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November 2002
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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photoDie Another Day (Warner Bros.)
Review by Ernest Lilley

IMDB Website: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0246460
Official Site: http://www.jamesbond.com/

Directed by Lee Tamahori Writing credits (WGA) Neal Purvis (written by) & Robert Wade (I)

Cast: Pierce Brosnan .... James Bond / Halle Berry .... Jinx / Toby Stephens .... Gustav Graves / Rosamund Pike .... Miranda Frost / Rick Yune .... Zao / John Cleese .... Q / Judi Dench .... M / Michael Madsen .... Damian Falco / Will Yun Lee .... Colonel Moon / Samantha Bond (I) .... Miss Moneypenny / Colin Salmon .... Charles Robinson / Lawrence Makoare .... Mr. Kil

Pierce Brosnan returns as Bond in his fourth and Bond's twentieth mission on the silver screen and he's finally gotten it right...no mean feat considering all the mucking around with the character that has ensued since Ian Fleming's secret agent was ruined by his success. I'd say that nobody, especially the actors, have taken JB seriously since sometime during Thunderball. From there on out, the public perception has overruled the author's conception. In Die Another Day  though, Brosnan's character does penance for his sins and is reborn in something like his original form, though older, wiser, and with the regrets burned out of him.

Ironically, Die Another Day is only the second Bond film not based on an Ian Fleming novel...that cupboard having been stripped clean by the previous features, as clean as a hobbit's larder after inlawses visitses. Ironic because it captures the book Bond better than most of the adapted novels. More ironic is that the motivation for the more serious Bond came in part from the funhouse mirror that Austin Powers has held up to the franchise. Like a man in an tailor shop, Bond seems to have seen himself in that mirror and asked himself, "Have I really gotten that fat?" It is a measure of the man (or corporate entity) that instead of giving in to excess, he went off to the gym instead.

The latest film opens, in accordance with Bond formula, with our hero surfing stealthily onto a North Korean beach, stealing past guards to intercept a bad guy with a shipment of diamonds on his way to meet a Colonel who has lots more weapons than he's supposed to. James Bond, weapons inspector. After a tip-off and a hovercraft chase, and  hovercrafts chase about as well as hippos dance, Bond watches the Colonel go over a cliff and is accepted as a guest in a torture and interrogation facility where we watch him beaten, stung, drowned and generally abused while Madonna sings the title song. I'd like to say that the audience suffers from the techno tune as much as James suffers from torture...but actually, I like the song.

Bond has never been tortured like this on the screen, though he has in Fleming's books a time or two. The upshot of all this is that when he returns to the other side of the DMZ after fourteen months of pummeling, Dame Judi Dench, reprising both her role as "M" and her bad judgment, tells Bond that he's now damaged goods, useless and untrustworthy. Well, she never liked him much anyway. Bond rather suspects that someone has set him up for the second time, first by tipping the North Koreans and now by making it look like he spilled the names of American agents under torture. Rather than accept Her Majesty's Judgment and go quietly to a farm for failed agents in the Falklands, he slips out to find his own answers and a little revenge. One has to wonder if the facility would have had a lot of fellows in striped jackets with bicycles and numbers for names. On the other hand, when the Americans find out Bond is on the loose they can't help but wonder how the Brits could have let him escape. "It's what he's trained to do." says Dench, who's judgment may not be that bad after all.

photoOn his own in Cuba he meets "Jinx", played ably by Halle Berry. Berry is on the scene for reasons of her own, and she and Bond quickly share quips, sheets and crossfire as they discover they have more in common than a penchant for killing time pleasantly.

Of the two characters in this film who might claim to have made themselves in Bond's image, Berry's is the better rendition. The other is Gustav Graves (Toby Stevens), the supervillian of the piece, who has attempted to make himself appear Bondlike from the outside. Barry's Bondian qualities come from within...and that's the real point of this whole show. It's not what you look like here, it's what you believe. What makes Bond Bond ultimately, is that he's a good guy, and flash can't cover it up if you aren't.

The movie travels back to Britain, to the tune of the Clash's "London Calling", and on to the frigid north, where, this being a diamond caper, "ice" has many meanings. While still officially on the outs with MI6, M brings him in for a clandestine meeting to tell him he's useful again and to let the new Q, John Cleese, outfit him. I've been worrying about how they were going to treat Cleese's "Q", afraid that they would play him for laughs. I was really pleased that they managed to keep the wry humor of his predecessor, and project an air of harried competence from the former Python.

The movie is full of cues that Bond is returning to his roots, none more clear than the nostalgic musing over old toys...an attaché case with ejecting knife, a jetpack, the scuba pen...the classics. But it's about rebirth too, and nothing could be more fitting than a new Aston Martin V12 Vanquish , his first Aston Marton since Goldfinger. Like Bond, it plays on its strengths, rather than anyone else's idea of what a car should be. This is an awesome car, even without the expected gadgets, and unlike any car since the original, he actually gets to drive it around (and around, and around) and to take the fight to the bad guys with it. 

This is all Bond formula, but for the first time, adjusted for both Bond's strengths and today's sensibilities. Halle Berry isn't a damsel to be saved, nor is she out to prove that she's as good as he is...which is a good thing, because this Bond isn't waiting around to find out what others think of him, he's out doing a job. None of the women in the film come off as victims, thankfully, though not all turn out to be good...for which we can also be grateful.

photoThe film would benefit from a bit more editing, especially in the action sequence that takes place in an ice palace that's a cross between Superman's Fortress of Solitude and the Sydney Opera. The dialog does get pretty lame whenever James double entendres anyone...probably because the writers have forgotten how it's done. Much to my amazement, a few of the GCI sequences looked cartoonish...but then, I've never actually surfed a wave off a crumbling iceberg myself.

Otherwise it's the first Bond I've been unashamed of, and the first time that anyone has beaten Connery at his own game. Now if only Pierce knows to get off the stage before he can't keep a straight face. After the credits, the Bond-Theme-Girl Madonna mutters to the empty screen..."I've got to retire." Yes, Bond does have to retire, and Die Another Day would be a terrific movie to retire on. But, of course, Bond can't retire, anymore than he can be killed. Not so long as there are supervilians left to thwart and money to be made for the trademark's owners.

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