Die Another Day

Bond is back–what better to take our minds off of impending bloodshed in Iraq, suicide bombings in Jerusalem and a flagging economy? The 007 franchise is alive and well, offering the same tongue-in-cheek escapism it always has; there’s something somehow reassuring in its continuity and survival.

The basics are all there–hirsute Pierce Brosnan as the fearless secret agent fighting for what’s right while breaking all the rules and bonking every terrific looking woman in sight, the toys (cars, planes, hovercraft, helicopters, and more tricky weapons than Saddam Hussein himself could imagine), and the double entendres so obvious that the junior high crowd can join in the sniggering.

An extended pre-titles sequence has 007 and two other agents on an operation, surfing through some huge waves to land on a North Korean beach–it’s Baywatch meets Bond. But they are betrayed and there’s a classic chase in hovercraft designed to go safely over land mines in the demilitarized zone. Bond is captured anyway and held in captivity for 14 months. He’s exchanged by the North Koreans for their evil agent Zao (Rick Yune), only to be icily received (in Hong Kong) by his boss M (Judi Dench) who tells him he’s no use any more and will be sent to the Falklands for debriefing.

Of course, 007 will have none of this; he wants to get the guy responsible for betraying him. He escapes (from his own side this time) and the balance of the movie is essentially one long seek-and-chase with a surprise or two in the plotting and enough special effects to keep the most jaded viewers amused. Naturally, there are a couple of gorgeous women to be bedded: Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball), who makes her entrance in a skimpy bikini which everyone has already seen in the trailers and TV ads, and Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost, an aide to evil Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). Even Frost goes into meltdown with Bond; she turns out to have a vulnerable heart.

What seems a somewhat new tack for this Bond installment is a bigger dose of science fiction–a car that can be made invisible, a satellite-based laser that can slice through arctic ice, create a tsunami, and intercept missiles. And in addition to the North Korea, Cuba, and London locations, there’s an excursion to Iceland where Graves has created an ice palace modeled on the Sydney Opera House to house his guests for the debut performance of the laser.

Funnyman John Cleese isn’t given enough to do in his short scenes, but Madonna has more than enough to do in her tiny cameo–it makes her performance in Swept Away look like Eleanora Duse.There does seem to be a tradition in Bond films of having at least one female role played by an actor who hasn’t a clue how to read a line, but at least those in the past have provided eye candy as compensation.

Nobody’s gonna mind, though. There’s plenty of action to hold the audience in thrall and just enough comic relief to properly pace the proceedings. The formula is still in place, properly mixed and sufficiently varied to keep the fans happy for a couple of hours.

Arthur Lazere

San Francisco, CA
Mr. Lazere founded culturevulture.net in 1998 and worked tirelessly to promote its potential as a means for communicating a distinctly personal yet wide-ranging selection of arts reviews. Under his leadership, the site grew in esteem as well as in “circulation", and is well-regarded nationally and internationally as a source for up-to-date, well-written criticism. Arthur passed away on September 30, 2006.