Released in November 1999, The World Is Not Enough, the 19th James Bond film, is a contradiction of a movie.

It's almost-great and almost-terrible, featuring maybe the best and worst Bond women of all time in one film and at times dances oh-so close to ridiculousness. In the end The World Is Not Enough embodies almost everything that people love, and also love to mock, about the franchise.

The third of the four James Bond movies to star Pierce BrosnanThe World Is Not Enough revolves around a complicated double plot. This begins with the after-effects of a political kidnapping: some time ago, rich heiress Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) was taken hostage by a fearsome terrorist named Victor "Renard" Zokas (Robert Carlisle). Although Elektra escaped in the end, her father Sir Robert King – an oil tycoon – and the British spy agency MI6 botched the rescue attempt, leaving her in Renard's clutches for a terrifyingly long time.

Sir Robert is soon killed by an exploding stack of money, an event which seems as though it might be connected to his daughter's kidnapping. Afraid that Renard might be up to his old tricks, MI6 dispatches Bond to protect Elektra at an oil pipeline construction project in Azerbaijan she's supervising. The two fall for each other, and are also nearly killed by some assassins during a skiing expedition in the mountains to check the pipeline route. Trying to track down the source of the assassination attempt, Bond infiltrates the terrorist group and finds himself impersonating a Russian nuclear scientist at a missile base in Kazakhstan.

Watch the Trailer for 'The World Is Not Enough'

There he meets Dr. Christmas Jones (played by Denise Richards, and apparently named Christmas for the sole purpose of a sexual innuendo joke in the film's closing scene), an American nuclear scientist. They team up to track down some plutonium stolen from the Russian base, and discover that half of it is going to be used to blow up an oil pipeline. This information triggers a revelation: Elektra is not an innocent after all. In fact, she and Renard fell in love during the kidnapping. Bond attributes this to Stockholm Syndrome -- a favorite of action movie writers everywhere -- and they are now plotting to use the other half of the plutonium to disrupt the world's oil supply and make Elektra even richer.

Elektra and Renard capture Bond's superior M (Judi Dench), which leads us to Istanbul, where M is imprisoned and the villains are going forward with their plan to set off a nuclear explosion by injecting the plutonium into the reactor of a stolen submarine. Although briefly imprisoned by Elektra in a byzantine neck-breaking torture-chair, Bond manages to rescue M, kill Elektra and Renard and prevent the bomb from going off, closing out the film by, of course, making out with Dr. Jones.

More so than many Bond films, this is all pretty bananas. This isn't because of its broad strokes, but because of its details. Take Renard – his story is that he was shot in the head by an MI6 agent during the attempt to foil the kidnapping. But instead of killing him, the bullet somehow lodged in his skull and is now making its way through his brain in slow motion, making him impervious to all pain and also ... somehow stronger and more powerful? As ridiculous tropes go, this is a pretty good one. But the film doesn't ever do much with it except for having him hold a really hot rock without caring that it singes his hand.

The action sequences feature a similar combination of fascinating and absurd. When Elektra and Bond go skiing, their assassins pursue them in fan-powered snowmobiles hanging from parachutes, and the couple is saved in the end by Bond's gadget-jacket, which can turn itself into a giant padded ball. To foil the pipeline bombing, Bond and Dr. Jones have to ride a sled through the pipe itself in a scene that calls to mind what might have happened if you'd decided to ride a toboggan down a water slide.

This inventiveness does pay off at the end, though. When the submarine goes vertical in the water, Bond, Dr. Jones and Renard fight it out by climbing up and down through its superstructure. But for the most part the action swerves too close to silly to be as good as it should be.

The most interesting dichotomy in the movie is between Dr. Jones and Elektra. Denise Richards' Jones is regularly listed as the worst Bond woman of all time, and with good reason. Her wide-eyed acting style, along with her uniform of tight tank-tops and shorts, border on parody every time we're reminded that she's supposed to be a brilliant nuclear physicist.

On the other hand, in Elektra is one of the most interesting Bond women of all time. She has a strange, complicated psychology – it turns out that she was the one who set up the bombing that killed her father because she's enraged about how he treated her during the kidnapping. Marceau adds to this madness a real charisma, making the character at once scary and oddly attractive. It also becomes clear that Renard is under her thrall, meaning that she is the real mastermind behind the evil-doings; it's one of the few times in the Bond oeuvre that a female antagonist is given this kind of power and agency.

Watch Elektra Torture James Bond

On top of all that, there's a John Cleese semi-slapstick cameo as the potential successor to Q, the fact that some of the plot takes place in a caviar factory and the appearance of the British musician Goldie as a villain. From top to bottom, The World Is Not Enough is packed with oddities. Does this make it good? Terrible? Who knows. At the very least it's a spectacle in the way only a Bond film can be.

 

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