Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: No Time To Die won’t be hitting theaters, but you can still enjoy some vintage 007 action.
Popular consensus holds that Pierce Brosnan’s best outing as James Bond is his first, 1995’s GoldenEye. It’s hard not to wonder if there’s a halo effect from the beloved video game adaptation affecting its reputation when 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies is sitting right there. More than two decades later, Brosnan’s second appearance in the role stands out as both the most ’90s Bond movie and the rare entry that has elements of prescience, rather than pure trend-chasing.
Actually, prescience versus trend-chasing neatly encompasses the motives of the best villain of the Brosnan run: media baron Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a somewhat more megalomaniacal version of Rupert Murdoch, intent on starting World War III for the benefit of his broadcasting empire. Satirical skepticism of the media (and its fixations on ratings, sensationalism, etc.) is a fashionable remnant of the Natural Born Killers era, while the threats of conglomerates and consolidation have only gotten scarier and more vivid in the years since. Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t exactly incisive in its treatment of Carver; he is a Bond villain, after all. But Pryce gnashes his teeth with style, and it’s satisfying to see 007 take on a Murdoch stand-in without completely demonizing real journalism.
This is one of the brisker, briefer Bond adventures. (At the time, it was the first one to clock in under two hours, albeit just barely, in 30 years.) With GoldenEye’s throat-clearing reintroduction out of the way, Brosnan can lean into his take on the role, which could be described as debonair with just a touch of wry, self-effacing clock-punching—not for nothing does he operate his fancy BMW by remote control. In general, Tomorrow Never Dies certainly adheres to series routines; its pleasures come from small but crucial elevations. One is crisp cinematography from frequent Paul Thomas Anderson collaborator Robert Elswit, easily the most prestigious DP of the Brosnan quartet. His work shines in a sequence at Carver’s lavish network launch party with plenty of spotlight glares and vivid blues. There’s also an eclectic supporting cast (Ricky Jay and Vincent Schiavelli both appear) and a solid Sheryl Crow theme song.
Best of all is Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin, a Chinese agent chasing the same leads as Bond. She wasn’t the first Bond Girl to be hyped as an action-ready equal to 007, and she wouldn’t be the last. But Yeoh lends that claim more credibility than most, with acrobat (if too-infrequent) fights and a no-nonsense charm. The movie’s best set piece—and one of the best of the Brosnan era—finds Bond and Lin handcuffed together on a motorcycle pursued by a helicopter, and their interlocking maneuvering (hands clasped together as he steers and she works the clutch) is flirtatious without getting smirky.
It’s Teri Hatcher’s tragic bad-gal character who is perhaps oversold—not as a badass, but as an emotional connection to our superspy. (She’s yet another Bond ex.) Like a few other Brosnan-era variations, the personal angle would be better-explored by the Daniel Craig series. That doesn’t diminish this one’s entertainment value, though maybe it was fated to be overlooked anyway: Tomorrow Never Dies opened the same day as Titanic (for a few precious days, the grosses were quite close!), and even features some underwater sequences. That’s Brosnan’s Bond for you: getting the job done, making semi-nostalgic hit action-adventure movies while more seismic events happen around him.