This past summer, the Vin Diesel action picture XXX tried to position itself as the spy movie for the new millennium by symbolically killing off a very James Bond-ian British secret agent in the film’s opening moments. Unfortunately, the movie then proceeded to ape much of the longstanding Bond film series’ formula and conventions, undercutting any credibility their claim may have had.
But to coin a phrase, no one really does it better than James Bond and Die Another Day, the latest installment in the long running spy series, is one of its strongest entries in years.
The film starts off strong with Bond being betrayed while undercover in North Korea, leading to his capture and being tortured for 14 months. Finally freed in a prisoner exchange, Bond is held by his own people, unsure if he gave up any information while being held prisoner. Anxious to clear his name, Bond manages to escape and begins to track down the person who betrayed him. What ensues is the usual Bond film formula of exotic locals, in this case Cuba and an Icelandic ice palace, beautiful women in the form of American spy Jinx (Halle Berry) and action set pieces including a fast paced duel between two gadget laden sports cars.
For the past several years, the Bond franchise has been moving along trying to find a new footing after the overly jokey Roger Moore years of the 80s. Timothy Dalton delivered a stone cold killer Bond that was too much of a pendulum swing from Moore for most audiences. The previous three Pierce Brosnan have met with varying degrees of success and failure for their various tinkerings with the series’ long established formula.
Die Another Day is perhaps the strongest of the recent Bond films, with Brosnan comfortable enough in the role that he has firmly stepped out from under the shadows of his predecessors. Michael Madsen turns in a good performance as Berry’s brash boss and provides a nice foil for Dame Judy Dench’s role as Brosnan’s superior. Unfortunately, the weakest performance in the movie actually comes from Oscar winner Berry who comes off self-consciously as a star playing the role of a sexy spy rather than just playing a sexy spy. It’s not until the final action sequence of the film that she really jells with her performance.
Die Another Day is not only a strong reinvigoration of the franchise, but also a celebration of the series’ 40 years history. The film’s space based weapon echoes Diamonds Are Forever and the moment where the villains menace Jinx with an industrial laser is clearly an homage to the famous scene between Sean Connery’s Bond and Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger. Sharp-eyed fans will also be able to spot numerous gadgets used in previous adventures in Q’s (John Cleese ably stepping in for the departed Desmond Llewelyn) workshop and in other places throughout the film.
To be sure, Die Another Day is not a perfect film. There are a some plotholes that you could drive an Astin Martin through – the plot device concerning South African conflict diamonds doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and the camouflage system on Bond’s car strains credibility. Fortunately, the film moves with a pace that most of the film’s flaws don’t become apparent until after the credits roll.