Directed by Lee Tamahori. UK/USA.  2002.

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What can you say about the twentieth Bond film that hasnít already been said about the previous nineteen? Virtually all Bond films follow the same template (established by Dr. No in 1962 and cemented by Goldfinger in 1964) and if youíve seen at least one, youíll know the drill: British secret service agent James Bond must stop an evil mastermind from carrying out some dastardly scheme that threatens the world.  The latest adventure begins with Bond (Pierce Brosnan) on an undercover assignment in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.  Before he can complete his mission, his cover is blown and he is captured, imprisoned and tortured.  Just over a year later, Bond is released and immediately sets out to discover who blew his cover.  From then on, itís the usual combination of action, adventure, romance, and double entendres. 

The first half of the film echoes the early Sean Connery Bond adventures, with 007 playing detective and using his wits to uncover the truth, while the second half feels like an outlandish Roger Moore outing, with fantastical gadgets and action set pieces taking centre stage.  This is probably Brosnanís best performance as Bond; heís relaxed and confident in the role and looks every inch the suave gent.  Berryís Jinx is a tough and sexy partner for Bond, with her characterís entrance echoing Ursula Andressí memorable emergence from the sea in Dr. No, one of the many tips of the hat that film pays to itís predecessors to celebrate the films 40th Anniversary on cinema screens.  Itís interesting to note that Jinx is far more cold blooded than Bond in the film, particularly when she casually assassinates a villainous, but unarmed doctor.  Among the rest of the cast, Toby Stephensí Gustav Graves is an amusing slimeball, with a villainous sneer to match, although heís more clown than killer, and never comes across as a credible threat to 007.  Rick Yuneís Zao is a more menacing presence as Gravesí eerie looking henchman; heís more than a match for Bond and is even equipped with his own gadget-laden car.

The action scenes range from the terrific (a thrilling fistfight that turns into a deadly dance among some out of control lasers) to the ridiculous (a funny, but daft scene where Bond escapes from a huge wave - a set piece that rivals Roger Mooreís use of a gadget-laden Gondola to escape from the villains in Moonraker (1979) for sheer ludicrousness).  Thereís some unconvincing special effects work in places (especially in the aforementioned wave scene) and the incessant product placement throughout the film is jarring.  Director Tamahori seems determined to try to make the film more contemporary in style (particularly in the filmís second half) by using fast cuts and seemingly arbitrary fast and slow motion in some scenes.  This is effective in some of the action scenes, but in the quieter moments, he doesnít allow the eye enough time to soak up the sights and locations, as did the directors of earlier Bond films.  In particular, the huge interior of the fantastic ice palace set designed by production designer Peter Lamont is barely glimpsed in the film.  The interior of this enormous set is not given a suitable wide shot that really sells its scale to the audience.  Another part of the Bond tradition is that the films offer a tour of exotic locations around the world and cinematographer David Tattersall gives the film a crisp, colourful look, especially during Bondís jaunt around Cuba.  However, much of the film makes use of unconvincing backdrops to stand in for many of the international locations, especially when Bond arrives in Hong Kong. 

Thereís nothing wrong with updating certain elements of the formula, but itís a tricky balancing act to pull off, as it is in any sequel; what elements from the previous film stay the same in the next film and what changes?   The basic structure of the Bond films has remained virtually unchanged over the last twenty films and the common complaint about Bond movies is that they are just the same film made repeatedly.  Of course, many people want the comfortable familiarity of a Bond film, and if the makers deviate too far from the formula, the result can be a film that doesnít feel like Bond films of the past, which may alienate audiences who expect the familiar ingredients.  Added to this, the early Bond films set the template for many Hollywood action films over the last forty years (including the recent XXX (2002), which, despite tweaking some elements here and there, adhered strictly to the Bond blueprint) and so the formula canít help but seem overly familiar today. Ultimately, Die Another Day doesnít shake up the Bond formula too much and in its second half, it sticks rigidly to the structure thatís worked in the past.  Nevertheless, itís an enjoyable tongue-in-cheek adventure and certainly more skilfully constructed than many other action blockbusters.

Martyn Bamber


Darren Slade's article considers Bond in relation to British heroes: Death of the British Hero

Nigel Watson's takes a look at Bond movies in general: Bond Age Man

See our review of the James Bond Movie Posters book and of Roger Moore: His Films and Career.
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