celebrates his 40th birthday on the bigscreen in "Die Another Day," a
series entry that sports some tasty scenes, mostly in the first half,
also pushes 007 into CGI-driven, quasi-sci-fi territory that feels like
a betrayal of what the franchise has always been about. A gargantuan
push, along with public curiosity about the heavily stressed Pierce
Berry pairing, looks to insure killer B.O. worldwide for this 20th
Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli and director Lee Tamahori intend
to introduce a few new wrinkles to the time-tested formula is apparent
even from the opening credits sequence, which departs from the norm by
mixing visual narrative elements in with the usual abstracted and
female forms. What it shows are glimpses of Bond being tortured under
by the North Koreans, who, in the arresting action prologue, succeed in
capturing the secret agent after he infiltrates a Communist camp in the
demilitarized zone and, his cover blown during an attempted trade of
for weapons, engages a hot-headed colonel in a wild chase aboard
later, Bond is still imprisoned, with long locks and scraggly beard
makes him look like a young Alan Bates auditioning to play Jesus. That
Bond finally gets out is no credit to him, as he's released in a
exchange, and while the "Castaway" look results in a good laugh when
bedraggled former prisoner strides in among all the swells at the Hong
Kong Yacht Club and asks for a room, the net effect of the entire
is unsettling, at least for Bond veterans of long-standing; while it's
daily routine for Bond to be thrown into immediate jeopardy, never in
has the character effectively been neutralized, or put in a similar
of not being able to control his own fate.
of neutering Bond is completed by M (Judi Dench, of course) when she
his license to kill and informs him that, since he's suspected of
broken under interrogation (conducted under the effects of scorpion
"You're of no use to anyone now."
Intent to track
down the North Koreans' contact in the West, Bond, operating on his
heads for Cuba, where he encounters not only Zao (Rick Yune), a
terrorist whose face Bond bizarrely disfigured with little diamonds
the fracas in the demilitarized zone, but the stunning Jinx (Berry).
and sporting a knife belt, latter arises from the surf in a deliberate
replay of Ursula Andress' unforgettable entrance in "Dr. No" four
back and strides right up to a waiting Bond, who, from the available
hasn't enjoyed the pleasure of female company in well over a year.
can keep the brakes on these two, but after a night of passion it
clear that Jinx is after Zao, too, on behalf on the Americans' National
Pic hits its
stride for a time back in London with the entrance (via parasail over
Palace) of the central villain. Young, handsome and outrageously
Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) passes himself off as a businessman to
success just comes naturally, but his snide arrogance betrays his true
identity as yet another in a long line of Bond adversaries who wants to
dominate the world.
Adding to the
sinister stature of his character, Stephens contributes a measure of
physicality and aristocratic personal grit that makes Graves one of
most worthy adversaries in a long time (Stephens is the son of Maggie
and the late Robert Stephens). Fact that the two men seem so equally
is used to great advantage in an excellent extended sequence, probably
the film's best, in which the very competitive gents face off in a
duel at an elegant fencing club, only to have the battle escalate to
levels as they pursue one another all over the premises. In a film
with relatively routine and undifferentiated gunplay, the blood, sweat
and muscle involved in this genuinely exciting combat are gratifyingly
reminiscent of the most intense of all mano a mano Bond fights, that
Sean Connery and Robert Shaw on the train in "From Russia With Love."
But just when
expectations are raised, they quickly fade in the pic's second half.
as if screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade simply ran out of steam
and the special effects team took over; the plot, such as it is, spins
off its axis like an errant merry-go-round for the sake of some
and overly familiar action scenes. The obviously game Berry gets to
Connery's famous laser peril from "Goldfinger" but disappointingly has
few further chances to spark with Bond.
Most of the
latter going is set in Iceland, where Graves maintains an "ice palace"
and has invited hundreds of his closest personal friends to witness a
of his new space satellite with a reflector so strong that the orbiting
craft will function as a second sun. In fact, of course, the device is
the world's most powerful weapon, one that Graves is in cahoots with
Korea to impose on the free world.
On a dramatic
level, follow-up to the nocturnal display prompts immediate
as all the other guests are suddenly gone the next morning. What are
and Jinx doing still hanging around, and don't Graves and his henchmen
find their continued presence suspicious? On the level of technique,
"Die Another Day" goes way past any previous Bond into the realm of
by introducing the agent's stunning new Aston Martin Vanquish as a car
that Q (John Cleese) has equipped with an invisibility option, which
uses in an ice field car battle with Zao, the latter in his new Jaguar
(Jinx shows up in Iceland behind the wheel of a new T-Bird).
But worse is
a windsurfing escape by Bond from an ice avalanche that is so patently
absurd and so blatantly a CGI concoction (especially in contrast to the
stunning real surfing of the picture's opening sequence) that it
a total turn-off. Even at their most outlandish, the Bond films have
made a point to keep the action at least on the outer edges of physical
feasibility; Bond's innumerable conquests over peril over the years may
not have been bloody likely, but you could swallow them in context.
new bits with the car and avalanche are simply beyond the pale.
climax also has a computerized feel in part and is sufficiently
to prompt the feeling that this day has gone on long enough.
There are momentary
compensations along the way, particularly in Bond's testy relationship
with yet another beauty, Miranda Frost (the Grace Kellyish Rosamund
Graves' publicist and a secret agent for M who's aptly named for her
demeanor and announced intention never to succumb to Bond's charms.
again proves more than up to the task of filling Bond's shoes and,
in the early going, gives the character some dark and nasty shadings
reveal a welcome desire to take Bond back to Ian Fleming-based basics.
After the promising beginning, unfortunately, most of what Berry is
upon to do is pretty generic action stuff. Madonna, who co-wrote and
the banal title song, does an unbilled cameo at the start of the
club scene. (At least she'll be in one hit in 2002.)
the jarring CGI material, production values are up to series standards,
with locations in Cadiz, Spain (doubling for Cuba), Iceland, Norway,
and the U.K. providing resplendent backdrops for the exotic action.
of the introductions to certain scenes amounts to an annoying
that will date the film in the long run, and sound mix at times allows
the score and loud effects to battle rather than complement each other.