Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Die Another Day" (2002)

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry and Toby Stephens
Written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade
Directed by Lee Tamahori
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language, sex
Running Time: 133 Minutes

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is betrayed and captured while attempting to assassinate a corrupt North Korean colonel. Imprisoned and tortured for over a year, Bond is only released after a Korean terrorist named Zao (Rick Yune) attempts to blow up a summit between China and North Korea, and word is leaked that Bond may have leaked info to the North Koreans.

Knowing he's been set up, Bond escapes MI6 and tracks Zao to Cuba where he meets the beautiful and dangerous NSA agent Jinx (Halle Berry) who has come to the island to assassinate the head of a mysterious gene clinic where Zao is receiving a DNA transplant to give him a new identity.  Bond learns that Zao was paying for his treatment with stolen African conflict diamonds, which he tracks back to London to a popular but mysterious entrepreneur named Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens).

Graves and his assistant Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) are impressed with Bond, and arrange for him to attend a demonstration of Graves' new satellite technology, ICARUS.  When M (Judi Dench) learns that Bond has become involved with Graves, she brings him back into the agency to uncover just what ICARUS is, and Graves' true plans.  Bond discovers that Frost is also an MI6 agent who has been unable to learn what Graves is up to.

But what Bond discovers about Graves and ICARUS could have disastrous consequences for the entire world.  And Bond still hasn't discovered the identity of the traitor who gave him away to the North Koreans...

Reading that description, you might think "Die Another Day" sounds kinda awesome, and I can't blame you - it does sound awesome.  But once you watch the movie, you'll discover that it is not.  "Die Another Day" starts off pretty well, with Bond's mission into North Korea going disastrously wrong, and a pretty cool hovercraft chase ensues.  The concept of Bond being captured and tortured for 14 months is also pretty interesting, but after about half an hour in, the film just sort of lets go of everything that was making it so engaging.

Bond going rogue isn't a new concept, but it's one that's rarely utilized and here the film approaches it only to ditch the concept half an hour later when MI6 once again realizes that James Bond is never, ever wrong... about anything. Ever.  The film goes further off the rails once it introduces Halle Berry's character, and then hurtles toward its overblown, CGI-laden sci-fi climax, with space lasers and electrified body armor and... After a point, you just stop caring.  Each action sequences gets more and more ludicrous, but it's all rather slickly produced.  "Die Another Day" is a bright, colorful and good-looking film, and the action sequences are generally well shot and edited, too, so theres entertainment to be had, as basic as it may be.

Pierce Brosnan is once again a highlight, and a constant joy to watch as James Bond.  He really was great in the role, but after "GoldenEye" just never had the good luck of a great script to back him up.  He's unfortunately saddled with Halle Berry in this one, and just every scene she's in is painful to watch.  The two of them have absolutely zero chemistry, and no matter how gorgeous she may be, she spouts her lines in such an obvious, dull fashion that I just wanted her gone every time she showed up.

So with some really atrocious acting and a script that goes completely out of its mind, its those action sequences that really save the film, however too little too late it may be.  The script is also full of nifty little nods to the 19 previous James Bond films ("Die Another Day" is number 20), including some old props like the briefcase from "From Russia With Love," as well as the shoe-blade, the jetpack from "Thunderball," and so on and so forth.  While some of these are fun, part of the problem is that "Die Another Day" itself often feels like a mish-mash of old ideas and references, as though the entire movie is just a collection of homages to the entire James Bond franchise rather than a film in its own right.  It's just another case of the "everything including the kitchen sink" attitude that permeates "Die Another Day."

If you can get past the fact that this film is essentially a cartoon love letter to 40 years of James Bond, Halle Berry's terrible performance and get past the god-awful theme song by Madonna, then "Die Another Day" is kind of interesting to watch in a train-wreck sort of fashion.  It's unfortunate that the film squanders its potential, as this would be the last time Pierce Brosnan would play the role.  He deserved more.

See Also
James Bond