Die Another Day (2002)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2002 David N. Butterworth
** (out of ****)
     Will the real James Bond 007 please stand up.

There are times--many times--in the latest James Bond extravaganza "Die Another Day" that you wonder whether any relationship between the main character on screen and the martini swilling, babe bedding Universal Exporter we've come to know and love these past 40 years is purely coincidental.

The Bond in "Die Another Day" is a generic spy whose license to thrill has been revoked. Worse than that, he's a generic action figure, a motif, a shadow of his former self who could nowadays be played by Steven Segal or Arnold Schwarzenegger without much effort. The film, the 20th go round, is filled with Bond-like action sequences and impressive set designs, cars chases and sexy women, and M and Q and Moneypenny but it all feels fake, as if director Lee Tamahori ("Once Were Warriors," "The Edge") never saw a Bond film in his life and was all of a sudden asked to make one.

Bond has had many strikes against him in the last several years of course and they've all bandied together in the latest film to force a 007 strikeout. First, composer John Barry left the series with 1987's "The Living Daylights." Barry's signature twangy guitar theme, and subsequent eleven Bond scores, were as much a trademark of the series as the gimmicks and the gadgets and the gorgeous gals. Since then David Arnold has done a decent job of filling Barry's shoes, but in "Die Another Day" most of his contributions are buried under explosions and cranked-up sound effects.

Secondly, the Cold War ended (and along with it S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Ernst Stavro Blofeld) so we're left with stock megalomaniacs bent on conquering the world (and how bent is that?). The villain (Toby Stephens) in "Die Another Day" isn't even a semi-familiar face like Robert Davi or Jonathan Pryce (except to Maggie Smith; he's her son).

And last but not least there's Powers. Austin Powers. The Bond franchise never took itself particularly seriously to begin with but it's been an uphill battle ever since Mike Myers's shagadelic super spy skewered the whole sexist series some five years ago.

"Die Another Day" starts strongly, with Bond (Pierce Brosnan, returning for the fourth time) being tortured at the hands of the North Koreans. In fact, these sequences play under the main title credits and it's a unique and promising approach. Unfortunately the sequence is quickly undermined by the lackluster title song belted out by Madonna (who appears unbilled in a cameo as a fencing instructor but is quickly--and mercifully--swept away). Like the rest of the film, "Die Another Day" (the title song) is loud, generic, and not worth your time.

The action hops from North Korea to Cuba to Iceland and there's Halle "hotter than a jalapeņo" Berry (The OscarŪ Winner) as a co-operative named Jinx, emerging from the surf in a bikini with a diver's knife strapped to her thigh ala Ursula Andress in "Dr. No," an ice palace that looks like the subterranean Atlantis from "The Spy Who Loved Me," and victims subjected to laser surgery as in "Goldfinger." But it all seems more like stealing from itself in the absence of ideas rather than the clever homage it might have been.

There's also a noisy sword fight between Bond and Gustav Graves (Stephens), who's hell bent on cooking the earth with an orbiting laser ("Icarus") like the one Blofeld used in "Diamonds Are Forever"--oh, there are diamonds too) and a stupid invisible car and more one-liners, double-entendres, and product placements than in the entire series put together. Newcomers to Bond might find this one watchable, even entertaining, but diehards will have had enough already.

"Die Another Day" is an overlong, over-formulaic, and just plain redundant action movie that makes you long for the days when Roger Moore played 007. And who would ever admit to that!

David N. Butterworth

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