For those of us who enjoy James Bond movies, Die Another Day has enough juice to keep the romance going: a commanding Commander Bond (Pierce Brosnan), a pair of decorative Bond women (he gets two nowadays) and some imaginative gadgetry, including a disappearing car. Timely - and as demographically savvy as ever - James Bond enters his new adventure off the coast of North Korea with some fast and furious surfing designed to show the "XXX" generation that the 007 dude still has the stuff.
The film is a big, noisy blend of globetrotting, coy sexuality and cartoonish political intrigue, solidly in the Bond tradition. Happily, though, the filmmakers have been smart enough to push this story - at least until its loud, turgid ending - in some interesting and surprising directions, making it perhaps the most satisfying Bond movie since The Spy Who Loved Me. For instance, this Bond is curiously vulnerable and decidedly flappable underneath the cynical urbanity. At especially perilous moments, Mr. Brosnan's features register panic, fatigue, pain and even tenderness.
Everything else is strictly formulaic. Bond is captured in the film's requisite action-packed pre-credits sequence and tortured by interrogators. Emerging with the very un-chic Robinson Crusoe look, he finds that he has been disavowed, and in a quest to restore his good name, sets out for revenge against the North Korean renegade Zao (Rick Yune).
Bond is soon facing off with Toby Stephens' sneering entrepreneur, foiling plans for world domination and getting jiggy with the mysterious Jinx (Berry) and Miranda Frost (Pike). Part of the fun in seeing James Bond brought low lies in the certain knowledge that he will triumph in the end. His enemies, luckily for him, share an essential trait with those who have gone before them. Given the choice between a quick, efficient method of killing and one that calls for long speeches and slow-moving high-tech machinery, they will unfailingly choose the latter.
The script smartly pilfers ideas from the Bond back catalogue, mastering all the elements that make the old school outings work: sly in-jokes, preposterous action, clumsy innuendo and 'classic' (i. e. very funny or outrageously cheesy) one-liners. But throw in some honest-to-God terrific stunts (including an all-time great sword fight), and we have a recipe that blasts the veteran franchise kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
On the debit side, the acting is terribly disappointing. Berry brings about as much conviction as you might expect to a role that, essentially, is the bodacious equivalent of a hit of Viagra. What she does do well is hold her own with Brosnan and chase criminals with a gun in hand. She even manages to either go barefoot or wear sensible shoes when running from the bad guys, something previous Bond girls never seemed able to figure out. But after the action, she is forced to deliver some of the most dunderheaded double-entendre imaginable.
As for Our Man James, this is the first time I've noticed that he has as many outfits as Barbie. There's Tuxedo Bond, Turtleneck Bond, Pajama Bond, Saville Row Bond, etc. The rest of the cast is strictly so-so, but with an explosion occuring every 45 seconds, that is easy to forgive. Another gripe - Director Lee Tamahori blasts right past a perfectly good ending, only to burn a superfluous 20 minutes on an all-action, all-gimmick epilogue that leaks suspension of disbelief like a sieve.
Regardless, Die Another Day represents James at 40 years old, in his 20th movie, and - with the life-force of those classic Bonds still alive and kicking - in pretty damn good shape.