“With his swoon-inducing good looks and charisma to spare, Brosnan makes, if not the best Bond ever, then a mighty close second.”
James Bond fights for his honor in Die Another Day
It’s weird seeing James Bond behind the wheel of a vintage Thunderbird in Die Another Day. For his past three or four outings, he’s been strictly a BMW man, thanks to a highly publicized product placement deal that broke industry records. But now that Ford has upped the ante, Bond shows he’s not the loyal consumer advertisers clearly hope his fans will be.
Perhaps what’s weirder is that we, as viewers, have grown so accustomed to the idea of a James Bond flick being a long series of not-so-subtle plugs that we actually look to see what brand of Vodka (Finlandia) and champagne (Bollinger) he’s drinking, what kind of watch (Omega) he’s wearing, and what airline he prefers (British Airways, of course). The jury’s out on whether or not this makes any of us actually want to run out and buy Bond-branded products; I know I have no immediate plans to purchase a Norelco electric razor or an Ericsson cell phone, and I have no use for Revlon cosmetics…well, not very often, anyway.
Product promos aside, Die Another Day is perhaps the most multi-layered, contemplative installment in the 40-year history of the James Bond franchise. Pierce Brosnan returns as the debonair secret agent, and this time – for the first time – it’s personal. To be sure, the film offers plenty of the requisite guns, gadgets and girls, but beyond that, it depicts the human side of Bond, exploring what makes him tick in a way that’s never been done before.
In a historic turn of events, in Die Another Day, Bond is stripped of his credentials as a “00” agent. He’s accused of divulging top-secret information during a yearlong imprisonment in which his captors tortured him unmercifully. With his honor at stake, a renegade Bond sets out on his own to track down the traitor who set him up.
Hot on his list is a shrapnel-faced terrorist named Zao (Rick Yune). While searching for Zao, Bond has the first of what will be several encounters with Jinx (Halle Berry), a world-class knockout with a mysterious agenda of her own. After a brief sojourn to Jinx’s boudoir, Bond follows Zao’s trail to London, where he meets Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) a dashing megalomaniac with more than a few sinister tricks up his sleeve.
The intriguing plot incorporates gene-replacement therapy, stolen diamonds, Communist uprisings, double agents and, of course, a diabolical scheme to rule the world (how do they keep coming up with those, anyway?). The globetrotting action hops from Korea to Hong Kong, Cuba, London, Iceland and back to Korea and features one heartstopping sequence after another. The best of these include an awe-inspiring surf amid typhoon-sized waves and an adrenaline-fueled hovercraft chase over Korea’s mine-filled demilitarized zone, but even the least of them manage to quicken the pulse. As always, the action pauses periodically for moments of dry British humor, often involving Q (John Cleese) and Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond).
With his swoon-inducing good looks and charisma to spare, Brosnan makes, if not the best Bond ever, then a mighty close second. Here, he’s given ample opportunity to display more than the pun-loving, risk-taking, womanizing side of Bond, and he makes terrific use of it without once diluting any of the character’s trademark cheekiness. Of particular note is the manner in which he deals with his former superior, M (Judi Dench). The depth of their relationship is brought to the surface, providing new insights into each of them.
Though she fits the physical requirements of a Bond girl, Berry can’t quite get her mouth around her double-entendre-laced dialogue (Madonna, appearing in a cameo role as a fencing instructor, has the same problem; maybe it’s an American thing. On second thought, maybe it’s just a bad actress thing). Even worse, in the heat of the moment the up-til-then refined Berry goes all ghetto on us, something that would never have happened to Ursula Andress.
There are several affectionate references to previous Bond flicks scattered throughout, but even so, Die Another Day is firmly rooted in the present. Some John Woo tricks and Matrix-style effects pop up here and there, but for the most part, director Lee Tamahori keeps things loose and energetic, maintaining his own distinct style. In an improvement over the last couple of Bond films, Tamahori has revved up the wit in proportion with the action, making this a near-perfect example of a James Bond adventure.
Michael Rucker has written for HX, Empire and Time Out New York magazines.
(Appeared in Gay City News)