Die Another Day Movie Review
Until director Lee Tamahori blasts right past a perfectly good ending, only to burn a superfluous 20 minutes on an all-action, all-gimmick epilogue that leaks suspension of disbelief like a sieve, "Die Another Day" is as stimulating and heart-rate-raising as any James Bond thriller.
It has fresh new stunts (Bond goes surfin' surfin' MI6) set to energetic renditions of the Bond theme. It has an exhilarating sword fight (things get out of hand at a fencing club) and an awesome gadget car chase across a vast frozen inlet in Iceland (Bond drives an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish with missiles, pop-up machine guns, ejector seat and invisibility). It has a slithering, credibly psychotic bad guy (Toby Stephens, "Possession") who literally never sleeps, and a henchman (Rick Yune, "The Fast and the Furious") whose face is scarred by diamonds that became embedded in his skin when Bond almost blew him up with a briefcase full of jewels and C-4.
"Die Another Day" also has a modicum of success updating the series' style (slick, kinetic cinematography with swing-perspective camera tricks works well but virtual reality sequences and rock tunes on the soundtrack do not), and it takes risks with 007's invincible image. Bond is captured in the film's requisite action-packed pre-credits sequence and his torture by North Korean interrogators is blended into the sexy title song (a throwaway rave-mix tune from Madonna).
He's held captive for 14 months before emerging with the very un-chic Robinson Crusoe look, and that's when this 20th James Bond adventure really gets rolling. Since 007 was disavowed after his capture, he's now forced to go rogue to restore his good name.
Hunting for the identity of a turncoat who got him caught in the first place, Bond travels to Hong Kong, where he cleans himself up after arriving at his favorite hotel looking like a castaway. Then he heads to Cuba (recreated with Caribbean vibrancy and dilapidated beauty), where he uncovers evidence of a henchman-linked diamond smuggling operation and discovers an island fortress where master criminals get new identities through high-tech DNA transplants.
In Cuba Bond also meets Jinx, a sharp, dead-sexy NSA agent -- played by the if-curves-could-kill Halle Berry -- who swims up to the beach where our hero is having a vodka martini. Wearing nothing but a bikini and a knife on a belt, she's meant to invoke Ursula Andress in "Dr. No" -- one of a dozen or so homages to classic Bond films in this 40th anniversary outing.
A hot love scene and many double entendres later, their paths cross again at the fortress (she's there to blow it up) and then in Iceland, where Bond lands after linking a mysterious young tycoon named Gustav Graves (Stephens) to the henchman, the diamonds, his captivity in North Korea and a just-launched satellite that can redirect sunlight into a powerful laser-like beam capable of great destruction.
Stephens plies his villain with just the right amount of teeth-clenching spite to make him amusingly repugnant. Brosnan's sublime, intrinsically suave superspy performance solidifies his position as the only screen Bond to give Sean Connery a run for his money. Berry packs a wallop with her Oscar-winning talent and an alluring bad-girl attitude (so much so that MGM has signed her for a spin-off). And a porcelain blonde named Rosamund Pike does what she can with her part as a prim, ice-queen British spy beauty who becomes pivotal to the plot.
But just as the espionage comes to a head with that spectacular car chase on ice and through the corridors of a literal ice castle, and just as it seems Bond is about to whoop the baddies and bed the babe, director Tamahori ("Along Came a Spider") turns up the heat, trying to compete with over-the-top Bond challengers like "XXX."
Suddenly the movie's imagination melts away. Suddenly everybody on both sides has Bond-style gadgets for no good reason. Suddenly Bond is surfing again, badly superimposed on an iceberg-induced tidal wave in a laughably cheap F/X sequence. Suddenly the sharp-tongued dialogue takes a turn for the banal ("What took you so long?" Jinx asks when rescued from certain death). And then suddenly we're back in North Korea for a protracted last chapter in which Bond and Jinx battle Graves and his underlings onboard a private cargo plane that's going down in flames (and going, and going, and going) for about 10 minutes.
The story could have and should have ended in Iceland, and not with this embarrassing, unnecessary epilogue stuffed full of dumbed-down action movie nonsense.
There's no question that "Die Another Day" is a worthy Bond film and a tension-packing improvement on the impotent previous installment ("The World Is Not Enough"). But why, oh why couldn't Tamahori and screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade leave well enough alone?
PS: Is it just me, or is Samantha Bond, who plays Miss Moneypenny, starting to bear an uncanny resemblance to Judi Dench, who plays M?