James Bond never dies. The suave and indestructible British Agent 007 has graced movie screens for 35 years. Embodied by five different actors, he still prefers his vodka martinis shaken not stirred and his women conveniently located in his path.
So what makes this creaky male adolescent fantasy still appealing after 18 films? Just as the once hopelessly old-fashioned martini has been repackaged as the hip drink for the post-kegger crowd, Tomorrow Never Dies succeeds by taking the familiar, shaking it up and adding an ironic twist.
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (Under Fire), Tomorrow Never Dies comically toys with the Bond conventions while still delivering what audiences have come to expect: a hammy and diabolical villain (Jonathan Pryce's snaggletoothed media mogul), relentless and cleverly staged action sequences, and gadgetry that makes anything in The Sharper Image look like a tinker toy.
Screenwriter Bruce Feirstein is the humorist behind Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, and he has fun playing with James Bond as the last example of an extinct brand of masculinity. Pierce Brosnan -- charismatic, graceful, confident -- makes him a self-aware and charming dinosaur.
The usual Bond sexual innuendo continues unabated, but this time the women have more power. Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) and M (Judi Dench) speak in conspiratorial tones, ignoring the preening men around them. Bond's former flame (Teri Hatcher) replaces the standard issue sexual manipulator and 007 finds a peer in a Chinese agent (Michelle Yeoh).
Purists may scoff at the idea of the solo superspy working with a partner, but having a whip-smart, ass-kicking woman around doesn't diminish James Bond, it just shows how this post-Cold War agent is finally learning to work well with others. Just one look at Hong Kong action star Yeoh in her Emma Peel leather catsuit and it's clear she fits right in.
Tomorrow Never Dies is a cheeky James Bond film, assured enough to have 007 make one narrow escape via a simple, low-tech dolly. It's a pithy reminder that lady-killer James Bond doesn't just think with one head.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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