Die Another Day Review
By Joe Lozito
Spy vs. "Die"
I can't figure out the folks behind the James Bond franchise. They keep making noise about wanting to update or inject more life into the series, but continually fall short in frustratingly obvious ways. Take, for example, "Die Another Day", the 20th Bond installment. The first half of the film is pure Bond in the most exciting fashion but the remainder rejects spy work in favor of sub-"XXX" action scenes.
Directed with a welcome injection of new blood by Lee Tamahori ("Once Were Warriors"), the first half of the film has flash and style if a slight uneasiness with action scenes. For starters, he's actually doing some spy work, posing as a diamond merchant to uncover arms dealers in North Korea. When the exchange goes awry, Bond is captured and tortured. This is all before the opening strains off Madonna's unremarkable theme song (honestly, Madonna and Bond seem like a perfect match. What went wrong??). This new Bond is driven like we haven't seen him in years. For a while I thought I wasn't going to like the idea of the world's greatest secret agent being captured. But, aside from a silly hair-do, the captivity scenes and the subsequent moments of assimilation back into her majesty's secret service are taut and well-played.
Bond then goes after Zao (Rick Yune from "The Fast and the Furious"), a North Korean scarred by diamonds from an explosion in the opening teaser. He is not the most memorable Bond villain ever - aside from his 'expensive acne', he doesn't have much else to do - but he is good enough to hold your interest. And, of course, he's just a henchman to the real top dog: Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens, "The Great Gatsby"). It seems Graves is a self-made millionaire who hangs out in a palace made of ice in - where else? - Iceland. It all sounds typically Bondian, and the chase that brings the action to Iceland is exciting and very fast-paced.
Once in Iceland, however, the film takes a noticeable slide. Having come as far as they need to go, the characters plateau into obvious one-liners. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade - who wrote Bond's last outing, the superior "The World is Not Enough" - seem to run out of ideas at this point and settle for explosion after explosion. Where Bond was actually doing some spy work in the first half, in Iceland he just keeps running, hoping, I guess, to catch up to the runaway plot which, it is revealed, involves an orbiting solar "laser" (attention Dr. Evil!).
Yes, Bond plots have always been a little outlandish, and yes, the villains are always over the top. But "Die Another Day" actually takes the leap into the absurd during several CGI-fueled chase scenes on the water and in the air. The Bond series used to take pride in its stunt work. Here, it's just more pixilated mayhem. It's a disappointment and a betrayal of the promise that preceded it. All the plot threads wind up exactly as you'd expect but, contrary to the opening scenes, you won't really care.
Bond is given a counterpart in the form (and I mean 'form') of an American spy named Jinx played by Halle Berry. As is evident in her role in "X-Men", Ms. Berry is not comfortable in action movies. She seems like a little girl in a big girl's role. It is well known that Jinx will be spun into her own franchise. That was obviously a decision made by the people who produced the second half of this film.
Pierce Brosnan, after settling comfortably into the role of James Bond in "World" has now made it his own. No longer do you think, "here's Remington Steele playing James Bond." After taking Bond down a notch during his imprisonment, Mr. Brosnan is able to build him back up again over the course of the film. He has stepped out of the shadow of Sean Connery. He is still second to the original, of course. But he is, at last, a worthy second. All he needs now is a worthy film.