Following the successful reboot of GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan's second bit of Bondage was burdened by weight of expectation. But with a tight script propelled by stunning action set-pieces and Brosnan's natural chemistry with martial arts star Michelle Yeoh, this is best of the Brosnans. A story of TV magnate Jonathan Pryce orchestrating WWIII to boost circulation and ratings of his news network, what once seemed like fantasy is becoming more plausible in these times of rolling news and multi-channel telly. A fittingly thrilling Bond to be dedicated to the memory of Bond Godfather Albert R. Broccoli, who succumbed to heart failure a year before this film's release.
With no completed script on the first day of shooting, co-star Anthony Hopkins taking a hike early on, and the director's previous work including Turner & Hooch and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Tomorrow Never Dies was set-up to fail.
But, from the carnage of a troubled shoot (and an inflated budget of £110m due to time restrictions) emerged Brosnan's best Bond, striking the correct balance of menace, thrills and humour, using a chase-movie template to ensure attention never wavers.
Although director Spottiswoode's directorial career was patchy at best, he had cut his teeth editing Sam Peckinpah movies, including Straw Dogs and The Getaway, and co-wrote Walter Hill's 48 Hrs., one of the best examples of 80s action cinema.
The plot sticks close to the Bond formula, with England's finest tracking a GPS system being used by media mogul Elliott Carver (an oily, but underwhelming Pryce, the movie's one weak spot) to send a British frigate into Chinese waters, where his mercenaries attack the ship and massacre the crew, and get first hand news pictures via a deal with a rogue faction of the Chinese government.
With Britain and China on the brink of war over the crisis, Bond is given forty-eight hours to prove Carver's fiendish plan and prevent global conflict.
Despite production woes, Brosnan is neither shaken or stirred as 007, retaining the licensed to kill coldness he brought to GoldenEye, plus an easy charisma that eluded the underrated Timothy Dalton.
The first hour in Hamburg has an icy chill: Bond's use of Carver's wife (Hatcher, essentially bit-parting due to pregnancy) to infiltrate his empire ends shockingly, and Vincent Schiavelli's urbane assassin Dr Kaufman is a wry, detached killer cut from Wint and Kidd cloth.
As soon as Bond's Chinese counterpart, Wai Lin (a scintillating Yeoh), enters the movie, the film shifts into fifth gear, tying up plot threads with a non-stop barrage of well-mounted stunt set-pieces.
Brosnan's escape from a multi-storey in a remote controlled BMW, dodging cars, bullets and rocket propelled grenades, proves Spottiswoode and second unit director Vic Armstrong were in perfect synch, and the set-piece highlight, Bond and Wai-Lin's escape by motorcycle through a Vietnamese shanty town, pursued by a rampaging helicopter, resembles one of Michelle Yeoh's classic 80s Hong Kong movies.
But, the film holds back a little John Woo style bullet business for the final assault on Carver's radar-invisible battleship, meaning that in 1997 for action and adventure nobody did it better than Bond.