I enjoyed a rare treat last week. I got to watch the newest James Bond film Skyfall without any preconceived notions about the film. I had not seen a single commercial, trailer, or clip of any kind from Skyfall, so I was free to let the film unfold bit by bit and be surprised by every twist and turn in the plot. And I loved every minute of it. However, since I am the Deja Reviewer, I couldn’t help noticing quite a few callbacks to another Bond film, The World Is Not Enough. That’s why I’m here today to share them with you.
I plan to focus on certain aspects of these films’ plots and their placement in the series to show just how impressive Skyfall’s success is.
Here are the similarities between Skyfall and The World Is Not Enough:
- Each film marks the third appearance of an actor as James Bond.
- Bond is wounded in the shoulder in the pre-credit sequence.
- M is involved in the plot much more than in other Bond films.
- The villain is connected to MI6.
- A woman is deathly frightened of the villain.
- MI6 is attacked.
- Bond nearly kills the villain with a gun, and then the villain nearly kills Bond much more dramatically.
- Each film is a swan song for a beloved actor/character.
- A new Q is introduced.
- Bond’s American counterpart is noticeably absent after appearing in the last two films.
- Bond’s family history is subtly touched upon.
- The villain is killed in an anticlimactic way.
I will now go into detail on each of these points.
Daniel Craig vs. Pierce Brosnan
Skyfall succeeds where The World Is Not Enough struggles, and it is an apt metaphor for Daniel Craig’s James Bond films compared to Pierce Brosnan’s. Both are great actors, but Craig’s films so far are clearly superior. Casino Royale and Goldeneye both restarted the series (with the help of director Martin Campbell) after a significant hiatus and introduced a new actor in the main role. While Goldeneye is a fun movie, it probably isn’t in the top 5 best Bond films because of its lack of offering anything new or innovative for the character. It mentions a lot of interesting ideas about the post-Cold War and how Bond is outdated, but it fails to follow through on those ideas and instead lets Bond do his usual thing with few surprises. Casino Royale, on the other hand, shows Bond’s transformation from “blunt instrument” into wounded lover and finally cold killer. It is a multilayered film that still impresses me on each viewing. Its scope and risks are breathtaking.
The actors’ second films, Quantum of Solace and Tomorrow Never Dies, are a step down from their initial outings. Tomorrow Never Dies doesn’t even bother trying to be complex and settles for being an enjoyable popcorn flick. It’s not bad, but it feels surprisingly safe for a Bond film. It never strays from the formula of what we expect from this sort of movie. Quantum of Solace tries hard to be as amazing as Casino Royale, but its reach exceeds its grasp and it winds up being a noisy and almost-great film.
The third film is where these two actors diverge. Skyfall lifts the series to a new level while also returning it to its former greatness while The World Is Not Enough set new precedents that ultimately sunk the series with Die Another Day. Keep reading to see what I mean.
The Hurt Shoulder
For the first time in the series, Bond suffers an injury that becomes an important plot point later in the film. Bond is usually untouchable. Sure, he’ll get punched and suffer a few cuts and bruises, but he rarely gets shot or seriously injured. But these two movies make the bold move of seriously hurting Bond in the pre-credit sequence. In Skyfall, Bond is shot multiple times in the shoulder and nearly dies. He is forced to undergo physical tests to clear himself for field duty. He tries to act as though nothing fazes him, but he soon learns that he has suffered a debilitating injury in his shoulder that makes him wonder if he is really fit to be a double-O agent anymore. It also comes into play in several scenes where his strength and precision with a gun fail him.
In The World Is Not Enough, Bond fractures his collar bone after falling from a hot-air balloon, which causes him to have to seduce a doctor to clear him for active duty, even though he is clearly unfit at the moment. Oddly, his injury doesn’t hamper his ability to do his job through most of the film, and it only really becomes important when the villain uses it to torture Bond for a moment and give away his relationship with Bond’s love interest.
Notice the difference between the two films? Skyfall uses the injury to explore Bond’s psyche and provide both an internal and external struggle for the character to overcome. The World Is Not Enough uses the injury a couple of times to service the plot and then forgets about it when it’s inconvenient.
M Is a Main Character
Judi Dench’s role as M is expanded dramatically from former films, and she becomes a key player in the plot. Skyfall is all about M’s fall. She loses Bond’s trust, loses the British government’s trust, has a ghost from the past come back to haunt her, and pays for her crimes by dying. That film is as much about her as it is about Bond. The World Is Not Enough is mostly a typical Bond adventure with a bit more of M’s presence splashed into the mix. She is a friend of a man who is killed at the beginning, and the villains kidnap her to bait Bond at the climax. She doesn’t do a whole lot, but it’s interesting to see her become emotionally involved in the plot and react to some of Bond’s more brutal behavior, such as gunning down a treacherous woman in cold blood.
Again, we see that Skyfall takes full advantage of an intriguing setup while The World Is Not Enough fails to realize what could have been. M as a main character is a significant shift for the series and it presents a lot of possibilities. Skyfall manages to relate M’s dilemma back to Bond in many ways, leading to a lot of drama and chemistry between the characters. The World Is Not Enough simply puts M into dangerous situations so Bond can save the day.
The Villain Has a Reason to Hate MI6
The main villain has a connection with MI6 that makes him a worthy foe. Silva is a former double-O agent who started to become a liability so he was betrayed by M and handed over to his enemies as part of a prisoner exchange. He tried to kill himself in prison, but he survived and became obsessed with one thing: revenge on M. Renard is a mercenary who was shot in the head by a double-O agent, but he survived. His injury cut off his sense of pain so he feels nothing except a desire to inflict pain on others. Silva’s motivation is more complex than Renard’s, and his character is much more interesting to watch. I wish he had been in his film more. I can’t say the same about Renard.
Frightened to Death
This is just a small thing, but I noticed that a woman in both films is absolutely terrified of the main villain. In Skyfall, Bond meets a woman who works for Silva, and he reads a lot into her character in just a few moments. She is impressed by Bond, but she warns him that he doesn’t know a thing about fear until he meets Silva. For her treachery, she is later killed. In The World Is Not Enough, Bond chases a woman in the pre-credit sequence and tries to convince her he can protect her in exchange for information. But she responds by saying no one can protect her from “him,” meaning Renard. Then she kills herself abruptly. The difference here is that in the former case, the woman builds a lot of mystery around the main villain. We are intrigued to find out what could possibly inspire such terror in this woman. In the latter case, everything happens too quickly to build any suspense or mystery. She shows up, runs away, gets cornered, and then blows herself up. There’s no time to get to know her or find out why she is so afraid of Renard.
MI6 Is Compromised
The headquarters of the British spy organization MI6 suffers an explosion early in the film. As part of his plan to humiliate M, Silva hacks into MI6’s computer network and then proceeds to level the building in a massive explosion. Renard plants a bomb in MI6 headquarters in order to kill an oil baron. The damage is much less extensive than in Skyfall, but it gets the plot going with a bang. This is another bold move by these films. MI6 is supposed to be one of the most secure locations in the world, but the villain finds a way to sneak a bomb inside it and kill many people. Suddenly nothing is safe anymore. The World Is Not Enough doesn’t do a good job of addressing the implications of this terrorist attack, though. Skyfall moves MI6 to an underground location after the explosion, and some characters are visibly shaken by the attack.
There is a moment when Bond has the villain in his sights, but he’s unable to kill him. The villain then turns the tables and almost kills Bond in a spectacular fashion. I’m jumping around in the story quite a bit, but midway through Skyfall Bond is in hot pursuit of Silva in a sewer, and he has a clear shot at the villain. But Silva blows a hole in the ceiling and launches a subway train into the chamber, nearly crushing Bond. At one point in The World Is Not Enough, Bond chases Renard through an underground nuclear facility and tries to shoot the bad guy, but is prevented by bulletproof glass. Renard escapes and tries to blow up Bond with a series of explosions, but Bond barely manages to get away in time. There’s nothing tremendously meaningful about either of these scenes, but they just reminded me of each other, especially how they both occur in similar settings.
These films are the last appearance of a beloved actor who appeared in many previous entries in the series. Judi Dench has played M since 1995’s Goldeneye, and she gives a marvelous performance as a woman trying to run from her past but constantly confronted by it in Skyfall. She meets her end in a fitting manner cradled by Bond. Desmond Llewelyn played Q in 17 Bond films, only being absent in 1962’s Dr. No and 1973’s Live and Let Die. He goes out with a witty remark and a nice gadget. I have nothing bad to say about either of these exits from the series. Each is perfectly fitting for the character. Q was never meant to be a main character, though he did a great job in an expanded role in 1989’s underrated Licence to Kill. His departure is short and sweet, as it should be. M is at the center of the plot of Skyfall, and she handles the weight amazingly well. This film took a chance and pulled off a satisfying conclusion to her story.
Q Is Back
A new interpretation of Q makes his debut. Skyfall reintroduces the character as a young technical whiz who supplies Bond with practical equipment for the field: a gun and radio transmitter. The World Is Not Enough passes Q’s torch to John Cleese, who plays an annoying character named R. Luckily, he only has a few lines and he introduces some ridiculous gadgets that the series had devolved into. Long story short, I like the new Q, but R wasn’t terribly interesting or funny. The new Q has a clever wit and he has nice chemistry with Craig’s Bond. I can’t wait to see more of him in future films.
Where’s Felix? Wade a Second
No CIA agent is to be seen in these films, despite showing up in the last two films. Felix Leiter made a welcome reappearance in Casino Royale and followed that up with a part in Quantum of Solace. But he’s nowhere to be seen in Skyfall. Jack Wade was the replacement CIA agent in Goldeneye after Leiter was partially eaten by a shark in that film’s immediate predecessor. Can’t fault the series for having a little continuity. Both of these characters were likable and welcome additions to their respective films. I’m not sure why they were left out of the new ones. Maybe Mitchell rolled his car on the way to the set.
The titles of these films refer to Bond’s family. “Skyfall” is the name of the estate where Bond grew up. It plays a big part in the final act of the film. “The World Is Not Enough” is on Bond’s family crest, which proclaims in Latin “Orbis Non Sufficit.” Skyfall explores Bond’s past in a way we’ve never seen in previous films in the series, but The World Is Not Enough just randomly throws in the reference to his family motto. It doesn’t serve any purpose, as far as I can tell.
How Not to Kill a Villain
Bond kills the villain in a surprisingly anticlimactic way. Both Silva and Renard get impaled by Bond, one with a knife and the other with a metal shaft. The effect is the same. They both die rather unimpressively. I would have loved to see Silva and Bond face off in a more personal fight scene, and I thought Renard’s inability to feel pain would have made a serious challenge for Bond to overcome. But no. They just die quickly, and that’s that. Too bad.
Despite a few minor flaws, Skyfall is probably the best James Bond film yet. It takes many elements from an average film like The World Is Not Enough and turns them all into something incredible. I don’t know how they pulled this off, but I’m so glad they did, especially for the series’ 50th anniversary. The 40th anniversary film, Die Another Day, was an utter farce and it could have killed the series with its silliness. Thank goodness for Daniel Craig and the talented team that reinvented Bond for the 21st century and returned him to greatness with this phenomenal film.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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