When you think of James Bond movies, character depth and acting quality aren't exactly the first things that come to mind. Most audiences just look for adherence to the formula: action, gorgeous women, a crazy villain, gadgets, exotic locations and some naughty puns.
But the newest installment, "The World Is Not Enough," isn't a typical Bond movie. This time the biggest fireworks come not from explosions or chases, but from the characters themselves, their interactions and their motivations.
The result is a darker and more serious movie than Brosnan's last outing, "Tomorrow Never Dies." The silly puns and innuendoes are still there, but are offset by the complex and sometimes even disturbing relationships that develop onscreen.
Though the film still delivers big on the essential Bond action elements, audiences expecting a gleeful explosion-fest may be surprised.
"The World Is Not Enough" is ostensibly "about" an oil pipeline through Central Asia and a plot to destroy Istanbul with a stolen nuclear device. But that's irrelevant.
The film really revolves around the relationship between Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and an oil-fortune heiress, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), whom he is assigned to protect.
There's no question that Marceau is the most talented actress to appear in a Bond film in thirty years. She really brings it all to the table: stunning looks, tangible emotion, a hell of a French accent and a juicy combination of vulnerability and fierce ambition.
Roles for women in Bond movies are usually throwaways, but this one is definitely not. Marceau's efforts make Elektra instantly one of the most unusual and memorable characters in the series.
Another refreshing change is the villain, a humorless and nihilistic Bosnian terrorist named Renard (Robert Carlyle). He's not the usual over-the-top Bond bad guy, despite some rather far-fetched traits.
It doesn't hurt that Carlyle's a great actor. He projects a soulless, I'm-crazy-and-I-have-nothing-to-lose aura that's genuinely creepy. Altogether he makes for one of the dirtiest and most intense Bond villains, and my only complaint is that he isn't given enough screen time.
Marceau and Carlyle are great, but Brosnan's performance is what really makes the movie work. The third time's really the charm for him; by now he's truly settled into the role with an effortless mix of humor, suavity and ruthlessness.
I'll probably get death threats, but I really think Brosnan has proven himself a better Bond than even Sean Connery. Especially this time around, since he's even given the opportunity to act once in a while.
Despite the focus on plot and character, "The World Is Not Enough" still contains plenty of the necessary chases and explosions.
The film roars to a start with the series' best pre-credits action sequence yet, a complex shootout in Spain that turns into a speedboat chase on the Thames in London.
Other action scenes are suitably up to par, especially the climactic fight, which has an appropriately tense and claustrophobic feel. The only sequence that really falls flat is a ski chase in Azerbaijan, which is pointless and unexciting.
Denise Richards, who plays Bond's ally, actually has a relatively small role despite all the hype. As nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones -- don't ask me who came up with the names -- she is of course entirely implausible and graceless.
You can't blame Richards, since her lines are truly laughable. She's out of her league with the other actors, but I have the slightest feeling most of the target audience won't mind her tanktop-clad presence.
Fundamentally, "The World Is Not Enough" still uses the same old Bond formula, with Q, M, Miss Moneypenny, the fancy car, the gadgets, the title song (by Garbage this time) and all the other regulars.
But the movie makes enough substantial changes to the formula to bring something fresh to the series. We're given major plot twists, more complex emotions and some real drama and suspense for once.
Yes, there are weaknesses. There's some dialogue that'll make you groan. The story takes a while to pick up speed. Some of the transitions between locations and scenes are shaky.
But when it's all said and done, "The World Is Not Enough" ends up being one of the fullest and most rewarding Bond films, with a deeply satisfying mix of action, suspense and humor.
Every time a new Bond movie comes out someone inevitably calls it the "best Bond in years." It's usually only hype, but this time it's for real.