Neal Purvis and Robert Wade co-wrote the scripts for an important chunk of the James Bond franchise, penning everything from The World Is Not Enough to Skyfall. They’ll receive a credit for the upcoming Spectre, apparently advising primary writer John Logan, but the previous five films are pretty much The Wade/Purvis Era while Skyfall might end up marking an overlap with The Logan Era. There are a few stinkers throughout Wade/Purvis, namely two that are regarded among the worst Bond flicks of all time: the Joel Schumacher-esque Die Another Day and the incorrigibly self-serious Quantum of Solace. Odd that one would be too goofy and one not goofy enough. But the other three efforts comprise the real Wade/Purvis Bonds, allowing those other two to just be buffers interspersed between the flicks that actually matter: The World Is Not Enough, Daniel Craig’s introduction in Casino Royale, and the mega-hit Skyfall.
The theory goes that a Bond scribe — at least this particular duo — takes two or three tries to really get it right. Even Ian Fleming only turned out his best Bond yarns after testing the waters with the likes of Live and Let Die and Moonraker. With Wade/Purvis, the tautness of the story is the best evidence to support this theory.
Which isn’t to say that The World Is Not Enough is flabby or too loose at the script stage, and indeed it’s one of the Bond films that feels most like a logical progression rather than a greatest hits compilation of car chases and sex scenes. Pierce Brosnan gives his third turn as 007 and battles Robert Carlyle’s Renard; Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards each play a believable and an unbelievable Bond girl, respectively; and Judi Dench enjoys an expanded role as the fiery M, who’s actually a part of the plot of Bond’s adventure for the very first time.
While Die Another Day is a fiasco, it is more taut than Enough with regards to the action sequences. Director Lee Tamahori (The Devil’s Double) explicitly stated that the more farcical elements of Bond were toned down with purpose, probably so as not to give the next Austin Powers movie too much cannon fodder. Wade and Purvis wrote a mostly-serious Bond, and Casino Royale would continue the trend in a way. Craig’s first Bond outing sees him not giving a shit about how is martini is made, caring less about sex, and being significantly less inscrutable than his predecessors. Royale is tighter story-wise than Die Another Day, but also character-wise: Bond is fresh, new, exciting, and yet he’s still Bond.
Quantum of Solace is sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back — it’s a Bond adventure stretched too tight. The film is an hour and a half of quipless self-seriousness, Bourne-style action sequences, and blatant CGI. The extraction of “farcical elements” from Die Another Day is taken too far here. Bond is forced to be an action hero rather than a suave agent, rather than a womanizer, rather than himself. In an attempt to continue tightening their vision of the Bond of the Modern Era — something they began with Brosnan and really got to explore with Craig — Wade and Purvis and Co. created a Bond that was shorn of all the stuff that makes him Bond.
How to remedy this and still continue an inward focus? Why, simply remake The World Is Not Enough! Many have pointed out the similarities between the first Wade/Purvis Bond and the last, and while Skyfall isn’t really a remake the points of commonality are enough to bring an eyebrow northwards. Skyfall‘s villain attacks MI6 and has a link to M, and is presaged by a terrified woman responding to Bond’s offer of protection from anything with “Not from him“; likewise, M has an expanded role in her squabbles with Renard/Silva. Bond’s shoulder is injured at the start of both movies. Bond’s family history is alluded to in both movies. A new Q is introduced in both movies. Etcetera, etcetera. The only reason the writers of Skyfall don’t get sued by the writers of Enough is because all of them are Wade/Purvis.
And yet Skyfall is the better film, because the theory of try and try again finally worked. Wade and Purvis took these familiar elements and even a few from Die Another Day and tightened everything up, refocused everything, made Skyfall the new watermark. It worked, and Wade/Purvis got to go out with a bang instead of going out on Solace.
Still, though, I like The World Is Not Enough. It’s remarkably silly in ways that Bond may never be again. Denise Richards plays a nuclear physicist and the dude from The Full Monty is the villain. But it teeters on the edge of painful silliness, the kind Die Another Day succumbed to and the kind of which Live and Let Die was exclusively comprised, and in that it more resembles the delightful weirdness of The Man with the Golden Gun. It’s more serious than that, of course, but the Elektra King arc and the introduction of Renard make that seriousness work in Enough‘s favor. It kind of takes the silliness/seriousness of Tomorrow Never Dies, the previous Brosnan outing, and makes those two warring tones a little less discordant with each other. Even if it’s not the best Wade/Purvis Bond, it’s a great debut from a pair of writers who would go on to cherish Bond and reinvent him all at the same time.