Die Another Day (2002): ***
Directed by Lee Tamahori
I liked this movie better than I thought I would, but not quite as much as I had hoped. It's a solid three-star movie, which is really about as good as a Bond movie gets (although they can get much, much worse).
Pierce Brosnan is easily my second-favorite Bond after the inimitable charmer Roger Moore. Brosnan is a little bit more believable in the action scenes, but still has more roughish, suave charm than Sean Connery's thuggish Bond or Timothy Dalton's scowling, unhappy Bond.
This movie has some interesting, tantalizing bits about the character of Bond that it holds over you but never quite lets you fully taste. In the beginning of the film Bond is caputred by North Koreans (the new USSR in international action flicks) and spends 14 months being tortured. Later in the movie a character asks him, "What happened to you in Korea?" I wanted to know, also. How would 14 months of torture affect James Bond? We get hints here and there when Brosnan's Bond facade cracks and hints of the buried human being emerge, and they're all brilliant (look at Brosnan's face when he is convinced he's going to die by firing squad, or after he revives Jynx when they escape the ice palace). This is the real reason I like Brosnan better than any other Bond. With Brosnan you get the sense that "James Bond" is almost like a mask that a very real human being adopted long ago and got lost in. So when cracks begin to show in the mask it is absolutely fascinating (this is why I think Goldeneye is the best Bond film, because it was all about trying to poke holes in the Bond facade). There are also some wonderful moments as when Bond goes into Q's research lab and finds tons of gadgets from the past 20 Bond flicks, such as the bladed boot and jetpack that were in From Russia With Love.
Unfortunately most of those moments are in the first half of the film. Fortunately, the rest of the film is a good, kickass action flick. Not terribly revolutionary (ANOTHER killer sattelite? How many is that?), but there are some original ideas in the action sequences, especially the extended car chase over an ice field and then actually through an ice palace. Bond has his superhero car, but is in direct conflict with a villain who has an equally supervillain car. That's probably the best action sequence in the film, due also to the fact that it has a time limit in that Bond only has so long to defeat the foe before Jynx drowns.
Speaking of Jynx, Halle Berry here plays the full realization of a character I've always wanted to see in a Bond film: the female equal. We came close to this with Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) in Tomorrow Never Dies, but that film sucked so hard that the wonderful Yeoh she seemed completely wasted in it. Berry's Jynx is every bit the match for Bond, as shown in the horrifically twisted conversation the two have when they first meet, in which she tries to seduce him just as hard as he is trying to seduce her. She has just the right amount of sly devlishness to perfectly complement the suavity of Bond. If I were to write the next Bond film I would bring her back for it.
The set of villians is also fortunately rather interesting, with the Rupert Murdoch parody taken to the extreme with Gustave Graves. Example: he parachutes into his meeting with the Queen to be knighted. Rick Yune has a great look as the diamond-crusted right hand man Zao. And Rosamund Pike is very good (althought completely obvious) as the traitorous Miranda Frost. And good god! She's not even 24 years old yet! Let's hope she gets past the "Bond girl curse" and goes on to do more good work.
Die Another Day also has one of my favorite credit sequences EVER (probably second only to Goldeneye). There are of course dancing naked ladies, this time alternately either made of ice or fire. But during the course of the credits and opening song (which I thought actually really worked with the movie, even though I know a lot of people hate it) and the dancing, we get almost a montage sequence of Bond's 14 months of torture going on in the background, or reflected in the ice babes, or sometimes even interacting with the ice babes. It was a brilliant idea, done very well. I hope for future films they keep this idea of having the dancing naked ladies credit sequence advance the story. The plot was okay, but as I said, not very original or creative. It had good ideas in it, but the actual plot is pretty old.
The climax was a little lacking, coming down to a basic fistfight between Bond and Graves, and simultaneously a (nicely done) swordfight between Jynx and Frost. Also, there were some, um, weird directorial choices. I guess Tamahori was trying to be more "hip" with the direction by putting fast-motion zooms, and sudden, Matrix-like slow motion sequences into the action scenes, but in a Bond film it was just distracting and totally unnecessary. It was like he didn't trust the action sequences to be exciting on their own right and tried to throw in some action candy on top of the action. It didn't really work. I also wish the film had been allowed to slow down a little bit and linger on the relationships between the characters some more.
But this is Bond. And as such, it is a very good one. It's no Goldeneye, but it's much better than Brosnan's last two outings under the James Bond mask. It'll easily make my top-ten Bond films list (I'm betting #8, but I haven't given it any serious thought yet). But for the momentous 20th film, I would have liked something a little bit... more.
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