In his 19th screen outing, Ian Fleming''s superspy is once again caught in the crosshairs of a self-created dilemma: as the longest-running feature-film franchise, James Bond is an annuity his producers want to protect, yet the series'' consciously formulaic approach frustrates any real element of surprise beyond the rote application of plot twists or jump cuts to shake up the audience. This time out, credit 007''s caretakers for making some visible attempts to invest their principal characters with darker motives--and blame them for squandering The World Is Not Enough''s initial promise by the final reel.
By now, Bond pictures are as elegantly formal as a Bach chorale, and this one opens on an unusually powerful note. A stunning pre-title sequence reaches beyond mere pyrotechnics to introduce key plot elements as the action leaps from Bilbao to London. Bond 5.0, Pierce Brosnan, undercuts his usually suave persona with a darker, more brutal edge largely absent since Sean Connery departed. Equally tantalizing are our initial glimpses of Bond''s nemesis du jour, Renard (Robert Carlyle), and imminent love interest, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), both atypically complex characters cast with seemingly shrewd choices, and directed by the capable Michael Apted. The story''s focus on post-Soviet geopolitics likewise starts off on a savvy note, before being overtaken by increasingly Byzantine plot twists, hidden motives, and reversals of loyalty superheated by relentless (if intermittently perfunctory) action sequences.
Indeed, the procession of perils plays like a greatest hits medley, save for a nifty sequence involving airborne buzz saws that''s as enjoyable as it is preposterous. Bond''s grimmer demeanor, while preferable to the smirk that eventually swallowed Roger Moore whole, proves wearying, unrelieved by any true wit. The underlying psychoses that propel Renard and Elektra eventually unravel into unconvincing melodrama, while Bond is supplied with a secondary love object, Denise Richards, who''s even more improbable as a nuclear physicist. Ultimately, this World is not enough despite its better intentions. --Sam Sutherland