Die Another Day (2002) / Action-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sensuality, and sexual innuendo
Running Time: 133 min.

Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, John CLeese, Michael Madsen, Madonna (cameo)
Director: Lee Tamahori
Screenplay: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Review published November 23, 2002

Creating a new James Bond film is like making any time-honored entrée.  There are certain ingredients that are essential to any particular dish, but the manner in which it is made varies from cook to cook, just as the dinner you order in a restaurant may not taste like the one Mom used to make.  The recipe for success in making any James Bond film calls for terrific stunts, exciting action, beautiful babes, tongue-in-cheek humor, exotic locales, and colorful villains.  There are a few others that have become the norm, such as gadgets, fast cars, a musical opening credits, etc. as well.  Die Another Day follows the formula by putting in all of the essential ingredients, but almost ruins the meal by adding too much of one thing and not enough of the other.  What we have in this latest James Bond film is an overabundance on action, action, and more action. 

One wouldn't necessarily think of this as a bad thing since we all like some action, but we don't want action at the expense of the other elements we hold dear.  Moments of humor have dwindled to a minimum, and in their place we get action.  Romance has been marginalized to the point where Bond hops in the sack with the ladies of the film with nothing but a few lines of sexual innuendo, and in its place we get more action.  Even the ridiculous plot has been gutted down to the point where it only serves to facilitate even more excuses for action.  There seems to be a stunt-piece every ten minutes, each trying desperately to outdo all which have come before, trying for results which are at first breathtaking but are taken to such outlandish proportions that they become mind-numbing. 

Die Another Day actually starts off in very impressive fashion, with some gritty drama and action taking place in Korea's demilitarized zone.  Bond (Brosnan, The Thomas Crown Affair) is sent to infiltrate an army of North Koreans led by the son of Colonel Moon (Lee, What's Cooking?) and his henchman, Zao (Yune, The Fast and the Furious).  Bond is captured by Moon after his son is out of the way, but is subjected to 14 months of torture for information which finally results in an untypical swap of Bond for Zao, resulting in freedom for both men.  Bond is out for revenge on the person who may have betrayed him, even if it means doing things outside of M's (Dench, The Importance of Being Earnest) direct orders.  His investigation takes him to Havana, Cuba, where he meets Jinx (Berry, Swordfish) and later back to England to confront a wealthy discoverer of a diamond mine in Iceland, Gustav Graves (Stephens, Severance).

In many ways, Die Another Day is the antithesis of the last James Bond entry, The World is Not Enough.  That film featured much more emphasis on character, especially of M and Q (Cleese, Rat Race), and although it had its share of amazing stunts, there was an overabundance of drama and plotting to the point of becoming dull.  The new Bond strips out almost all of the drama to a barebones level, and conversations occur only out of necessity, or for trite sexual innuendo.  At first, this is a refreshing change of pace, and the first 45 minutes or so flies by at a brisk and economical pace, with some genuine thrills and adventure.  However, the attempt of never having a dull moment actually becomes a paradox, because events are taken so far out of the realm of reality, we believe almost anything can and will happen, and the result: boredom. 

The final half hour is not even a James Bond film anymore, and is instead marked by pure comic book action, with a villain wearing a super-suit with super-powers, and grandiose special effects and over-the-top action.  These sorts of scenes are ripped more from the pages of "X-Men" than Ian Fleming, and it's the kind of crap we expect from Bond imitators like XXX or Mission Impossible.  The B.S. factor is at an all-time high by this point, but unlike other Bond films where the most incredible of stunts is done with a wink of the eye and a tongue in the cheek, Die Another Day tries to pull it off without even a trace of a smirk.

In the end, I can only compare this latest vision of a James Bond film to a scene within the Die Another Day itself.  When James Bond is given a new gadget-laden invisible sports-car by Q, he shoots through the manual, literally rat-tat-tat-ing it to a million shredded pieces with the car's machine guns.  In the same fashion, director Lee Tamahori (Along Came a Spider, The Edge) may have been given all of the ingredients for success, but he unfortunately destroyed the recipe without so much as a glance before cooking.  The result is a Bond film that will probably only truly satisfy those who watch merely for the stunt-work, while everyone else may find the different flavor too strange to enjoy.  The series is alive and well in this 40th year anniversary but one thing is for certain:  this isn't the Bond like Mom used to make. 

Qwipster's rating:

©2002 Vince Leo