An arms bazaar for terrorists somewhere in Russia, and British agent James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is spying on the deals to work out who is getting what. Back at his headquarters, his boss M (Judi Dench) is pleased with the information, but not so glad when the military commander overseeing the operation (Geoffrey Palmer) orders that the area be blown up by a missile, thereby wiping out the criminals in one fell swoop. As the missile is launched, something alarming is noticed: on one of the jets there are nuclear weapons and an explosion will be catastrophic - can Bond save the day?
No prizes for guessing that indeed he can, but that is simply the pre-credits sequence to Tomorrow Never Dies, the second Bond film to star Pierce Brosnan. His debut in the role had been a worldwide success, reinvigorating the franchise and proving there was a place for the agent's adventures in the nineties, and this film continued that good fortune. Yet it was a lesser film than its predecessor, as while it still entertained there was a feeling of second hand thrills as it replayed some of Bond's greatest hits, with the war under false pretences brewing straight out of You Only Live Twice, the rival, female agent for Bond from The Spy Who Loved Me, and even a henchman who could have been Red Grant's offspring.
What was new was the villain, in a shot at bringing the traditional role up to date with Jonathan Pryce as media mogul Elliot Carver, sort of an amalgamation of the worst character traits of the likes of Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch in his drive to control not only the news outlets, but also the actual material being broadcast or printed. Pryce, a capable actor, unfortunately seemed miscast in a role that required him to go over the top and cartoonish when some slyer, more restrained menace would have been more appropriate, but here, as was so often with Bond movies, the maxim was that bigger went over better.
As ever with the Brosnan outings, the ladies stole the show, with Michelle Yeoh registering well, especially in her action sequences for which she carried out most of her stunts, as Chinese agent Wai Lin. She doesn't get enough to do until the second half however, as the first half belonged to Teri Hatcher as Paris as far as femininity went. She was Carver's wife who happens to be an old flame of Bond's and is not too pleased to see him when he turns up at an event to launch her husband's new, almost global news empire. Predictably, she melts when Bond gets nearer, but if this was meant to add a note of depth to 007's relationships then it's over with too quickly to provide any resonance.
What Tomorrow Never Dies (originally titled Tomorrow Never Lies, which makes more sense) does best is supply the setpieces, and there is an abundance of stuntwork here, all of it impeccable. If you simply want your Bond movies to feature plenty of running, chasing, explosions and fancy gadgetry then this was more than adequate, and from the very start these elements arrive thick and fast. Highlights include Bond's remote control BMW (oh yes, there's no shortage of product placement here) which he drives from the back seat thanks to radio control, and the pursuit that sees him and Wai Lin handcuffed together while riding a motorcycle as a horde of bad guys hunt them down. All good stuff, but it rings hollow, and lacks any true personality - when Vincent Schiavelli claims the acting honours with a two-minute cameo as an assassin, you'll be wishing for something more flavourful than this. Music by David Arnold, with Sheryl Crow singing the Perry Mason theme over the opening titles.