“The World Is Not Enough is the first and only Bond film to feature a woman as the arch-villain. For this reason, it is worthy of recognition” — Lisa Funnell, co-author of The Geographies, Genders, and Geopolitics of James Bond
The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 20th anniversary of the release of The World is Not Enough, the 19th (official) cinematic James Bond adventure and third of four to feature Pierce Brosnan as Agent 007.
Our previous celebratory 007 articles include Licence to Kill, Moonraker, Quantum of Solace, From Russia with Love, Never Say Never Again, Live and Let Die, Octopussy, Casino Royale (1967), Tomorrow Never Dies, Die Another Day, Dr. No, The Living Daylights, The Spy Who Loved Me, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Casino Royale, For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball, GoldenEye, A View to a Kill, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Goldfinger, and 007… Fifty Years Strong.
The Bits continues the series with this retrospective featuring a Q&A with an esteemed group of film historians and James Bond authorities who discuss the virtues, shortcomings and legacy of 1999’s The World is Not Enough. [Read more here...]
The participants for this segment are (in alphabetical order)….
Robert A. Caplen is an attorney in Washington, DC, and the author of Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond (Xlibris, 2010; revised 2012).
John Cork is the author (with Collin Stutz) of James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007) and (with Bruce Scivally) James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002) and (with Maryam d’Abo) Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman). He contributed new introductions for the original Bond novels Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, and Goldfinger for new editions published in the UK by Vintage Classics in 2017.
Lisa Funnell is the author (with Klaus Dodds) of The Geographies, Genders, and Geopolitics of James Bond (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). She is the editor of For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond (Wallflower, 2015) as well as the special issue on “James Bond in the Daniel Craig Era” (with Klaus Dodds) for Journal of Popular Film and Television (2018). She serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of James Bond Studies and has published over two dozen articles on James Bond in academic journals and collections as well as in popular media. Her work on gender and feminism in James Bond was recently featured in Mark Edlitz’s The Many Lives of James Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy (Lyons Press, 2019) in addition to other media pieces. She is currently working as Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma where she teaches a course on Gender and James Bond.
The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and cueing up the soundtrack album to The World is Not Enough, and then enjoy the conversation with this group of James Bond authorities.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is The World Is Not Enough worthy of celebration on its 20th anniversary?
Robert A. Caplen: Twenty years after The World is Not Enough gave us veiled references to a presidential impeachment (“close, but no cigar”) and a plot involving some elements of Russian collusion, it seems like you would be describing a film drawing from current headlines!
Overall, TWINE was a good final installment of James Bond in the twentieth century. Audiences were introduced to a complex female character in Elektra King, who, in many respects, was a villainous nod to the resourceful Octopussy. It offered a throwback to some other Roger Moore-era elements, notably humor (Bond fixing his tie underwater, critiques of Swiss bankers, silly one-liner innuendoes), villains (Jaws, meet Bull, Zukovsky’s gold toothed associate), and a modern update to Moonraker’s “take me around the world one more time, James” moment. Pierce Brosnan looked much more established in the role of James Bond. Bond appears vulnerable, both physically (his wounded shoulder) and emotionally (painfully making the dual observation, after killing Elektra, that he doesn’t miss). But these elements are subdued against the high-intensity action that drives the plot forward.
John Cork: The World Is Not Enough is a complex addition to the Bond canon. There is so much I love about the film, and so much that seems like different films fighting each other. I think the movie perfectly encapsulates the duality of Bond: the breezy, comic absurdity and the very serious stakes at play in a Bond storyline. How do you balance out the humor, the spectacle, and the drama that seemed to flow so gracefully in From Russia with Love and Goldfinger? That has always been the challenge as the series has continued. I have my issues with the film, but there is so much to celebrate: the great title song, the crisp, witty dialogue, the attention to details in so many scenes, and, most of all, the incredible performance by Sophie Marceau.
Lisa Funnell: The World Is Not Enough is the first Bond film to feature a direct attack on MI6 and its figurehead M. The film is decidedly inward facing rather than simply focusing on geopolitical conflict elsewhere and a strong comparison can be drawn with the attack on the heartland featured in Skyfall (2012). One important distinction is that The World Is Not Enough is a more female-focused film that centers on the betrayal of Elektra King by her father and her quest for vengeance. The film centers on a surrogate/symbolic mother-daughter relationship between Dench’s M and King (which pre-dates the mother-son connection of Dench’s M and Bond in the Craig era films), and is populated by other women who intend to harm (e.g. the assassin in the opening scenes), help (e.g. Dr. Molly Warmflash), and challenge (e.g. Christmas Jones) him. It is also the first and only Bond film to feature a woman, Elektra King, as the arch-villain. For this reason, it is worthy of recognition.
Coate: What do you remember about the first time you saw The World Is Not Enough?
Caplen: I was in college and saw the film on its release date in a Boston theater. I think I was the only audience member who audibly gasped at Desmond Llewelyn’s departure, but I enjoyed what I thought was a prototypical James Bond film filled with action, sexual tension, and humor. I went to the theaters with a friend, who thought the movie was misogynist nonsense. I vaguely recall having a passionate discussion about the film and defending it.
Cork: Because I was working on the DVD specials features project in 1999, we did interviews on the set of The World Is Not Enough. The backlot at Pinewood was filled with Michael Lamont’s miniature sets, John Richardson’s and Chris Corbould’s crews, and all the movie magic you could imagine. We spent a day with Vic Armstrong as he filmed key stunts for the Thames boat chase. I had read various drafts of the script even before then. The first time I saw the film was at a screening at MGM a week or so before the U.S. premiere. I literally left the edit rooms in Burbank where we were crunching on the documentaries for Wave 2 of the DVDs to drive to Santa Monica. On the way, I was listening to a cassette of one of the audio commentaries to approve it. My life was so filled with Bond 24/7 that I could not process the film at all. There was the joy of seeing a new Bond film, and this odd sense of dread that here was another film with all its behind-the-scenes stories that I would need to commit to memory in my already crowded brain. I was too deep in the machine to appreciate the things that worked or work out for myself the things that didn’t. That took me a few years.
Funnell: One scene that stuck out to me was the boat chase through London. While I enjoy chase sequences that make use of multiple elements (water, air, fire, and land), I was more attentive to the destruction that was taking place. Usually, Bond completes his missions elsewhere and leaves a trail of destruction; he is most destructive in places that are ranked low(er) on the human development index. So to see him driving through a fish market and restaurant in London while launching torpedoes in the River Thames, with a strong potential for killing citizens and destroying infrastructure, was surprising. It signaled to me that something different was happening in this film.
Coate: In what way was Robert Carlyle’s Renard a memorable villain?
Caplen: Renard is an absurdity. He is depicted as a man who, after being shot in the head, somehow has a bullet slowly traveling through his brain that gradually kills off his senses and renders him impervious to pain or emotion. Robert Carlyle’s portrayal is, for the most part, effective in conveying these farcical elements of detachment. But it is clear that Renard does, in fact, feel pain, perhaps pain associated with the inability to feel. His bedroom scene with Elektra is a striking example of this tension and his own turmoil. His internal struggle perhaps could have been more realistic if he was plagued by something more psychological than physical.
What makes Renard most interesting and memorable is that audiences are tricked into believing throughout much of the film that he is the main villain. He is a kidnapper, killer, and saboteur, and arguably fits the bill. But in reality, he’s merely Elektra’s accomplice, a resourceful and skilled terrorist who is physically capable of executing parts of her plan but ultimately not the final decision maker. Perhaps he manipulated Elektra at the beginning of their relationship, but it is she who becomes the manipulator as the plot unfolds.
Cork: I love Carlyle. When I saw him in Trainspotting, I thought: wow, this man owns the screen. He was so dynamic, and so good in The Full Monty. I always love seeing him and was so blown away by his moment in Yesterday as John Lennon. I wish he had more to do in The World Is Not Enough. The premise with Renard, a man who cannot feel pain, a man who knows he is going to die soon, is fantastic. I wish I believed more in the relationship between Elektra and Renard, that there had been a moment in the film where I understood how she broke him, turned him, and convinced him to embrace a suicide mission out of devotion to her. I also feel like Carlyle’s incredible physicality is limited as Renard. He seems like he cannot move his neck properly. I know, weird, but it’s always bothered me. It’s like he’s pretending to be in the Batman cowl and body suit. The final fight on the submarine is a perfect example. When the sub goes out of control, I thought we would get a Bond vs. Oddjob type of fight, except the sub’s reactor room is rotating in all sorts of different directions. But the sub hits bottom, the fight is static in a confined space, and the spidery Carlyle I hoped to see never fully comes to life. He’s so skilled as a performer, so real as an actor, I had hoped he could match Sophie Marceau’s performance, but I never felt he had the chance, for whatever reasons, to reach those heights.
Funnell: I don’t consider Renard to be the arch-villain of the film. That title belongs to Elektra King who masquerades as a Bond Girl only to emerge as the primary antagonist by the end. She is the first woman to serve in this capacity and much like other core villains she has her own musical theme. What makes her a memorable villain is the way she plays on the emotions of Bond and M, albeit in different ways; her seduction of Bond (and later sexual torture) challenges the effectiveness of libidinal masculinity while her emotional manipulation of M plays on her maternal instincts. Elektra King is underestimated as a threat and this is reflected in the Elektra Theme, which is slow and melancholic, framing her as a tragic figure and damsel in distress while masking her true intent from MI6 as well as the viewers.
Renard serves as more of a traditional henchperson with a biologically altered/enhanced body. His pairing with King reminds me of Zorin and May Day in A View to a Kill (1985), with the henchperson being more emotionally/romantically invested in the relationship than the villain. While Renard lacks the ability to feel physical pain, King is depicted as a sociopath who lacks the ability to connect emotionally. This makes their pairing interesting (i.e. they have what the other lacks) but also unsustainable. Much like May Day, Renard comes across as more of a tragic figure given his unrequited love for the villain that cannot be returned.