“Die Another Day” is a return to the pulpier side of Ian Fleming’s espionage world where evil geniuses hatch incredible plots of world domination from the comfort of their incredibly cool fortresses, where sinister henchmen wreak destruction and beautiful women are plentiful. This is a return to the Saturday matinee James Bond that seemed to have dwindled over the years, which is both good and bad.
It is good because it brings back the unbelievable spectacle of past Bonds by creating an exciting experience that allows one to be blown away. This is the most expansive Bond since “The Spy Who Loved Me.” It is bad because Pierce Brosnan’s efforts to humanize Fleming’s character have plateaued after making so much progress in “The World is not Enough.” In fact, he withdraws from that path. After dealing with real emotions in the last outing (which was helmed by the most distinguished director of the series, Michael Apted), Brosnan’s Bond goes back to being a typical no nonsense action hero.
After four films, it is safe to say that Brosnan is the best Bond since Sean Connery first made the character a cultural icon. It will be difficult for anyone who replaces him, once Brosnan decides to retire his licence to kill.
But Bond is a legendary character. He is at once, and always will be, the ideal Playboy caricatures of the early 1960s. He is the best version of our dream reflection. Women want him, men want to be him and some want both.
“Die Another Day” does open with an interesting twist. After years of being very successful, one of Bond’s missions goes wrong and he finds himself incarcerated and tortured in a North Korean military prison. Released after nearly a year and a half by a prisoner exchange, he is considered a compromised agent and is deemed useless.
Which, of course, doesn’t stop him from carrying on as a rogue spy after a number of Chinese officials are assassinated by the prisoner he was exchanged for: Zao, who is one of the most memorable villains since Richard Kiel played Jaws. After suffering an explosive package of diamonds that get embedded into his face, Zao, played by Rick Yune (“The Fast and the Furious”), just looks cool. A cool looking villain, it’s what the Bond series has been missing for a long time.
But Bond is not alone in this adventure. He has not one but two female agents working with him. One is a fellow MI-6 agent, Miranda Frost, played by the gorgeous Rosamund Pike, who is as icy as her character’s name infers; but she is vicious and deadly with her incredible fencing skills. (Meow! Kitty likes to scratch.)
Brosnan also has Halle Berry as Jinx, an American secret agent. Berry, who won an undeserved Oscar for “Monster’s Ball,” in which her love scenes with Billy Bob Thorton were shot with less taste than late-night Cinemax soft porn, adds nothing to the film other than her good looks. (Ned Beatty got backended by a redneck in “Deliverance,” but you don’t see an Oscar on his mantle), However, her character has a more prominent and useful role than other Bond babes have had in the past..
Director Lee Tamahori, who burst onto the film scene with his haunting “We Were Warriors,” has only busted in his film career since then. Here he stages a good spy action picture that has its share of thrills, but many are due to the wake of the Bond legend. And his use of dramatically slowing the film speed is a tired trend that has been dulled by overuse in too many action movies and commercials. After “We Were Warriors,” Tamahori has just whored himself to any Hollywood spectacle that has come his way.
The timeline is problematic, which includes the villain having to establish his massive plans. The huge operation and its success up to the point that Bond interferes would require many more years than the villain is given.
Actor Michael Madsen is another distraction. Sitting around as a U.S. agent in a “Reservoir Dogs” black suit, he is just a lump of bad acting. This is a tragic Tarantino touch that doesn’t fit the Bond suave of filmmaking.
The film does have one oddity that seems to defy logic in a Bond film: The Clash. What is The Clash’s “London Calling” doing in the middle of a Bond film. Who knew Bond was so punk?