Pierce Brosnan assumes the role of James Bond for the fourth time in Die Another Day, an explosive action adventure that finds the British superspy traveling the world over, from Korea to Cuba to England to Iceland, thwarting villainy and shooting car commercials as only he can.
Die Another Day begins in North Korea, where Bond is captured and imprisoned by hostile military forces after his cover is blown. Fourteen long months later, he is released in a prisoner exchange that also frees the villainous Zao (Rick Yune), much to the chagrin of his MI6 boss M (Judi Dench). Though his status as a "double-oh" agent is subsequently rescinded, Bond proceeds on a personal mission to track down the individual who betrayed him to the North Koreans. His quest of vengeance quickly uncovers a dastardly scheme of political domination, a destructive weapon with the power of the sun, and a sinister megalomaniac. Naturally, he must foil the evil-doers and save the world again, this time with the help of a sassy sista from the NSA, Jinx (Halle Berry).
This 20th film of the long-surviving Bond franchise has all the positive and negative elements that audiences have come to expect from a 007 adventure: larger than life action, international espionage, a stupid title, cool gadgets, hot women, fast cars, bad one-liners, cheesy sexual innuendoes, and product placement up the wazoo. (They probably imprisoned Bond just so he could grow a Grizzly Adams beard and tackle it with the Norelco razor.) The movie is loaded with stunning visuals, from the eye-catching opening credits featuring slinky women made of fire and ice to a giant glacial palace in the middle of a frozen wasteland. High speed action is plentiful, with a stylish automobile showdown between Bond's invisibility-enabled Aston Martin Vanquish and Zao's Jaguar XKR being the film's not-to-be-missed highlight.
Pierce Brosnan continues to be one hell of a Bond, while Judi Dench is still the franchise's strongest female character, despite any girl power propaganda the younger actresses may assert about their own roles. Considering the tension that is built up between Bond and M, it is disappointing that the story doesn't delve deeper into their complex relationship. John Cleese, who has taken over as the gadget man for Desmond Llewelyn's Q, contributes one of the more memorable moments as he equips 007 with new toys. His scene with Brosnan, laced with a nostalgic look at devices from films past, echoes the amusing chemistry Bond and Q shared.
Among the newcomers, Rick Yune is noteworthy as Zao, a disfigured psycho with a haunting complexion, while Rosamund Pike throws in some sauce as the icy Miranda Frost. But Toby Stephens and Halle Berry leave a lot to be desired. Stephens plays lead nemesis Gustav Graves, a prissy whitebread playboy who is about as terrifying as Hugh Grant--placing him alongside a freak like Zao makes him even less intimidating. And Halle Berry, while providing eye candy in a corny homage to the 007 girls of yesteryear, simply doesn't convey the sophistication of the classic Bond babe. Like Denise Richards as nuclear scientist Christmas Jones, her role of Jinx lacks a certain class, making it hard to believe she is an NSA agent on par with Bond.
The story has strong potential, but is ultimately shallow and full of missed opportunities. Bond is stripped of his 007 status, but does his alienation have consequences? Not really. M bluntly tells Bond that he should have been left to rot in North Korea, but does their relationship fundamentally change? Not really. A traitor is revealed in the ranks of MI6, but is it treated like an unbelievable betrayal? Again, not really. Is it too much to ask for a decent story to complement the movie's killer action? Even the unmasking of the traitor is a big disappointment, eliciting a lackluster reaction of "oh, it figures" instead of "holy crap, I can't believe it!"
Despite some spectacular action sequences, Die Another Day isn't the strongest entry in the Brosnan era of Bond films. Instead, I would recommend The World Is Not Enough to those looking for a more balanced mix of story, style, pyrotechnics, villains, and babes.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)