The last line of a movie, more than the first, is the most important. This doesn’t have to be so, but it’s true that a great closing line can positively affect the memory of an average movie, letting you walk out of the theater with a little spring in your step. “Well, nobody’s perfect” is perhaps the greatest line in the history of the movies and it’s so effective because it’s the button on the entire thing. “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown” wonderfully expressed the fatalism of that movie. “There’s no place like home” is the thesis of the movie it closes. “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” is laconic, sarcastic and a little sad. It’s bittersweetness personified. Let me, then, set up the final line of The World Is Not Enough (1999), the 19th edition of the James Bond saga. Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is in bed with a nuclear physicist surreally named Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards). “I was wrong about you,” Bond says, mid-coitus presumably. “Yeah, how so?” Jones inquires. “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.” Post-coitus then, it turns out. Roll credits and that’s your movie.
What does a last line like that say about a movie? Well, it could invoke a ribald, charmingly sophomoric sense of humor, a tongue-in-cheekness that, were it to permeate the entire movie, could potentially make for an entertaining film. But The World Is Not Enough is a fairly straightforward action movie, and it’s often a little bit more than that. It has a serious hero and an even more serious villain and there’s a cagey woman between them who is a strong and interesting character. There’s some broad, slapstick silliness on the outer fringes, but as a leavening agent, it doesn’t define the movie. Yet, here, at the very end, the last thing you remember is “I thought Christmas only comes once a year” and then something is put into focus that you couldn’t quite define throughout the experience: The World Is Not Enough is exactly the kind of movie that would name a character Dr. Christmas Jones for the express purpose of making that line. “Well, nobody’s perfect” is earned. “I thought Christmas only comes once a year” is shoehorned.
And forget about the line itself. What are these two doing in bed together? The plot of the movie revolves around an oil pipeline controlled by Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), the daughter of an oil baron that was killed in a terrorist attack (The World Is Not Enough is also exactly the kind of movie that would name a spurned, bent-on-revenge daughter Elektra). The terrorist in question is Renard (Robert Carlyle) who kidnapped Elektra years ago in a ransom plot. As Bond chases after Renard, he seduces Elektra and discovers a number of unsettling truths. In the movie’s second half, Bond’s boss M (Judi Dench), the head of the British Secret Service, is held hostage, and Bond, with his new partner Jones, must rescue M and stop Renard from destroying Istanbul, which, spoiler, they do. Till that point Bond and Jones have had no romantic moments, nothing to hint at romance, except a few sexually charged furtive glances. Is disarming a bomb in a pipeline and destroying a nuclear submarine, as this pair does, what passes as dating nowadays? Or is it just assumed that, having helped 007 save the world, sleeping with him is a forgone conclusion? Their courtship is begun, consummated and concluded in seven lines.
EXT. ROMANTIC ISTANBUL VERANDA, THE EVENING AFTER SAVING THE WORLD FROM NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN A PHYSICALLY TAXING AND BRUISING MANNER. AN EVENING, BY THE WAY, THAT WOULD BE BETTER SPENT RESTING IN BED, ALONE
BOND: I’ve always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey.
JONE: Was that a Christmas joke?
BOND: From me? No. Never.
JONES: Is it about time to unwrap your present?
(THEY KISS BECAUSE THEY ARE BOTH ATTRACTIVE AND IT’S A MOVIE.)
The final three lines you already know. And while I appreciate that the Jones and Bond households, as mine did, share a tradition in which you get to open one present the night before and the rest the next morning, this scene, in fact, this entire series of events feels, and here’s that word again, shoehorned. These types of moments, the type that, upon reflection seem lazy and forced occur again and again in The World Is Not Enough but with more subtlety, and it’s the last one that’s the straw on the camel’s back and reminds you of all the ones that went before it. And that’s a shame because the movie has a number of good elements and certainly some great action, but it seems, every time, it’s undone by the writing. It’s directed by Michael Apted, most famous as the director of the wonderful Up series of documentaries that chronicles a handful of English citizens every seven years starting when they were seven in 1964 to last year’s edition when they were 56 (and honestly, even in an unscripted movie in which all the dialogue was created by seven-year-olds, he was working with a better script than he is here), and he can construct a good set-piece. Take the pre-credits scene in which Bond is pursued then pursues an assassin by boat and hot air balloon. It’s gripping, compelling and competently put together to both engage and titillate then, at the height of the tension, when Bond has his man (though the assassin is a woman in this case), they open their mouths. “Listen to me,” Bond pleads as the assassin is prepared to kill herself and Bond. “I can protect you! I can protect you!” “You think so,” asks the assassin before uttering a line that would get cut out of a soap opera for being too cliché. “Not from him!”
Then there’s a thrilling bomb diffusion that, for complicated reasons, must take place on a fast-moving cart in a stretch of pipe. Again, we have an exciting and edgy set-piece, well assembled and executed, one that ends with our heroes willfully allowing the bomb to explode when they are out of danger so it can be believed they have died. That’s a good dramatic device that sets up a dramatic reveal, right? Wrong. The villains find out about their adversary’s exaggerated deaths ten minutes later via telephone. It might seem as if I’m taking potshots at inconsequential aspects of the movie, but these elements pop-up repeatedly. They aren’t devastating but they are constant enough to keep you from enjoying a movie and not being quite sure why. Even Renard’s defining characteristic, his inability to feel pain because of a bullet lodged in his skull, is underdeveloped and unexplored. The movie is magnificent on a filmmaking level, less so on a story one—as if they wrote a first draft, decided not to dig deeper and started shooting. It’s clear the technicians put in the work, why not the screenwriters?
There is a tendency with these movies to accept the fact that they are consistently released as an invitation to take a few off. That malaise certainly plagued the end of the Roger Moore era. You would assume that professionals, tasked with making a movie, would want to make the best one in the series every time out, but it seems there’s a bigger desire to just assure they don’t make the worst one. For what it’s worth, the makers of The World Is Not Enough managed to avoid that. I guess they’ll go home and they’ll think of some way to get it back. After all, tomorrow is another day.