Bond is sent to Azerbaijan to prevent a female oil magnate being assassinated.
You know where you are with James Bond. Continuing the revival of the franchise established by the confident GoldenEye and slightly threatened by the somewhat wobbly Tomorrow Never Dies, this checks off all the boxes on the form with something like panache, if not actual inspiration.
All present and correct: pre-credits action (speedboat chase on the Thames) and plot set-up (at the Millennium Dome, no less); overblown title song (Garbage -the band, not the tune); semi-surreal title sequence (naked birds and oil wells); globe-trotting (Azerbaijan and Turkey); master villain with formidable henchman (the roles are cleverly scrambled a bit, though students of classical drama will note that the script tips the surprise early); bizarre handicap for Bond’s main opponent (mad anarchist Carlyle has a bullet in his brain which makes him immune to pain and unafraid of death); recurring stooges (Dench’s M, Desmond Llewellyn’s Q, Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny); cover girl babes with silly names (Marceau as Elektra King, Richards as Christmas Jones); attempted assassination set against picturesque landscape (hang-gliding bobsleigh killers attack Brosnan while out skiing); explosions and fights in giant sets (ex-Soviet missile silo, submarine sunk in the Bosphorus); high-stakes card-playing; double entendres (of Richards’ character, during a clinch in Istanbul: “I’ve always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey.”); torture and minor high-tech product placement (that Moonraker bit where the dignitaries call up Bond to find him, as it were, on the job, is recreated via the Internet and with heat-sensitive imaging).
Continuing the trend of hiring shaky A-list directors, this employs Apted - who probably worked hard on Brosnan exchanging pointed dialogue with pouting Marceau (who is very good in an unusual Bond Girl role) and baldie Carlyle (who could have been given a bit more business), but stood back and let second-unit specialists take over for the money-spinning scenes of helicopters dangling giant chainsaws and explosions chasing Bond out of tight spots.
The most cheerfully ridiculous aspect of the whole thing is, of course, Denise Richards as the sort of nuclear physicist who wears a cut-off T-shirt and short shorts while probing a leaky Soviet silo and has a habit of getting wet while talking about the insertion of plutonium rods. Bond is, after the 80s-style restraint of the Timothy Dalton period, thankfully back to being a reckless womaniser, but there’s a distinct air of trying not to remind you of Austin Powers (even if Carlyle steals the “Kreplachistan warhead” bit from International Man Of Mystery) which perhaps leads to a drabness of style.
The worst of it is the lumpen comedy, with John Cleese hauled in for a couple of scenes as Q’s assistant, and would-be witty patter that constantly sounds as if Brosnan is reading it off the back of a cereal packet. Otherwise, the star has settled into the role, delivering precisely the required mix of unflappability, arrogance, heroism and smugness while not looking too uncomfortable in the clinches or a tuxedo. There are all sorts of ways of making the Bond movies more interesting - setting one in the early 50s of Ian Fleming’s first novels, doing a story entirely in London with Bond as a detective, having him crack up entirely and become the villain - but after nearly 40 years of settling into a profitable, satisfying rut, they’re probably never going to happen. In the meantime, we’re likely to get one of these every couple of years, and it’d be a hard heart who didn’t warm just a little to something so familiar, comforting and precision-made.
A solid addition to the Bond canon, with all the expected elements present and correct - it's just a little to pat for it's own good.