Floating along as it does on a bubble of élan and a dash of wit, the Bond films, if theyre smartly done, move so quickly that you dont have time to let anything as pesky as logic take hold. And thus it is with the 20th installment, DIE ANOTHER DAY.
There is a formula to these films forged in the days when Sean Connery was the Bond by which all others would be measured and heavens forefend that it be tampered with. There must be a fabulously eccentric madman bent on world domination, babes in fabulous bikinis, and lots of fabulous gadgets, usually attached to fabulous cars. The only acceptable variations are the nationality of the bad guy, the color of the babes hair, and the gadgets that Q devises for Bond to play with. Through it all Bond is expected to suavely quip one-liners and double-entendres as he nails both the bad guy and the babes, though in idiomatically different ways.
This time out, the bad guy is from Iceland, the babes come in blond and brunette, and the uber-gadget is an invisible car loaded with guns, lasers, torpedos and traction spikes. If theres a guy out there not drooling at the thought of that car, hes probably in a coma. The plot involves stolen diamonds and the nefarious weapon that they will power. But thats not important. What is important is the car chase through the melting ice palace, the climactic final showdown between Bond and his nemesis on a disintegrating plane to oblivion, and the opening sequence that has Bond surfing killer waves into North Korea on a secret mission. If we wanted fodder for thought, wed be watching PBS.
That mission to North Korea goes sour and Bond ends up in a nasty, scorpion-ridden prison there for 14 months. When he gets back, M, played once again with delicious sang-froid by Dame Judy Dench, assumes hes cracked under torture and spilled some very nasty beans what with the Brits top Korean mole having been betrayed in the interim. Instead of a heros welcome, hes set to be shipped off to the Falklands for debriefing and further internment. But Bond being Bond, he makes other plans that involve slam-dunkingthe evil Zao (Rick Yune in blue contacts), whom he blames for his current dilemma. And an interesting choice for a bad-guy he is being as he is a Korean in the midst of being turned into a German who sports an inadvertent diamond fashion statement, as in they are embedded in his skin. Yet he’s not the top baddie, as Bond will soon discover. That would be Gustav Graves, a diamond tycoon with a taste for publicity and mayhem.
From Hong Kong to Cuba and finally to Iceland, Bond fights and flirts his way through the two hour running time, making the acquaintance of Jinx, played by Halle Berry, a tough, resourceful woman with her own agenda. This may be the smartest Bond girl ever, even if the camera tends to linger on her bosoms lest we forget the attribute that brought her to this film. He also meets Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), who sports the requisite perfect features and the blank look that most Bond girls have had over the years. As usual, it is Q, played by John Cleese, who steals the show in one all-too-short scene wherein he once more casts a jaundiced eye on Bonds antics and lays him low with an acerbic snarkiness that could be a used as a lethal weapon in and of itself.
Pierce Brosnan brings the requisite cool to the role. Hes looking a bit more weathered these days, but its a manly kind of weathered. And he smirks nicely to Toby Stephens Graves. Stephens doesnt really do much more than sneer, but he sneers very, very well.
Director Lee Tamohori, who wowed us with ONCE WERE WARRIORS and made us cringe with MULHOLLAND DRIVE, brings a nicely dark edge to this installment of the saga, and, as is so necessary, keeps things moving along at joyride pace. If he didnt, we might ponder why sending a tall white guy and a black chick undercover into North Korea might not be the soundest plan. Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have peppered the script with lovely references to the earlier Bond films like the laser from GOLDFINGER. Theyve also come up with some droll bits of business, even the ones wasted on Madonna, who crops up with merciful brevity in bondage wear and soft focus to prove to us once again that she just cant act.
Heres the amazing thing. The plot holes just dont matter. We know in our heart of hearts that no human being can do the things that Bond does, swashbuckling at the drop of a hat, bringing babes back from the dead, or escaping against all reason from ever more outlandish death-inducing situations. But also in our heart of hearts, we want to believe that Bond can. DIE ANOTHER DAY is an eye-popping, edge-of-your seat flick that you will all but forget an hour later, but is fun while it lasts.