James Bond aficionados will know where the title of this film comes from. Bond himself mentions during the film that it’s his family motto. We actually learn this during On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when George Lazenby’s Bond goes to meet with the genealogist to discuss Blofeld’s genealogy, and he has found the Bond family crest. He points out to Bond the motto written across the front in Latin which translates to “The world is not enough”. There are also a couple of subtle reminders of Traci Di Vicenzo and some other previous Bond motifs, so in some ways, this film is paying homage to the films that came before it as the franchise approached its 40th anniversary.
The thing that I noticed with this film is that there isn’t anything special about it. It’s a fine film, but it breaks the trend of Bond actors hitting their stride with their third film, as Sean Connery did with Goldfinger and Roger Moore did with The Spy Who Loved Me. Both of those films clicked on all cylinders and Connery and Moore respectively took their performances of Bond to new levels. The World is not Enough, while better than Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t as good as GoldenEye and Pierce Brosnan hasn’t grown in the role the way that his predecessors did. And it’s not like they didn’t give him ample opportunity in this film. As mentioned above, there is a subtle reference to his dead wife. He’s also betrayed in this film by the woman he’s sworn to protect. He’s fighting an injury to his shoulder that isn’t utilized nearly enough, and the film makers missed all of those opportunities to create drama and tension in the film.
The reason for that could be that he started out from a stronger position. He had 35 years and 16 films from which to study the character before he ever even uttered one line of dialogue, shot one bullet or seduced one woman. His debut was certainly stronger than the other two, but he hadn’t evolved by his third film the way the other two had. It could also be because the material wasn’t as good. Both Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me are transcendent and iconic films that transcended not only the franchise, but the genre itself. They’re two of the best known films of all time and The World is not Enough doesn’t measure up to those films.
Is it unfair to say that a film doesn’t measure up to two of the greatest films in the history of the genre and two of the most well-known films of all time? It does when we’re talking about Bond. The bar has been set very high and it’s incumbent upon the newer films to keep the standard.
So what’s going on with this film? Where did it hit? Where did it miss?
It’s got a more defined Hero’s Journey than the previous Brosnan films, but not as strong of a storyline, at least not as strong as GoldenEye. The premise is strong as Bond is sent to protect an Oil baroness Elektra King, whose father Sir Robert King was assassinated, presumably by the terrorist Renard, who some time earlier had kidnapped Elektra, though she eventually escaped. Over the course of the film Bond discovers that Elektra is behind Renard’s plans to blow up a Russian nuclear submarine in the port of Istanbul so that her oil pipeline will become the primary pipeline supplying Asian oil to the Mediterranean. There’s some really good Hero’s Journey material going on here as Elektra starts out as an ally and a lover and then shapeshifts into a shadow or enemy. She has all the makings of a great Bond girl when we first meet her. She’s independent, confident and determined to carry on her family’s legacy, despite her father’s assassination and the threats on her own life. But then she morphs into the villain who was behind the assassination of her father and has played Bond, M and all of Mi6 for fools. It’s a nice twist that isn’t seen often in Bond films, other than perhaps Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only and Koskov in The Living Daylights, where perceived allies turn out to be enemies.
The action sequences in this film also continue to be outstanding, but not particularly memorable. The exception being boat chase on the Thames that brings back memories of From Russia With Love, although the chase in this film is far superior to that one thanks to advances in film making techniques, as well as the more modern vehicles.
The film did miss, though, on a variety of levels. As mentioned above, the film makers missed a lot of opportunities to create dramatic tension in the film by not utilizing enough of the tools they gave themselves. For example, Bond injures his shoulder at the end of the boat chase. It’s injured so badly that M will not clear him for duty, so Bond seduces his doctor in order to get the necessary clearance. The injury is supposed to be pretty significant and should serve as a major obstacle to Bond accomplishing his mission, but it’s hardly mentioned. In fact, it is mentioned at one point when Renard has captured him and tortures his shoulder, but then it’s hardly mentioned at all aside from that. I would have suggested that they either use it effectively or don’t use it at all. A ton of dramatic tension could have been created, especially when Bond is trying to escape from the sinking submarine, if the pain in his shoulder was actively keeping him from physically doing the things he needed to do. I can imagine the incredible tension that would have occurred with bond underwater, near drowning and unable to turn the porthole wheel, but having to summon the strength from deep down within in order to do so. He also spends plenty of time fighting where his shoulder doesn’t bother him at all, but the pain is brought up when it’s convenient for the film makers to do so and ignored when it’s inconvenient. That injury needed to be a major hindrance throughout the film. If you’re an aspiring writer, you should learn from this mistake. Either use it effectively or don’t use it at all.
Aside from the physical limitations that the filmmakers could have put on Bond in The World is not Enough, there were also plenty of mental scars that could have created dramatic tension, but the opportunities were missed. Elektra asks him at one point of the film if he’s ever lost anyone close to him, but he doesn’t answer. Then later when he discovers that she’s betrayed him, his reaction is similarly muted. The World is not Enough is not the only film where this is an issue. James Bond is an incredibly deep character and precious few of the Bond films have explored that depth. The films that have explored it are among the best in the series. Most of the other films don’t even make such attempts. However, this film teases us with openings for it, but does not deliver and that’s the worst method of all.
One other area that this film misses in is the Bond girl. Like the physical and emotional limitations it looks as though there is potential here for greatness, but it’s ultimately missed. Elektra King starts off the film in the archetype of the Bond girl but as mentioned earlier, she shapeshifts into the villain. The actual Bond girl in The World is not Enough is Dr. Christmas Jones (a chuckle as I type the name) played by Denise Richards. Now it’s enough of a stretch to think of Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist, but she plays it in way that didn’t even meet my low expectations. There’s no denying that Richards is a beautiful woman, and might be one of the most beautiful Bond girls ever, but her acting is atrocious and she’s just not believable in the role. It brought back memories of Dr. Holly Goodhead from Moonraker, but the sad part is that it looks like Denise Richards is trying to make it work. She just didn’t have the ability.
One final thing that should be pointed out was that this was the final film with Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Llewelyn first appeared in From Russia With Love in 1963 and he appeared in every Bond film until 1999, a total of 18 Bond films. He had the double duty of serving as Bond’s mentor as well as his foil and he was one of the most beloved characters of the entire series.
Overall this is another Bond film of missed opportunities. It’s another Bond film that followed the style of the 90’s where story was sacrificed for action and for some reason, film makers were unable to create a film that had quality in both. Is it an entertaining film? Yes. Is it close to being one of the best Bond films? Not by a long shot.