Yep, it has all the emotional depth of 007’s martini glass.
There are bone-jarring, teeth-rattling Dolby Digital Surround Sound explosions of various sizes on the average of every three minutes. There’s a dreadful Madonna theme song upon which Bond ought to use his license to kill. The dialogue bristles with bad puns (“Mr. Kil? Now there’s a name to die for”) and quaint innuendoes (“Has Mr. Bond been explaining his Big Bang theory?”). Nearly all the women in it are sexualized, while death is trivialized and the political ideology being espoused is still pure Cold War. Even though blessed with a better-than-usual director at the helm, Die Another Day is, like its 19 predecessors, more reliant on the second-unit direction, production design and effects technicians than on anything the titular filmmaker might be up to. In other words, it’s a James Bond flick, kiddies, and it pretends to be nothing else.
It’s the “Same Old Stuff,” and if you’re a fan of the series that’s been running for 40 years now, you’re probably going to have a blast. On its own terms, it’s probably the best Bond entry since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Certainly, it’s more over-the-top fun, offering more bang for the buck than those dry Timothy Dalton Bond movies, while proffering a lot less joke-shop than the Roger Moore titles.
I’m not a huge fan of the films on the whole, having felt the whole enterprise pretty much got what it deserved back in 1967 with the big-budget send-up, Casino Royale (which, by the bye, is now out on a glorious DVD). But as these things go, Die Another Day is definitely primo James Bond. Pierce Brosnan — either despite or because of his turn as the morally degenerate, sexually ambiguous super spy in John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama last year — now seems the perfect Bond. He deftly handles the awkward puns, captures the essential coolness and joyfully copes with the occasionally archaic effects-work with enough aplomb that you really don’t care that the whole thing looks hokey. (The tidal wave sequence is such obvious rear-screen work that it wouldn’t be out of place in a Beach Party movie, or even the W.C. Fields short The Fatal Glass of Beer.)
Without Brosnan, this outing would simply fall apart at the seams. With him, it neatly manages to be a subtle tribute to 40 years of Bondage. Without beating the viewer over the head by constantly winking at the audience, Die Another Day manages to incorporate — and often expand on — things from earlier Bond films. Halle Berry’s Jinx is introduced in exactly the same manner that Ursula Andress first appeared on the screen in Dr. No, and if Ms. Berry doesn’t have quite the allure of Andress … well, who has? A tour through Q’s (John Cleese) collection of gadgets includes glimpses of the deadly knife-wielding shoe out of From Russia With Love and the jet-pack from Thunderball. Part of the big shootout climax on board an airplane is an expansion on the climax in Goldfinger, and so on. It’s nicely self-referential without ever toppling over into pure silliness.
The plot is formula Bond, but it’s a well-done formula. To appreciate just how well done, compare it to the dumbed-down ersatz Bond of XXX. Die Another Day has style and at least a veneer of sophistication. Its action sequences may not always be convincing, but they have the advantage of being coherent and exciting. I’m not sure why the big showdown in the melting ice palace between Bond and secondary arch-villain Zao (Rick Yune, The Fast and the Furious) works so much better than the big snow scene in XXX, but it does. I suspect it’s because you care about both hero and villain — and Bond Girl in Distress — and the sequence is put together in such a way that it’s always perfectly clear what’s going on; it isn’t just a jumble of testosterone-dripping action. Then again, maybe it’s just because Die Another Day has class.
In a lot of ways, the movie is old-fashioned — but that’s not entirely a bad thing. Bond himself is a product of a bygone day, and even with modern trimmings, he belongs in Saville Row suits, martini in hand, heading up a glossy super-production filled with A-list performers, gorgeous production design and beautifully mapped-out action scenes. For this type of entertainment, you just can’t beat the real James Bond.