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Die Another Day (2002)
Director: Lee Tamahori
review by Christopher Geary
Spoiler alert!Die Another Day opens with a rather disappointing surfing sequence and proceeds to a hovercraft chase, after briskly introducing the criminally old-fashioned backstory of a military power struggle, as a kindly and sympathetic but aged and naive Korean General (Kenneth Tsang) laments the loss of his brashly wayward son Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee), and unhappily ensures that his son's killer (Bond, of course) is captured to spend a year being tortured - with frequent beatings, water dunking, scorpion stings and anti-venom injections - in the hellhole of an Asian prison.
When he is eventually traded for the facially scarred henchman Zao (Rick Yune), Bond finds that he's lost the essential trust of his MI6 superior M (the formidable but underused Judi Dench), and is forced to escape from a secure convalescence facility to Hong Kong, where he sets about the immediate task of clearing his name and reputation (which, as usual, precedes him everywhere...) while investigating recent events involving Zao's admittance to a gene-therapy clinic near Havana, and the apparently philanthropic - but nonetheless suspicious - activities of flamboyant young upstart and diamonds geezer, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). Of course, in the Bond universe, public altruism is always a reliable indicator of moral corruption and a cover for megalomaniac scheming, and any measure of seeming benevolence (Bond's included) is a form of camouflage as thin as paper money.
We expect Bond to disrupt Graves' plans to unveil ambitious space project Icarus at an ice palace, but there are complications in the form of intervention by an American female agent named Jinx and, even after Bond's rehabilitation and return to duty, the CIA, led by Falco (a thoroughly wasted Michael Madsen, acting on autopilot) doubt whether 007 can be relied upon to accomplish his mission alone...
This is the 40th anniversary of the 007 franchise and the 20th official movie in the series, and has globetrotting "Bond, James Bond" (Pierce Brosnan), trekking from Korea to Cuba to Iceland, to offer a variety of scenic backdrops for typically daring feats of British peacekeeping espionage. However, it's a sure sign of trouble when a production's second unit work to showcase the main crew's best efforts is rather more interesting than the human drama. Creating stylishly designed sequences of extreme but escapable dangers, and tensely interpersonal or simplistic political intrigue, for 007 to overcome on his travels to colourful locales, is no longer adequate entertainment. Here the same old doubly redundant clichés (from shaken vodka martinis, to equipment-briefing quips about the range of new gizmos, and blatant foreshadowing of their usage by Bond in the field) and unflatteringly archaic stereotypes (including John Cleese as the new bumbling Q, and Samantha Bond as sexually repressed secretary Moneypenny), reveals an unfortunate tendency to undermine the eagerly anticipated excitements of our overconfident hero's overseas exploits.
Jinx is supposed to be Bond's mysterious American rival in the international spy and assassination games, but hollow Halle Berry (the weakest link in the X-Men films) only succeeds in making her prominently featured character the blandest Bond heroine yet. She emerges from the sea, bikini-clad, like Ursula Andress from Dr No (1962), but she really doesn't have the sexual charisma for this role. Also, in their rush to 'celebrate' the habitually camp history of the world's longest running cinema franchise, the filmmakers have apparently forgotten that, way back in the early 1960s, it was really the fashionable newness of bikinis as beachwear that made Honey Ryder's entrance so dramatic, and an enduring icon of the Bond series. Jinx's copycat appearance is more of an inexcusable irony than a self-indulgent homage to that classic movie moment. If the makers really wanted to modernise the Bond franchise, and fully rework the series' outdated formula (ostentatious chic, bloodless violence, sexual innuendo - all elements which ought to have been dropped years ago), they should have presented Jinx as the first topless Bond girl.
Living up to her name, Berry's character single-handedly spoils any hope for genuine, genre-breaking development regarding the 21st century's Bond pictures. Instead, Berry seems more interested in winning a spinoff contract for herself as Jinx (significantly, Berry is most conspicuous in her solo action scenes), and she is less of a typical Bond girl than any of her predecessors - though not in an innovative manner, I hasten to add. The ultimate action-girl partner for Bond was Michelle Yeoh's Chinese agent in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Miranda Frost (the adaptable Rosamund Pike) fulfils the postmodern criteria for a more conventional Bond heroine, while Jinx strives to make her scenes engage our attention like a 'film-within-a-film', as if her footage properly belongs in a different production altogether. As you can probably guess by now, I don't admire Halle Berry much. I think she's very overrated, even as a racial minority actress (simply too glib, shallow and unsympathetic), and Hollywood stardom seems to have been too easy for her. In Jinx's climactic fight scene, I was rooting for her opponent!
Bond's most dynamic and impressive scene in Die Another Day is undoubtedly his impromptu swordfight against the egotistical top villain. This fierce duel nearly wrecks a London fencing club, and features both actors in an exhibition of tremendous skill with a variety of blade weapons. It's a confrontation embellished by a series of clever stunts, which are far more exciting and memorable than any of the expensive and impersonal CG visual effects of the adventure's airborne grand finale.
Bond movies have always been the cinema's premier showcase for the latest hi-tech gadgets. Here, an invisible car and fully-immersive virtual reality are lame attempts to update the 007 series' SF elements. Sadly, the producers' choice not to make any drastic changes to the formula leaves Bond entirely reliant on his tiredly smug banter and a few moments of genuine wit in the action sequences. (The car chase on a frozen lake, in which Bond's heavily-armed Aston Martin is matched gun-for-gun, and missile-for missile, by the bad-guy's car is great fun!) It would have been an improvement if they had broken one or two of the 007 rules, here. If we could have seen that Bond was more deeply affected by his captivity and torment, this would doubtless have helped to humanise the superhero a little. If the filmmakers want to know where to look for a true 21st century Bond, and by that I mean a new face in the role and a drastic redrawing of the character to better suit the real world, they need look no further than Matthew Macfadyen, star of the BBC show, Spooks.
Finally, although I hated the theme songs by pop bands Duran-Duran for A View To A Kill (1985) and Ah-Ha for The Living Daylights (1987), Madonna's terribly flat, android-style warbling on the soundtrack of Die Another Day is even worse.
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