My recent replay of “GoldenEye N64” has brought James Bond, my tried and true problematic fave, back to mind. I had begun informally revisiting the Roger Moore films with a pair of snarky recaps, but those are sort of the low-hanging fruit of the franchise for feminist critique.
Instead, I decided to turn my attention to my James Bond: Pierce Brosnan. Being an ‘89 baby, he was the first face I remembered thanks to his 1995 debut. And probably for that reason, I felt as though he was the best of the bunch: he had Connery’s suaveness without the abrasive misogyny, he could handle the lighter scenes without being a Moore-esque goof, and there was an overall air of competence and physicality.
Having already spent a fair amount of time thinking about Goldeneye, I decided instead to focus on my second favorite film of his: The World is Not Enough. Or at least, it was my second favorite the last time I thought about this. After rewatching it, I’m really not sure why. Let me take you on a journey to try and explain.
But it is such a perfect place to start, my love
We open to Bond and his very professional looking glasses strutting down the streets of Bilbao, Spain. He’s led to a meeting in a bank, where he is searched (and yes, he was packing heat). “If you can’t trust a Swiss banker, what’s the world come to?” But…you brought the gun…so…
The main banker, Lachaise, is blathering about how he’s being honorable by returning “Sir Robert’s” money to Bond, after taking out appropriate convenience charges. His assistant, who is horrifyingly credited as “Cigar Girl” because she offered one to Bond, hands our agent a paper and asks if he’d like to check her figures. “Oh, I’m sure they’re perfectly rounded,” he answers, in this kind of weird, breathless way that makes you wonder of Bond might have some sort of sex-addiction problem. She rolls her eyes and you can tell that this isn’t the first time she’s been creeped on at work.
The money Lachaise retrieved had been lost when Sir Robert King tried to buy a report that was stolen from an MI6 agent, who died because of it. Bond is under the impression that the banker would have insight into who killed the guy, and keeps making bizarre insults at the man for being Swiss. Lachaise points out that he’s just a middle-man in the situation, so Bond presses a little button on his glasses that makes his gun fire (it was randomly sitting on the table after his frisk), and in the confusion, takes down every guard. Then after pointing his gun at Lachaise’s head, the dude is like “oh well now that you mention it I know just who killed the MI6 agent” (how.), but oh no, someone throws a knife into the back of his neck before he can talk. The clompy heels let us know it’s Cigar Girl, who is definitely dressing for the job she wants, not the one she has. As you know, a secret-assassin.
Bond can’t chase her though, since the whole kurfuffle drew the attention of the local police, so he has to shut himself inside the room. One of the henchmen he took out pops back up, but someone outside the building has a sniper scope on him, and kills him before he can hurt Bond. I think it’s also supposed to be Cigar Girl, since Bond runs to the window immediately after that happens (like anyone would do with an active sniper…), and the camera pans from building-to-building while the clompy heel sound effect continues.
The police knock on the outside of the door, and Bond gets the brilliant idea to rip a cord from the window, and tie it to one of the henchmen lying on the ground. Then he grabs the briefcase full of money, smashes the window, and leaps off the balcony, like one does. And luckily for him the cord was exactly the right length, and he didn’t go plunging to his death.
Normally this necktie-adjusting-moment comes at the end of a pre-title sequence, but no, we’re transported to MI6 Headquarters in London. There’s a very odd scene of Bond personally stacking money into a vault and looking very pleased with himself, before he heads Moneypenny. It’s super charming and very clear that they both skipped the HR training on sexual harassment in the workplace. Before horrible cigar-puns get out of hand, M calls Bond into her office, where she and Sir Robert King are giggling with each other. He thanks Bond for getting his money back, and then runs off so that he can go touch it too.
M gushes about how smart her friend is, until Bond points out that they just had to send him to go recover over three million pounds for the guy thanks to his blackmarket report-purchasing habit. But then M is like, “oh yeah, this report right here!” so… Does that mean they just helped Sir Robert steal the thing? Why does he get the money back for this?
Turns out it’s a stolen report from the Russians that King thought might help him identify terrorists attacking a pipeline he’s trying to build. Which is more or less the plotline of this movie: Oil Tycoon.
“Interesting,” Bond says, scooping ice into his drink, “But it doesn’t exactly explain why somebody would want me out of their office alive.”
See, both he and M think it was really shady that Cigar Girl helped him escape, and yet apparently they didn’t bother double checking the suitcase full of cash to make sure it wasn’t bugged, or I don’t know, FULL OF EXPLOSIVES?
Yeah, it’s the latter, which Bond finds out when the ice he held starts frothing. At least his alcoholism can be useful from time to time. He jumps up and runs out of the room, while M gets on the intercom and says “Moneypenny, stop King.” But she does jack-all, and Bond can’t run across this ridiculously large building with annoying automatic doors in time, so Sir Robert steps into the vault and the thing blows.
Bond runs to survey the damage, which includes a major chunk of the exterior wall missing, but oh no! Cigar Girl is on a boat chilling on River Thames, this time rockin’ a sweet action-leather suit (now this is how to dress for the job), and she’s pointing her sniper mark at Bond. I wonder if she used Expedia to be able to have beaten back an MI6 agent like this. I also wonder if she knows that she’s the only lead, so maybe turning up and being super obvious wasn’t the best play?
Bond ducks the bullets and then runs through the building in a different direction, where he find’s Q’s office. There just happens to be a boat there on a water track that leads out the building.
So we get one of those great James Bond boat chase sequences! There’s shortcuts across London streets and fiery explosions, though I’m still a little haunted from the days of Billy Bob to truly enjoy this.
Cigar Girl realizes that Bond is going to catch her (why did you come??), so she tries to get away by hijacking a hot air balloon. Unfortunately the million dangly ropes make them the worst get-away vehicle, confirmed when Bond leaps from his boat and grabs hold of one. Cigar Girl realizes she’s done for and moves to shoot the propane tank. Bond is all, “I can protect you, don’t do this!” but she says, “Not from him” and blows it up, while he lets go and falls to a rooftop in what is somehow not his death.
This might feel like a dead end for some, but “him” is a pretty big clue in Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.
Title sequence time! The clever visual motif is oil, while Garbage reminds me that this is a 90s flick still.
Professionalism in the workplace
Time for a Scottish funeral, featuring Bond in a sling! It’s for Sir Robert, and M brought the entire MI6 squad, because that’s appropriate. Charles Robinson, the Deputy Chief of Staff, apparently forgot to read his briefing since Bond has to tell him that the girl M is hugging is King’s daughter, Elektra. All things considered, it was a rather nice atmospheric scene. There’s even bagpipes playing.
Post-funeral festivities include a briefing at MI6’s Scottish headquarters about the attack on their building. Wow, Sir Robert’s funeral must have been thrown together really quickly if they’re only now getting to this. Bill Tanner explains that King’s lapel pin was a replica with a radio transmitter in it that caused the boom (science?), which means there was an insider. Then the genius Deputy says:
“We know it was someone close to King, and our only lead committed suicide on that balloon. But given the size of King’s organization…it could be anyone, anywhere.”
Everyone has access to the dude’s pins?
But horror of horrors! Crashing onto a roof and dislocating a collarbone means that Bond is on the inactive roster. So he does the only logical thing and fucks the MI6 doctor to get her to agree to fake medical information for him. And luckily, Dr. Molly Warmflash (yup.) doesn’t give a shit about ethics or the fact that these two have clearly fucked before. I’m starting to wonder if there is no HR department.
Bond swings by Q-branch so that he can see Desmond Llewelyn off, who introduces him to his successor, John Cleese. Oh the simple times, where the Bond franchise was fond of levity. Gadget of very specific function from the scene: a jacket that envelops the wearer in a giant padded snowball.
And finally to cap off his busy day, Bond decides to do some very basic research on Sir Robert King and his history with MI6, which leads him to all these files on that time Elektra King was kidnapped by a terrorist and ransom money was demanded. The exact same amount of money as was in the briefcase that blew-up.
Bond goes to M who locked the files on the kidnapping and asks for the full story. Elektra was kidnapped, Sir Robert asked for M’s help, the British don’t negotiate with terrorists so rather than pay the ransom they tried to find the guy responsible. I’m not really sure he needed an unlocked file to piece this one out.
We then get yet another MI6 briefing on the terrorist/kidnapper Renard, who they refer to as “the anarchist.” This is never in evidence, and as you’ll see, the guy’s entire scheme revolves around market profit.
After the kidnapping, 009 shot the anarchist in his head, and Molly Warmflash literally just pops her ass into the meeting at the perfect moment to explain how Renard is still alive. The bullet is apparently traveling down his medulla oblongata and will eventually kill the guy, but until then he’s losing his sense of touch and smell so he can “push himself harder, longer than any normal man.” For some reason he’s not losing sight or hearing too, and my 3-second Google search that told me how the medulla oblongata contains the control centers for the heart and lungs is apparently irrelevant. Dude can’t feel pain, so that makes him scarier. Cool.
M says that Renard already got his revenge by killing King and humiliating MI6, but Bond points out Elektra could also be in danger. Then Moneypenny conveniently pops her ass into the meeting to tell M how Bond’s off the inactive roster, while trying to shame Warmflash for fucking him.
No one cares, so Bond gets sent off to Azerbaijan (after M feels the need to tell him not to fuck the woman he’s assigned to protect, because that shouldn’t be a given or anything), where Elektra is overseeing a pipeline’s construction.
Then my father was wrong
The villagers are protesting, but Elektra King basically flips off her security staff and shows up anyway. Bond watches and is moderately impressed as she and a priest have a meeting in Azeri, where she agrees not to build a pipeline through their church. When she passes on this information to her foreman, he’s all like “but your father approved this route!” and then for some reason looks to her Chief of Security (Davidov) to get that crazy woman in-line. Uh guy, she’s the sole owner now, isn’t she? Elektra doesn’t care though, and says in so many words that her father was an idiot.
And yes, to be clear, as I’m writing about her here now, I realize I’m low-key stanning her.
She then gets yet another doofus to deal with, this time in the form of Bond, who tells her she “may be in danger.” She laughs in his face and points out that she’s currently overseeing a new pipeline through the Middle East (and has very serious competitors), she just had to deal with a riot, and her father was murdered like two days ago, but thanks for the info.
But not so fast! There’s survey lines to check (for what, exactly?). She and Bond set out on a grand skiing adventure. Apparently the strong winds dictate that the helicopter can’t land, and also can’t get anywhere near their destination. So we’re treated to a solid few minutes of Bond and Elektra skiing while happy music plays.
Then we learn that her father really was a fucking idiot, because he built his pipeline over a glacier. Did no one explain to him that they flow?
Bond: So this is where they meet, the two ends of the pipeline. Your father’s legacy.
Elektra: My family’s legacy, to the world.
Honestly, I don’t blame her for the clarification. Turns out it was her mother’s family who discovered the oil here, so her dad was more of the project admin guy. Who did not consult with a single engineer. It also turns out that Elektra’s only goal in this excursion was to be able to stand and look at the spot where the pipelines join for three seconds.
They’re interrupted when a few parahawks with gun-toting pilots drop by. Bond orders Elektra to split off from him so that he can draw them into the trees. What follows is a fairly decent ski-chase scene (ah, The Spy Who Loved Me flashbacks), with fairly decent music, and mercifully no snowboarding.
He outmaneuvers all the parahawks and meets back up with Elektra, but turns out causing them to explode in an area with avalanche warnings can be a little risky. One comes to gobble them, but luckily Bond has that coat-of-very-specific-function and shields them inside a snowball. Then he calms Elektra down from a panic attack and the two climb out.
Okay, pause. I’m sorry to say, I have to ruin the movie for you right here, because it is impossible to explain these events without knowing it. Elektra is the bad guy! Boom! She is actually in love with Renard, her kidnapper (or it later gets implied that she turned him?), and the two are teaming up with the nefarious plan of stealing weapons-grade plutonium and blowing up Istanbul, because that’s where all of her competitors’ pipelines run through. Then her pipeline will be the best pipeline. Really, it’s not that dissimilar to Kananga’s soul food/opium plan: Elektra wants to control the market to be able to jack up prices. Renard, the anarchist, is apparently into helping her achieve this goal. Oh and also she hates her dad and MI6 for doing diddly squat when she had been kidnapped.
The first time through, this reveal is fairly decent, but on rewatch everything becomes nearly incomprehensible. Bond is the assigned MI6 agent, and he showed her that they know King’s lapel pin was switched, so everything that happens from there on out has to be viewed as Elektra manipulating him to seem innocent. Faking a panic attack to seem weaker is actually clever.
However, we learn that these parahawks belong to the Russian Atomic Energy Department (let’s just call it “RAED”). If you need a refresher, they’re the dudes that wrote the report that was stolen and purchased by King. They’ve also got a scientist named Doctor Arkov who is working with Renard (and therefore Elektra), who we later learn provided these parahawks for this operation.
So, okay, there’s the RAED who had a report identifying terrorists that attacked King’s newest pipeline (which I think was just a separate attack by competitors?), and Renard has teamed up with their scientists. Then 009 stole the report and was killed by Renard’s people, so that Renard could turn around and sell it to Sir Robert King for the exact same amount as he had demanded in ransom for Elektra years ago, probably to prove a point that the guy was willing to shell out for his company but not his daughter. And somehow a Swiss Banker living in Spain employing a Cuban woman got hold of the money again, while King also received the report.
The only rationale for hiring the parahawks for Team Renard/Elektra (Team Drill Baby Drill) in this moment was to make her look more innocent to Bond? Or to kill the MI6 dude who showed up and began poking his nose around? And she was totally fine with this taking place as she was skiing in an area known for avalanches? Because she could have really easily died, especially if Bond didn’t have a coat with a specific function that no one would have guessed existed. She’s just really committed to this duplicity, I guess. Or maybe it’s part of her whole thrill-seeking nature, since her catchphrase is “There’s no point in living if you can’t feel alive.”
The Night Shift
We’re next treated to a scene of Elektra begging Bond to have the sex while Davidov and her security staff sulk outside her room. Bond turns her down, and then heads to a casino where he dons stupid looking sunglasses that serve as x-rays, which he uses to ogle the women in the room—I mean, to cleverly pin some rando to a counter with his own knife so that Valentin Zukovsky (from Goldeneye!) will agree to see him. Even though the guy had no reason not to see him.
Bond shows Valentin a piece of one of the parahawks from earlier, and the guy identifies it as RAED’s seal (you’d think a British secret agent who we later learn speaks Russian might have been able to do that, but whatever). We also meet Mr. Bullion, Valentin’s adorable henchman who doesn’t trust banks.
I guess this was necessary for Bond to confirm Renard being behind the parahawk attack, or in bed with the RAED, or something. But before Valentin gets into the finer points of Renard working “freelance” now (a freelance terrorist? Is that a thing?), Elektra waltzes her ass into the casino, because she wants to play a really, really fun card game with Valentin. Or wait, no, she gives Bond this reason:
Bond: What are you doing here?
Elektra: The same thing you are. Looking for the people who tried to kill me.
What kind of casino is this, exactly?
Valentin invites her to sit at her father’s chair, and keep his gambling credit line of one million US dollars, and Elektra thinks this is nifty. The game? One card, highest wins.
Elektra loses and Bond gets sad, even though there’s really no reason for him to care what the oil tycoon does with her money. Then she skips back out of the casino, and asks Bond to have the sex again. He agrees, because it has been a whole fifteen minutes so circumstances totally changed. Elektra has an ice kink, and Bond thinks her story of survival from her kidnapping is pretty cool.
We’re also treated to a scene of Davidov and RAED scientist Dr. Arkov meeting with Renard, and if I hadn’t already told you the plot of the movie, this would have been shocking. So let me spoil something else: Renard has teamed up with Arkov because this Russian nuclear scientist gives him the cred he needs to be able to steal a nuclear bomb from a Russian military base in Kazakhstan, where the International Decommissioning Agency is currently working. So this guy is rather crucial to the entire operation. Davidov is some rando who oversaw Operation Almost-Kill Elektra, who fucked up by not actually killing Bond. If that’s what the point of that was.
Arkov points out how the parahawks were supposed to be returned, and that people might ask questions of him, so “maybe we should scrub the rest of the mission.” Because of this completely reasonable and mild hesitation, Renard decides his best play is to shoot Arkov and have Davidov impersonate him, because why would the International Decommissioning Agency verify the identity of the dude who they’re giving a nuclear weapon to? Brilliant. I wonder if Arkov knew that the end goal was to create an oil monopoly.
This plan gets even dumber when Bond, sneaking out of Elektra’s bed, follows Davidov, kills him, and decides to impersonate him impersonating Arkov.
He lucks out in that a) Renard is not there himself, and b) Renard’s henchmen also don’t care about verifying identities, even though they were outright told Davidov would be replacing Arkov.
Henchman: What happened to Davidov? I was told to expect him.
Bond: He was buried with work.
Bond is taken to a Russian military jet, where the men on-board ask for “the grease.” Turns out they are new pairs of sneakers, and that explains the Russian involvement, or something.
They land at the ICBM base in Kazakhstan, and Bond—err, “Dr. Arkov”—is introduced to Denise Richards…I mean, an atomic physicist named “Dr. Christmas Jones.” And boy does Denise play the part of a rocket scientist convincingly.
Colonel Akakievich (commanding officer at the site): Don’t bother. Not interested in men. Take my word for it. This year we decommissioned four test sites. Not even a glimmer.
Christmas Jones: (to Bond) Are you here for a reason? Or are you just hoping for a glimmer?
She checks Bond’s paperwork while he asks basic questions about nuclear testing sites that give away his ignorance on the subject, and then he skips down into the underground testing chamber. There, Renard and his buddies (with their new sneakers) are in the process of taking an atomic bomb. Glad the Decommissioning Agency and Russian military let them go ahead and start that process before the RAED scientist who placed this order even showed up.
Bond is able to attack Renard and holds him at gunpoint, while the guy does that thing all Bond-villains do and explains the plot.
Renard: I did spare your life at the banker’s office. That’s right. I couldn’t kill you. You were working for me. You delivered the money, killed King. Now you brought me the plane.
He also tells Bond that Elektra is going to die in 20 minutes if a “certain phone call isn’t made,” and proceeds to brag about how he got to rape her during the kidnapping fun times. Bond figures he’s bluffing and goes to kill him anyway, though as he’s about to, Renard pulls out Elektra’s catchphrase too.
Also, a wild Christmas appears with the colonel. She figured out that the guy who knew nothing about atomic testing sights isn’t actually a nuclear physicist, so she Google image-searched Arkov, unlike every other person on the site. Bond tries to explain how Renard’s men are the imposters stealing the bomb, and Colonel Akakievich thinks everything is shady enough to ask everyone to get up to the surface. Renard and his people begin murdering everyone, even though Bond had just got done telling him “firefight will bring down half the army from above.” Lucky for them this never happens.
Bond grabs Christmas Jones and leaps into a pit in the middle of the room, and despite the fact that they’re being shot at and a terrorist is trying to steal an atomic bomb, she is entirely fixated on figuring out who Bond really is. It’s odd; she more or less acts as if she sees this shit every day.
Cue an action montage where Bond fails to stop the theft of the bomb, and Renard attached a bomb to the underside of the elevator so that as he goes to the surface, it detonates (did he know this was going to happen? Was he planning on blowing up the place anyway?). Bond hops onto a little pully and rides ahead of this giant explosion, while Christmas watches with mild interest until he tells her to close the door.
Then the two escape the exploding building while she continues to hound him for his name. I appreciate her ability to multitask, but is this really the time for that?
Oh, also, one of Renard’s men removed the locator card from the bomb so they can’t track it. This is very important to the plot later.
Doesn’t exactly take a degree in nuclear physics
Bond goes back to Elektra’s digs and accuses her of having Stockholm Syndrome because Renard found her catchphrase nifty. Oh, also, there was a moment where he grabbed Bond’s shoulder and it hurt him, because remember how the guy is injured and shouldn’t have been on the active roster?
Elektra: So he knew where to hurt you, is that it? You had a sling on your arm at the funeral. And I didn’t have to sleep with you to find that out.
I really hate that he’s right about her, because she makes exceedingly good points and calls him disgusting for assuming she’d fall in love with her rapist due to a few words. I also forgot to mention, but while he was gone, she video conferenced M to tell her that Bond fucked her and left her and she’s scared, so M is en route.
Elektra begins shaming Bond for using her as bait to get to Renard, just like her father and MI6 did before, and God, why did movie have to take this set-up and instead go in the direction of “oh Elektra is actually the bad one, and she won Renard to her cause (not the other way around) because she thinks her father is the pits”? Whatever, she gets a very conveniently-timed phone call about an attack on her pipeline, so she and Bond head to a pipeline control center where M meets up with them. She and Elektra headnod at each other.
Bond hands M the locator card (important) and tells M his suspicions that Elektra is the lapel-switching insider.
M: She kills her father and attacks her own pipeline? Why? To what end?
For some ungodly reason Christmas Jones is hanging out at this King Industries center, and tells them that there’s no sign of the bomb in the area (what?).
But oh no, there’s an unresponsive observation rig inside the pipeline, and Bond deduces that Renard stuck the bomb on it. “So now do you believe me?” Elektra asks him. Smooth, very smooth.
Bond decides that he’s going to go deactivate the bomb by hopping onto an observation rig himself, and Christmas volunteers to come with him since she actually knows how to do that and he doesn’t. They get inside the pipe and Christmas takes the controls, since operating it “doesn’t exactly take a degree in nuclear physics.”
The bomb catches up to them, and Christmas goes to defuse it, once again being cool as a cucumber.
Bond: You’ve defused hundreds of these, right?
Christmas: Yeah, but they’re usually standing still.
Bond: Yeah, well, life’s full of small challenges.
She notes that half the plutonium is missing so it can’t “go nuclear”, but there’s plenty to still kill them if the triggering charge goes off. Bond tells her not to deactivate it, and two jump off the rig which they let explode.
Back at the control center, we find out that the charge blew up a 50-yard section of the pipe. With Bond supposedly dead, Elektra decides now is a great time to show M her father’s real lapel pin and reveal that SHE WAS THE INSIDE WOMAN. MWAHAHA!
Turns out she wasn’t thrilled with M’s “let Elektra rot” advice during the kidnapping, and meant for the bomb that killed her father to take M out as well. However, she realized that she could use Bond as another chance to murder her, because she…foresaw that he would ditch her after sex and M would be willing to fly to meet her out of guilt?
We cut back to Bond and Christmas climbing out of the pipe, Bond patting himself on his back for faking his death. Christmas is confused why Renard only put half the plutonium in the pipeline, and pulls out this little bitty metal box, which supposedly contains 6 kilos of the stuff. This confuses me, because if she is holding the plutonium, that means she took away the stuff that would have made the explosion really bad. Sure, the triggering charge blasted 50 yards of pipe away, but had she and Bond truly failed to deactivate the bomb, wouldn’t a lot more of it have been damaged? So shouldn’t Elektra know that something was really fishy?
Bond remembers the one loose end: that time that Elektra happily wrote Valentin a check for one million dollars in the world’s worst card came. If they had just rigged a round of blackjack instead, I wonder if Bond would have been stumped. As usual, Christmas doesn’t seem to give a shit about anything but Bond’s backstory.
Christmas: By the way, before we go any further, I just wanna know… What’s the story with you and Elektra?
Bond: We’re strictly plutonic. What’s your story? What are you doing here in Kazakhstan?
Christmas: Avoiding those kind of questions, just like you.
I really want an alternate version of this script where she’s like, “I’m decommissioning nuclear weapons? For my job?? You met me at the test site I was cleaning???”
However, in this version, she needs to get the plutonium back or someone is going to “have her ass.” Is there a reason she’s responsible instead of the Russian military who didn’t bother to vet the people that wanted to take the bomb?
The insurance company is never going to believe this
They go to track down Valentin in his cavier factory (oh, did I forget to mention that’s his business now?), while Renard and Elektra reunite in Istanbul. He lets her rub some plutonium, and then she shows him how she stuck M in a cell.
He and M have a nice little chat about who is more to blame for Elektra being all murdery, and then he tells her that the entire city is going to die. He then sticks a clock on a stool just out of reach and tells M to “watch the hands” because shit is going down at noon the next day. Once he leaves the room, M discovers that she has the bomb locator card in her pocket! This becomes an entire subplot, as she finds a cane in her cell (?), which she tries to use to drag the stool with the clock towards her.
But it’s not like this is her only play and the entire fate of Istanbul is in her hands, so naturally she gets impatient and knocks the entire thing over. Wrecked.
Bond and Christmas arrive at the caviar plant in his super-conspicuous car, because what’s the good in faking your own death if you don’t undermine it right away? We then learn that Mr. Bullion is actually working for Elektra, and he calls her to let her know the situation.
She’s in bed with Renard who is pissy that she enjoyed the sex she had with Bond. This was a much needed scene. She orders Bond dead.
Back at caviar-ville, Bond for some reason orders Christmas to sit on a couch and look alluring for Valentin, even though the guy would have walked into the room anyway. Before the two men can discuss the million dollar payoff, a bunch of King helicopters with tree-trimming blades show up to murder them. The wharves get torn up, Bond’s car is sawed in half, and somehow Valentin ends up falling into a tub of his own caviar where he almost drowns even though that stuff is mega-salty. Still, it was a useful plot-device to get Valentine talking. And we learn that Christmas eats her caviar with sour cream!
We also learn that the payoff was thanks to Valentine’s nephew in the navy smuggling machinery for Elektra. They gang sets off to Istanbul to check in on good ol’ Nephew Nikolai at the Federal Security Bureau’s office. They piece together that the dude was delivering a submarine to her, which is where they’re going to jam in the plutonium and create a nuclear explosion “making it all look like an accident” and wiping out the competing pipelines. What an unnecessarily complicated get-rich-quick scheme for an already-rich lady. Or is this about revenge? Or the supremacy of Azerbaijani oil, because Elektra feels more connected to her mother’s side of the family?
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul
I hope the clock subplot was keeping you on the edge of your seat. Elektra pops into M’s cell and says “Good morning” before realizing that she had literally no reason to do that.
Before she leaves again, M asks her what the time is, and Elektra helpfully puts the clock on the bars of M’s cell before peacing out. M then connects the locator card of the bomb to the wires inside the clock (that’s convenient) while epic music plays, even though the only thing we’re watching is a septuagenarian pulling out a battery.
This makes something go beep at the Federal Security Bureau’s office, and Bond, Valentin, and Christmas learn that it’s coming from Maiden’s Tower in Istanbul. To add three seconds of tension, Mr. Bullion tries to murder them all with a bomb; Bond and Christmas get away, only to be captured three seconds later by Bullion, and it sort of looks like Valentin died.
Meanwhile, at Maiden’s Tower, Renard tricked Nephew with poisoned snacks! The entire crew is dead, so now they’ve got the sub and the plutonium. He goes to say goodbye to Elektra, who’s about leave the city by helicopter (she’s kind of cutting it close), and they have a kind of awkward make-out session. Cute.
She heads inside to find Bond and Christmas. Despite the fact that the entire city is about to blow up anyway, Elektra orders Christmas to be taken to Renard, but not before talking about how she and Bond were former lovers. I guess this love triangle is slightly less terrible than the one between Bond, Moneypenny, and Dr. Warmflash.
Then she has Bond shoved into a torture chair with a neck-breaking garrotte in it.
Elektra toys with him for a bit before revealing that she turned Renard with her evil ways!
Elektra: I’ve always had a power over men. When I realized my father wouldn’t rescue me from the kidnappers, I knew I had to form another alliance.
Bond: You…turned Renard.
Elektra: Just like you, only you were even easier.
I have no clue what to make of this. We could chalk it up to her point-of-view bias, though the narrative seems to want us to take it at face value, since it’s followed up by the reveal that Renard wouldn’t hurt her to “make it look real,” so she cut off of piece of her ear herself. I guess we can talk about the power-dynamics between a kidnapper and his victim, though it does very much seem as though she did all of the planning for this operation and Renard just did the leg-work for her, so I just…I don’t know. It’s the James Bond franchise; of course the first true female villain is a wily femme fatale with a past trauma that’s entirely unexplored (and even discounted).
Pierce Brosnan sells the hell out of a dude about to get his neck broken, though. Oh and at some point Elektra is all “I could have given you the world,” and Bond responds with the name of the movie, which is also a callback to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s actually (“Orbis non Sufficit”), and it’s so awkwardly delivered that I half-expected Ron Howard to pop up and go “hey, that’s the name of the movie!”
There’s sudden gunshots, and Valentin storms in looking “for a sub. It’s big and black, and the driver is a good friend of mine.” Elektra just fucking shoots him, but as he’s on the ground about to die, he aims his walking stick/gun (don’t ask) very, very, very slowly at Bond, and fires, breaking one of the arm cuffs. Despite this being wildly deliberate, Elektra just shrugs and assumes it’s all fine, which she tells Renard over a walkie-talkie.
Bond frees himself, grabs a gun, and begins to chase Elektra up some stairs, pausing to free M from her cell. Once he catches the lady, he orders her to call off Renard through the walkie. She says into the speaker, “Renard… DIVE, Bond is—” and Bond fucking shoots her to stop the warning.
Now, I have to imagine Renard heard this? But he doesn’t question it, so he lowers the submarine below water, while Bond does a beautiful swan dive, and boards the thing. Once there, he finds a guard and demands to be taken to Christmas. Oh right, she’s a thing.
He comes up with the plan to raise the sub to the surface so that it’ll show up on satellites and “bring out the navy,” but unfortunately the genius pulls the levers in the wrong direction, forcing the sub to take a nosedive to the bottom of the Bosphorus Strait. Like, we have seen Roger Moore of all people successfully steer a sub.
The impact with the bottom causes things to flood, because Bond messed up that badly. Meanwhile, Renard turned the plutonium into a rod that can fit inside the reactor, and if he shoves it into the reactor, everything blows up. I have no clue if the rest of his crew knows that this is his plan, but it’s nice of them to have come along for the ride if soo. He locks himself inside the sub’s reactor, and we’re treated to an action sequence that revolves around Bond swimming outside the sub to a hatch, and Christmas having to press a button as the room she’s in floods.
Once inside the reactor, Bond and Renard fight for a bit, and then Bond finally reveals that he killed Elektra.
Bond: Are you really gonna commit suicide for her?
Renard: You forget, I’m already dead.
Bond: Haven’t you heard? So is she.
Despite this being obvious thanks to the previous walkie-talkie incident, Renard flies into a rage, gets the better of Bond (thanks to the guy’s dislocated collarbone), and locks him under a grate. To be fair, it’s not like Renard can call this off at this point, he is legitimately going to die with the bullet in his head anyway, and maybe the person slated to inherit King Industries after Elektra is like some COO she was really fond of or something.
As Renard goes to shove the plutonium stick into the reactor, Bond luckily finds that right next to him is a digital pad that controls whether or not reactor rods can go shooting out. I shit you not.
He activates it and fires the rod through Renard, killing him. “She’s waiting for you.” That was actually more on the touching side of things, considering.
However, between the sub’s crash landing and whatever the fuck sticking the rod in that far did in the first place, the hydrogen level is “too high” and the sub is about to blow. Bond and Christmas make their way to the torpedo bay and launch themselves to the surface. Mission fucking accomplished.
It’s a James Bond movie, so all that’s left is the celebratory scene where M tries to thank him, but Bond is too busy fucking to accept the call! This one features Christmas puns.
Bond: Always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey.
Christmas: Was that a Christmas joke?
Bond: From me? No. Never.
Christmas: So isn’t it time you unwrap your present?
See, he and Christmas changed into formal-wear and poured themselves glasses of champagne without bothering to make contact with MI6 to confirm that they’re alive. So reasonably freaked out, M, Bill Tanner, Moneypenny, and John Cleese use a body heat scanner to find him. And catch him in the act. Oh tsk tsk.
Then the movie closes on the best exchange in cinematic history.
Bond: I was wrong about you.
Christmas: Yeah? How so?
Bond: I thought Christmas only comes once a year.
Aaaand that’s the show!
To the job in hand
I can’t believe I’m saying this…I found myself missing the Roger Moore films. Sure, the racism and sexism of those were an anvil to the head, but at least that made it obvious to spot. I’d think even the most closed-minded individual would find the film with the premise of “all black people are evil” concerning.
With this? It was the first Bond film that attempted to give us a female antagonist, but it did so through concerning tropes, a lack of follow-through on rather heavy subjects floated, and, as usual, a plot that is more and more illogical the longer you think about it. I will give a half-hearted clap for their attempts to make Denise Richard’s character useful, and a full golf-clap for a guilt-driven M.
But can we please get another attempt at a Bond film with a woman as the antagonist? Or with a woman as Bond? Or a woman in the writing room? Anything?
Okay, maybe not anything.
Images courtesy of United Artists
‘Deadpool 2’ Plays With Us and Itself
Deadpool 2 is a thoroughly violent, raucous, hilarious meta heartfelt meditation on trauma and family. A giddy middle finger to the self-serious offerings from the Warner Brothers/DC movies. It’s also a glorious raspberry to the convoluted and lazy scriptwriting of Marvel’s latest Avengers movie. More importantly, it shows both studios how it’s done.
For all it’s irreverence and wacky fourth wall breaking, Deadpool 2 has a structure it stringently adheres to. By ‘structure’ I mean that it takes its time setting up and exploring characters and situations while still maintaining a sort of breathless nihilistic glee. It has time travel, but there are rules and consequences. Deadpool may have regenerative powers, but that doesn’t mean he is indestructible.
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) as Deadpool is meant to be a sort of satiric caricature. He’s a comic book character who knows he’s a comic book character. The madman who knows more than anyone just how mad he is. The first Deadpool got a lot of mileage out of playing with this notion. At times Deadpool felt like a looney tunes cartoon on acid with Barry Manilow as the soundtrack.
Deadpool 2 leans into this sensibility while also showing the character is actually quite fertile for growth. Unlike his counterparts, Deadpool spends his time not helping people so much as murdering bad people who have hired him to murder other bad people. Any heroics that happen to be achieved are purely accidental and probably in the vein of Wade’s self-interest.
At least until Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wades vulgar cynical soul mate is gunned down in their apartment. Vengeance bound, Wade quickly runs her killer down and doles out his own particular brand of justice. Distraught and morose Wade attempts suicide in a way that feels utterly cartoonish but wholly organic to Deadpool.
Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) arrives to put Wade back together again, literally. Deadpool 2 zigzags through genres and tropes, but it never feels as if it just merely checking off boxes. With each zig and zag, we find our expectations thwarted.
Reynolds is so perfect as Wade Wilson that it’s less acting and more laconic conjuring. The Deadpool mask covers his face entirely yet somehow we can feel the manic toothy grin all but strain against the red blood soaked fabric. The comedic timing is pristine, but it never comes at the expense of the pathos of Wade Wilson.
What is sometimes forgotten is that without his powers Wade Wilson is just a man dying of cancer. David Leitch brutally reminds us when Wade is forced to wear a collar that inhibits his regenerative capabilities. Stripped of his suit and his ability to heal he is instead just a man constantly on the edge of death. Remarkably though, Wade never ceases to be Wade. Though riddled with cancer and self-pity the humor and allergy to authority are never gone.
Colossus and his protege, the epically named, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) drag Wade kicking and screaming to Xavier’s Home for the Gifted. Deadpool is an anarchic cyclone of murder and chaos. Predictably he bristles at Colossus rules and orders of how things are done.
A petulant Wade stomps around the mansion, his only source of joy is Yukio (Shiori Kutsuna), Negasonic’s girlfriend. Yukio and Negasonic are rarely, if ever, not in the same frame holding hands. A couple so cute and perfect even Wade is forced to smile and cheerlead the two.
Part of Wade’s X-Men training has him showing up to help a young boy Russell (Julian Dennison). It’s here Deadpool 2 begins to hint at something deeper. A young mutant with the ability to shoot fire from his fists seems hell-bent on destroying everything in his path. As a trainee, Wade is thrown into the situation to try and talk the kid down. Because all Wade does is talk he’s able to discover the boy is being abused. His anger is valid and the destruction merely a cry for help.
Deadpool 2 has stakes. The stakes aren’t the end of the world or galaxy threatening, thank God. Rhett Reese, Ryan Reynolds, and Paul Wernick’s script instead focus on something the superhero movies with a couple of notable exceptions have ignored or forgotten. What does it mean to be a hero?
By design, Deadpool is not meant to be part of a team. Yet Wade desperately wants a family. He and Vanessa were working to have a child before she was brutally gunned down. Much of Wade’s anguish is the loss of the dream of having a family. All corny and melodramatic which is why it’s so brilliant that Deadpool 2 pulls it off not just well but brilliantly.
Cable (Josh Brolin) a bounty hunter of sorts from the future arrives to hunt down Russell. Wade may be crazy, but even he’s baffled as to why anyone would want to kill a kid. Yet, Wade also can’t keep his mouth shut and alienates Russell when he needed Wade the most.
Brolin does quiet, wordless brooding in his sleep. Likewise, Cable is a part that fits Brolin like a glove. He struts across the screen with a swagger capped by a smoldering grimace. Charismatic as all hell, Brolin somehow manages to get us to root for him and against him, often within the same scene.
Unlike Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 slams rules and exceptions on time travel. Its a plot device but not one without consequences. Not only does this raise the stakes but it also draws boundaries around what, when, and where the characters must go to further the plot. The writers are forced to deal with issues both narrative and emotionally as opposed to leaving them dangling or hand wave them away.
What’s more Deadpool 2 has the audacity to switch bad guys in midstream. The evolution of the character arcs of Russell and Cable and how they relate to Wade borderlines on a sort of loony sad poetry. Death surrounds Wade, even as he tries to assemble a team of experts and mutants.
Along the way, Wade meets Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose power is luck, and the plot begins to fall neatly into place. Beetz is a ray of effortless sunshine. She gives Domino a flower child, easy going demeanor who’s not afraid to get her hands bloody.
The culmination of all this time traveling, random death, and wisecracking monologues is Wade’s realization that his actions and words have consequences. Bad guys are sometimes good people, and monsters often look like everyone else.
Leitch paces Deadpool 2 as if it were a manic breeze. He packs the frames with action in the foreground and background. Much like his other movies John Wick and Atomic Blonde he allows us to see the punch and the kicks land. The fights are a ballet of haphazardness. Most superhero fights are like a dance. But when your character is the Tasmanian Devil personified you’re forced to dance the Macera to a Mahler composition played on a flaming tuba with kazoo accompaniments.
Leitch’s biggest accomplishment is following the simple creed of “Let Deadpool be Deadpool,” and all that may entail. Deadpool 2 is a deeply felt violently hilarious melodrama about loss and loneliness. The heavy stuff works not just because the filmmakers know how to balance the tones, though they do.
It works because the script has slyly laid the groundwork. But it also works because it allows us to not just spend time with Domino, Wade, Cable, Russell, Negasonic, Yukio, and Colossus. But because it allows us to understand why they are the way they are.
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox
The Happytime Murders Looks to Murder Your Childhood
Following the deaths of the stars of former show The Happytime Gang, two detectives (one human and one puppet) try to solve the murders. Have you ever imagined what Who Framed Roger Rabbit? would be like if it tried to be as crude and immature as humanly possible? Well, that’s what The Happytime Murders looks like. I sure hope the actual movie isn’t as bad as this trailer was.
I suppose the concept could work. Take the idea of humans and Muppets living side by side, make it visually gritty, don’t take yourself too seriously, and really sell the idea of this world’s existence. This trailer seems to do literally the exact opposite of that. I couldn’t watch this without feeling like Happytime Murders just wants to use Muppets to be as shocking as possible in hopes of cheap laughs. Nothing about this trailer made me feel like they tried to make a real world out of this movie at all. I really hope I’m wrong. Hopefully, I am.
If I am wrong, then this trailer was a huge failure. All it did was make me hate the very idea of this movie. I’m not sure I’ve ever rolled my eyes as much as I did during the ejaculation joke at the end. And then they doubled down and did it again. I guess some people will take this less seriously than I do, and that’s fine. No judgment here. After all, humor can be very subjective.
The Happytime Murders hits theaters on August 17. If it’s as bad as it looks here, and Melissa McCarthy somehow makes it work, then maybe consider her for some awards. And if I’m wrong about how bad the movie looks here, then I will happily eat crow about it.
Images Courtesy of STX Films
The Top 5 Best Portrayals of Sherlock Holmes in Film or Television
Due to scheduling conflicts, Thad and I were unable to record our episode of Beneath the Screen of the Ultra-Critics. We will return in two weeks with an episode about the Hays Code. This time both our voices will be audible, so it doesn’t sound like one long Andy Kauffman style prank.
This week though Thad and I decided, in light of Elementary being renewed for another season, to rank our favorite Sherlock Holmes in film and television. We had one caveat; the character has to actually be Sherlock Holmes. What this means is characters like Dr. Gregory Hous (Hugh Laurie) who are clearly inspired by Holmes are not eligible. Nor is Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) on the list because he only believes he is Sherlock Holmes and that doesn’t count either. Sadly, this means Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham) is nowhere to be found but rest assured he is, in fact, one of the great fictional detectives.
Once again, we blithely court controversy by daring to rank the portrayals of a fictional detective over a hundred and thirty years old. We fully acknowledge that this is list is the only one of its kind in existence. Which makes our decisions all the more final and inarguable.
5. Basil Rathbone
Sherlock Holmes’s iconic deerstalker hat came not from Doyle, so much as from the illustrations that accompanied the Holmes stories in The Strand. Likewise, the image of Holmes we conjure up in our brain when we think of the Baker Street occupant is more than likely Basil Rathbone’s. Remarkable since, even though Rathbone played Holmes for seven years, few people today have seen or heard of him.
Yet, all prior depictions have been more or less been modeled after his gaunt granite thin-lipped demeanor. The sly sardonic smile and steepled fingers practically thrive in the public conscious when we think about the great detective. Rathbone’s performance is lodged in our collective psyche. Holmes is an archetype, and early actors played him as such.
Rathbone’s performance lacks any real complexity, but then again the scripts weren’t calling for it. They called for a simmering and brooding Holmes with acidic quips and sharp denunciations and that’s what Rathbone gave us. More than any physical attribute, it’s how he walked at the clipped pace and held himself on the edges of the frames. When Rathbone played Holmes, it was less a character and more a calm and collected wraith.
4. Robert Downey, Jr.
Far from the first American to play Sherlock Holmes, Downey brought his singular energy and presence to the role. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes pay little heed to Doyle’s original source material. But through it, all Downey gives us delightfully fun and impish Holmes.
Arguably Downey’s Holmes is the least mature on the list. Ritchie’s characters tend to be the types found on the floors of local bars near closing time. The contrast between Doyle’s staunch upper-class tendencies and Ritchie’s deeply embedded working-class humor leads to a weird adventure yarn more suited for a Doc Savage book than a Sherlock Holmes story.
Downey pulls it off. His Watson (Jude Law) hews much more to the stuffy tweed wearing visage of his origins. Mixed with Downey’s street brawler Holmes though the two make the whole thing feel like an idea Shane Black had but never got around to working out. Downey’s performance seems to hint at the Holmes imagined by Doyle more than any other before or since. Less a faithful hew to the performances before him, Downey’s Holmes was a punk rock rebel.
3. Sir Ian McKellen
Of all the movies about Sherlock Holmes, I find none of them as haunting and beautiful as Bill Condon Mr. Holmes. Less a faithful adaptation of the source material and more of a meditation on Holmes himself. Mr. Holmes none the less is a moving story about the great detective nearing the end of his life.
Sir Ian McKellen plays Holmes stripped of his pretenses. His determined gait and calculated movements now replaced with shaky hands and a walking stick less for show and more for necessity. Filled with regret and longing for the choices he’s made McKellen’s Holmes is a tragic melodramatic figure. Old age and dementia are raving the once great mind.
Condon plays with us as he intertwines the memory of Holmes and our expectations of Holmes laced with Holmes disapproval of the public’s perception of him. Staying with a widow and a young boy he finds himself enjoying their company. When the boy lashes out at his mother, Holmes demands he apologizes.
“Go after her. You must apologize for saying things that were meant to hurt. You were cruel. If you don’t apologize, you will regret it.” The boys scoff at the old man. “People always say that.” “Because it’s true.” Holmes snaps. When the boy asks if Holmes regrets anything, “So. Much.” McKellen’s Holmes is a man who realizes his loneliness is of his own doing.
2. Jonny Lee Miller
Elementary is far and away the most complex and adult modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. The picture of Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) with Watson (Lucy Liu) is apt. Unlike almost every other adaptation Watson is viewed as an equal part of the Holmes narrative. What we get is not just a Holmes story but a Holmes story about his relationship with another person who challenges and supports him at the same time.
He’s a fully functional adult who’s struggling with addiction. Holmes forthright struggle with addiction humanizes him in a way most other portrayals fail. Earlier Holmes either downplay Holmes drug abuse, such as Steven Moffat’s Sherlock. Or flat out ignore it. By addressing it and understanding that addiction is a lifelong progress, Elementary forces Sherlock to evolve not just as a character but as a human being.
Miller brings a wounded and confused anxiety to his Holmes. People are more than puzzles to him—they represent possibilities. He trains Watson because she shows an intellectual aptitude and a moral fortitude to what Holmes believes to be a higher calling, a private detective. His Holmes understands intelligence is something that is both inherent and taught. Miller’s Holmes is often the smartest person in the room but rarely is he the only smart person present.
1. Jeremy Brett
Of all the Holmes on this list, none of them capture the mercurial enigma that is Jeremy Brett’s, Sherlock Holmes. His Holmes bubbles with glee and excitement underneath his quivering jaw. Cool and calm under fire but un-hesitant to leap to the floor crawling at the floorboards to reveal a hiding spot. Brett fumes with a manic energy that brings an entirely fresh and singular vision of Holmes.
Far from the stiff upper lit Londoner, Brett’s Holmes has a twinkle in his eye. A hunger for the rages within his breast as he shares with Watson how he had figured all out. Yet, much like Miller’s Sherlock, Brett also has a great humanity within him. The Case of the Blue Carbuncle, in particular, shows him scouring the London streets on Christmas Eve to help out a local policeman who’s come to him for help.
The Case of the Six Napoleons reveals to us the complex sensitive and egotistical side of the great man. Inspector Lestrade compliments Holmes on his deductive work. “We’re not jealous of you, you know? No sir, we’re proud of you.” Brett’s cool demeanor cracks as he receives validation from a source he respects very much. Brett’s Sherlock is quite simply a marvel of restraint with sudden outbursts of great emotion. Rarely has the great man ever been portrayed with such passion, glee, and deep sympathetic humanity.