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James Bond taking an almost sadistic thrill in murdering one of his foes seems like a beat one would expect to find in Daniel Craig's more recent run of gritty and violent 007 movies. But it was actually Pierce Brosnan’s Bond that beat Craig’s to this punch 20 years ago this week, in 1999’s noble misfire The World Is Not Enough.
Director Michael Apted’s first (and only) Bond movie is an uneven, slowly paced shoulder shrug of a movie, which makes this scene extra memorable as one of the few moments the story feels like it has a pulse, with some edge to it. Where you feel like “oh, this is new/interesting” — especially coming from Brosnan’s era of exploding pens and (rolls eyes) invisible cars.
As welcome as this scene is, it is also exceptionally messed up to watch our suave hero, soaking wet and quaking with adrenaline, grin as his enemy dies impaled upon a nuclear submarine’s reactor rod.
Wait. Let’s back up. That sentence... it’s a lot.
Brosnan’s Bond gets to a very redrum place after struggling to hunt down and stop Renard (Robert Carlyle), a terrorist with a bullet in his head that cuts off his ability to feel pain. Bond’s first encounter with the baddie’s handiwork resulted in our super-spy suffering a shoulder injury in the field — one that surprisingly impairs him for most of the run time — as he uncovers that Renard is working with Bond’s love interest, the duplicitous Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), to hatch a revenge plot on Judi Dench’s M that involves oil and that nuclear submersible.
(The idea of an event in M’s past sparking a vendetta that haunts her future serves here as almost a testing ground, ironically, for a similar narrative arc in 2012’s Skyfall, which was co-written by TWINE screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. They also recycled the injured Bond trope.)
With the help of (rolls eyes audibly) Denise Richards’ nuclear scientist, Dr. Christmas Jones, Bond eventually kills Elektra — angering her lover, Renard — and corners the villain aboard the sinking sub’s reactor room that’s flooding. After some violent close-quarter combat, Bond releases a pressure valve, and, well — watch for yourself:
Holy sh**, 20 years later, that’s still unnerving coming from Brosnan — who the late critic Gene Siskel once described as looking like “Bond’s valet” in his review for the actor’s first Bond mission, 1995’s GoldenEye. The glint in Bond’s eye, following his “She’s waiting for you” kill quip — one of the few non-pre murder-death-kill puns in the series — make the trembling post-murder smile extra chilling. (Even the director thought so; Apted calls out Brosnan’s choice on the Blu-ray’s audio commentary).
Brosnan’s was the super suave Bond, a male model-looking guy who happens to have a silenced pistol and license to kill on his person at all times. To watch the actor add some necessary (but, at the time, really dark) shading 20 years before audiences would really demand that from the character is both ahead of its time and jarring. This scene marks one of the few times in the series (before Craig, at least) that Bond felt actually dangerous. Like someone you should be scared of. That’s the Bond of the novels, for sure. Someone you can trust, but would never cross.
It’s unfortunate that TWINE is such a letdown — the third movie in the tenure of whoever plays Bond is traditionally their best (see Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Skyfall). As WTF of a moment as this is, it is an interesting (if small) moment in the super spy’s growth as a character. I mean, it’s weird and creepy to watch this brand of Bond preside over his prey like the killer in a slasher movie. But it also serves as a reminder that Bond can and should go to some dark places. This time, he was just two decades too early.