Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on November 20th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)!
As I said in my retrospective review for GoldenEye (1995), Pierce Brosnan and his tenure as the world’s greatest secret agent represent a large part of my youth. In turn, this iteration of James Bond serves as my preferred era of 007 thus far. But, when thinking back on this era, one installment of Brosnan’s four films springs to mind before the others. No, it isn’t the near-flawless GoldenEye, but instead, Tomorrow Never Dies! But is that for better or worse?
After successfully bringing Bond into the 1990s, MGM and EON Productions were beyond keen to follow up GoldenEye as soon as possible. Logically, EON offered GoldenEye director Martin Campbell the opportunity to once again take the helm. Campbell declined, instead reviving another film icon with The Mask of Zorro (1998). Even still, development on the 18th installment remained full steam ahead as the head of MGM at the time wanted the release of a new 007 entry to coincide with the studio’s public stock offering. (If such isn’t the perfect creative impetus, I can’t imagine what would be.)
Thus, film industry journeyman Roger Spottiswoode (Turner & Hootch, The 6th Day) was put in the director’s chair for this outing. Shortly before Spottiswoode took the reins, returning GoldenEye writer Bruce Feirstein was hard at work on this movie’s screenplay; originally titled Tomorrow Never Lies — a more relevant title considering the plot. However, a typo on the title page of an early draft produced “Tomorrow Never Dies,” which was ultimately preferred by the producers. Hence, the final title of the film. In Feirstein’s initial drafts, it was intended that the villain’s ultimate goal would be to obliterate Hong Kong. But the story underwent several rewrites by a team of numerous uncredited scribes brought on by Spottiswoode. Instead, the plot became the follow:
Tomorrow Never Dies finds James Bond 007 (Brosnan) experiencing the dangers of the burgeoning Information Age. See, information is the newest weapon for a man bent on controlling every last drop of it — worldwide media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). After facilitating a fatal incident in international waters between China and the U.K., Carver moves forward with his bigger plan. He wants to start World War III as a means of obtaining exclusive news distribution and broadcasting rights in China. Now, Bond must team-up with a Chinese agent, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), in a joint operation to infiltrate Carver’s media empire and stop him from inciting global conflict!
I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty cool plot for a Bond picture! It was particularly timely in 1997 as China was beginning to become a prominent player in the global economy; and that timeliness has not faded in the decades since its release. Then there’s the antagonist, Elliot Carver, who’s clearly based on News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch.
The story for Tomorrow Never Dies also has a couple of problems, tough. The most prominent of which is that the film went into production without a completed screenplay. Perhaps that’s why Brosnan was quoted as saying working on this film was “like pulling teeth.”
Difficulties born out of the incomplete script become quickly apparent and reveal the modus operandi of Tomorrow Never Dies. Like some of its predecessors, this particular Bond entry seems more concerned with glomming onto genre trends of the day to entertain. Therefore, Tomorrow Never Dies seems more focused on being a wall-to-wall, bombastic 90s action film with some martial arts (a subgenre that had experienced a resurgence at the time) thrown in for good measure. The cold open, which was initially intended to kick-off The Living Daylights (1987), literally starts the picture with a bang and events unfold breathlessly though the conclusion. We move from one set piece to the next, with the story jammed in between the action sequences. Many of the details are explained well enough, despite the proliferation of dial-up Internet not being taken into account. But, then, other exposition scenes feel clunky.
As a result, the finished film feels rushed, narratively speaking. Although, I suppose that should not come as a surprise considering how rushed the production itself was. Shooting on Tomorrow Never Dies commenced on April 1, 1997, and was released throughout the majority of the globe a mere eight months later in December of that year. Despite all these makings for a mess of a movie, I must say that the film is still incredibly fun to watch! Every action set piece is thrilling and, as a whole, Tomorrow Never Dies takes you on a filmic rollercoaster.
Furthermore, every cast member here is at the top of their game. No longer is Brosnan adding his own flavor to his pinch of Sean Connery and dash of Roger Moore. On the contrary, it feels to me like Brosnan has simply become James Bond — he does not even have to try, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Then there’s Pryce as Carver. The seasoned British actor is having a ball here as he chews up every bit of the scenery as a megalomaniacal media mogul, and I love every minute of his performance! This is the first of Pryce’s movies I ever watched, and his performance as Carver made an indelible impression. As a result, not only is Carver one of my favorite Bond villains, the character is also my go-to when I think of Pryce.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Bond girls. First and foremost, there’s Michelle Yeoh, who is, without a doubt, the most bad-ass, independent female lead up to this point in the franchise, if not through to the present day. While I don’t find Yeoh as attractive as some of Bond’s former gal pals, she’s undoubtedly as tough as 007 if not more so. For this reason, Yeoh’s Wai Lin was almost given a spin-off series of her own. The idea was ultimately dropped, presumably due to its potential to dilute the brand. Similar inclinations to expand the series will raise their heads later, but I’ll get to that down the line.
Last, but not least, there’s Carver’s wife and Bond’s former lover, Paris Carver, played by Teri Hatcher. Having had a long-term crush on Hatcher thanks to her turn as the titular Lois Lane in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997), I was happy to see her show up as a Bond girl back in the day. However, having advanced beyond adolescence into adulthood, something about the inclusion of Paris in Tomorrow Never Dies became very clear to me upon rewatching the movie for this review.
The fact is that Hatcher was good in the role — not to mention sultrier than ever. But at the same time, there was not much of a character for her to play. I ultimately found Paris Carver to be problematic, and in the end, unnecessary to the picture. Frankly, her whole subplot creates an abrupt, albeit brief, tonal shift that does not gel with the rest of the movie. Thus, I feel it should have been excised.
As I stated, Tomorrow Never Dies is seemingly more concerned with being an action extravaganza than anything else. But it does surpass GoldenEye in one area: all of the music in Tomorrow Never Dies is a vast improvement! Composer David Arnold was personally selected by John Barry, the series’ veteran composer, who briefly considered scoring the picture himself. Therefore it’s no surprise that Arnold’s score provides all the traditional musical elements we’ve come to expect from a Bond adventure. Furthermore, the title song scored by Arnold and performed by Sheryl Crow is a perfect complement to the film itself and is among my favorites in the series. Editor’s note: also check out Pulp’s “Tomorrow Never Lies,” a song the band offered into an informal competition for the film’s title track.
The same sentiment extends to this film itself. Despite being focused on set pieces, I feel Tomorrow Never Dies is indeed a Franchise Expansion for three reasons. Firstly, it allows Brosnan to cement himself as Bond. Secondly, unlike the previous installment, Tomorrow Never Dies is legitimately a 007 film for the ’90s sans The Cold War baggage.
Most of all, though, this film seems more prescient than ever in modern times. Think about it; we now live in an age wherein many folks don’t fact check before sharing information. Worse yet, a very prominent politician has a penchant for decrying the media; yet, seemingly wants to control it and thereby, how information is disseminated. If those real world factors don’t make Tomorrow Never Dies feel relevant now, then it never will!
Aside from being a Franchise Expansion, Tomorrow Never Dies also holds a very special place in my heart as it’s ultimately the entry that made me a hardcore fan of the series. Shortly before undergoing major surgery at age 12, I saw Tomorrow Never Dies and loved it. As a result, I received both the VHS gift set of the film and the tie-in video game as get-well gifts. As you might imagine, I spent much of my time in recovery watching and playing Tomorrow Never Dies. And by the time I had fully recuperated, I had become a lifelong Bond fan!
Tomorrow Never Dies is Available on All Home Video Formats!
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with The World is Not Enough (1999)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on November 20th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
From Russia with Love:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:
Diamonds Are Forever:
The Man with The Golden Gun:
The Spy Who Loved Me:
The Living Daylights:
Casino Royale (1967):
Never Say Never Again: