Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in "Die Another Day."
Halle Berry as Jinx in "Die Another Day."
MOVIE REVIEW | 'DIE ANOTHER DAY'
Bang! Splat! Kapow! Must Be That 007
By A. O. SCOTT
I'M gonna avoid the cliché, delay the pleasure," Madonna sings during the opening credits of "Die Another Day," the 20th James Bond picture in 40 years. These words may provoke an ambivalent reaction. On one hand, something fresh and unexpected would not, at this point, be unwelcome. Nor would some teasing before all the big, eye-popping explosions start.
But on the other hand, don't we go to these movies precisely to savor the familiar: the sports cars, the shaken vodka martinis, the knowingly stale elbow-in-the-ribs sexual innuendo, the pop song during the opening credits? And isn't our taste for Bondage built around a desire for immediate gratification? Not to worry. By the time Madonna's electronically enhanced chirps emanate from the soundtrack, we've already witnessed some extreme surfing off the coast of North Korea, an armored hover-craft chase across the DMZ and fireballs that bloom like a bouquet of toxic peonies. Madonna herself shows up a bit later, in a black leather bustier, playing a fencing instructor named Verity. (Verily!) In any case, it would have been foolish indeed for Lee Tamahori, the director, and Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who wrote the script, to depart too drastically from the formula, and they don't. This is a big, noisy blend of globe-trotting, coy sexuality and cartoonish political intrigue, solidly in the Bond tradition. But happily the filmmakers have been smart enough to push this story — at least until its noisy, turgid ending — in some interesting and surprising directions, making it perhaps the most satisfying Bond movie since "The Spy Who Loved Me."
There is, for instance, that credit sequence, in which computer-animated fire and ice maidens gyrate over grisly images of torture, as Agent 007 (Pierce Brosnan) is plunged repeatedly in a tub of ice water, stung by scorpions and beaten senseless by uniformed thugs. The man who emerges from these sessions, and a long sojourn in a dank North Korean prison cell, is scarcely recognizable.
Freed in an exchange of prisoners, he staggers across the border filthy and scarred, his hair long and matted and his face obscured by a shaggy beard. (This dishevelment pays off in a witty scene at a luxurious Hong Kong hotel.) And Bond's humiliation does not end there. "You're no use to anyone now," says M (Judi Dench), crisply relieving Bond of his license to kill.
Part of the fun in seeing Bond brought low lies in the certain knowledge that he will triumph in the end. His enemies, luckily for him, share an essential trait with those who have gone before them. Given the choice between a quick, efficient method of killing and one that calls for long speeches and slow-moving high-tech machinery, they can be counted on to choose the latter.
The beginning of "Die Another Day," which opens today nationwide, also has the effect of making the suave superagent sympathetic as well. Mr. Brosnan, in his fourth tour of duty, may not be the definitive Bond — an honor that will always belong to Sean Connery — but he is the most human.
Mr. Brosnan, as he nears 50, has a thicker face and a stiffer gait than he did in his callow "Remington Steele" days, and he shows emotion more readily than any of his predecessors. This Bond is curiously vulnerable, decidedly flappable underneath the cynical urbanity. At especially perilous moments Mr. Brosnan's features register panic, fatigue, pain and — in an exquisite scene of rescue that should be the movie's ending — tenderness.
Not that he's gone all sensitive or anything. He may dabble in trendy cocktails — ordering a mojito instead of the standard martini during a visit to Havana — and appear without a necktie frequently enough to make you wonder if Her Majesty's Secret Service has instituted a casual Fridays policy, but the essential Bond DNA has not been altered. (DNA alteration, by the way, figures prominently in this movie's extravagantly intricate plot.)
Moneypenny (Samantha Bond, no relation) still pines for 007, Q (John Cleese) once again outfits him with the latest gadgetry in the weary certainty that it will all be trashed by the end of the mission, and 007 still has his way with the ladies. There are two: both of them, in keeping with the series's accommodation of changing social mores, steely professionals.
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