U.S. Release Date: November 22, 2002
Distributor: MGM
Director: Lee Tamahori
Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Producer: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
Composer: David Arnold
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Judi Dench, Madonna (Cameo)
Running Time: 2 hours and 3 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (action violence and sexuality)

Shaken, not Stirred
by C.A. Wolski

James Bond is the Cadillac of movie franchises, and the 20th official outing in the series' 40-year career Die Another Day certainly lives up to its title. But under the direction of Lee Tamahori (The Edge), it doesn't come close to duplicating the best of Bond, including 007's last adventure The World is Not Enough.

The problem with Die Another Day isn't that it falters. Like most Bond movies, it starts out strong with 007 (Pierce Brosnan is his fourth go at the character) betrayed and captured by the North Koreans when his attempted assassination of the evil North Korean Colonel Moon goes awry, but it goes down hill from there. That's a given—even the classic Sean Connery turns started out strong and sort of sputtered out at the end as victims to their baroque excess. Die Another Day's first hour is terrific stuff, though, taking Bond back to the earliest days when he was just armed with his wit, wiles and a large caliber handgun. But the filmmakers, like the mysterious turncoat in MI6, betray their subject by turning the movie's last third into a gadget love fest with, at one point, Bond and the evil diamond-faced Zao battling invincibly in their equally ludicrously equipped luxury cars.

A bigger problem is that the movie feels outdated. The bad guys go through a host of needlessly complicated machinations to start a war—including essentially rebuilding the Goldeneye device—when all is needed is a couple of jetliners and a few microbes to hold the world hostage as we've seen from real life. And with North Korea as the boogey man, Die Another Day seems hopelessly mired in the politics of the Cold War and not the war on terrorism. The picture plays it safe recycling the tried and true Bond conventions—Communist domination of the world, needlessly complicated evil schemes, ridiculous gadgets—instead of reclaiming and reworking the character for the post-Cold War, post-Sept 11 world. It's a tragically missed opportunity for the franchise.

Even with its faults, Die Another Day has its virtues. Brosnan is probably the best James Bond since Connery, playing the super spy with a wonderful sense of panache, idealism and simmering brutality. Halle Berry's Jinx is also refreshing—a beautiful Bond girl with brains, the first since Diana Rigg. Judi Dench's M is the quiet stand out as a cold warrior who long ago gave up on ideals for political reality. The rest of the cast is adequate with the bad guys chewing the scenery, but consistently being upstaged by Brosnan and Berry. The only truly dreadful performance is by Madonna in a cameo as fencing master Verity. The singer also scores another dreadful performance as having written and sung the absolutely worst Bond theme song in history.

Overall Die Another Day is exactly what is to be expected in a mature movie franchise—a thrilling ride that plays it safe.

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