA not agreeing to pay Barry his asking composer fee and not giving him any creative control in composing the title song with the artist of his choice. After that, two names featured the most in UA's quest for a replacement - James Newton Howard and David Arnold. As things worked out, Arnold was chosen to score this film and boy, does he deliver! His score is absolutely delicious and is the best thing about this film. He not only scores some cues in the wonderful style of Barry (pre-title sequences titled White Knight are reminiscent of Barry's score for 'From Russia with Love' and the Hamburg scenes remind me in places of the score for 'Goldfinger') but also brought back the 007 theme with even Barry stopped using in the '80's as he felt the theme became somewhat dated. Arnold also puts his own touch to the score in parts like Dr. Kaufman and Station Break. He stops short of using a variation of the main title song (or even the end title song) as his love theme but instead composed a lovely little theme that should have been used a little more in the film. As a bonus, he also composed the wonderful KD Lang song that was used for the end titles, Surrender, which remains very true to the Bond franchise and should have been used for the main titles. It very much reminds me of Bassey's wonderful Goldfinger. The title song is the worst ever done for a Bond film and is sung hideously by Sheryl Crow, clearly demonstrating to us that she does not have the vocal range that is demanded by a Bond song. It is obvious that Arnold had nothing to do with the Crow song. Arnold also did some covers of classic Bond music before doing the score for this film and understands very well what a Bond score ought to be. He is a truly worthy successor to John Barry.
The plot of the film involving total world media domination by triggering a war between the UK and China is derived from two sources - the earlier Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me that has the villain stealing weapons from two countries to use them against each other and trigger a nuclear war. The villian Elliot Carver is a replica of that in the 1982 book by Irving Wallace, The Almighty, in which a newspaper baron "creates" news and is the first to always publish it in his newspapers, twisting destiny to suit his own needs and desires. In addition, Spy also provides this film with another element - that of rivals Bond and Wei Lin overcoming their own rivalry to fight a common enemy. Stamper is straight out of 'The Living Daylights" Necros. We also have Joe Don Baker from the same film playing another character in this film.