Sunday, May 23, 2010


The twentieth installment in the long-running James Bond film franchise, “Die Another Day,” concluded Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as 007 and celebrated the 40th anniversary of the series with references galore to previous Bonds. The credibility of this epic 133 minute extravaganza suffers mildly from some hopelessly unrealistic but nevertheless exciting predicaments that challenge our globe-trotting British secret service agent. Ultimately, New Zealand director Lee Tamahori doesn’t let Ian Fleming fans down and he directs with a vivid sense of flair. Tamahori approaches “Die Another Day” (***1/2 of of ****) as if he were Hong Kong action director John Woo and often accelerates the editing with jump cuts to cover a lot of territory faster. Another example of Tamahori ratcheting up the action occurs when Bond kills the villain in the last quarter-hour of the plot.

Despite its outlandish reliance on some obvious computer generated imagery, this inventive Bond adventure qualifies as one of the better 007 sagas and a fitting conclusion for the Brosnan Bond. The race across the ice and Bond’s escape from this predicament is the primary culprit here as well as the chief villain’s frozen Icelandic residence. Gustav Graves has constructed an entire palace out of ice. Interestingly, “Die Another Day” incorporates African conflict diamonds in its serpentine plot, four years before the fashionable Edward Zwick thriller “Blood Diamond” (2006) with Leonardo DiCaprio dealt with these controversial gems. Naturally, Judy Dench returns as Bond’s superior M, and John Cleese was on his own for the first and last time as her Majesty’s quartermaster Q. The most incredible gadget that Bond receives is an invisible Aston Martin with the usual arsenal of weapons. Toby Stephens and Rick Yune make two audacious villains and “Reservoir Dogs’” Michael Madsen appears as a duplicitous, high-ranking C.I.A. executive.

“The World Is Not Enough” scenarists Neal Purvis & Robert Wade maintain the larger-than-life action with exotic locales, good-looking ladies, but a marginally darker tone since betrayal is involved. Bond amounts to a renegade British Intelligence agent out for revenge against those vile dastards who framed him for security transgressions that he would never made. In some ways, Purvis and Wade were inspired not only by John Glen’s “Octopussy” with North Koreans committing criminal acts just as the renegade Soviet general did in that outing, but also Guy Hamilton’s “Diamonds Are Forever” with a villain who deploys a satellite in outer space constructed of diamonds that can projects a monstrous beam of destructive energy. Hardcore 007 fans will spot the encore of Commander Bond’s small “Thunderball” underwater breathing gadget. The escape from a cargo plane at the end is reminiscent of “The Living Daylights.” Purvis and Wade spring a number of surprises—at least three if you are counting—that really shake up the movie. These surprises along with Tamahori’s sensational helming make “Die Another Day” a memorable 007 escapade.

“Die Another Day” opens on the Pukch’ong Coast of North Korea as 007 and two other agents surf unobtrusively into the beach. Bond and his companions steal an attaché case filled with diamonds from Mr. Van Bierk (Mark Dyman of “Until Death”) and appropriate his helicopter to fly to a secret rendezvous in the de-militarized zone in North Korea. Bond places two bricks of C-4 explosives with a timer under the diamond trays and set off to keep an appointment the arrogant Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee of “Elektra”), son of General Moon (Kenneth Tsang of “The Replacement Killers”), who has no qualms during a U.N. embargo about trading arms for African conflict diamonds. Moon’s second-in-command, Zao (Rick Yune of “The Fast and the Furious”), takes a digital picture of Bond with his Sony Ericsson cell phone and uploads it to the Internet. Later, Zao shares the results of his search with Colonel Moon, and they discover that Van Bierk is really a British assassin named James Bond. Immediately, Colonel Moon arrests Bond and destroys the helicopter with a tank-busting weapon. General Moon calls his son because he is approaching the de-militarized zone where he has his headquarters. Hastily, Colonel Moon orders his men to disperse and take the weapons with them. He orders Bond executed, but the explosives in the attaché case ignite and Bond escapes. Zao is stricken by a shower of diamonds that embed themselves in his face. Colonel Moon and Bond battle it out on the hovercraft that Moon used to transport the weapons to the location. Thousands of land mines on the border of North and South Korea pose no problem to Moon because the hovercraft can float harmlessly float over them. Bond and Moon exchange small arms fire and Moon even resorts to a flame thrower. They run out of room to maneuver and Moon plunges over the edge of a cliff while Bond seized a bell and survives. “Saved by the bell,” he quips until he sees General Moon arrive with an army. Moon takes Bond and turns him over to North Korean interrogators and during the title credit sequence, Bond is tortured.

Eventually, months after his arrest, Bond learns that he is scheduled to be released as part of an exchange for Zao. M (Judy Dench of “Shakespeare in Love”) isn’t pleased to see 007. Not only did Zao kill three Chinese agents when he tried to blow up a summit meeting, but also because British Intelligence suspects that Bond spilled his guts and exposed deep cover agent in North Korean high command. M agreed to get Bond out of North Korea to ensure that he didn’t expose more agents. Naturally, Bond said that he didn’t capitulate to his captors and betray Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bearded and ragtag, Bond vows to get the individual who set him up, but M rescinds his double-0 status. Furthermore, she informs him that he is going to be taken to an evaluation center in the Falklands. Bond has other plans and fakes a heart attack. After he escapes from British Intelligence in Hong Kong harbor, Bond begins his search for that mysterious person. Initially, with the help of the Red Chinese, 007 treks to Cuba to find Zao.

In Cuba, he finds out that Zao is in an island clinic run by Dr. Alvarez (Simón Andreu of “Bad Man’s River”) who specializes in DNA replacement. Bond meets into Jinx (Halle Berry of “Monster’s Ball”) in Cuba. She emerges from the sea like Ursula Andress did in Terence Young’s “Dr. No.” Jinx is after Alvarez, too. They team up in semi-sort of fashion and destroy Alvarez and his clinic. Bond fails to kill Zao and the villain escapes. Jinx is cornered on a cliff by two gunmen and performs a header into the ocean. She dives in just as Colonel Moon had plunged into the ocean in similar fashion.

Bond finds himself back in the good graces of British Intelligence. M meets him at an abandoned London subway station. They discuss the conflict diamonds and we get a thumbnail sketch of the latest villain, Gustav Graves, at about an hour into the action. M points out that Graves is a politically connected individual. Indeed, he is about to be honored by the Queen. She adds that Graves was an orphan who wound up working in an Argentine diamond mine. He learned engineering and discovered a trove of diamonds in Iceland, half of which he donated to charity. Bond suspects that Graves has been using his discovery of diamonds in Iceland as “a front for laundering African conflict diamonds. M allows Bond to return to M.I. 5 Headquarters and pick up several gadgets from Q, such as the invisible Aston Martin with adaptive camouflage as well as a sophisticated ring that can shatter glass. Q explains that the ring contains an “ultra-high frequency single-digit sonic agitator unit. Bond meets Graves during a fencing competition and the two fight each other for money. Graves loses control and the fight escalates with the use of cutlasses, but Graves’ public relations expert Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike of “Doom”) intervenes and keeps the guys from killing each other. Tamahori does an excellent job of staging the cutlery clash between hero and villain. Graves gracefully accepts defeat at Bond’s hands and observes, “You’re a rare challenger, Mr. Bond.”

Several things differentiate Brosnan’s final outing as the redoubtable civil servant earlier as well as later entries. First, the bullet is finally seen entering the gun barrel during the pre-credit sequence. Thus far this represents the one and only time that this has occurred in the series. Second, the title theme sequence continues the narrative with Bond enduring torture while incandescent women appear on screen and scorpions are seen scuttling about to Madonna’s song. Third, this is the only time that James Bond appears with a full beard, giving Brosnan look like a 17th century buccaneer. Fourth, the initial action transpires in Korea, the first time that this location with its volatile real life implications for possible nuclear war has been appropriated. Fifth, the plot later takes 007 from places like Cuba to Iceland. Sixth, the C.I.A. has its own agent out there in the form of Halle Berry’s Jinx Johnson. Seventh, the pre-credit sequence qualifies as one of the livelier ones with Bond battling a crazed North Korean colonel as they sweep over a mine field in hovercrafts blasting away at each other with machine guns and flamethrowers. As usual, Bond still finds the time for the classical throwaway witticism and the women are seductive.