Chanukah 2000 was a pivotal moment in my life. One of those fulcrums in the space-time continuum. I remember it vividly. My family was in Memphis, Tennessee visiting my cousin. The trip marked my first time in Memphis, which would spark an interest and appreciation for the blues and Elvis Presley that would stretch well into later years; motivating more trips to the heart of the mid-South and grizzly versions of “Heartbreak Hotel” at karaoke bars across the nation. In addition to those very cultural pillars established that Chanukah, I received two gifts that would mold my childhood and shape much of my adolescence and adulthood. We don’t really do gifts anymore on Chanukah, and I appreciate that, because that’s not what the holiday is about, but as a kid, I would not complain, for Chanukah in 1998 I received two video games for my then-brand-new N64. The first was “NFL Blitz 2001”. This is the game that I would stress over not being able to beat my brother at as a child. The game that required no skill as a kid, but would evolve into something much more as a high school and college student. It was the game that went from silly, button-mashing nonsense, to a chess match of strategy and wit that resulted in as many broken friendships as it did N64 controllers.
The second gift? EA’s adaptation of the then-newest James Bond film, “The World is Not Enough” (TWINE). I can’t quite put into context what this meant for the elementary age boys of the year 2000. A lot of you understand, though. Because it was not many “child years” earlier, that another James Bond adaptation was released for N64 that rocked 90’s kids and the video game world. “Goldeneye” came out in 1997, and in 2000 was still the best damn game out there. The Bond game to come after it , “Tomorrow Never Dies”, was a colossally disappointing 3rd-person, singleplayer-only, clunky shooter for Playstation—the system that only dweebs had. “Tomorrow”’s failure put great emphasis on TWINE’s return to the first-person shooter and N64 multiplayer modes.
I sat there. In Memphis. With the potentially greatest new game in my hand. Eight hundred miles away from my N64. Torture and a test of my patience that would prove to be well worth it.
This is a blog post about how TWINE is not only an underrated Bond film, but an underrated film with underrated music and underrated performances. This is a blog post about the movie, but the video game context is important, for many reasons. Firstly, because video games were how I, and many of the people in my generation, were introduced to and fell in love with the James Bond franchise. Secondly, because there has been a connection to James Bond films of the 90s and their video games ever since “Goldeneye” set the standards and changed the video game world forever. In fact, “Goldeneye” is the General Internet Consensus (GIC) favorite for best Brosnan Bond film and no doubt, much of that is attributed to the memories many have with the video game, rather than the movie (or in addition to the movie). The TWINE video game was nowhere near as successful and revolutionary as its golden predecessor, but I’ll say what no one who grew up drinking Ecto Cooler and wearing LA Lights wants to admit: the TWINE game is better than “Goldeneye”, and, in many ways, so is the movie.
Let’s start with how and why I’m going about this case file. What does it mean to be a Bond film? Who am I to judge it? And where does “The World is Not Enough” fit into all of this?
MY BOND RESUME
Before we get into the discussion of TWINE and my determination of its place amongst Bond films, and films of the 90s in general, let me lay out for you my James Bond history and resume. Like many of my generation, I was first introduced to the character of James Bond via the N64 version of “Goldeneye”. My seven year-old self fell in love instantly. I loved the character, the bad guys, the girls, the gadgets, the adventure, the wit. What sparked was a fandom that would continue to this day, and through many media. Because as Bond fans, we must understand that the character goes well beyond the films, so there is no shame in experiencing it first with video games. In fact, I would say that some of the best Bond stories and moments come in the video games. EA’s Bond-original “Nightfire” is better than many of the EON films, I would say.
The first film I saw was “From Russia with Love”, for my parents knew my love for James Bond, but didn’t think I was old enough to see the newer, PG-13 Brosnan films. I think it was during the gypsy cat-fight in “Russia” that my parents probably realized that even the older, more conservative Connery films of the 60s may have been too much for my little brain. As a result, it would be a few more years before I got a hold of more of the James Bond films. The closest thing I knew to Bond on film after seeing “Russia” was the Austin Powers films of the late 90s. But by the time TWINE was released on N64, I was old enough to venture out and watch Bond films. It is then, I recall, “The World is Not Enough” became my second Bond film experience, and from then on it was a match made in cinephilia heaven. This is important because, no doubt, I have a bit of sentimentalism going into my opinion and analysis of TWINE, but this is just mere reality—for we cannot take ourselves and our experiences out of the equation in critiquing film.
Since seeing TWINE on VHS, I became the biggest of Bond fans. I’ve seen every film (canon and non-canon), read many of the books and played most of the video games. Point is: I most definitely am qualified to analyze any and every James Bond film, taking into consideration the full body of media surrounding said film. I’ve studied the character and its history, and here is my taste in the Bond character, for your context:
The best Ian Fleming novels are “Dr. No”, “Casino Royale” and “From Russia with Love” (which was President Kennedy’s favorite book).
The best actor to play Bond was Connery. Dalton and Craig are close seconds, as, in my mind, they have exemplified the character from the books more than any other actor ever has, but Connery gets top dog for immortalizing the character in the mind of the public consciousness and establishing his style, quirks, expectations and cinematic tone.
Here are my top 5 Bond films, in order from best to not-as-best:
(1) “Goldfinger” – Just the best. The film speaks for itself.
(2) “Casino Royale” – This movie, somehow, is seriously underrated. This is one of the best scripts to come out of the 2000’s. I’m not kidding. What great writing for and chemistry between Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd and Daniel Craig’s 21st century James Bond. This is a blog within itself, because “Casino Royale” just deserves more accolades for being a damn fine, entertaining and well-done film. Also, file this under “Movies that are better than the book”. Seriously. And that’s saying a lot, because Ian Fleming’s novel is one helluva fun ride.
(3) “From Russia with Love” – The most “spy-y” and realistic of the 23 films. First appearance of Q and the gadgets. The fight with Robert Shaw on the train is one of the best fights in all of cinema.
(4) “Licence to Kill” – The grittiest of Bond films, and most personal of Bond films. This is a movie that is getting better with age. Take out Wayne Newton’s silliness and this might be a top 3 Bond flick.
(5) “Goldeneye” – Coming in at 5th merely for saving a franchise, a feat director Martin Campbell would repeat almost exactly a decade later with “Casino Royale”. An opposite feat he would accomplish with “Green Lantern”. “Goldeneye”, however, doesn’t age well, in my mind. Every time I make this list I have to figure out more reasons to keep it at number 5.
And yes, “Skyfall” has yet to crack the top 5 in Kale’s book. It’s close though, 6 or 7. With a tighter-knit script and a passable film score (sorry, Thomas Newman, this is the film’s weakest point by far), Sam Mendes’ flick might sneak into my top 5. Will see what happens as time goes by.
Where does TWINE rank in my list of Bond films? Honestly, 9 or 10, which is higher than most’s lists. And I’m here to tell you why it ranks that high.
WHY DO WE LOVE JAMES BOND?
It might be hard for some people to truly understand. I think many people see James Bond as a (as M puts it in “Goldeneye”) relic of the Cold War; a violent, chauvinistic, hyperbolic anthropomorphic capitalistic appendage of western political ideology. I think there is definitely more of the former in the James Bond character than the latter, perhaps, but there is just more to it than what’s on the surface. James Bond became popular during a time of “ask not what your country can do for you”. He was the first action hero. The first action hero that fought for Queen and country before anything else. The first character to continually experience loss of love and find ways to fight on for what he believed was right. Bond movies were some of the first to teach us to trust no one, especially if they have a Russian accent. Bond films and characters are at their best when they are challenged with tough, moral decisions that none of us would be able to reconcile. Above all, though, Bond is the king of cool and the master of deus ex machina. But, maybe most importantly, Bond proves that even the most sure-handed male superstars succumb to the omnipotence of our species better half: women.
One of the coolest things about Bond for me—a self-proclaimed professor of film, music, books and pop culture—is it is a character who has spanned five decades on film, and provides as primary documents for trends, styles, and characteristics of the decades and years each film was produced in. It’s the reason for the soviet-heavy content of the Connery films or the silly nature of the Roger Moore films. Or how “Moonraker” was rushed into production after the success of “Star Wars” or how Daniel Craig’s Bond is very much informed by the much harsher post-9/11 spies of Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne. The Bond films serve as fantastic temperature takers of film now and then. They are the ever-changing constant in cinema history.
As do the Bond themes. I mean, it doesn’t get anymore 80s than the song above.
BOND AFTER THE COLD WAR
So where did the Bond films stand in 1999 as a franchise? The franchise was in much better shape than it was in 1989 thanks to the success of “Goldeneye” and the immediate legacy it and Pierce Brosnan’s Bond created. Timothy Dalton’s “Licence to Kill” would later be seen as Dalton’s magnum opus, but in 1989, all anyone saw was an old-school Box Office failure that couldn’t keep up with the new realities of action cinema. Once Dalton was out, and Brosnan was in, the Bond franchise once again was forced to adapt to the new trends of the action movie world. Because for the first time in his history, James Bond simply wasn’t the biggest action hero out there. And action films in themselves were becoming a completely different genre. Action hero no longer meant Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood. Action movies began to become extravagant and out of control. Movie theaters now had “Rambo” and “Lethal Weapon” and “Die Hard”. What could James Bond possibly provide that John McClane couldn’t?
EON, Martin Campbell and Pierce Brosnan’s answer was “Goldeneye”. And it worked. It worked really well, because Martin Campbell continues to prove that he’s the Stanley Donen of action sequences. The film was a major success and brought James Bond back on the hero map. But “Goldeneye”’s success in its 90s action formula would be the bane of its franchise’s own existence for the next decade. The three films to come after it were made with the same action-y tone that would begin to phase out of popular cinema once “The Matrix” came around, and whose coffin would be nailed shut with the Bourne films.
I bring this up because it’s important. It’s important to understand what kind of context we’re watching TWINE in when we view and discuss it. It’s important because it’s the reason the Brosnan films have aged as poorly as the Moore films—both actor’s Bond films are steeped too deeply in their own decade.
And, not to beat to death the video game aspect of the Brosnan films, but it’s no coincidence that the style of action movies in the 90s mimicked their video game counterparts and vice versa. I mean, seriously! How video game is “Die Hard” when you think about it? One guy takes out a skyscraper full of terrorists by himself. He’s nearly indestructible and he never really runs out of ammo. And then in “Goldeneye”, Bond drives a goddam tank through the heart of Russian streets, with video-game-like amounts of destruction and chaos. When you look back on it, you never really see Pierce bleed. Not like Daniel Craig or Timothy Dalton. Perhaps that’s why Pierce’s movies made for such great video games.
TWINE’S WARTS, ADMITTED
Let’s get the negative out of the way. I’ll admit that TWINE is not a perfect film. At all. In fact, there are some scenes, lines and casting choices that will just have you shaking your head. So where do we start?
SPOILERS HEREIN, OBVIOUSLY.
One of the most obvious shortcomings of TWINE—especially pinned up against the other Brosnan films—is that its action scenes are mostly terrible. I mean that with much sincerity. The only memorable action scenes in the film take place in the pre-credit sequence, with Bond stealing Q’s not-quite-finished jet-powered boat-submarine to chase the Cigar Girl through the Thames River. That scene is actually awesome. I mean, here’s a boat that goes above water, below water, and on freakin’ land! It gives “The Spy Who Loves Me”’s aquatic Lotus a run for its money.
But the rest of the film’s action sequences are nothing to write home about. In particular, the ski attack scene with Bond and Elektra. That whole scene confuses me. The motivation behind the attack, and the scale of the attack don’t seem to make any sense to me. I guess Renard and Elektra are trying to use a fake attack to make Elektra look innocent, but I’m not sure it’s needed, especially since I’m not convinced that Elektra wants Bond dead at this point in the film. The sequence seems very forced and is just there to make the AUDIENCE believe that Elektra is innocent. But, again, needless scene. Beyond the story aspect of it, there is little to no understandable orientation of time and space in that entire sequence. There is this part during the attack, where Bond cuts one of the parachutes of the weird, fan-powered snowmobile flying machines and it crashes into another fan-powered snowmobile flying machine. Before the two snowmobile flying machines crash into each other, Bond is inexplicably standing in the foreground, just standing there—he looks like he’s adjusting his batting gloves, and when the two snowmobile flying machines crash into each other, he is then surprised by the explosion. None of which makes any sort of sense. I’ve been watching it for over a decade and I still don’t know what’s going on in this scene.
So the action kinda stinks. So does some of the acting.
THE WORST CHRISTMAS GIFT IN CINEMA HISTORY
I’m not trying to be mean, but this entire movie could do without the character of Christmas Jones. Let Elektra be the only love interest and it would make the whole thing ten times more compelling from Bond’s point of view. Christmas Jones doesn’t add anything to this film, other than to be a 90s hotty. But that’s the world we lived in in 1999. Those were the ridiculous expectations for our action heroes’ female counterparts back then. And it was stupid. And we were dumb for encouraging it.
You just gotta watch this movie and live with the fact that Denise Richards somehow got paid to act. But it’s not entirely her fault, right? She wasn’t helped out by her dialogue or her scantily clad nuclear scientist clothing.
I promise, though. There is a great movie buried in between Denise Richard lines like “Do you wanna put that in English for those of us who don’t speak spy?”
WHY IT’S ACTUALLY GREAT
Now pay attention, 00 agents.
This is where we get to the meat and potatoes of TWINE’s positive aspects. I’d like to stress, once again, that it’s not a perfect film. But there are some great ideas, themes, performances and music found in this film—and not just from a Bond perspective. One thing we have to remember when watching this film is that James Bond was also one of the first film franchise heroes to experience great loss and betrayal on a consistent basis. What I mean is, by 1999, audiences expect the female characters in a Bond film to get killed or turn on Bond. It’s a staple of the series that has been so common in past films, that is actually has served as its own disservice. For example, in “Casino Royale” (SPOILERS) no one in the audience was surprised to learn of Vesper and her fate, but Chris Nolan uses the opposite expectation in his film “The Dark Knight” to fantastic surprise and sorrow; for Batman was a character that—on film—never really experienced a lost loved one or family member. Rachel Dawes’ fate was one that benefited from surprise, while Vesper’s and Elektra’s treachery in “Casino” and TWINE, respectively, are expected, and thus the hammer does not fall as hard as it could for other franchises.
Keep that in mind, though, we’ll get back to Elektra and her awesome storyline later on. But before that—
LET’S GET RENARDED
An essential Bond component that we were remiss in forgetting to discuss earlier is the villain. Yes, the villain. It can’t be understated what an admirable opponent means to a good Bond film. It’s the reason why everyone slobbered over “Skyfall” so much and it’s the reason that “Tomorrow Never Dies”. The villain can make or break a Bond film. In TWINE, there are two fantastic villains. The first villain introduced in the film is Renard, a terrorist who recently took a bullet to the skull and survived. The Bond villain gimmick here is that the bullet is still inside his brain, and it’s moving ever slowly through it, killing him off—but before he dies, he’ll live while losing more of his senses every day. The theory being: he can push himself farther and stronger than any normal human being because he does not feel. Now, I don’t know what reality would say about the chances that this situation could ever really exist, but it’s a movie, and it’s a freaking cool idea for a bad guy.
And he’s played perfectly by Scottish actor Robert Carlyle. Out of all of the Brosnan films, Renard is by far the most compelling male villain. He’s not doing it for revenge, and he’s not doing it for world domination. He’s doing everything out of what he thinks is love, which is fascinating, since he can’t feel anything, but he is still at the whim of his feelings for the one he loves. It’s compelling because Renard serves as an equal to Bond in that respect. What I mean is: Bond isn’t supposed to feel, yet he constantly gets caught up in his emotions the same way that Renard does.
Renard is also, by far, the most vicious of the Brosnan male villains. He doesn’t seem to have any care for anyone except for Elektra. When he’s not murdering them for failing to meet his evil expectations, Renard uses his henchman as human shields. Carlyle certainly plays him as an insane devil figure living his last days on earth. He’s scary. He’s bad. He’s a match for Bond. And in his spare time, a transcendentalist:
SCRIPTED FOR THE WRONG DECADE
One of the reasons that “Licence to Kill” wasn’t a success in the United States, and consistently filtered to the bottom of many people’s Best Bond lists for decades to come was because it was a James Bond movie for another decade. “Licence to Kill” is extremely brutal and it was a complete departure from the Bond films that came before it. I still think, even today, it stands as the most earnest and raw of Bond films, which is probably why it tends to be so well received today, where we expect our movies to be darker and grittier. Go check it out, if you’ve never seen it. I bet you’ll find it delightfully violent.
I think “The World is Not Enough” has some of the same problems. It was a script written for the wrong decade, in my opinion. And I hope that it gets the same new-found love in the coming years that “Licence to Kill” got at the turn of the century.
In fact, TWINE is so obviously a few years ahead of its time, that the writers, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who would go on to write the next four Bond films in addition to their first, TWINE) would recycle many of the themes and plot devices used in TWINE later on in the canon. When I decided I wanted to write this blog, I got my friends together and we sat down and watched TWINE, and then discussed it afterward. Some liked it, some didn’t. Many didn’t think it was as a good as the first time they saw it. What we all agreed on, however, is that TWINE had many similarities to future Bond films.
For example, the whole film is based on the battle for oil and oil pipelines, and how an oil company manufactures a military nuclear meltdown in order to profit from the destruction. Sound ahead of its time? Definitely. Even more than that, though, the oil = money theme would be used once again in “Quantum of Solace”, except a lot less subtle.
Let’s face it, oil and oil corruption wasn’t on the minds of cinema-goers as much in the 90s as it has been in the Aughts.
When “Skyfall” came out, everyone was talking about how this was M’s movie. How this was Dame Judi Dench’s film. That M was the Bond girl, et cetera. But when my friends and I revisited “The World’s Not Enough”, we all thought—wait, haven’t we seen this before? Because TWINE already was that movie. It was the first movie about M; centered around M, M’s past, M’s mistakes. And Bond has to save M. But like Johnny B. Goode, I guess we weren’t ready for that back in 1999.
The other way in which this film was ahead of its own time was some of its questioning of itself. Before it was hip and cool for westerners to question western ideology and policy, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade throw in great lines from Renard and Elektra to Bond, like:
“What do you stand for, Mr. Bond? Preservation of capital?”
DAT SOPHIE MARCEAU, THEAU
You may have noticed up above how I kept referring to Renard and his Bond villain superlatives as a male villain. That was not unintentional detail. Because Sophie Marceau’s character, Elektra, is the reason this film is so re-watchable. Elektra is not only one of the best Bond villains in the Brosnan era, but she is probably in my top 5 Bond villains of all time. I mean, she’s nuts! She’s crazy! She freaks me out! She’s gorgeous and sinister and jaw-dropping and just pure evil all at the same time. Yet, somehow, she’s hid under the radar all of these years under the backdrop of some other, more famous Bond villains.
You think Travelyan is a creative villain? Pfft. You think Silva is insane? Not even close. Sophie Marceau’s Elektra tops them all.
She just has the coolest story that takes twists and turns, and Marceau plays her so wonderfully. At first, we are meant to believe that Elektra’s character is innocent. She sleeps with Bond and the two get to being affectionate for each other, until some hints from Renard suggest to Bond that he and Elektra are actually working together, instead of budding heads with each other. Which is fine, that’s all standard Bond stuff. But what always gets lost in this movie’s viewing, is that Elektra didn’t fall in love with Renard while he kept her kidnapped. No, Elektra made Renard fall in love with her so she could escape, and she further used him to help kill her father and create the nuclear meltdown that would solidify her power of the oil pipelines in Europe ‘til the end of time.
What does that mean? Elektra is so drunk on the fact that she has power of everyone, that she’ll do anything just to see how far she can push her power. As she puts it, no one can resist her. Not her father, not M, not Renard or Bond—until the end.
What gets me every time is the part at the end of the film when Bond is chasing Elektra up a staircase to confront her, and she is toying with him. The look in Marceau’s eyes are that of a kid playing hide and go seek with her father. It’s at this point in the film where you realize just how nuts Elektra is. Because she really does have that much power. I know this because she is the only one in the entire Brosnan portion of the series that can get Pierce’s Bond to look so angry and frustrated. For once, he’s human.
Elektra might agree with what another JB once said: it’s a man’s world. But for Elektra and many other Bond women before and after her, the world, quite simply, is not enough.
EVENING THE SCORE
I’ll say it again. My least favorite part of “Skyfall” was the score. It’s just inconsistent and weird, and, for the most part, not very Bond-like in any sense. The last Bond film score to be that bad was “Goldeneye”. The constant in the films between them is British veteran composer David Arnold. Like the rest of his Bond films, Arnold perfects the sound of Bond in TWINE. In fact, the only score of his better is “Casino Royale”’s, but everything about that film is perfect.
Here, listen to how awesome this guy is:
Here a few other reasons that TWINE is great…
It was Desmond Llewelyn’s last film as Q, Bond’s Lucius Fox (just kidding, it’s the other way around). Nothing screams a Bond movie like Desmond Llewelyn. He will never be replaced. Unfortunately, Llewelyn was killed in a car accident shortly after filming the film. And, as the commemoration on the TWINE VHS put it, nobody does it better than Desmond.
I forgot to mention how awesome the opening of this film is. Bond confronts Swiss bankers in Bilbao for Sir Robert King’s money. After a flashbang pistol takes out his attackers, Bond uses an unconscious henchman as an anchor to rappel out of the window using the blinds, which is one of the most Bond things I’ve ever seen in my life.
And finally, the film features one of the best lines by Bond in the series:
Perhaps this blog changed your mind about TWINE, perhaps it didn’t. Or, perhaps you’ve never seen it and don’t care, but I’ve laid it out in front of you for an argument to be had. What are your thoughts? What are your top 5 Bond films? Which is your favorite Brosnan take?
And before we go, take a look at the music video by Garbage for the film’s theme song. because it’s awesome: