Published December 1, 1997
Tomorrow Never Dies, directed by Roger Spottiswoode is the latest in the seemingly endless chain of James Bond films. It is a disappointment. One of the few pleasures that conservatives could take in the Hollywood product of the late Cold War — that is watching an unashamed cold warrior fighting the commies for the good old Western values of vodka martinis, cool weaponry and scantily-clad, available young babes — now shows signs of being spoiled by a creeping political correctness. You might have thought that, after the fall of the Berlin wall, even the old Hollywood left would have had to start admitting that we were the good guys after all. Instead, the doctrine of moral equivalence lives on. For Bond (Pierce Brosnan) here teams up with the Chinese communists, in the comely person of the martial artist Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), who kicks and punches her way into our hearts as British and Chinese unite to defeat what is meant to appear as the avatar of real evil in our time, an international media mogul called Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce).
Carver’s fiendish plot is to make Brits and Chinese each think they are being attacked by the other: “The Chinese will think the British are rattling the sabre; the British will think the Chinese are being belligerent, and the media will provide cool objective coverage of the whole thing!” he says from his “stealth ship” in the South China Sea. “Let the mayhem begin!” But the audience may be left in some doubt if even an international media tycoon (whose empire is crippled at one point when Bond merely turns off the power switch) could pull off a deception like this. Not, of course, that plausibility has ever been one of the chief attractions of the Bond films.
But back in the days of SMERSH, etc., we knew that the criminal geniuses whom Bond went up against were really just reds in disguise. Now the reds have become definitively identified as partners in peacekeeping with western nations against a rogue capitalist, who has a private army, apparently unlimited resources, and no compunction about killing even his own wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher) when she shows the slightest sign of disloyalty — in this case having once, years before her marriage, slept with Bond. And all for a good story to put in his newspapers and on his TV network. “Words are the new weapons, satellites the new technology,” he says, for with them — and the assistance of a few tough guys like the big blond German called Stamper (Götz Otto) — he is going to take over the world.
Meanwhile, the country with millions of men under arms and a history of appalling cruelties to its own people is depicted as benevolent and peace-loving, just like us. It is only jokingly that Wai Lin describes Bond as an “agent of a decadent, corrupt Western power.”
Also jokingly, Bond replies, “And they say Communists don’t know how to have fun.”
“I don’t even have a little red book,” she says, coquettishly.
If this flirtatious repartee strikes you as clever, you might enjoy watching the film for something other than the explosions and car chases — which by now, in spite of a few new ideas, look rather routine. But real Bond fans will go rent one of the Cold War classics and wallow in nostalgia.