Die Another Day
directed by Lee Tamahori
(United Artists/MGM, 2002)

There's little question Pierce Brosnan is the best Bond since Sean Connery retired his licence to kill. That, combined with the anticipation surrounding this, the 20th official Bond feature (not counting Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) on the 40th anniversary of the franchise, led me to the theater with high expectations.

But Die Another Day fails to live up to the hype -- not only is it the worst of Brosnan's four-movie run, it also ranks among the worst of the entire film series.

Let's start with Bond's legendary suavity, the elegant mannerisms and charisma that guarantee every woman he targets will end up in his bed. The quips he utters in this film sound more appropriate to a hackneyed lounge lizard, and it's amazing that he still manages to win the affections of two gorgeous femme fatales.

The movie begins with a promising premise. Bond is in North Korea with plans to obstruct a diamonds-for-weapons deal and assassinate a military leader. After his ruse is discovered and he kills a lot of North Koreans, he's captured and tortured for 14 months before the English and American governments trade a captured terrorist for his release.

Wild hair and beard aside, Bond seems fairly unscarred and a bit paunchy after more than a year of pain and deprivation. His smile is, of course, pearly white -- apparently North Korean prisons have an excellent dental plan.

Bond is cast aside by his superiors and confined under suspicion of treason. He escapes -- after a stunt I'm not sure is medically feasible -- and goes off seeking his unknown betrayer.

Which leads to the villains, beginning with Will Yun Lee as Col. Moon. Moon is the best of this movie's badguys, but unfortunately he's only around for the opening scene. That leaves us with Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), an insufferable billionaire with a plan for untold destruction, a diamond-powered satellite o' death and (gasp!) a secret; Zao (Rick Yune), a sinister but two-dimensional terrorist who should have been called Diamondface after the opening sequence's very pricey explosion; and Mr. Kil (Lawrence Makoare), a generic musclebound henchman.

While the previews were full of raves for Halle Berry's Jinx, the actress still falls far short of Michelle Yeoh's Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies. Yeoh could have carried a Bond-like film on her own; I can't say the same for Berry. She is more competent than most Bond girls and as beautiful as any, but I couldn't see her stealing the show.

Rosamund Pike is perfectly adequate as agent Miranda Frost, although her inevitable seduction seems forced, her "climactic moment" is telegraphed well in advance and her choice of outfits in the last scene is, well, curious.

Judi Dench continues to impress as a steely and, when necessary, ruthless M. John Cleese has stepped neatly into the role of Q. Samantha Bond as Moneypenny gets shortchanged in this one, however; her virtual seduction by the superspy near the end sets her character's growth back at least 20 years.

Madonna gives an uncharacteristically wooden performance, both in the theme song and a very irrelevant cameo.

And throughout the film, there are unnecessary camera effects that want to bring Bond into the post-Matrix era but serve only as annoying distractions. The invisible car in which Bond tools around Iceland is the latest in cheesy gadgets (although Q's workshop is nicely cluttered with widgets and contrivances from previous Bond adventures). And a payoff scene where Bond surfs a laser-induced tidal wave is so apparently a computer-generated cheat that it lifts viewers right out of the moment.

Brosnan, who has shown he can shine as the immortal Bond, deserves better than this, especially if the rumors are true and this is his last outing in the role.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 30 November 2002

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