Die Another Day
Director : Lee Tamahori Soderbergh
Screenplay : Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Halle Berry (Jinx), Toby Stephens (Gustav Graves), Rosamund Pike (Miranda Frost), Rick Yune (Zao), John Cleese (Q), Judi Dench (M), Michael Madsen (Agent Damian Falco), Will Yun Lee (Colonel Moon), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny)
Forty years and 20 “official” movies later, James Bond is still at it. In the longest-running franchise in movie history, we have seen British special agent 007 escape from virtually every situation imaginable, defeat dozens of maniacal villains intent on taking over the world, utilize gadgets ranging from the extraordinary to the ludicrous, and bed a bevy of beauties from every continent while still looking great in a tuxedo and drinking his martinis shaken, not stirred. James Bond is such an impenetrable cultural institution at this point that it’s difficult to imagine that anything interesting or new could be done with his character and the supercharged world of good and evil in which he works, which is perhaps why the last few entries in the series have grown steadily louder and more violent in an effort to simply blow us out of our seats, rather than captivate us with wit, suspense, and style.
In Die Another Die, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who cowrote the previous Bond film, 1999’s The World is Not Enough) shake things up right off the bat by giving us the expected pre-credits action sequence, but ending it in an unexpected manner with James Bond’s capture by the North Koreans and subsequent imprisonment and torture. Abandoned by the British government (who must, by political necessity, disavow him), Bond (Pierce Brosnan in his fourth stint as 007) is held for more than a year, during which time his hair grows long and his beard grows thick and tangled. Seeing the ultimate gentleman spy reduced to a haggard prisoner is not what we are used to, and it throws us for a loop—Bond is suddenly made human and vulnerable.
Granted, it doesn’t last for long. Bond is eventually released as part of a prisoner exchange, but he is still on the outs with the British government because it believes he spilled secrets under interrogation. Even his superior, M (Judi Dench), tells him that his double-0 status has been revoked and that he is “of no use to anyone.” James Bond of no use? Dishonored? It’s an intriguing idea, but one that is never as fully explored as it might have been. Still, it gives the film a sharper edge as Bond becomes a renegade, setting off on his own to discover who betrayed him and allowed his capture in North Korea.
Unlike some of the recent entries in the series, the plot for Die Another Day is surprisingly simple and easy to follow, albeit with a few twists. In pursuing his betrayer, Bond crosses paths with Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a suave, flamboyant adventurer who has made a fortune in diamonds and is secretly developing a satellite that can capture and focus the power of the sun into a gigantic laser beam that can do some serious damage wherever it’s aimed on Earth (one can’t help but feel that this maniacal killing device is a little too Dr. Evil for it’s own good).
Bond ends up teaming with a U.S. secret agent named Jinx (Halle Berry), whose emergence from the ocean in an orange bikini purposefully reminiscent of the one worn by Ursula Andress in Dr. No (1962) has already become the stuff of legend. Sexy as she is, Jinx is not your ordinary Bond girl. Following in the footsteps of Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), she’s a self-sufficient bad-ass who matches Bond step for step (the suits at MGM are so excited about Berry’s feminine derring-do that there is already talk of a spin-off series for her character). Being the only actress with an Oscar to play a Bond girl, there is a lot of expectation riding on Berry, and she shoulders it quite well, exuding both confidence and sensuality in equal doses, although she is still reduced at one point to the damsel in distress awaiting rescue. Some things never seem to change.
In keeping with recent developments in the action genre, Die Another Day is loud and brash, with plenty of razzle-dazzle digital effects and spectacular set pieces. The action sequences are overall better than they have been in recent Bond films. Director Lee Tamahori (The Edge, Along Came a Spider) keeps the action from spinning out of control, although there is one silly sequence involving Bond surfing a giant wave caused by a falling sheet of ice that looks more like a preview for a James Bond video game than a movie scene. The best action in the film is—of all things—a sword fight between Bond and Graves that begins as a “gentlemanly” fencing contest and steadily devolves into an all-out vicious brawl that goes a long way toward establishing just how vehemently these two men despise each other.
With so much money behind it (the budget was reported to be $120 million, the most ever for a Bond film), Die Another Day will surely be a hit and pave the way for the next installment. While it hasn’t reinvented the series (would we really want that anyway?), there is enough ingenuity here balanced with the staples of the series to keep it, if not entirely fresh, at least from going stale. It will certainly be another day before this series dies.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick