March 25, 2017

007 Days of 007: THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)

Jake’s Take: One Image from The World Is Not Enough (Michael Apted, 1999)

The man with the gadgets in an image that never fails to move me.

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“Now pay attention, 007. I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.”

“And the second?”

“Always have an escape plan.”

Desmond Llewelyn, who played the gadgetmaster Q in 17 of the films, died only about a month after The World Is Not Enough was released. It makes this scene all the more somber, as he has given Bond his last bit of advice and slowly sinks into a motorized trap door in the floor. It never fails to choke me up.

I’ve gone on quite a bit about my love of the more serious Bond, but the film franchise simply wouldn’t be what it is without the gadgets. And the gadgets would never have been what they are without Llewelyn as the aged mad scientist in the lab cooking them up and showing them off to Bond in a perpetually exasperated state.

There are so many moments with Q that are delights: the unveiling of the Aston Martin DB5, the unpacking of Little Nellie, the wrist gun, the crack about “attempting reentry,” and the entirety of the lab scene in GoldenEye. Aside from The World Is Not Enough, my favorite Llewelyn moments are in Licence to Kill. A lot of hay gets made about Q being in the field in this film, as though it was something novel. I’d point out that he showed up in the field a surprising amount (much like M, in fact). What’s important in Licence to Kill is the fact that he shows up to help because he cares for Bond. “Remember,” he says, “if it hadn’t been for Q branch, you’d have been dead long ago.” It’s funny, and it’s correct. The relationship between Dalton’s Bond and Q is an affectionate one that would carry over and increase in the Brosnan films, culminating in Llewelyn’s moving exit from the series.

As for the film itself, The World Is Not Enough struck me as one of the best films in the series upon its debut. Upon revisiting, it plays now like a poor man’s Skyfall. I do like the fact that we finally have a woman as the lead villain, and Sophie Marceau does an outstanding job of transforming from vulnerable love interest to conniving mastermind. Her early scenes with Brosnan are particularly good. However, her reveal as the film’s ultimate villain is far too telegraphed, and Bond’s interest in her is awkwardly motivated (e.g. while watching a video of Elektra crying, Bond reaches out to touch the screen where her tear is; it’s a very weird moment). The twist in Robert Carlyle’s performance is more interesting, as he moves from superior to slave once Elektra is revealed. In response to the all-action/no-story approach of Tomorrow Never Dies and to bring Bond back to a more grounded point of view, Michael Apted was brought into the director’s chair. Another reason was some of his other films’ handling of strong female characters. So, in other words, the less said about Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist named Christmas Jones, the better, right?

To return to Desmond Llewelyn as Q, though, I can’t finish this piece without saying the following: the man never joked about his work. And why should he have? It was grand, after all.

Rankings

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

5. From Russia with Love

6. GoldenEye

7. Thunderball

8. The Living Daylights

9. Goldfinger

10. Dr. No

11. For Your Eyes Only

12. The Spy Who Loved Me

13. Licence to Kill

15. Octopussy

16. The World Is Not Enough

17. You Only Live Twice

18. Tomorrow Never Dies

19. Moonraker

20. Live and Let Die

21. A View to a Kill

22. Diamonds Are Forever

23. The Man with the Golden Gun

JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN DIE ANOTHER DAY.