By now, fans of James Bond know what to expect. Start with an opening action scene. Cut to a lurid title sequence with anonymous nude women writhing in silhouette. Don’t forget the radio-friendly pop song. Then launch into the political action thriller that makes up the heart of the film.
Fans of James Bond won’t be disappointed by Die Another Day.
A plot summary seems mightily unimportant in a Bond film, but here goes. Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is betrayed at a meeting in North Korea. He is captured, tortured, and later released into MI6’s custody. M hates the trade she had to make to get Bond back, but as far as she could tell, he was talking to his captors. Bond maintains his innocence, believing he was betrayed yet again.
Since loose lips sink ships, Bond is no longer allowed to operate within MI6. He sets out on his own to get revenge for his torture and to find the rat who betrayed him. He travels from Cuba to London to Iceland, where he infiltrates a megalomaniacal madman’s ice palace.
Along the way he meets the usual host of colorful characters. He trades innuendo with Jinx (Halle Berry), who keeps turning up where least expected. He tries to thaw fellow agent Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) inside the bedrooms of the ice palace. All the while he sets his sights on Zao (Rick Yune), the disfigured and DNA-less Korean thug, and Sir Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), the young British millionaire who doesn’t have time for sleep.
The important question about any new Bond movie is whether or not it’s any fun. Die Another Day rates somewhere above The World is Not Enough and about on a par with Goldeneye.
A few scenes stick out as disappointments. A para-surfing stunt is so obviously and badly faked that it should have been cut. It drew a few derisive snorts from my audience, and rightly so. The car chase on ice is cool, but was probably so hard to shoot that it required excessive editing, which gets in the way of the stunt. Later, two fight scenes are intercut and the girlfight is so good that the boyfight looks boring by comparison.
But as many scenes stick out as particularly entertaining. Bond and Graves engage in a friendly duel at the fencing club that escalates into a gigantic, swashbuckling swordfight. The scenery chewing chase scene in the ice palace is inspired. And a few jibes at Bond’s own iconography give us long-time fans a chuckle: a computerized scan uses his martini-hardened liver to help verify Bond’s identity, and when he asks for a fast car in Cuba, instead of a sleek sports car he gets a pre-revolutionary road hog.
John Cleese is settling into his role as the new Q. Judi Dench still makes a terrific M. And Pierce Brosnan has as much fun as ever playing 007.
James Bond Will Return
The Bond formula has become so entrenched that it’s almost impossible to make a bad one. On the flip side, even the name-brand directors brought in to helm the movies (Lee Tamahori directed the Maori drama Once Were Warriors and the Anthony Hopkins/Alec Baldwin thriller The Edge; his predecessor is Michael “42 Up” Apted) can’t do much to put their unique stamp on the movie. So Die Another Day is as it was destined to be: just another film in the Bond franchise, maybe a little better than some, but not much different.