Having only see the James Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan (1995's "Goldeneye," 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies," 1999's "The World is Not Enough
") as the suave 007, each new addition to the series can only be judged next to the merits of his past repertoire. Fittingly, "Die Another Day," the fourth Brosnan outing and the 20th Bond flick, is dazzling enough on a purely action level to be the very first movie I have seen in the secret agent series to warrant a recommendation.
For the plodding first 45 minutes, the outlook seemed dreary. The slapdash story is confused, to say the least, and generic in the extreme. It also doesn't make much sense. After being held prisoner in North Korea for 14 months before being traded in a prisoner exchange, James Bond sets off to Havana to seek vengeance on his maniacal captors, a mission unsanctioned by boss M (Judi Dench). It is there that he meets the sultry, sexy Jinx (Halle Berry), a fellow American secret agent. Their hunt then takes them to an Icelandic palace, where megalomaniac Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) is planning to cause mass destruction with a giant weapon he has created that looms in space over the Earth. To get closer to Graves, Bond attempts to romance assistant Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), who may or may not be on his side.
When one goes to see a James Bond film, they should already know what they will be getting into. Elaborate action sequences, spiffy weapons and tools, hot babes, double-entendres, and obvious double-crosses are destined to fill every frame, and it is in the delivery that makes or breaks a picture of this ilk. Despite getting off to a rocky start (save for an excellent opening title sequence played to Madonna's techno song, "Die Another Day"), "Die Another Day," directed by Lee Tamahori (2001's "Along Came a Spider
"), improves the longer it plays out.
Once the action moves to Iceland, the movie bombards with one spectacular action set-piece or stunt after the next, each one notably more inventive and exciting that the silly plot they have been placed within. A chase across the frozen waters of Iceland, a death-defying scene set on a cliff, and a climactic airplane sequence create both tension and genuine excitement. While the viewer must lug through a first half that is less than gratifying, what director Tamahori and screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade offer up in the latter half is well worth the wait.
With a snappy editor and a qualified visual effects team, however, any action scene can easily be well-done. Where "Die Another Die" surpasses its Brosnan predecessors is in the charismatic, enjoyable partnering of Bond and Jinx. Early word suggests the character of Jinx may get a feature film spin-off, and there is a reason why. Halle Berry (2001's "Monster's Ball
") may only be labeled the latest "James Bond" babe, but there is a reason why she won an Academy Award earlier this year. Jinx is intelligent, resourceful, beautiful, tough, and likable, and Berry manages something that no other Bond actress has done in the past: she has turned Jinx into a person who surpasses mere window dressing to become real. Once again, Pierce Brosnan makes a plausible, masculine 007, even if it may finally be time to pass the reign to someone else. Brosnan's age has begun to show, and a fresher face may be just what the series needs to reinvigorate it once more for the 21st century.
As the two main villains, Toby Stephens (2002's "Possession
"), as Gustav Graves, and Rick Yune (2001's "The Fast and the Furious
"), as his henchman, are mostly disposable. So is Rosamund Pike, a pretty face but not much more as the appropriately named Miranda Frost. In a cute cameo, Madonna (2002's "Swept Away
") plays Verity, a fencing instructor who fills Bond in on some key information involving Graves and Frost.
Just hours after seen "Die Another Day," it has already begun to fade from my memory. What cannot be denied is that, once the action gets started and Jinx joins Bond in his life-threatening crusade, there is immense entertainment to be had. "Die Another Day" may fall a little short when it comes to substance, but as a thrilling adventure, it is well worth the ride.
©2002 by Dustin Putman